Historic marvels of Cambodia

Travel tales

Historic marvels of Cambodia

Cambodia, the beautiful country lying between Thailand and Vietnam, is rich with history and ancient temples. Some time back, my husband and I, along with another couple, had the opportunity to visit this magnificent land for a week.

Our flight was from Bengaluru to Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur. Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia. Siem means Thai and Reap means defeat. The place is named Siem Reap or defeat of Thai so that the future generations remember their triumph. We stayed at a hotel named ‘Secret Pavilion’. A beautifully done hotel with a very hospitable manager and staff, it is situated near to the Pub Street. The street has numerous hotels serving different cuisines and many shops catering to the needs of tourists.

Before I delve into the details of our visit, I would like to give a brief insight into the history of Cambodia. Today's Cambodia was predominantly occupied by the Khmer civilisation for thousands of years. They had started trade with India and were hugely impressed by the unmatched wealth and prosperity of India. They wanted to have the same and this inspired them to adopt Hinduism. Thus followed a series of consecutive emperors constructing intricately designed temples and other structures which remain even to this day — standing tall and unravelling the mysterious times of ancient days.

On the next day, the hotel had arranged a ‘Tuk Tuk’ (a moped attached with a wheeled wagon) ride for the day. We first headed to an ancient temple called Preah Khan. It originally had around 400 deities. An ancient temple, though largely ruined, gave us an insight to its massiveness. We also quickly stopped by a temple called Neak Paen. We had to go across a wooden bridge (built touching the water) to reach this temple. The sight of the lotus lake beside the bridge as you walk was truly picturesque.

Our next visit was to Ta Prohm, a historical site dating back to 10th century. This site is maintained by Indian Archaeological Department. It is again an architectural marvel built along concentric rectangles with elaborate stone structure and sculptures. The tall trees grown over the old structure at different points gives at a more authentic ancient look. It is known that some of these trees have been left as it is, to grow on the ancient structure to give tourists a feel of how the ancient structure looked when it was first discovered by the French in the 19th century.

We then proceeded to another temple in a place called East Mebon. The structure had a lot of holes in it. We later found that there were diamonds in these holes long ago. The main tower amongst four others had Vishnu as their main deity. After a long trail of historical stories we headed back to our hotel where we relaxed for the night.

The following day we started early in a taxi arranged by the hotel to get a view of the sunrise at Angkor Wat the heroic temple amidst the whole lot of temples in the region. it is arguably the masterpiece of Khmer empire. It was still dark when we reached the site with the help of a guide arranged by the hotel, but the glimpse of the temple in the moonlight was a sight to behold.As the sun was about to rise, the silhouetted towers of Angkor Wat temples and their reflection on the waters of the lotus lake before which we stood to view was picturesque and definitely a sight to be treasured. As time advanced and when it was fully bright with sunlight, the magnanimity of the entire place unravelled before us. Its enormity is what first strikes you. It is built along the lines of Hindu mythology and built in three concentric circles.

The first circle marking the boundary, the second one houses the gallery where the bas reliefs describe the mythological stories in detail much to the amusement of visitors. These were done along the lines of Hindu mythology vastly described in India. To come this far to Cambodia and to hear about it was truly remarkable.

The entry to the innermost circle gets you gasping again. Climbing the flight of steps to the towers at the top, built along the lines of Hindu mythology of Mount Meru in Himalayas, is truly memorable. Originally the main tower had Vishnu as the main deity but it was later brought down and replaced by the statue of a reclining Buddha by the later king who was a follower of Buddhism. Cambodia today is entirely a Buddhist country.

We then went to Angkor Thom, which is another architectural beauty. The uniqueness of this temple is the faces on every tower. The ‘gopura’ of each tower has an inbuilt face. It is a marvellous sight and a cherished memory for years to come.

Our guide came back to us after lunch at his home. On enquiring what he had for lunch, he was broadly smiling and replied that he just had a yummy spider prepared by his mom. We found that Cambodians literally eat everything on this earth including dogs, crocodiles and other dreaded reptiles. Cambodia is the best place for sea food and non-vegetarians in particular, unlike us vegetarians, who had a tough time though plenty of Indian hotels are available.

We were then taken to a floating village in the waters of the Tonle Sap river. They literally float 24x7 throughout the year. That is, they live on boats.

The next day, we went to a temple named Bantaey Srei built in the 10th century out of red sand stone. Its miniature size, the reddish stone and intricate carvings take you by surprise. We then took a hot air balloon ride and the aerial view of Angkor Wat and the neighbour hood had us gasping and cheering in excitement.

Soon, our itinerary for the day was over and we retired to our hotel for lunch and then headed for a quad bike tour. Quad bike tour in Cambodia is fun. You get to ride your own Quad bike and tour the countryside with the guide. It makes for a perfect adventure. We then went back to Pub Street for shopping some local artefacts and memorabilia for our friends and family. The next day our flight was scheduled for the afternoon. We took the Tuk Tuk to the airport and finally it was time to wrap up this amazing holiday.

How to get there

We flew Air Asia from Bengaluru to Siem Reap via Malaysia. One return ticket per head cost Rs 21,000. We had booked the tickets when a discount offer was running.

Places to stay

We stayed at ‘Secret Pavillion’ hotel in Siem Reap. The room tariff for five nights along with complimentary breakfast came up to Rs 25,000 per head.

Shamathmika Bhat
(The author can be contacted at shapranbhat@gmail.com)

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