Wednesday, April 24, 2013

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.

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.
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.

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.

Angkor Temple, Cambodia
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.

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ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Top Three Temples in Cambodia

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

You will only work out why this temple complex is so perfect to the human eye as you venture into the interior and observe the precise symmetry of the architecture. From the intricate reliefs to the staged cone peaks, the buildings shun human imperfection for the religious ideal of the perfect equilibrium. Concentric circles are intrinsic to the shapes here and they symbolise Mount Meru, a holy Hindu mountaintop. This mammoth complex contains 1200 temples and Angkor Wat is both the name of the complex as well as the main temple that most armchair travellers are familiar with - the one facing what looks like a lake. That lake is in fact a rather extravagant moat. Built by a King, Angkor Wat is testament to the once-great Khmer empire which stretched from Malaysia to Burma.

The Khmer empire ruled until the 15th century and after that the temples were maintained by monks who reside in the temples to this day, making it an active religious site. While it was built as homage to Hinduism, Buddhism was introduced as the official religion at the end of the 12th century. The monks buoy the temples with brightness and life and if you manage to photograph the robed men as they walk with heads bowed between the black and white temples of Angkor Wat, you'll have a photo worthy of National Geographic.

Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Bayon temple is in the centre of Angkor Thom, the last of the extravagant Khmer cities to be built. More modern than Angkor Wat, it marks the time when Buddhism began to take hold in this region. With more than 50 towers, each side of the tower has a face carved into and out of the stone.

They represent both the ego of the King, allegedly who they slightly resemble and the enlightened beings or bodhisattvas of Buddhism. These faces peer out subtly but they are realistic enough to be startling. With a benevolent smile and eyes you can't be sure are open or closed, some refer to them collectively as the Mona Lisa of South East Asia. The faces look serene and satisfied and with a length of 4 metres and a direction facing each point of the compass, they have a good view of the majestic Angkor region.

Another building in the Angkor Thom complex is Phimeanakas which was built long before neighbouring structures. Take time to find it and you will be rewarded with what appears to be an ancient stairway to heaven. The ruins have depleted just enough to render this a stone staircase with no end point - just a vertical drop off at the top in the sky.

Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Is it a tree supporting a temple or a temple supporting a tree? You decide in this, the most magical of temples where nature mingles with man's designs for higher beings, the goddess of wisdom in this case, to whom the structure was dedicated to. The jungle has stone upturned by tree scaffolding and leaves have embedded into sandstone after centuries of erosion. Seeing saffron-robed monks wander between stone embedded with tree roots and branches makes this destination more than a historic monument.

Discovered by French naturalist Henry Mouhot in 1860 the temple was intentionally left as found, overrun by jungle. It was used to film Angelina Jolie's film Tomb Raider and for the more vintage film fans, Indiana Jones. There is, in fact, a Tomb Raider tree where Jolie picked a flower and was sucked beneath the earth in the film. The film setting needed no embellishment - this place is as surreal as it gets. It is maze-like and with alleys shaded by vine you will feel like you are in your own adventure film. It is considered the third most important temple in Cambodia - after Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, placed first and second respectively.

The complex of temples is a World Heritage site. Many of the Hindu statues have been removed and replaced with sculptures of Buddha and numerous renovations are underway. Time seems to have stood leaving an imprint of mystique. You won’t forget interesting experience with adventure tours to explore Cambodia of ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA.

ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. Our packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation.

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Fax:        +844 3573 8570
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Winner Announcement Week 3 (8/4-13/4/2013)

Winner announcement week 3
A huge congratulation to ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA‘s lucky travelers in summer promotion program 2013.

Here are the winners in week 3 (8/4-13/4/2013):

1. FREE: Airport pick-up in Dong Hoi, Quang Binh
Harvey Burdett, ATVR008 
Tour: Son Doong cave discovery

2. FREE:  01 meal in restaurant for two travelers
Ms. Jim, ATVR009
Tour: Trekking Sapa

Please check the email if you are lucky winner.

Thank you so much for your participation!

Join with our event  “” to receive lucky gifts for your jouney!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tips for Travelers When Visit Cambodia at Khmer New Year

Cambodian New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey in Khmer is the name of the holiday that celebrates the New Year in Cambodia. There’s plenty of fun to be found, but visitors should be prepared for busy roads, closed banks and increased interest in their personal belongings.

Khmer New Year
The holiday lasts for three days usually starting on April 13th or 14th. The farmers enjoy the fruits of their harvest and relax before the rainy season begins. It’s a very popular festival and is spread over three days:
  • Maha Songkran: is the name of the first day of the new year celebrations. It is the ending of the year and the beginning of a new one. People dress up and light candles and burn incense sticks at temples. The members of each family offer thanks for the Buddha's teachings and for good luck people wash their face with holy water in the morning, their chests at noon, and their feet in the evening before they go to bed.
  • Virak Wanabat is the second day of the Cambodian new year celebrations. People contribute charity to the less fortunate, help the poor, servants, homeless people, and low-income families. Families may also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the monastery.
  • Tngay Leang Saka is the third day of the new year celebration. Buddhists cleanse the Buddha images and elders with perfumed water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity in life. By bathing their grandparents and parents, children can obtain from them best wishes and good advice for the future.
Khmer New Year still stands apart as one of the major festivals in the calendar. There’s plenty of fun to be found, but visitors should be prepared for busy roads, closed banks and increased interest in their personal belongings.

 Chol Chnam Thmay - Cambodia

Khmer New Year celebrations begin with a rush to the countryside. Families pack their SUVs and shared minibuses full to bursting with tinselled presents, pagoda offerings and new clothes to return to their home province for three days of celebrations. On village roads, barricades are set up by groups of youngsters armed with water bombs and white powder. Passing motorbikes are drenched and dusted to howls of delight, before a small fine is demanded to allow passage. These 500 riel dues are spent on yet more ammunition, ensuring the fun continues all day.

Houses are given some glitz with tinsel decorations and fairy lights, with an offering table of banana leaves, candles and incense placed outside. Families gather to drink, eat and dance to unbelievably loud music. Special games, reserved for the holiday, get underway with teams of enthusiastic teenagers making the most of flirting opportunities. Bos Chhoung involves two teams singing a traditional song and throwing a balled scarf at their love interests. A cross between petanque and bowling, Bos Angkunh uses big fruit seeds as targets and ball, with the losers having their knees pounded by two seeds knocking together. The name for the seed in Khmer sounds like the word for ‘knee’ so it’s perfectly logical, as well as painful.

Khmer New Year
In Phnom Penh, your best chance of seeing and joining in these games is at the Vietnamese Friendship park opposite Wat Botom, or coming across a bunch of teenagers playing in the streets in the evening. For a village experience, arrange a trip to Kandal province (just across the Mekong river) with a motodop or tuk tuk, and remember to take plenty of small notes for the ‘tolls’ and prepare to get wet (and while you’re in Kandal — check out the pagodas). There’s usually fireworks near the riverside and those who haven’t escaped the city will be making parties of their own, spilling out into the streets.

While Khmer New Year is fun, it can also be frustrating for visitors. Banks, embassies and many businesses will be closed, so if you need to get a visa or make onward travel plans, you’ll need to think ahead. Tourist attractions such as museums also shut down, and there’s less choice of restaurants and bars than usual. Those that are open will usually have less staff, so a little patience may be required. Transport providers also go home for the holidays — expect to be asked for a little extra on the fare when you do find a tuk tuk driver who’s willing to work.

Finally, the run up to Khmer New Year has been dubbed ‘robbery season‘ as bag snatching and thefts increase. Take extra care and be vigilant, so you don’t start the New Year subsidising someone else’s party.

Susadai Chnam Thmei! (Happy New Year!)

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ACTIVETRAVEL CAMBODIA (ATC) is member of ACTIVETRAVEL ASIA offers a wide selection of Cambodia adventure tours, including hiking and trekking, biking, motorcycling, overland touring and family travel packages. Our packages and custom itineraries will take you through exotic destinations to really experience the culture, history and nature of Cambodia. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an unforgettable active vacation.

Hotline: +84 902 24 3637
Tel: +84-43-633-9576
Address: Level 2, No 17/167, Tay Son Street, Dong Da district, Hanoi, Vietnam.