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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Adventurers drawn to the beauty of Cambodia

Adventurers drawn to the beauty of Cambodia

Source: china view
2008-06-16 09:49:47

BEIJING, June 16 -- After decades of unrest, Cambodia is coming into its own as a destination for travelers eager to embrace architecture, adventure and smiles, writes Jenny Hammond.

Compared with its high profile neighbors, wartorn Vietnam and the idyllic paradise of Thailand, Cambodia tends to fly under the radar. But that does not mean this fascinating country has any less to offer.

After three decades of war, Cambodia is now at peace and attracting more and more tourists with the promise of Indiana Jones- or Tomb Raider-type adventures.

Undoubtedly Cambodia is a beautiful country, quite different from its neighbors.

For starters there are vast expanses of bright red earth house communities where the homes are built on stilts to protect residents from floods in the rainy season and the odd rogue snake, while at the same time providing shelter for livestock below.

The view feels more like something out of Africa than Asia with mango trees nestled along the sides of bumpy roads where smiling locals sell juicy slices of pineapples to weary passers-by.

Cambodia was ravaged during the war years and still has the highest number of unexploded land mines in the world. But with a vast expanse of magnificent horizons and some of the world's most breathtaking man-made structures, the horrific past is being replaced by the wonder of the country's rich cultural heritage.

The biggest attractions on the tourist trail are the temples of Angkor which are among the most incredible structures on Earth in spite of thousands of years of wear and tear and, more recently, clumsy tourist feet.

Situated near the sleepy town of Siem Reap, the temples were only rediscovered by the Western world in the 1860s although they still housed a wealthy working monastery.

The discovery generated a great deal of international interest in Cambodia, with well-known explorers swooping on the country to document their travels throughout the area. But in the last part of the last century, visiting Cambodia became difficult as the country was forced into conflict with neighbors.

With Cambodia and its relics now safe to visit following its recent past, tourism is becoming a booming industry.

And most are heading straight for Angkor. The temples of Angkor, capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, rival each other in size, detail and beauty, but Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world, stands proud near the center of them all.

Angkor Wat is the best example today of man's devotions to the gods through its sheer size and intricate carvings. More than 3,000 individually carved "heavenly nymphs" adorn the structure while the high turrets of the temple all point west leading many to believe the monument was built as a tomb - the west symbolically points towards death.

A note to remember for visiting this temple is that it is lit at night between 7:30pm and 9pm so a visit at this time allows a brief escape from both the heat and the distracting tour bus crowds.

But in spite of Angkor Wat's size, it is by no means the best of the many monuments spreading throughout a thick forest.

Heading north from Siem Reap, you first come across Angkor Wat, then the walled city of Angkor Thom where stone faces of tranquil Buddhas stare serenely into the thick jungle.

To the east of the city is the mesmerizing temple of Ta Prohm intertwined in a jungle wilderness and Banteay Kdei that offers intricate stone carvings.

Restorations are underway in many of the structures, but the beauty of Ta Prohm is embellished by the way nature has reclaimed the temple with massive trees winding around the structure, breaking up walls as if they were made of sand.

Like a giant octopus enveloping the temple, the tree trunks and roots - often more than 30 centimeters wide - wind through the crevices while birds chatter noisily in the tree tops above.

With temperatures often exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, young local children run to tourists touting cold refreshments as well as a myriad of craft items such as flutes, bags, postcards and books.

While many parents have been lost in conflicts, maimed by land mines or even killed by poisonous snakes, the children still welcome visitors with wide smiles and fluent English greetings.

After the architecture, the hospitality in Cambodia is the most notable aspect of a visit there, as locals are quick to wave happily at foreign faces - making it a top destination for anyone seeking culture, beauty, kindness and an incredible adventure.

(Source: Shanghai Daily)

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