CambodiaThe Kingdom of Cambodia, most famous for being home to one of the world’s most impressive man-made wonders: Angkor Wat, is one of a handful of places everyone must visit during their lifetime. This was the former capital of the powerful Khmer Empire, and from where, in the 11th-14th centuries, they controlled much of Indochina, including the former French colonies of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. This lovely Buddhist constitutional monarchy now comprises extremely gracious people, delicious cuisine and rich cultural history.
While the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat make Siem Reap a travellers Mecca, the city and its surroundings have much more to offer than just this man-made wonder. There is the Boeung Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s vast great lake, sustaining a unique culture of floating villages. The dynamic heart of a country ever mindful of its past, the Siem Reap area provides opportunities for visitors to interact with a wide spectrum of locals, from those who lived through the horrors of Pol Pot’s brutal regime to children learning traditional Cambodian performance arts.
Phnom PenhOn the map, a squiggly blue X marks the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, located at the confluence of three rivers: the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap. According to local lore, during a flood of the Mekong, Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, found four bronze Buddha statues hidden in a hollow tree had floated onto her doorstep. Taking this as a sign, she built a temple to hold the statues and this temple still stands in the city today. ‘Phnom’ means hill, so the city’s name means the hill of Lady Penh. Dubbed the Pearl of Asia in the 1920s, Phnom Penh, a modern, bustling centre of economic, political and cultural activity still has colonial buildings from that era.
Battambang, on the banks of the Sangker River and Cambodia’s second largest city, is still small and quiet, a sign of the agrarian life of much of the population. Free from tourism it is one of the best places in Cambodia to see the daily life of the countryside, with stilted wooden houses shaded by palm trees and emerald green rice paddies dotting the outskirts. Battambang probably has more public sculptures than any other town in Cambodia, with representations of gods, mythological figures and animals on just about every park, plaza and roundabout.
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