by Sacha Bunnik
One of the highlights of my role as Operations Director at Bunnik Tours is my need to visit exotic locations around the world for quality control. Yes I have a hard life. I was lucky enough to be able to take Amie my middle daughter on this two week adventure that included the fascinating country of Cambodia.
The Kingdom of Cambodia is one of the smallest countries in Asia, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in sights, with the magnificent Angkor Wat complex, which I am sure is on most travellers’ bucket list.
Cambodia has only recently opened up to the world after many years of isolation after the Vietnam War and the rule of the Khmer Rouge left this poor war-ravaged country in ruins. Since the mid 1990’s Cambodia has experienced massive change and has become one of the safest and friendliest countries in Asia to visit.
Angkor Wat is one of the largest temple complex’s in the world, dating back to the 12 century. The temple complex was completely covered by jungle and was left almost undiscovered for much of the last 500 years. Over recent times great efforts has been put into restoration and conservation projects to protect this historic site and to bring it back to its past glories.
You will see when you visit that the site is massive and takes days of exploring to fully appreciate, as almost every temple in the complex offers different architectural styles and influences. Some of the temples even have Indian and Hindu influences.
My favourite temple at Angkor Wat is the Ta Prohm Temple which was used in the movie Tomb Raider in 2001, staring Angelina Jolie. This tree-strangled temple is amazing as it’s still mostly covered by rich green jungle, making it a lot different than most of the other temples at Angkor Wat. Here we just walked around the temple complex and surrounding jungle, imagining what it was like when it was built.
Angkor Wat is a special spiritual place that everyone should visit at least once in their lives.
Once you are fully templed out at Angkor Wat, an interesting day trip from Siem Reap is Tonle Sap Lake. Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world and is on the UNESCO Biosphere list due to its importance and uniqueness. The lake expands and shrinks dramatically going from 2700 square meters and 1 metre deep to over 16 000 square metres and over 9 metres deep depending on the season.
There are a range of floating villages that occupy Tonle Sap Lake. These villages include floating houses, schools, vegetable gardens, shops, just about everything a small village has, the only difference is no cars and everything is just floating on the water. We visited at lunch time and witnessed all the local school children rowing their canoes and boats from school to home. We also had the opportunity to visit a few local shops including a fish, crocodile and snake farm. Experiencing the floating villages and their unique way of life was a real highlight of Cambodia for both of us.
Siem Reap is the gateway city to Angkor Wat and is the location of most of the hotels and guest houses. The downtown area has a fantastic atmosphere at night as the streets are lined with restaurants and markets and full of international tourists mixing it up. The restaurant choice is amazing in Siem Reap as it ranges from local Khmer to Italian to Mexican with everything else in-between.
After dinner in Siem Reap, make sure you take the time to get your feet cleaned uniquely Cambodian style. What this means is you dangle your bare feet in a massive tank and let hundreds of hungry fish eat the dead skin off your feet. Sounds disgusting, yes it was. I have never laughed so much in my life as it tickles like crazy, a very strange feeling. The lady that runs the feet cleaning tank was telling me she had a bunch of Australian back packers come to get their feet cleaned and one of the young men jumped into the tank in his bathers (he might have been a little drunk) for a fully body clean, crazy but funny.