Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The well-kept secrets of Angkor Wat

If you look beyond the smiling Buddha faces of Bayon and the towers of Angkor Wat, you might stumble upon a sleepy district lost somewhere in the shadows of its more popular neighbor Siem Reap.

Battambang, surprisingly the second largest city in Cambodia, is where I finally found the bona fide flavor of the country and which doesn't adhere to rules laid down for its tourist-centric trail.

Initially, I wanted to take a boat to Battambang from Siem Reap, despite knowing that the journey time would be doubled. The water levels of the Tonle Sap River were quite low, so that made sure I stuck to the three-hour road journey. To my surprise, this town that came across as a laid-back settlement, was actually the second-largest in Cambodia and has witnessed its fair share of tumultuous events in Cambodia's long, mutinous history.

A walking distance away from the Bayon is the temple-mountain of Baphuon
 which was undergoing extensive renovation.

The bamboo train

Apart from the past that it still retains, Battambang has also held on to its ancient bamboo train system. Extremely impatient for a ride, I left the very same day for Odambang, the village from where you can 'board' the train. The train is nothing more than a large bamboo platform mounted on train axles powered by a small go-kart engine, and as mundane as it looks, the journey atop is nothing short of exhilarating.

I didn't realize it till I sat on it, and waited for the young boy to pull the engine cord that brought the bamboo train to life. Within a few seconds, we were hurtling through greenery with fierce speed. With no roof, doors, or seatbelts and with only a railing to hold on to, it's more thrilling than a roller coaster ride. The most quirky part is that when another bamboo train approaches from the opposite side, you have to stop to get off, heave the cart off the tracks, change positions and resume! It could actually be tiresome once the novelty wears off, but the teamwork of strangers is quite endearing.

For ages, the rural parts of the surrounding region have had the bamboo train as its most dependable mode of transport. I was sad to learn that it was phasing out and would soon be replaced by the modern railway system, and glad that I had a chance to experience it before that happened.

Art of making rice paper

Around the main Battambang town are a host of elfin villages that introduce you to the rural heart of Cambodia in a way that none of the other places here do. I started this tryst in one such village where I saw and learnt the traditional way of making 'rice paper'. This is not the paper used for artwork but refers to the thin, translucent layer of pounded and steamed rice used to wrap fresh spring rolls.

Until I spent hours there observing how the rice is boiled, drained and milled before even starting the real process, I would have never thought of the humungous effort that goes into making an everyday dish here. My 'tuk tuk' driver was on a mission to show me 'real Cambodian food' and the village of Phsa Prohok welcomed us with a stench that pervaded my senses for days after.

Fish paste, which is a condiment of freshly pounded fish of all kinds that is left to rot, is a major ingredient in authentic homemade Cambodian food. Though I was assured by everyone that once cooked, the smell evaporates, there was no way I could be convinced to buy some and try it out. What I did buy though was the delicious bamboo sticky rice. Though it is found pretty much all over Cambodia, the sticky rice in Battambang, the 'rice bowl of Cambodia' is famous all over. Getting off from the ubiquitous hammock that Cambodians love to lie in, the young girl at the roadside shack heated one of the bamboo pieces over fire and cracked it open to reveal the ready mix of steamed rice, coconut milk and nuts. Despite not being a rice lover, I devoured it in minutes. No visit to the palate trail is complete without a visit to the petite Battambang Winery, the sole winery of Cambodia, so we made a pit stop there to sample the traditional red and white wines apart from the locally brewed brandy and delicious ginger ale.

One of the 216 huge faces of Avalokiteshvara in the Bayon

The mini Angkor Wat

While Angkor Wat is Cambodia's biggest draw, few know that tucked away in Battambang is a primeval temple that is believed to have been the inspiration for the magnum opus. A long flight of steps up the quiet hillock takes you to the Banon temple which was built in the 11th century by Udayadityavarman II. It has five towers pointing towards the sky and looks like a smaller version of Angkor Wat.

Being surrounded by dense foliage, it's hard to get anything more than a glimpse of the expanse below. But if you want a grand view, the best bet is the hill atop which rests the temple Phnom Sampeu. It commands a surreal sight of Battambang in the distance and a vast canopy of green in the foreground of the dark hills that glow like embers in the last rays of the dying sun. Before it turned completely dark, I spiralled down the hill on a 'bike taxi' for my most awaited moment.

Source: Shikha Tripathi

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Cambodia: The Unexplored Tourist destination

Ancient temples, empty beaches, mighty estuaries and rivers, distant woodlands and also (outside Angkor) only a couple of vacationers. But the phrase is going — Cambodia offers surfaced through many years regarding war and also isolation and is also well and truly back around the Southeast Oriental travel guide.

Through Phnom Penh we fly to be able to Siem Experience. From Angkor we have three whole times to research the complicated; from your elegance regarding Angkor Wat towards the enigmatic confronts with the Bayon as well as the haunting Ta Prohm temple, enveloped inside the clutches of the jungle. 

Angkor Wat

Go to of the primary wats or temples regarding Angkor Wat about the small, and great circuit. Walk through the particular woodland regarding Angkor, steering clear of the key highway upon unpaved roads to become listed on the actual temples.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pol Pot’s Clippers

Entry for the contest "Indochina in your eyes"!

Holidays can be really hard work, so after a fairly busy week and a big day at the temples I am about ready for a day off to relax, do the laundry and get a haircut. Around the corner we find a laundry and drop the washing in making sure we settle on a price which was fair at $2 a kilo. Just down the road is a barber shop with an old dude cutting hair and I think this is the spot for me, it should be nice and cheap. I walk in and do the sign language for a head and face clip and asking the old barber how much? He just smiles and gently pushes me towards the chair, I ask again how much and he just smiles and wraps the apron around my neck. I look at this man in the barber mirror and see the wise old smile on his face and get the distinct feeling that this man understands more than he makes out and I am going to get fully stitched up here. He pulls this old pair of hand operated clippers out of a drawer and proceeds to start clipping my hair clip, clip, clip, bit by bit. These clippers are that old I am sure he must have cut Pol Pot’s hair with them 40 years ago.  After about an hour the clip is finally finished, he brushes me off, unwraps me and as I stand up he sticks his hand out and says with a smile“ that’ll be $10 thank you” in perfectly good English.

Jo and the kids who have been sitting in the shop the whole time are laughing their heads off. We all know that I have just paid this wily old barber 2 days wages for a 1 hour haircut. But I figure because I haven’t paid for a haircut in over 15 years I am in front anyway. I also say that hair is overrated at the best of times, if your not paying for a haircut or shampoo or something you’ve gotta wash it, comb it, brush it and look at it in the mirror. So obviously hair is a complete waste of time and money. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Temple hopping in Cambodia: Stories in stone

A sigh of relief and excitement enveloped me as the plane touched down in Ho Chi Minh. I didn’t have a concrete plan other than getting to Siem Reap. But I knew I was going to have the grandest time. 

I was with my friends and we were in search of a memorable adventure. We dropped the mainstream route of taking a plane to experience Cambodia -- so off to the bus stop we went, and bought our 13-hour bus ride ticket. 

It was a great decision, because the intensely rich and picturesque surroundings kept us entertained the whole trip. 

When we got to Siem Reap, we were tired but we were in awe. 

Time space warp temples

Angkor Wat statues adorn the halls, each with it's own story.

There are a lot of temples to see in Cambodia. So, armed with our digicams, water bottles and a thirst for adventure, we journeyed to where the action was, or at least where it used to be. 
Guided by our local companion, Bon, who knew a ton of background information and insights we traveled to our heart’s desire. He gave us the opportunity to pick his brain and learn to better understand Cambodians as a people.

At Siem Reap we were transported into an architectural masterpiece from thousands of years ago.
The intelligence and sophistication of the masters that conceptualized the structure shows throughout. Power, might and light-heartedness emerge from the artworks on the wall telling tales and signifying depth in their own beliefs.

The symmetry of Angkor Wat is astounding. Imagining it during the time it was fully functional was overwhelming -- Apsara dancers illuminating the halls with their energy, lectures being passed on from one elder to another and kings sharing inspiring thoughts and knowledge with their people.

Another nearby temple we visited was Bayon in Angkor Thom. It’s beauty and look enticed us to come in -- a series of intricately made smiling facades invite tourists to revisit Jayavarman VII’s work of art. I really love this temple because positivity encapsulated the whole area and the massive stone faces shine on the spotlight.

Bayon Temple
Bayon Temple.

We continued to temple hop, and it was a blast. We got to understand and learn the transfer of power that transpired, hear stories that ruled the bonfires and best of all, we got to converse with monks as they still go to the wats and pray. 
Bayon Temple
Inside the Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom.

A temple in Phnom Bakheng is considered to be a “hot spot.” They filmed the most exciting scenes of "Tomb Raider" in Phnom Bakheng where gigantic roots of old trees intrusively sweep the temple walls. 
This is where we had fun trying out creative poses mimicking scenes from the movie.

Exploring Siem Reap with my friends proved to be one of the best experiences I had in Cambodia.

We consider ourselves privileged to have been able to experience the glory that once was. If only we could have teleported ourselves back in time -- but alas, pictures and journal entries will have to do.

Nonetheless, to see and touch the pieces is to witness that once there was a time when a genuine love for architecture and passion for their belief carried far across the land.

So, after a few days of exploration, we packed our bags and left Siem Reap, bidding farewell to a beautiful place that will be sure to stick with us for the rest of our lives.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cambodia off the beaten track

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Mention you’re going to Cambodia and chances are you’ll end up comparing notes on the glorious temples of Angkor, among the most awe-inspiring – indeed, mind-blowing – monuments ever conceived by the human mind.

It is hardly surprising that so many travelers from around the globe dream of gazing upon the towers of Angkor Wat, walking through the root-strangled gateways of Angkor Thom, and staring back at the enigmatic smiling faces that have made the Bayon famous.

But Cambodia has a great deal more to offer than its headline sights. Travelers at first drawn by the spectacular temples around Siem Reap often end up enchanted – and determined to return – thanks to the friendliness of the Khmer people, the sublime beauty of the countryside and the botanical exuberance of the country’s still-pristine tropical rainforests.

Parts of Cambodia’s south coast are fairly well-known to travelers. Beaches, nightlife, restaurants and a backpacker vibe make Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main port, the country’s third-most-popular tourist destination. Kampot, with its run-down French-era buildings and mellow spirit, is popular as a starting point for Bokor National Park and its grand, colonial-era Casino, now an eerie ruin.

Friday, June 3, 2011

USA today recommends adventure travel tours to Cambodia


Trekking in Cambodia offers a chance to meet local residents and experience the countryside firsthand. Active Travel Cambodia offers a trip called Trek Rattanakiri that features walking on jungle paths and on roads through towns. Rattanakiri is a rural area in northeast Cambodia known for its natural beauty, and trip activities include swimming in the shadow of pristine waterfalls. You also camp in villages and enjoy cultural interactions with ethnic minority tribes.

Trekking Rattanakiri

If you love the water, you can take a kayaking trip with companies such as Adventure-Cambodia. Tours range from one-day to multi-day outings. One trip features bird watching as you kayak on wetlands in the north, and others involve jungle or ocean kayaking. On an ocean trip, you kayak to islands, snorkel and stay in a beach bungalow. Adventure-Cambodia also has multi

Friday, May 27, 2011

Green stamp on jungle style

In a country best known for its temples, Jane Dunford finds a floating ecolodge that's a gateway to a pristine environment.

I am, it's fair to say, in the middle of nowhere. This is the Tatai River, east of Koh Kong, in the southern reaches of Cambodia's Cardamom Mountains. Halfway between Bangkok and Phnom Penh, this is a pristine area of rainforest and coastal mangroves that barely features on the tourist trail.

The Tatai River
The entire resort is waterborne - the brilliant idea of its Romanian owner Valentin Pawlik. You get here by boat, arriving at one of a series of floating wooden platforms. A central pontoon houses the bar, restaurant and library.

It's all very eco-friendly too, largely solar-powered and staffed mostly by locals - so you needn't

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Travel to Cambodia, an Exotic Place for Adventure in Southeast Asia

I feel somehow changed by my visit to Angkor Wat. I have been to many wonderful venues in the world, but none made me feel the awesomeness of human determination and accomplishment as did this visit to Cambodia.

Visit to Angkor Wat Recharges the Spirit

Waking up before dawn in Saigon, Vietnam, today I would venture into Cambodia. Cambodia was a land I had heard so much about and had only dreamed of ever getting to visit.

Crossing into Cambodia was like entering a different world, though. Immediately things were not like in Vietnam. The bus ventured on for another seven hours to Siem Riep, the small but charming town that accommodates visitors to the magnificent and awe-inspiring Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

I had heard so much about Angkor Wat over the years of my life that is seemed more like a place in myth rather than in reality. I wanted to see it for myself to determine whether all the things I had heard about its magnificence were indeed true.

Angkor Wat temple

Angkor was actually more than just temples. As in any other city, there were houses, shops, medical facilities, and government offices. But only temples were considered important enough to be made of stone. All the other structures were made of wood and have long since ceased to exist. Only the temples, and a library building, remain today.

The spiritual feeling that the visitor to the temple gets is indescribable. I am not a religious person, but I cannot deny that I felt such an intense measure of peace and well being there that I sensed some kind of divine presence. It was so strong that I did not want to leave the temple. It really does capture your spirit and takes your breath away.

There is something magical about some places on earth, and Angkor Wat is certainly one of them.
 My words are futile, worthless really. For what words can give life to such a powerful creation, something that is really larger than life itself, and certainly beyond words?

After such a great, uplifting experience exploring Angkor Wat and the other temples, the tour group decided they wanted to explore a floating village on a small river flowing from the gigantic Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake.

It was yet another interesting adventure in this exotic land. None of the structures that comprise the village – houses, shops, schools, and even a library – was built on land. Every facility was actually a boat that constantly floated on the river. The fluidity and detachment of this village stood in marked contrast to the seeming permanence of the temples of Angkor.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cambodia Launches Campaign to Welcome Gay Community

Cambodian tourism businesses have launched a colorful, global campaign, Adore Cambodia, to let GLBT travelers know they are especially welcome in the Kingdom of Wonders.

With the spread of ultra-cheap flights from regional hubs like Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, gay and lesbian tourists have discovered a quiet haven of tolerance, culture and world heritage that is actively reaching out to the economically powerful GLBT niche travel market.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

"Siem Reap is remarkable because major players in the hospitality and service industries are comfortable extending a genuine welcome specifically to GLBT visitors" explains John Goss, director of which lists more than 70 gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses around Cambodia.

"These include Travel and Leisure's #1 hotel in Cambodia, dozens of gay-run boutique accommodations, trend-setting restaurants, and fashion and design innovators that are part of a hip, emerging contemporary arts movement dubbed Cambodia Cool."


Friday, February 11, 2011

Travel Cambodia by Photos

We’ve never had a disappointing photo trip to Cambodia or Myanmar (Burma) and once again both destinations delivered for us on our recent photo tour.

Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temples

Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a “bucket list” type experience and of course we were no exception. The only problem is that it always seems like every tourist in Cambodia has the same idea. It’s still possible to get some incredible images (I took the one to the left despite the scene around me looking like the image below).

One great thing about photographing Angkor from the West at sunrise is that the structure itself is silhouetted. That can be important as there is nearly perpetual restoration work on the temple itself so there are always some unfortunately colored green tarps somewhere on the towers that are hard to hide and painful to remove in Photoshop. But of course with a silhouette shot it is much easier to ignore them.

Once the sun is up you begin to realize just how many other amazing structures are lurking in the forest nearby. Some of them like Angkor Thom are actually larger than Angkor Wat and offer even more impressive photo opportunities like those we found at the North and East Gates and the Bayon towers. This year Cambodia was blessed

Friday, January 28, 2011

Visit to Vietnam and Cambodia in uncommon vacation

If you are the type that enjoys the uncommon vacation and exploring areas of the world that most do not, I have some ideas for you in travelling to Vietnam and Cambodia.

How about flying into Bangkok, Thailand and exploring this fascinating Asian city before moving on to Angkor Wat in northern Cambodia followed by a visit to Vietnam.

Fly on to Siem Reap in Cambodia from Bangkok. Here is the mystical temple complex of Angkor. You will have the opportunity to visit the new Angkor National Museum, which showcases the Golden Age of the Khmer Era.

A guide will walk you through the temple complex which is vast and set in the outskirts of jungle.Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are former temples with carved smiling faces and detailed bas-reliefs depicting scenes of everyday life in the 12th century.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaAngkor Thom, Cambodia

There will also be the opportunity to visit Ta Prohm, a haunting, jungle-bound temple. Angkor Thom was hidden from the outside world until the earlier part of the 20th century until French explorers found the area and put together a work force to clear the jungle overgrowth. Later other countries sent people to assist in the work. It is now open to visit for your exploration.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Travel experience from Cambodia trip

There are a lot of temples to see in Cambodia. So, armed with our digicams, water bottles and a thirst for adventure, we journeyed to where the action was, or at least where it used to be.

A sigh of relief and excitement enveloped me as the plane touched down in Ho Chi Minh. I didn’t have a concrete plan other than getting to Siem Reap. But I knew I was going to have the grandest time.

I was with my friends and we were in search of a memorable adventure. We dropped the mainstream route of taking a plane to experience Cambodia - so off to the bus stop we went, and bought our 13-hour bus ride ticket. It was a great decision, because the intensely rich and picturesque surroundings kept us entertained the whole trip. When we got to Siem Reap, we were tired but we were in awe.

Angkor Thom, CambodiaAngkor Thom, Cambodia

There are a lot of temples to see in Cambodia. So, armed with our digicams, water bottles and a thirst for adventure, we journeyed to where the action was, or at least where it used to be.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Travel Vietnam & Cambodia - Fancy a Far East adventure

The New Year is fast approaching, so now is a good time to consider next year's break. With the economy slowly but surely improving, why not travel to somewhere a little more exciting in 2011?

Vietnam holidays are certainly an option worth considering, with the Far East nation offering visitors spectacular landscapes, a fascinating culture and a friendly population. A nation that has successfully emerged from the ravages of war, Vietnam is being explored by an increasing number of travellers, all of whom are keen to experience this most unique of destinations. While its recent history is inescapable, so too is its soaring mountains, stunning coastline and iconic rice fields.

With so much to take in, travelers arriving in Vietnam will want to arrange their transport as early as possible. Trains are perhaps the most comfortable way of travelling around the country, although there is only one major line; that linking Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, a journey that takes around 30 hours to complete.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh, VietnamNotre Dame Cathedral, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Buses are a cheaper option, with intercity services tending to depart at the crack of dawn in order to beat the morning rush. Services take a while, however, so be prepared to give up a day or two here and there for travelling. Once you've arrived at your chosen destination, you will certainly want to get out and explore your surroundings; in which case, car rental might be an option worth considering.

While hiring your own car is only possible in Vietnam's main cities, you can hire a vehicle with a driver elsewhere. So, not only will you avoid having to negotiate the country's often hectic road network, you will be able to take advantage of local knowledge, possibly discovering places a little off the beaten track and learning a bit of Vietnamese along the way.

The Far East is a long way to travel, so there's no reason to limit your trip to a single country. Neighbouring Cambodia is another nation that has fully embraced tourism. Fortunately, then, there are a number of Vietnam and Cambodia tours for travellers to take advantage of.

Angkor Wat Temple, CambodiaAngkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

Angkor Wat is arguably the jewel in Cambodia's crown. The huge temple complex, one of the finest examples of classical Khmer architecture, has become the nation's symbol. Dating back to the 12th century, Angkor Wat is the World's largest religious building and has pride of place on Cambodia's flag.

While Cambodia is awash with culture and historical artefacts, travellers will inevitably want some downtime during their Far Eastern adventure. Sihanoukville, known among tourists as Snookyville, is a popular seaside town and home to the country's best beaches. Seemingly becoming more popular as each year passes, Sihanoukville was recently referred to by the New York Times as "Asia's next trendsetting beach".

Seemingly a million miles away, Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital, is referred to as one of the Far East's remaining undiscovered destinations. Despite being deeply affected by war and revolution, Phnom Penh is a city of optimism and colour; a place of Buddhists, spice markets and a burgeoning economy. It's likely you'll visit the city during your Cambodian adventure, and while the inevitable assault on the senses may exhaust you, it's certainly worth spending a day or two here.

No visit to the eastern corner of Asia can be complete without seeing some of the region's wildlife, so a visit to the 1,581 sq km Bokor National Park comes highly recommended. Home to green peafowl, chestnut-headed partridge and even tigers, the park is well worth a visit, even if it's just to see the deserted French hill station, Bokor, that it contains.

Vietnam and Cambodia are two nations opening their arms to tourism. Why not discover each country next year before everyone else does?

Source : forres-gazette