Common in Asian countries, legends and myths abound in Cambodia. Local folklores and traditions were preserved, as do the magnificent architectures left behind by the grand Khmer empire of the past (established during the early 9th century). Many are familiar with Angkor Wat, one of the 7 Wonders of the World but few may be aware that the age-old city, Angkor, used to be the capital of the Khmer empire, which used to dominate the region covering present-day Cambodia, much of Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, etc.
It is an understatement to say that good things never last. Power struggles and wars, both external and internal, had set the country backwards but what Cambodia lacks in infrastructure is made up in beautiful (often heart wrenching) stories and internal strength of people, so great that it demands absolute admiration.
Here’s a list of 5 things to love about Cambodia:
History and stories abound
With history that can be traced back to the 5th century, the Kingdom of Cambodia harbours countless stories – some known, others waiting to be uncovered. Cambodia, also known as Kampuchea, has known many rulers and each of her rulers differ in cultural backgrounds and practices. Early days Cambodia was very much influenced by India, thereby explaining historical structures, artifacts and religious practices relating to Hinduism and Buddhism.
There were also folklores that were passed through so many generations that nobody quite know if it is for real. During my 8-day trip, I was happy to discover the City of Lost Stick and saw the ‘stern’ and very black general, Battambang, whom the city is named after.
Undying spirits of the beaten but not defeated
Wars have left its dark imprints on Cambodia, and her people have suffered and are still suffering but they do not give up. On top of being resilient, the Cambodian people (or most of those whom I have crossed path with) are really diligent. Be it our street-smart tuk tuk driver whose pet phrase was “no problem” or our youthful pottery trainer who’s studying Mandarin for greater opportunities, they showed strong will to constantly improve themselves and their lives. Even people who have become physically challenged due to landmines injuries are performing music to earn a living instead of begging for money. These are people who have dignity. Their determination to survive and survive well is inspiring.
Eclectic mix of beautiful architecture
With Indian, French and other Asian influences, Cambodia presents an eclectic mix of architecture! Perhaps it is because of this that I felt very much at home. Amidst a mix of French colonial style buildings, you can also find Hindu temples with elaborated carvings, Buddhist temples with various mythical animal statues and bustling 1-storey Asian markets where locals and visitors congregate. The local residential district evokes memories of Vietnam – my favorite destination in Asia. The Malay village by the river reminded me of early days Singapore and I wondered if that’s how our kampong (village) used to be.
Dark history aside, Cambodia is a place where you can have fun… hands-on! I was struck by the Cambodian’s ingenuity, as they make full use of their resources to create fun for themselves as well as for visitors. Besides sitting on a bamboo train that felt very much like a horizontal roller coaster ride without straps, one can join cooking tours and pottery lessons! Swimming in the cool and refreshing waterfall area has got to be one of the major highlights, if you do not mind letting harmless little fishes nibble your feet. Even your daily transport on a tuk-tuk (motorised rickshaw) can be exhilarating, that is when you are not inhaling a cloud of dusty air.
Cambodia is a mere 2-hour flight from Singapore and with multiple airlines flying to Phnom Penh (capital) and Siem Reap; it is so easily accessible that I wondered why I have not visited it earlier? Anyway, it is better to be late than never, so I know for sure that I will be returning soon to explore more.
Besides being easily accessible from home, it is surprisingly easy to travel around and within Cambodia. To travel between cities or towns, one can either take the intercity bus or hop on a boat (depending on season, the length of boat ride will differ). From Cambodia, it is also very easy to travel to Vietnam, Thailand and Laos. If flight tickets are costly and you have time to spare, do consider travelling by bus to get to any of these destinations. Within each city or town, tuk-tuk is the most convenient mode of transport besides motorcycles or bikes.
PS: Free Wi-Fi is available at most accommodation and restaurants in the town area, so you can stay easily stay connected with loved ones at home, unless you are traipsing the countryside for the day.
“It’s the most dangerous country you’ll ever visit, because you’ll fall in love with it…and then it will break your heart”. ~Joseph Mussomeli, Former US Ambassador to Cambodia
Having shared my 5 top reasons for loving Cambodia, I must add that a trip to this country can evoke strong mixed emotions (or at least it did for me). Friends have asked if my trip was fun. I hesitated to answer not because it wasn’t fun, but rather there’s a sense of darkness with the poverty, traces of war, etc. Rather than putting it down to fun (which feels so frivolous), I would say that this is a destination, which calls for greater sensitivity, self-awareness and growth.
The above information has been compiled based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out: http://www.tourismcambodia.org/