Cambodia. Land of Lost Empires, vibrant culture, exotic cuisine, luxury hotels and tropical landscapes. It is this rare jewel in the heart of Indochina where members of the World Travel Media Guild (WTMG) will enjoy a special tour from May 18-25, 2017.
(NOTE: This media visit is currently being finalized and optional visits to Vietnam and Thailand are being considered and explored. Final decisions on visits to locations other than Cambodia will be announced in the coming days.)
Our tour of Cambodia begins on May 18 with departure from the hotel in Bangkok and transfer to Battambang, Cambodia by land, which offers a chance to see the lush jungle landscape.
Battambang is Cambodia’s second most populous city and a popular tourist destination thanks to its many nearby ancient temples. Known for its fascinating ruins of temples from the Angkorian period and the famous Bamboo Train, Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city and far removed from the hectic business capital of Phnom Penh. The town’s blend of modern city and colonial architecture fused with small-town friendliness give it a unique charm.
One of the main attractions in Battambang is the Bamboo Train. In past times, the railway was heavily used as transportation between the town Poi Pet on the Thailand border to the capital city of Phnom Penh. These days it is used to transport cargo and passengers short distances to small villages.
The ‘train’ is actually a bamboo platform placed on two axles and propelled forward with a small engine. This odd looking conveyance picks up a surprising amount of speed and the tracks have seen better days, making the whole thing seem a bit unsafe as you fly through green pastures. It is great fun and an experience you won’t soon forget.
Wat Ek Phnom is another important stop for tourists. This large Buddhist temple is built in front of a much older Angkorian ruin, providing stark contrast between ancient and new. Erected in the 11th century during the Bayon period, the ruins are partly overgrown with moss, grass and trees, making you feel like you feel like you are in an adventure of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’
This is the gateway to the great ruins of the ancient city of Angkor, capital of the Khmer kingdom (A.D. 802 until A.D. 1295) nd one of the world’ great marvels. Called the “City of God-Kings,” Angkor has some of the largest religious monuments ever constructed. The largest religious building in the world, Angkor Wat, was built to represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hindu mythology and also the home of the kings of Angkor who were also considered gods.
Unknown to the outside world until French naturalist Henri Mouhot literally stumbled onto it in 1861, Ankor is a wonderous complex of soaring towers and remarkable sculptures, that for centuries many believed was only a myth. Angkor was abandoned for 600 years only to become a magnet for archaeologists after the discovery by Mahout.
The temple complex covers some 97 sq. km (60 sq. miles) and carries the remains of passageways, moats, temples, and palaces that represent centuries of building. Originally the stone would have been interspersed with wooden buildings and filled with the life of a vibrant, thriving city. The wood structure have long since been comsumed by the humid, relentless jungle. But the stone skeleton is clear testament to its former glory.
The temples are served by the nearby town of Siem Reap, which is some 6km (3 1/2 miles) to the south, is the gateway to the temple complex. Siem Reap actually means “Siam Defeated” in reference to the 16th-century victory that solidified the Khmer kingdom.
Once just a quiet town located in the rice paddies, Siem Reap, is now a tourist paradise offering a wide range of accommodations from boutique hotels to 5-star resorts. In addition to access to wonders of ancient temples, the area’s many restaurants, shopping and nightlife makes this a place special. The amazingly varied dining choices, the vibrant night scene, and uniquely Cambodian shopping opportunities are like no where else.
Angkor Thom is another important stop for our group. The temple name means “the great city” in Khmer and is famed for its fantastic 45m (148-ft.) central temple, Bayon and nearby Baphuon. The vast area of Angkor Thom, over a mile on one side, is dotted with many temples. The bridge spanning the moat before the south entrance is lined with the gods and monsters said to have been in competition to churn the proverbial sea of milk that would cause creation of the world.
The centerpiece of Angkor Thom is the Bayon with its classic carved faces. A magical, eerie, and mysterious place. Bayon is a Buddhist temple famous for its huge stone faces, usually set in groups of four around a central prang, or tower. The three-level Bayon is nearly square. The first level is surrounded by an intricate bas-relief gallery depicting stories of Khmer conquests and battles, as well as daily life and ritual among the early Khmers.
Preah Vihear and Phnom Penh
Perched on the top of a cliff along the Dangrek range of mountains, Preah Vihear is one of the most spectacular temples apart from those at Siem Reap. The temple is 200 km (124 miles) from Angkor and not easy to get to but ell worthe the effort. Preah Vihear is part of a chain of spectacular temples stretching across Laos and northern Thailand.
Work started on Preah Vihear in the early 9th century, but work continued over the centuries.Dedicated to Shiva the Destroyer, the earliest surviving parts of the temple date from the early 10th century. The bulk of it was constructed during the reigns of kings Suryavarman I (1002-1050) and Suryavarman II (1113-1150). Like Angkor Wat itself, Preah Vihear is a representation of Mount Meeru — the abode of the gods. In July 2008, Preah Vihear was designated a World Heritage Site.
From the stark realities of the Tuoi Sleng Museum to the jeweled splendor of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh is a city of many contrasts but one that is moving confidently into the 21st-century.
The gilded Royal Palace rises gracefully above flower-strewn gardens unctuated by the Silver Pagoda that shimmers with 5,000 silver tiles sheltering diamond- and crystal-encrusted Buddhas. Nearby, Angkor sculptures are among the Khmer art treasures at the pavilion-style National Museum.
Shopping at open markets where bartering is a national obsession is one of the favorite pastimes for tourists. Colorful krama (checked headscarves), weird and wonderful fruit, gemstones, fried grasshoppers — it’s all under one enormous Art Deco roof at Central Market. You can haggle for handwoven silk, silver animal trinkets and Buddha carvings and then drop in on some of the city’s chicest boulevards where visitors will find fashion boutiques, art galleries and bookstores.
When it comes to food, there are many exotic choices from traditional dishes like amok (coconut fish curry served in a banana leaf), bobor (rice porridge) and lok lak (stir-fried beef) served at markets and roadside shacks across Phnom Penh. On the banks of the Mekong River, Sisowath Quay’s laid-back restaurants dish up Khmer, Asian and Western flavors while elegant French restaurants and cafe-patisseries stud boutique-lined Street 240.
Here is the basic itinerary for this wonderful World Travel Media Guild trip.
May 18, Thursday — Day 1:
07:00AM – Pick up from hotel in Bangkok – Transfer to Cambodia by land.
Overnight in Battambang city of Cambodia
May 19, Friday –Day 2:
Battambang – Siem Reap (the home of Angkor Wat)
May 20, Saturday — Day 3:
Siem Reap – Angkor Temples
May 21, Sunday — Day 4:
Siem Reap – Preah Vihea Temple – Saem City of Preah Vihear province
May 22, Monday — Day 5:
Saem – Stung Treng – Kratie
May 23, Tuesday — Day 6:
Kratie – Phnom Penh
May 24, Wednesday — Day 7:
Phnom Penh (Capital of Cambodia)
Departure to Bangkok (arranged by participants)
May 25, Thursday
Flights home from Bangkok