Journey to Cambodia
Thailand’s less explored neighbour, Cambodia, is a gem well worth discovering.
By Christine van Deemter
While in Thailand, you might think: “Why not hop across the border, see Angkor Wat, and hop back?” What else is there in Cambodia besides ancient temples and depressing Khmer Rouge memories? A lot, in fact. The country shares an idyllic coastline with Thailand, while being less crowded, less humid and less expensive – and the food’s sensational. You haven’t eaten until you’ve tasted Khmer amok, a subtly spiced, exquisitely balanced staple of Cambodian cuisine. While you’ll find the same fresh, simple meals as in the rest of South-East Asia, Khmer fare doesn’t rely solely on chilli for its flavour, instead using a combination of fragrance spices unique to the area.
Siem Reap is a pleasant surprise, with Pub Street dotted with quaint little restaurants, market stalls and, of course, pubs. The city’s geared for tourists with boutique accommodation like the Pavillon d’Orient Boutique-Hotel (www.pavillon-orient-hotel.com) and Golden Temple Hotel (www.goldentemplehotel.com). Do some research and you’ll find the perfect spot for your budget. For stunning, handmade silver jewellery, try the Garden of Desire jewellery boutique (www.gardenofdesire-asia.com).
The main reason to visit Siem Reap is the mind-blowing Angkor temples, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The hair on your arms bristle as you walk up to the sacred site and you can almost feel the weight of its 700-year history on your shoulders. It’s still a practising temple, adding to its sense of spirituality. Absolutely worth the hours of trains, taxis and tuk-tuks to get there!
Cambodia isn’t all fabulous food and humbling temples, of course. It has a tragic history, with decades of civil war under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. The scars are still visible, with the country just beginning to recover and welcome visitors. A trip to the capital, Phnom Penh, on the banks of the Mekong River should include a sobering visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a high school used as a prison and left largely untouched since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979) and the Killing Fields, for a deeper understanding of the country’s suffering and ongoing recovery.
To read about travel in Thailand go to page 160 of the October issue of DESTINY