Friday, December 10, 2010

Why travel Cambodia and Indochina

Refer to Telegraph, travelers wanting to head to this part of the world should not be deterred: the region’s newer, less well explored destinations – Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – have an immense amount to offer – including breathtaking landscapes, timeless rivers (not least the Mekong), world-class ruins – and diverse minority tribes.

Why go
Cambodia

This is a country proud of its ancient beginnings but recovering from a dark, more recent past.

Around two million people a year come to visit the great Khmer temple complex at Angkor and the tourism industry has mushroomed to accommodate them. Hidden in the jungle are the majestic corncob towers and lily-pond moat of Angkor Wat, hundreds of smiling stone faces at Bayon, and romantic Ta Prohm, left as it was discovered, with moss-covered reliefs buckling under the stranglehold of overgrown trees.

Angkor WatAngkor Wat, Cambodia

A three-day pass costing $40 (£28) is advisable. Start with a guided tour, and then rent a bicycle or play at being royalty by riding an elephant from the south gate.

Phnom Penh is a city that is fast rejuvenating, with boutique shops and new bars springing up along the riverside. Sights include the Royal Palace, whose gilded pagodas are similar to those in Bangkok. For those wanting to understand the horrors endured under Pol Pot’s regime, the Tuol Sleng Museum and collection of bones at the Killing Fields offer a sobering lesson.

The Cambodian coastline hugs the wild Cardamom Mountains in the west and curls past down-at-heel Sihanoukville to the more appealing resort of Kep, close to the Vietnamese border. Both are jumping-off points for trips to unspoilt islands ringed with golden sand. Kep was once a wealthy retreat, and some of its villas have reopened as chic hotels. Foodies should try local seafood and Kampot pepper crab at the crab market – a row of shacks on the water’s edge.

Tip: Experience rural life on a slow boat across the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in south-east Asia, passing bird-filled wetlands, rickety fishing boats and villagers waving excitedly from the shore.

Active Travel Cambodia (see above) offers a “Cambodia highlight” tour flying into Siem Reap from Singapore or Vietnam, taking in Angkor, Phnom Penh and Kep. 6 days from £515, depending on hotels, not including international flights.

For further information contact the Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism (www.mot.gov.kh).

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