Travel With Ysabel: Cambodia

Hitting this country with an Angkor! *slowclap* 

Cambodia is a country guaranteed of warmth – there was no way of getting away with sweltering excessively in the muggy temperatures, especially visiting the many temples full-clothed. Temples, after all, are sacred places. Entering the midst would be as if coming before the presence of a celestial divine being. For the case of the Khmer republic, Buddha, whose primary religion is Buddhism.

The prickling heat on your skin would unanimously be fluxed by the warmth of the locals’ congenial personalities. Many of them were proficient in English and every greet, bow, glance and wave would be accompanied by a genuine grin, so don’t be surprised why they’re dubbed as the “Land of Smiles”. 

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Angkor Wat is a temple like no other. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple that later transitioned to Buddhism in the 12th century. It took thousands of men with the assistance of elephants to build through the years. With roughly 35 years to build, the largest religious monument in the world is dominantly constructed by sandstone, without cement or mortar.  The walls are decorated of different, distinct friezes that tell interpretations and tales of epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, devas (gods), daityas (demons) and other exemplars of Hinduism.

Preservation and restoration has been on going with the help of the local government and countries such as Japan and Australia to restore the former glory of these temples. You rock, Cambodia.

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Let’s face it – eyes are all on you in every direction you look in the Prasat Bayon temple. Towers would have faces that you’ll spot on looking over in every direction of a compass. Spot on the detailed displays of bas-relief, may it be on the walls, towers or columns. The fallen rocks as seen are used as restoration – so it’s basically like “recycling” the structure itself. Don’t you think Olmec would know the Legend behind each of the treasures in this temple? 😉 The previous sentence was a reference to one of my favorite TV game shows in the 90’s, Legends of the Hidden Temple.

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Feel like being chased by the three monkeys in Temple Run or a little daring and adventurous like Lara Croft? If the photos seem familiar why, this is where the 2001 movie Tomb Raider was filmed. Unlike the other temples, the Ta Phrom temple has been basically embraced by the jungle – just look at the queer dominance of the hundred old tree trunks after being abandoned for a couple of centuries. As much efforts were put on trying to reclaim the temple from the trees, nature surely has its way of still being in power. It was built by King Javayarman VII, the same king behind the completion of the previous two temples (and considered as one of the mightiest rulers in Cambodia).

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High up in the mountains is where sanctity and peace would most likely abound. In Cambodia, that is Phnom Kulen National Park, where frankincense is but a familiar scent. 56 temples are situated in the hilltop but the homage to a carved sleeping Buddha would be the highlight of many locals and tourists, worth the rocky road trip up.

All that walking around the temples can be as equally exasperating as scouting the Cambodia’s Pub Street where exotic food cooked and prepared in street carts are up for famished tourists such as fried insects. If you got your fear factor on, why not give it a try?! Anyhow, if you don’t feel like walking anymore, consider taking the tuktuk, a two wheeled carriage pulled by a motorcycle. It can be as fun too as walking – the drivers will not only take you to your destinations, but will serve also as your personal tour guides. The best way to relieve your tiresome, burnt bodies and feet is a nice and cheap foot massage which can be found almost in any street you go.

Cambodia interestingly has unique modes of transportation like the tuktok. However, if you spot an elephant around the temple areas, I must notify you that as much as you may want to explore Cambodia in a different, higher perspective, I would strongly discourage riding on them. I’ve been informed and I’ve been reading articles online about elephants being abused to become submissive to owners to serve as tourist rides. This source basically explains everything. They are isolated, caged, whipped and all kinds of animal horror and abuse you can think of in order for them to be tamed when they’re being ridden on. Animals have feelings, too – and we must take care of them.

I am not a morning person but I would wake up for sunrises. A glorious sun greets tourists and locals a beautiful Sunday morning as it casts reflections and silhouettes of the Angkor Wat at a nearby lake.

“Caring for the past and crafting for the future” – one of the main institutions in restoring the remains of Cambodia’s temples and creating handicrafts of one of the nation’s best loved icons is Artisans Angkor. Not only have they undergone projects of restoration but has also been able to provide job opportunities in the rural areas – and most of these workers are deaf, too! Many of these handicrafts reflect of the beliefs and history of Cambodia and Artisans Angkor aims to express how dynamic and distinct their culture is through these. They are meticulously crafted by the hands and tools of budding workers who have found passion in stone and wood carving, silk painting and lacquering. The best stories are told from the beauty of an artwork – a product one’s craftsmanship.

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Laid-back city lifestyle is what I can think of when I think of my trip to Cambodia. I also recommend staying at the Shinta Mani Club for I have never experienced such warmth and hospitality as well as zeal for excellent service. Indeed the hearts of the Cambodians are definitely as warm as their country. Sometimes it’s not only the place you look forward to coming back to, but also the people that have found their way to your hearts.