A taste of ancient Southeast Asia : Cambodia | Sunday Observer

A taste of ancient Southeast Asia : Cambodia

A resilient country, recovering from a dark past, Cambodia has now become a tourist destination for both luxury travellers and backpackers alike. With stunning landscapes and sacred temples, ten days in Cambodia gives you ample time to cover Siem Reap, the charming gateway to Angkor temples, Phnom Penh ; the scenic riverside city and Battambang; known for its bamboo train rides.

On our very first day, we experienced Phare, The Cambodian circus. An hour dedicated to amazing vibes and energy where talented performers use dance, music and circus arts to share unique, folk and historical Cambodian stories.

During the next two days we wandered around Siem Reap. With around 292 temples, tour guide mentioned that 37 were actually accessible. (No, we did not visit 37 temples) Siem Reap is not only famous for its temples, but also the amazing food, night markets and cultural experiences.

No doubt, Angkor Wat took our breath away. Originally built and dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the intricate Apsara carvings are unique and beautiful. One of the most well preserved temples; Angkor Wat requires at least 2-3 hours to take in the awe-inspiring details. It’s the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride. Don’t forget to climb the steep stairs all the way to the upper level. The view is worth every aching step. (Nothing a fantastic massage can’t solve later on!).

Our next stop was the “Tomb Raider Temple” Ta Prohm ; A battle between architecture and nature in Cambodia. Swallowed by jungles, Ta Prohm is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman the seventh. Bound by massive roots of humongous trees, this is certainly a must visit. Similar to Ta Prohm, but on a lesser scale lies Ta Nei, in much rougher shape than the rest.

Take a walk to the Elephant Terrace where the Angkor rulers viewed their returning armies and visit the Bayon Temple, built to represent Mount Meru and known for the mysterious faces on its many towers. Don’t forget to include an Apsara dance along with your dinner during your visit to Cambodia. As depicted on the Angkor walls, these women with shimmering silk tunics and coy smiles will perform a graceful ancient art of the apsara dance.

You can travel to Battambang via Siem Reap by car. It will take you around 3 hours and its well worth the trip. The journey to Battambang is not very eventful, but the bamboo train ride once you’re there is a must do. A ride on the “Norrie” as they call it, is a bamboo flatbed on wheels, and is powered by a small engine. Navigate the green fields enjoying the stunning country side and enjoy the pristine air for about 7km or so. If you are up for it and fancy visiting a few more temples, the hilltop Phnom Sampan and Phnom Banan can be two options.

The busy capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh might not be everyone’s cup of tea. We spent 3 days there and besides the Royal Palace, museum and market place, your options are fairly limited. Our hotel was located just opposite the Palace that gleams in gold where the gold throne (Once you walk inside) can be seen and it’s only used for coronations. Visit the throne hall, the resting room, the royal guesthouse and the clothing display which includes copies of clothes worn during the seven days of the week.

The Central Market is the ideal place to haggle and purchase your souvenirs, comfy pants and scarves. Built somewhere in the late 1930’s, this market has been a major attraction to tourists during the last couple of years. Shaped in the form of a dome, the market also sells coins, fake branded items and silver jewellery. Gauge your haggling skills and hold on to your handbag!

The food in Cambodia is ideal if you are a foodie. Forget the crunchy spiders - try the Khmer spices and the local favourites. I tried a Fresh Zucchini, moringa leaves and pumpkin flower soup which was an absolute treat! The Battambang chicken curry in Khmer spices wrapped in a lotus leaf is another succulent relish. Taro chips seemed to be quite popular with a beef curry that reminded me of beef rendang and overall the flavours were fabulous.

The Golden Temple Hotel is affordable with the finest hospitality and so is the Palace Gate Hotel. Try the tuk tuk rides to the night markets. Cambodia was a captivating experience. That unleashes a mystic aura, bestowing remarkable memories.