I spent three days in Cambodia last January and have three distinct memories. It is interesting to blog about a destination after some time has gone by. The really strong impressions float to the surface.
As a little back ground information, we went to Siem Reap at the end of a fairly long trip (for us) to Asia and because I wanted my husband to see the temples of Angkor Wat. I was fortunate to see these amazing structures a few years before with our son and thought they’d be well worth going back to. For an earlier blog post, click here.
Angkor thrived from 800-1400 and then disappeared with it’s stone temples covered by the jungle. It was discovered in the late 1800s and has become a major tourist destination. Before the Industrial Revolution it was the largest city in the world.
Here is my impression:
There are too many tourists. If you have any thought of going to see the temples at Angkor, book your flight now and actually you may be a little late. When I compare my first visit several years ago with the one last winter I was shocked with the change. When I traveled there with Justin, they had about 300,000 tourists a year, compressed into the six months of favorable weather. Now that number has risen to a couple million and it is overrun with tourists like us thinking they are seeing something exotic. While I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the temples again, the numbers of people climbing and clattering over the piles of historic rocks, made it scary and probably dangerous. Not the spiritual experience I had the first time.
The area also now has a circus atmosphere with elephant rides and all kinds of touristy stuff like that. Think Disney.
Advice: if you go, make sure you have a really good guide who will figure out the best times and places to see the temples. I was sorry we didn’t go early in the morning and late in the day like we did when I toured with Justin. It is especially important to go to TaProhm (Tomb Raider Temple) when it isn’t crowded. It is magnificent.
In Siem Reap, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Marum, a training restaurant for young Cambodians. Our dinner was delicious, service very attentive and friendly and I liked the small shop filled with good made locally. This is a great project for getting kids off the streets.
My second significant impression of Cambodia. I was so glad our guide recommended that we travel about an hour away from Siem Reap to visit a recently discovered temple called Beng Mealea. It is a bit off the tourist track and we got to see what happens to a temple when the jungle takes control. We not only enjoyed the temple and the drive there and visiting a small village nearby was fascinating as well.
Not much is known about Beng Mealea except that it is thought that this lost temple was built in the same era as the ones in Angkor. It is enclosed by a massive stone moat which has dried up.
We visited late in the day and were able to explore the temple once utterly subsumed by the jungle. It’s tough going so one doesn’t want to rush. This experience was certainly a highlight of our time in this part of the world.
My third significant memory is of a trip we took in small boat down a river that leads into a large lake near the village of Kampong Kleang. We also walked around the village. We weren’t able to go inside homes or visit the school the way we did in North Vietnam but experiencing Cambodian countryside gave a real awareness of the way they live.
We saw people living on barge like boats because they couldn’t afford homes on land. We also saw the fields where they were farming and got a really good look at life for the many very poor people in the area.It was interesting to me to note that its the poorest of the poor who live on or near the water here. In much of the world, water front property is highly valued and typically very expensive.
Seeing the poverty in the village and on the water was heartbreaking.