This Is A Guest Post By Jess Signet
Cambodia is ever-increasing in popularity as a tourist destination. Backpackers flock from all over the world to experience what this unique and diverse country has to offer. However, it’s probably fair to assume that most visitors know very little before their arrival except the mighty and famous Angkor Wat because its status as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Although this temple is an incredible feat of ancient architecture, historically relevant and aesthetically beautiful, it’s naïve to assume that it’s all this great country has to see. After spending some time there, I came to realize that Angkor Wat is just a tiny part of one of the most amazing and complex cultures in the world.
The Killing Fields Museum
Cambodia was home to one of the greatest civil tragedies the world has ever seen. Between 1975 and 1979, approximately one to three million people were massacred as the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. The torture, mass-executions and forced labor wiped out almost a quarter of the population and shook the country to its very core.
In respect to those who died, any trip to Cambodia should include a visit to the Killing Fields museum. Home to endless collections of the skulls of the dead, the experience can be a difficult one, but it’s important to honor and understand what these people went through. If you want to know more about the incident, Angelina Jolie has directed a film covering the event called Khmer Rouge which is due to preview on Netflix at the end of 2016.
Unknown to many—including myself, before I got there—there are actually several temple complexes around the Angkor area. Although Angkor Wat is by far the most famous, it’s companions—such as Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple—are just as worth the visit.
Each site is intricately decorated with figures and scenes from Hindu cosmology, and the latter is home to the giant stone face of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, which has been lovingly dubbed the Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia. There are many tours that will cover several of the temples at once, so there’s no excuse not to see the variety available!
Touring Tonle Sap
Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in the whole of Southeast Asia and is a big influence of Cambodia’s luscious green scenery and humid climate. It covers a staggering 2,500km2 for most of the year, before rapidly increasing to an even more shocking 12,00km2 during the rainy months. The lake is one of the country’s most valuable lifelines, so the conservation work that goes on is nothing short of impressive. Osmose is the company largely responsible for the projects, and they run an incredible eco-tour around the area, including a visit to a floating village on the lake itself.
A Day At the Beach
With so much history and culture to explore, it’s easy to forget that Cambodia also makes for a fantastic tropical getaway at the right time of the year. Occheuteal beach, located in Sihanoukville, is by far one of the country’s most popular. With 4km of white sandy stretches, shore-side restaurants and beach bars, it’s the perfect place to spend a bit of time relaxing and recovering from the trials and tribulations of traveling. It can get busy in peak season, so it’s best to stick to the southern end of the beach for the most quiet and tranquility.
Experience The Expat Community
As it’s risen in popularity as a tourist destination, Cambodia has developed a booming expat community. I accidentally stumbled upon a few of its hidden gems while staying in Siem Reap. Through recommendations, I found myself at a Beatocello concert at the Jayavarman VII Hospital.
The Swiss expat plays cello in order to raise money for the local community and speaks about his activities in the area. It’s fascinating and all for a good cause. Similarly, the yoga class held at the Peace Café is the longest running in the town and a great place to meet like-minded travelers. They also offer daily meditations, chanting sessions and cooking classes.
There are so many fascinating and wonderful activities to do in Cambodia that it’s impossible to compact them all into one list. These are just five of the very best activities that I experienced on my journey. If you know of any more great things to do, be sure to leave a comment below and share your experiences with fellow travelers!
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