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Tourists travel from around the world to spend days exploring the temples of Angkor Wat. But these three local boys quickly pedal past the back entrance (always less crowded in the mornings) without a second glance. I guess even Angkor Wat can lose its awe when it's part of your daily commute.
The monastic temple of Ta Prohm is located in Cambodia's Angkor Archeological Park and best known as the setting for the movie Tomb Raider. Our guide strategically timed our early lunch so that we had the grounds to ourselves while the giant tour bus groups were eating. Unlike most of the other Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left mostly unrestored and engulfed by the jungle. Imposing banyan and strangler fig trees have overtaken the crumbling ruins, harmoniously entwining their tentacle-like roots into the structure. We roamed the austere corridors in awe of the site’s haunting beauty.
For some, Angkor Wat epitomizes the Cambodian travel experience. The ancient ruins at Angkor stand as one of mankind's greatest engineering achievements, best experienced as day breaks - so long as you beat the tourist hordes to a good spot across the lake.
I hadn’t been awake for longer than a minute. I peeled back the tarp door to my room, walked out onto my deck, and leapt. It was an abrupt but purifying way to start the day. The cool, brackish water instantly defogged my mind, and my eyes opened to see the surrounding Tatai River and dense Cambodian rain forest. A lone sampan, anchored along an islet, was the only man-made object to interrupt the natural scenery. My chic bungalow lightly swayed on the calm water behind me, an incongruous encampment against the wild jungle backdrop. Located on the southern tip of the Cardamom Mountains, near the Gulf of Thailand, the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge lives up to its name. Accessible only by boat, the retreat’s 12 landless suites all float on their own buoyant platforms, moored to the riverbank. Outfitted with a ceiling fan, armoire, and wood-paneled shower, each of the towering, safari-style tented rooms also provides a nearly 360-degree view of the tropical landscape. A boardwalk connects the rooms to a central lounge and dining area decorated in a muted variety of Miami Beach sleek. At first blush, getting to this secluded outpost might seem daunting. I took a five-hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, followed by a half-hour longboat ride from the village of Tatai. But the journey is well worth the peaceful reward. The Cardamom Mountains contain the largest and most intact evergreen rain forest in mainland Southeast Asia. For decades, the region was largely off-limits to developers because of land mines and fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge militia. This very isolation protected the area’s natural habitat, which is now home to scores of endangered species, including Asian elephants, hairy-nosed otters, and Siamese crocodiles. Mine-clearance efforts and the end of hostilities have made travel here safe for more than 10 years, but it remains a sparsely populated frontier. The area’s remoteness is remarkable in and of itself. In the afternoon, I took a boat ride to the Tatai waterfall with several other guests. Even our skipper, a young Cambodian man who leads visitors on these trips every day, was still in awe of the lush surroundings. “So quiet and beautiful,” he said, looking at the palm trees along the river’s edge. After we arrived at our destination, I spent the rest of the day sitting beneath the waterfall’s forceful but soothing cascades, letting nature’s masseuse relax my muscles. I returned to the lodge for dinner beneath an orange and purple sunset. On the restaurant’s uncovered patio, the only sound accompanying the clang of my utensils was the soft splash of kingfishers swooping to pluck fish from the river. I was less delicate, digging into skewers of mozzarella, watermelon, and fresh shrimp and a plate of steamed river fish topped with a basil cream sauce. In the lingering twilight, I sipped a gin and tonic on my private terrace before easing under my bedsheets. As the gently undulating waters rocked me to sleep, any illusions I had about roughing it in the wilderness drifted away. —Brendan Brady 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, Koh Andet Island, Tatai Village (20 minutes from Koh Kong), Cambodia. 855/(0) 97-64-34-032, ecolodges.asia. From $139 per night. Includes breakfast and boat ride from the village of Tatai. Photo by Dolly Van Cleve. This appeared in the September/October 2010 issue. See more overwater bungalows: The Mandina Lodges, GambiaSoneva Gili by Six Senses, MaldivesPunta Caracol Acqua-Lodge, PanamaLe Méridien Bora Bora, French Polynesia
When you walk in these temples that have stood the passing of time. Think about this.... How many that have passed infront of its gaze have died and will die. Bayon is one of the more interesting temples within the Angkor Wat complex. One of the classics and a do not miss. Although depending on what time of year you go the onslaught of tourist will be there trying to check it out. Best times to visit early morning or late afternoon to evening. As i posted before you could rent a bike if your in good shape but best way and funner way of visiting Angkor What complex and the surrounding temples is by tuk tuk. Also i hope you have come here with at least 3-4 days just for Siam Reap. If your in moderate shape, get up early in the morning, and rent a tuk tuk for the day you can see the main complex in about a day, day in a half with the other half day , day in a half focused to visiting the rest of the outer temples. Ps dont forget to visit the water village but do it in the evening to see the beautiful breathtaking dawning of another day in the life of...... More photos of this complex visit.. http://www.flickr.com/photos/si36studios/sets/72157632244330484/
Visitng Ta Prohm feels like you are rediscovering a lost kingdom being reclaimed by the forest. The trick is to go to Ta Prohm first, while everyone else is at Angkor Wat, and explore the crumbling ruins alone.
Adorable little girl who looked after my shoes when I ascended the stairs to see the great reclining Buddha of Phnom Kulen, Cambodia.
Packed with over 240 venders selling hand-made Cambodian crafts, the Night Market of Siem Reap is hands-down one of the best places to pick up unique souvenirs. Established in 2007, and running well into the nighttime hours, the market holds an array of items from handmade tapestries, to paintings, to carvings made of wood or stone. Plus, buying local keeps all proceeds within the community. Two of my all-time favorite t-shirts were picked up at this very market, just after I took this photo. And as with most worldly markets, you can definitely barter with the venders over the price. Cost for my two t-shirts (which have stood up much better than anything purchased in the states): $2. The feeling I get when I wear them: priceless.
Giant stone faces greet visitors as they enter the Bayon complex. This ancient Khmer center houses over 200 of these serene faces, with theories they were modeled after the bodhisattva (enlightened being) or the Bhuddist king, Jayavarman VII, who built the city center.
Everywhere I go, I check out the market. The Old Market in Siem Reap is not to be missed. Situated along the Siem Reap River at the south side of the Old French Quarter near Pub Street, the Old Market (locally known as Phsar Chas) is a covered, open air market tightly packed with vendors. As you enter on one side of the market, there are vendors selling traditional handicrafts and souvenirs: silver and spices, t-shirts and trinkets, carvings and jewelry, Khmer silk and perfumes. As you delve deeper, you'll find vendors selling fruits, vegetables, meat and fresh seafood--as in breathing, writhing fish, eels and sea snakes. At the heart of the market, of course, is a busy food court where vendors serve locals and travelers soups and dishes. And on the outskirts is the houseware and hardware section. The market closes at sunset...the pulse then shifts to Pub Street! Map: http://www.canbypublications.com/maps/somrmapmain.htm
Stone carving of aspara overgrown by tree near the north gate of Ta Prohm temple, Angkor Wat, Cambodia. The north gate is apparently rarely visited by tourists--my awesome guide Bunchai (provided courtesy of AboutAsia Travel, the best bespoke tour agency I have ever used--highly recommended for trips to Cambodia!) led me through the jungle where I snapped this shot :)
It sounds "too good to be true", right? No big resorts... Miles of remote beaches... Turquoise water... No crowds. The coastline of Cambodia is truly a tropical paradise! There are signs that things are changing, but today Otres Beach, just outside the Cambodian town of Sihanoukville, is untouched by commercial tourism. The beaches are empty and clean. Decent marijuana can be purchased legally (although the law is grey in this area as it is only legal to consume and NOT smoke!) at a number of hip bungalow bars setup along the beach. Drinks are cheap and very easy to come by and your toes never have to leave the sand. Everything is rustic here, but there is a lot of charm in the dozen establishments setup along this remote stretch of beach on the Gulf of Thailand. The roads are still dirt. Its off the beaten path. AirCon is pretty much nonexistent here and even electricity is hit or miss. Some describe the vibe here like Thailand 20yrs ago before tourism was that country's biggest industry. Its what all of us beach combers are looking for and I found it at Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia!
The Passage is a lively pedestrian street in the heart of the Old Market District of Siem Reap lined with restaurants, pubs, hotels and galleries. I highly recommend the restaurant Chamkar for its Cambodian-French style vegetarian dishes that omnivores will love as well.
We probably woke up later than we were supposed to. We caught a tuk tuk at the Shining Angkor Boutique Hotel (recommended, but not windowless room no. 1), drove into the park with our tickets purchased the day before, and briskly walked the long entrance toward the temple in the growing light of morning to the small pond in Angkor Wat. The sunrise photos are what folks posture themselves for in this spot. The lotus were blooming in the small and nearly dried out body of water in front of one of the most photographed engineered "wonders" in the world. They seemed rather difficult to capture with the backlighting of the sun. However, with the warmth of the sky reflecting in the lake, I was able to manipulate my exposure just right to pick up the pink aquatic flowers near dawn. The temples at Angkor should not be missed and we found that the people Siem Reap present a fascinating and and beautiful picture of Cambodian hospitality.
As I live in Bangkok, it is a very bold statement when I say, these were the BEST noodles I have ever eaten in my life. The noodles and dumpling dough is actually made fresh in front of you and then cooked into various Cambodian dishes and they are AMAZING! Recommendations are the vegetable dumplings and the chilli and sour dry noodles. The setting is typical of SE Asia, plastic tables and chairs, florescent lighting, family run. My friend and I greedily ordered four dishes and had two beers each and the whole meal came to $8! Most tuk tuk drivers seemed to know exactly where it was, so if you make it to Battambang, you have to go there!
Situated among lotus ponds and palm gardens, the buildings at Angkor Village incorporate native Southeast Asian hardwoods and mimic traditional Khmer architectural styles. Ride on an elephant to Phnom Bakheng hill and watch the sunset or explore the 12th-century stone temples of nearby Angkor Wat. Angkor Village Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia. From $89. 855/(0) 63-963-361, angkorvillage.com. Photo courtesy of Angkor Village Hotel. This appeared in the November/December 2010 issue. See other timber lodges.
Taken in Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia where I had the pleasure of taking a boat ride at sunset on my own to visit a floating village in the middle of the lake. One of the final images on my camera is this boat in the far distance of a mother and her three children perhaps making their voyage home. It was my last night in Siem Reap and it couldn't have been more memorable. The sunset was absolutely spectacular.
One of the best restaurants in town, the chef collects the best ingredients available locally and presents them beautifully.
Sihanoukville is definitely not off the beaten path. It's easy to become a disgruntled & cynical tourist here. The beautiful beaches are spoiled by garbage; your peaceful lounge with an umbrella drink interrupted constantly by women & children who want to sell you trinkets, a pedicure or massage. I tell myself they're just trying to survive as best they know how, and close my eyes, feigning sleep so they'll leave me alone. Then I open my eyes & see this beautiful, grubby little child, not selling anything, just going about his business, in his dirty t-shirt & solitary shoe. I'm reminded of the standard of living here, & why people are pestering me to buy. When the sun fades & I leave the beach for a shower & dinner, they're left to go home & tend to their children, maybe find the other shoe. Heart opened.
Koh Rong Island is a MUST for anyone traveling in southern Cambodia. Not only is it the least developed island I visited in Southeast Asia, but if you’re willing to wade a short distance from the shore after dark, you can experience a magic like no other. Along these shores, phosphorescent plankton fill the water. You simply have to trouble the water for an exotic lightshow to display all around you. It’s like stepping into one of the night scenes from Avatar….all of a sudden you are surrounded by glowing tiny lights. The wander of this experience made me want to stay in the ocean all night! (All of the little glowing dots in the picture are plankton.) Koh Rong Island can only be reached by boat from Sihanoukville. When I was there, there were only 3 choices of accommodation and the power only came on during certain hours. We stayed at Monkey Beach Bungalows, where this ocean experience was literally steps from our bungalow. You can book a bungalow on the island & transportation through the Monkey Republic guesthouse on Serendipity road in Sihanoukville. Get there now, before it becomes just another tourist “hot spot!”
With more than 40 different plant species in its garden, Botanico GastroBar feels like an urban jungle. The new café serves excellent coffee along with homemade sugarcane rolls with anise and feta. At night, a stylish crowd comes for the globally influenced menu that includes chorizo burgers and passion fruit–vodka cocktails. No. 9B St. 29, 855/(0) 17-873-101. Photo by Phnom Ben. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.
Located near the Royal Palace, Street 240 offers some of the city’s best shopping. 1. ARTILLERY A café, gallery, and shop, Artillery sells clothing, textiles, and accessories from independent labels such as Push Pull Cambodia, above. The modern art gallery exhibits local and international artists. artillerycambodia.com 2. SPA BLISS After a facial at this spa, browse the boutique’s selection of antique saris, linen dresses, and quilted pillows. blissspacambodia.com 3. WANDERLUST In addition to its line of clothes produced in Cambodia, Wanderlust sells locally made bangles and woven friendship bracelets, plus bags that a Phnom Penh NGO creates out of recycled magazines. wanderlustcambodia.com Photo courtesy of Push Pull Cambodia. This appeared in the October 2012 issue.
You know those places; the ones that make you over-stay your visa and dream of never returning home? Well, this is one of those places. Straight out of a delicious “paradise found” novel, Koh Rong island off of Cambodia’s south-west shore is a white-sand beach surrounded by warm, clean water that glows with phosphorescent creatures at night (see my post: “Secrets of the Ocean after Dark”). Staying in your own private bungalow, with a verandah that looks out at the sea, you can spend your days lying in your hammock, having a drink at the resort bar, playing beach volleyball or going for a snorkel. The only “traffic” you’ll see on this island is the locals walking their water buffalo down the beach once a day. Be sure and give yourself more time than you think you’ll need, because after about an hour here, all you’ll be thinking is, “how much longer can I stay?” Koh Rong Island can only be reached by boat from Sihanoukville. When I was there, there were only 3 choices of accommodation. We stayed at Monkey Beach Bungalows. You can book a bungalow on the island & transportation there through the Monkey Republic guesthouse on Serendipity road in Sihanoukville.
Vestiges of European colonial settlement remain throughout much of Southeast Asia, often contrasted against more traditional hill tribe villages and always set in (cooler) rolling mountain ranges. These former frontier towns were once the summer homes of wealthy colonials looking to escape the heat of the lowlands and Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar are dotted with these high-altitude enclaves. Sapa, nestled in the hills of North Vietnam is one of the best preserved towns of this era with its terraced rice fields contrasting against Bordeaux-style villas. Borkor in Cambodia is a different type of hill station with a dark past. Abandoned in the 1990s, Borkor fell into ruin, giving it a distinct ghost town feel though as re-development has started in Bokor Hill, so plans to visit soon should be made fast. In up-and-coming Myanmar, Kalaw has many old examples of British architecture, including Tudor-style houses and rose gardens, plus traditional villages, pagodas and a surprising number of curry houses, thanks to the area's Nepali population.
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