When they said travel teaches you in a way school doesn’t, they weren’t wrong.
The history i learnt in school featured India as a melting pot of cultures influenced by the Aryans, Mughals and the British. Sadly, it did no justice to the influence we had on the rest of the world – Southeast Asia in particular. This only meant that I was quite ignorant about the maritime proficiency of the Cholas and Pallavas of South India and their contribution to religion, trade, art and architecture in Southeast Asia.
So when our tour guide at Angkor Wat took us around, the familiarity caught me by surprise. Sculptures of Shiva and Vishnu (Indian Gods), ruler names like Jayavarman (Pallava kings in South India suffixed their names with ‘Varman’), Khmer script similarities to Telugu and Tamil, architectural similarities to temples in Tamil Nadu – it felt like I had discovered a long lost past – a distant cousin to India. Here was a country and the world’s largest religious structure so closely associated with my country, my state to be precise. And it had taken me so many years and a trip all the way to Cambodia for this revelation.
That being said, it is never too late to learn and I quite enjoyed having those dramatic “OMG-I-unearthed-the-past-moments.”
Travelling within Cambodia
While I am sure there a lot of smaller places worthy of visit, Phnom Penh and Siam Reap are the top destinations to go to in Cambodia.
Our trip to Cambodia was combined with Vietnam and we travelled by road from Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) to Phnom Pehn. We spent a day in Phnom Pehn and a day in Siam Reap before flying back to work and family in India.
Bus Travel within Cambodia is quite economical and convenient. We booked our tickets through Mekong Express http://catmekongexpress.com/
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and its gleaming royal riverfront makes it worthy of being one. We reached Phnom Penh late in the evening and the city, all lit up, had us enthralled and excited to see what it had in store.
Places to See:
Independence Day Monument
All of these are within walking distance from each other. It also makes sense to stay close by so that you spend lesser time travelling and haggling with the Tuk-Tuk drivers. We stayed at The Kabiki and I would definitely recommend this place. At the price we paid, the luxury was unbelievable.
Explore the Russian and Central Market
They are known for their export reject clothing and you will find GAP, ZARA clothing at dirt cheap prices. However, we had no luck here and couldn’t find anything worthwhile for us to buy.
S21 Prison and Killing Fields
If you are willing to deep dive into the gruesome history of Cambodia, do visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21 prison) and the Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) which is 15 kilometers (9 mi) away from the city center. Under the Khmer Rouge reign, people against them were imprisoned and tortured at the S21 prison and later taken to the killing fields to be murdered and buried. I personally chose to skip this while my friends spent the morning there.
Siam Reap is home to the ruins of Angkor (Capital City in Khmer language), the earlier capital of the Khmer Empire before it moved to Phnom Penh.
Angkor is a Temple complex stretching over 400 sq.km. including a forest area. The complex contains the famous Angkor Wat and other temples like Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm (featured in the Tomb Raider movie). There are dozens of other smaller temples each with their own charm for you to admire.
While you can spend days exploring Angkor, the key temples take half a day by Tuk-Tuk. Carry sufficient water because the weather is quite hot & humid and there is plenty of walking in the temples. Also, do try getting there early to beat the crowd.
After out long exhausting morning at Angkor, we ended the day at Pub Street. If Angkor is a representation of the past, Pub Street is a representation of modernism and nothing beats the modern version of fun 🙂
The street is lined with pubs and bustling with tourists taking a break from all the backpacking. What happens here stays here, so all i can reveal is that it was the perfect end to the trip.
And after a night of fun at Siam Reap, I took my tuk-tuk to the airport the next day. Back to work and routine, until the next trip.
Day 0 : Reached Phnom Penh at night from Ho Chin Minh City.
Day 1 : While the others went to the S21 prison and Killing fields, i spent the morning at the Central and Russian Market. Later, we walked around exploring the Palace, Silver Pagoda and other Monuments. We spent the evening on a Mekong River cruise. The cruise is relaxing but there isn’t much to see apart from the beautiful sunset over the river. Our bus to Siam Reap was at 10 PM and we spent the rest of the evening waiting at Gloria Jean’s Cafe on the riverfront.
Day 2 : We reached Siam Reap early in the morning and took a Tuk-Tuk to our hotel Gloria Angkor. It was a nice place to stay – cosy and convenient.
After breakfast, we booked a Angkor Tuk-Tuk tour at the hotel and off we went. We spent all morning and noon at Angkor and were back in our hotel rooms by 4 PM. There was a Spa offer at the hotel and we indulged ourselves with some spa and pedicure. The shocking nail paint in the above image is thanks to the pedicure 🙂
The grand finale to the day was Pub Street. Words can’t do justice to the experience and the dynamism of the place. You just have to be there to know what it is like.
Day 3 : End of Trip 😦
*The local currency is Cambodian Riel, but you can survive with USD here . It is widely accepted and you can withdraw is USD from the ATMs too.
**Cambodia allows e-visa for Indian citizens. All you need to do is apply online and you would have the visa in your inbox. During immigration when you enter Cambodia, make sure you share the printed copy with them. Site : https://www.evisa.gov.kh/