Taking a trip down memory lane, I share with you insights from my trip to Cambodia.
I have always been fascinated by the mythical stories my grandparents told me as a kid, that is why a weekend getaway to Cambodia was a dream come true. Much to my surprise, as I stood at the point claimed to be the centre of the universe, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the marvellous ruin that is the AngkorWat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Mount Meru, better known as Sumeru Parbat, is said to be the house of the Gods. Represented in ancient texts with five peaks, the Angkor Wat temple is a living manifestation of Mount Meru. Build in the 12th century and thereon constantly changing hands between Buddhist and Hindu leaders, it still stands as the largest temple complex in the world.
A quick trip to Cambodia
My trip to Cambodia was a quick weekend getaway. I, along with a very reluctant friend caught a red eye flight to Cambodia from Singapore. Cambodia is Visa On Arrival for people with an Indian Passport. It costs about 30 USD to get the VOA. Almost everywhere in Cambodia, the US Dollar is easily accepted. One can also opt for card payments in major operators like Visa and MasterCard. But it is advisable to carry cash for most things and purposes.
Just as we got out of the airport, we met with our luxurious ride, which was a tuk-tuk. Cambodia is one of the few countries in Asia where people still drive on the left. It may be partly due to the French American Colonial hangover. It’s hard not to notice so many Land Rovers and Toyotas here. It doesn’t cost much to travel around in Cambodia, and one can easily negotiate the price of a tuk-tuk ride.
Angkor Wat Temple
After sleeping for a good three hours, we were picked up by our friendly multilingual tour guide. The guide wanted us to reach the temple at 5 AM to avoid traffic and enjoy the majestic sunrise. However, we were greeted by the clouds, spoiling the view of the sunrise. Even then, the peaks of Mount Sumeru shining under a blood orange sky was pretty spectacular.
As I strolled through the temple, I found similar sculptures, figurines, and drawings as are found in places like Mohenjo Daro or Ajanta and Elora caves. The temple represented a rich and vibrant civilisation of a bygone time.
The temple is laced with carvings telling the stories of the epic Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Samudra Manthan. And, it would make anyone, even with infinitesimally small interest in these texts, stand in wonder of the story telling capabilities of the ancient people.
At this point, I had to ask my tour guide to tell the actual story behind the mural above. This is apparently the most accurate depiction of Lord Gardua trying to steal the pot of Amrut (immortality potion) in order to save it from the Asurs as they, along with the Devtas churn the sea. The entire story behind this scripture lays the foundation stone of Hindu mythology.
Angkor Thom and Bayon temple
The Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom was an attempt by the then ruler to unite Hindu and Buddhist cultures.
Bayon Temple is home to 54 such towers each with four smiling Buddha faces. They represent the 54 districts in the town.To show respect towards the Hindu population, right below each tower, the King had built 54 Shiva Lingas. Most of them were either defaced or destroyed. This happened over time due to the colonial rulers and regimes exchanging hands.
King Jayavarman VII built Angkor Thom as the capital of his empire. An inscription here depicts the king as the groom and the city as his bride. There are four entrances to this walled city each with its own majestic gate. Another cool thing about these gates, is a 3 faced elephant present in almost all of the entrances.
*Cue suspenseful Tomb Raider music with Angeline Jolie running around looking for something*
Better known as the tomb raider temple, the temple of Ta Prohm was build as a tomb for the King’s mother. This temple was lost for centuries. It was later discovered by French archaeologists in the 18th century. By that time, it was overtaken by tree roots.
The trees are as much a part of Ta Prohm as are the stones used to build it. A lot of the structure is held in place by these roots.
PHnom kulen waterfall
To end our very well spent weekend in Cambodia, we took a dip in the Phnom Kueln waterfall, which is a must visit.
Most people visiting Cambodia try to cover Vietnam and Laos in the same trip. The two major cities to visit in Cambodia are Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
You can have a calm trip or a crazy one, that is absolutely your call. If you want to party, there are plenty of OG cafes serving cuisines from all over and night clubs, including a pretty rad Hard Rock cafe, where you can dance the night away.
For people belonging to the other group who don’t really want to experiment and have a peaceful vacation with good Indian food, you could try one of the best-rated Indian restaurants, Dakshin.
But if you’re feeling adventurous, you could also try fried lizards, scorpions or even beetles.
Getting a good 4 to 5 star hotel is quite cheap, I got one executive room in a 4-starer for 80 SGD (4,000 INR) for the entire weekend, which included an amazing breakfast.
I highly recommend getting a chauffeured car to drive you around the city, it doesn’t cost much and brings with it a lot of convenience.
Cambodia should be on the GoTo list of everyone who’s interested in mythology, ancient architecture structures, sunrise and waterfall chasers. Cambodia packs within itself a lot of surprises and if you’re open to adventure, you’ll meet a lot of interesting people with a lot of interesting stories.
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