Our flight from Hanoi reached Siem Reap, Capital of Cambodia in the late evening. As soon as I got out of the aircraft the beauty of Siem Reap International Airport struck me. Built in Aug 2006, it is one of the busiest airports in Cambodia and we had to wait in a couple of queues before we were ushered out. Hopefully Cambodian Governments’ plan to develop a new airport 60 kms away will help tourists in future.
By the time we checked into our Hotel Ibis Styles it was dinner time so we headed out. Ibis Styles is strategically located, a few hundred meters away from both the Old Market and the Pub Street. Both of them are a must see, if you are visiting Cambodia, as this is where all the action happens.
The Pub Street is lined with pubs and bar as the name suggests and some of the best eating places are in this area. Though we were visiting Siem Reap in September, not really the season, the sights and sounds made me wonder how it will be in the peak season. The place was absolutely magical with some street performers also performing live. Street food in Cambodia is a must try. There are many Chinese style buildings in the town and in the evenings when they are all lit up gives a very magical aura to the market and alleys.
When the French first arrived in Cambodia, Siem Reap was a little more than a village. In the late 19th century, after the French Explorer Henri Mouhot re-discovered Angkor Wat, that tourists started visiting it.
The city’s history is largely shadowed by the horrors of Khmer Rouge’s regime but after Pol Pot died in 1998, stability has returned and tourists footfall has increased many folds leading to an overall development of the country. It is now listed among the top 10 travel destinations by various travel magazines.
On the right hand side of our hotel was the Siem Reap river which had a few pedestrian bridges connecting the cluster of tiny villages across the river. The villages were developed around the Buddhist Pagodas (Wat) there.
Early next morning we were picked up by our Tour Guide who took us to the Angkor Wat, a temple complex, one of the largest religious sites in the World. The temple complex is in the ruins of the ancient Angkor city, which was the seat of Khmer Kingdom during the 9th and 15th century. During those days Angkor was a mega city supporting 0.1% of the world’s population during 1010-1220. The main temple Angkor Wat also appears on Cambodia’s flag.
The Angkor Wat is an UNESCO World Heritage site and is well preserved. It was built in the 12th century (113-115 BC) and it is estimated that it took 30 years to build it. It was King Suryavarman’s dedication to Lord Vishnu and the main temple resembles Mount Meru.
This was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman and that is why it is oriented to west symbolizing the setting sun and death and is designed for viewing from left to right in conformity of the Hindu funeral rituals.
The walls of the temple complex are covered by images of Hindu mythology. Carvings on the stone tell the story of how GODs fought the Demon Kings and recovered the elixir of life, Amrit. The entry and exit to the temple complex is only be through the west gate.
There are a number of other temples surround the Angkor Wat. The word “Wat” means temple in Khmer language and was added during 16th century, when this became a Theravada Buddhist monument. After the Capital of Cambodia was moved to Phnom Penh in 1432, the temple was cared for by the Buddhist monks.
Next day our holiday in this beautiful country came to an end as we took an early morning flight home via Bangkok.