A Journey in Siem Reap
What You Will Find Beyond Angkor Wat
How do you find peace?
In our very core, it dwells in our center when we create it because it fills us. It fills us more when we are connected to the world. The way we connect is by listening, by understanding, by learning and by giving. Through all of that, we adapt compassion to one another and compassion to our world. Cambodia is a place that was in a turmoil of history and wars and yet, something about the unanswered past has brought the country in a state of peace within one self, focusing on its future.
Cambodia was a bucket list destination for as long as I could remember and now that I have returned, people often ask me: ” What did you feel when you were there?”
I often reply the same thing… ” I can’t put it into words.”
I can’t tell you that I found peace and brought it back with me, because that would be too difficult to measure and I would be lying.
What I did find is compassion and forgiveness in others.
I traveled alone to Cambodia and I would not have it any other way. I’ve witnessed the work of volunteers abroad, sleeping in one accommodation and teaching english in schools has kept me grounded.
It was not peace I was looking for, nor was it space… I was looking for forgiveness. Forgiveness to those who never apologized, forgiveness in myself for lingering too long and for the things I could not achieve. And just like the Cambodians and their brutal past, they have pulled through and learned to forgive themselves and others, and moved on, and that was a lesson I saw and felt on my own.
It was derived from compassion.
My goal was always to thrive and excel on everything I invest in. Friendships, work, relationships and having too much compassion or too little can hurt at times.
When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.
Balancing my compassion, it could be my new lesson in Cambodia.
ANGKOR (near Siem Reap, 145 miles from Phnom Penh) was the capital of the Khmer Empire, a Hindu-Buddhist civilization that encompassed all of present-day Cambodia, and much of Southeast Asia. Situated on a flat plain in northwestern Cambodia, it was one of the largest cities in the world in the 11th and 12th centuries. “Angkor” means “capital” in Khmer. It is derived from nagara , a Sanskrit word that originally referred to a particular time and place in Angkor history.
This article is not on the history of Cambodia because that will take up a lot more pages, but it is a guide to Cambodia. There are 292 temples in the Angkor complex, a fifth of those surviving in Cambodia from the Khmer civilization. Among these are 72 major temples and monuments, and 220 minor ones, of which 30 have been cleared from the jungle and can be visited. By one count the entire complex contains 700 large and small temples and shrines and Angkor Wat is one temple within Angkor. Other major temples that are open to visitors include Bayon, Angor Thom and Ta Prohm.
Visiting the temples can take up a full day, depending on how much you want to see, learn and experience. In my 7 days journey through Cambodia, I was able to visit the temples 3 times during my stay and that was not enough for me. A lot of people find it suffice to complete it in 3 hours though. Bayon was maybe my favorite of all. The best time of day to visit Angkor Wat is at sunrise or sunset. The other temples open at 7am.
Cambodia is 90% Buddhist.
Massive damage was done to Cambodian Buddhism during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. Buddhist monks were forcibly removed from the wats (Buddhist temples) and made to do manual work (as were many other parts of the population). Religion was forbidden and temples were damaged or destroyed. It’s estimated that as many as 50,000 monks died or were killed during this time.
Today Buddhism remains an influential force in Cambodia religion and in everyday life, but it is still rebuilding from the loss of so many leaders and teachers during the Khmer Rouge period. However, in 2006 there were an estimated 60,000 Buddhist novices in Cambodia, and work to repair temples and re-establish Buddhism continues.
Khmer cuisine is the traditional Cambodian name. Not being an adventure foodie while traveling, it does have some Southeast Asia staple attributes, it also has a flavour all of its own.
I also visited the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake. This large body of freshwater has been home to many of the country’s fishermen for decades, who today still rely on the lake for their livelihood. Learn about their way of life and how you can help them sustain it. I booked my trip through @beautifulcambodia and spoke to the owner, Bryan, he also explained to me the ways in which we can help break the cycle of exploiting kids to beg for money. Kampong Khleang is a village in Cambodia, situated at Tonle Sap lake. The majority of the community lives in stilts houses. This creates a unique feeling. Kampong Khleang is a must visit during your Cambodia trip! To choose the best period to visit, it’s good to understand a bit more about the climate in Cambodia. The climate has a big impact on the Tonle Sap lake. Cambodia has a dry and wet period. During the dry period (December – April), the water flows through the Tonle Sap river back into the Mekong river. This is visible in the Capital, Phnom Penh. From May onwards, the wet period starts. The water level in the Mekong rises and the water flows back to Tonle Sap lake. During the wet season, Tonle Sap becomes the biggest freshwater lake in southeast Asia. It is incredible to know that the floating village completely disappears during the dry season! Huge transformation! When the lake overflows, the flood plain will contain loads of nutrient soil for the fish. The fish can literally fall out the sky (trees) once the water withdraws. The lake has a big contribution to fishing but besides that the surroundings becomes very fertile. You will discover different agricultural activities. The people live in floating villages (like a small Vietnamese community just outside Kampong Khleang). You will see a lot of liveliness. I stayed in Belmond La Residence D’angkor Wat. A boutique elegant hotel with 59 suites blending with traditional Khmer style and contemporary design with a lot of greenery. A 10-minute walk from shops and restaurants and a 20 minute drive to Angkor. The rooms are a beautiful size for a couple or solo traveler like myself, the rooms can also accommodate a day bed that can turn into a sleeping bed for children. The hotel is a gem to wake up to every morning facing the pool. The service represents the people in Cambodia, with a smile and would go to extreme lengths to keep you happy. One thing I also recommend is the spa!
Angkor Wat is one of the most magical places you will ever visit. Make sure you take the sunrise tour at 4:30 am
Fishermen out at the lake after visiting the floating village. Make sure you visit the and watch the sunset a little outside the village. Your guide from Beautiful Cambodia would be able to take you there. Get snacks from your hotel while you wait for the sun to set.
Bayon, the most serene temple with smiling stone faces on the many towers and the last state temple to be built at Angkor and my favorite.
I crave space. Early mornings swim when everyone is asleep, surrounded by nature.
Some times, I would work from this couch outdoor by the pool. Raspberry sorbets gets passed around daily from 1-4pm and so I wait for them.
Private bicycles are available for hire. You can cycle around the river and have a picnic on the river bank.
Things To Do in Siem Reap
Floating Village There are a few floating villages in Cambodia and some you should absolutely not go to due to the vicious cycle of exploiting children to beg for money for the wrong reasons and not to the people who need it. Kompog Khleang, situated at Tonle Sap lake is the one we recommend. I do not recommend Kompong Phluk. Kampong Khleang lies on the shore of the biggest fresh water lake in southeast Asia. With more than 10.000 people, it is the biggest community on the shore of Tonle Sap. During the dry season, (December – April), you can reach the village by car, but during the wet season, a big transformation and is accessible only by boat! Your tour will usually be a sunset tour and start at 2pm. Make sure you carry some water with you and some snacks for the sunset dock.
Visiting Angkor Wat Cambodia’s most popular attraction and the largest religious monument in the world and one of the most historical, beautiful and long history. All built without the aid of any machinery. The site was constructed between 802 and 1220 AD when machinery wasn’t available and it took 35 years to build with the help of approximately 1,000 elephants in addition to the 300,000 labourers. A huge five million tons of sandstone was used to build the religious site which covers an area of 208 hectares. It became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, which encouraged an international effort to prevent further damage. Waking up at 4am to catch the sunrise will be the most magical moment you could ever experience. At first, you are in total darkness and as the sun starts to rise, Angkor Wat starts to be clearer and visible. A mind blowing experience!
Phnom Kulen Waterfalls Phnom Kulen was known as Mahendraparvata, the first capital of Cambodia’s Angkor civilization, a mountainous plateau of hermits and herbs, and secret places lost in deep jungle, that lies 25 miles north-east of Angkor Wat. Its name means “mountain of the Lychee” . There is a sacred hilltop site on top of the range. The site is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters which hold special significance to Hindus
Tah Prohm Temple The famous Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie was filmed here. The temple was established by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII in 1189. Unlike most temples at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm keeps its features like its initial construction. It is covered with the jungles making it one of the most famous temples at Angkor Wat. Previously, this temple used to occupy 12 640 people including 18 monks, 2,740 priests. One of the most eerie temples I have ever seen! Trees take over Tah Prohm, leaving the temple engulfed by the jungle.
Donate to a community school It’s easy to get lost in compassion versus doing what is politically correct. There are so many reasons why you must think twice about waving your money to the kids on the street versus supporting a community school. For one, you break the cycle of exploiting children to be on the streets rather than being in school. The money you give to the beggars on the street will not be used for the good reasons, rather, if you want to give back, find a local school, donate money to sponsor one child for a year or a month and break the cycle of allowing the kids on the streets instead of being in school. I worked with IVHQ on a volunteer project for the school.
Take a helicopter ride An incredible feeling and understanding the magnitude in size of Angkor Wat and the city. At Belmond La Residence D’angkor Wat provides helicopter tours, make sure you book in advance.
The temples of Bayon Maybe my favorite. It is an extraordinary temple located at the geographical center of the city of Angkor. The main temple has a large central dome surrounded by smaller towers decorated with faces and detailed ornaments. It was built about 100 years after Angkor Wat under Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181-1219). The entry tower of the Bayon is from the east. I remember being stunned at all the faces looking down at me. It’s like nothing I have seen before. The temples open at 7am, so make your way there right after Angkor Wat, make sure you also pass through the gates of the temples. There are 5, if you have enough time try and make all 5 of them in a tuk tuk.
Did you know?
One thing we should always remind you is that travelers/tourists should never give money to child beggars we meet abroad. Not even the cute ones. Not even the disabled ones. Not even the ones who want money for school. I know how it sounds, but don’t give them money, or candy, or pens. It’s not generous. In fact, it’s one of the most harmful when we, well-intentioned tourists, give money directly to child beggars, there’s a decent chance we’re actually lining the pockets of criminals who will turn around and use that money to abduct, enslave, rape, torture, and maim even more kids. It’s a devastating pill to swallow, since enslaved children who return to their captors without money might be beaten, tortured, or worse. But by giving them money, we only encourage the cycle, finance a horrific business model, and put future children in grave danger. When we give directly to children, we hurt more than we help.
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