When searching for the best of Cambodia tour packages, it is easy to get lost in the details. Images of sunrise breaking at Angkor Wat, of orange robed monks in prayer, and tree-lined streets in Phom Phen can flood any traditional search for the right tour. But it is the smaller details that matter most.
Cambodia tour packages need to represent the personal struggles of the country in addition to the glamourous temples. The ability to bring to life places such as the famous Tuol Sleng Prison, now a museum illustrating the atrocities committed by Pol Pot, a dictator politician who led the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s, and the nearby Choeung Ek, aka the "Killing Fields." The buildings at Tuol Sleng are preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979. The regime kept extensive records, including thousands of photographs. Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.
Cambodia suffered a great deal during this period of time with the communist party of Khmer Rouge, with over 25% of it’s population dying due to malnutrition, forced labour, and poor medical care, all of which amounted to a Cambodian genocide. The following years had political instability, with the UN briefly governing and strong influences from Vietnam taking place. These days, as an area deemed not only safe but a must visit on anyone’s bucket list, it is paramount to understand the history of this rich country.
A stroll down the old colonial streets easily display the French history, however, gazing upon the magnificent temples of Wat Phnom, the elegant Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda show the true power of this once sprawling empire. The Khmer Empire flourished for 600 years across South East Asia, at its height stretched from Thailand, across present-day Cambodia, to southern Vietnam.
During the Empire’s reign, superior artistry objects such as sculpture, ceramics, and bronzes were created, however no item represents the Kingdom better than Angkor Wat. It is the best example of ancient Khmer architecture, while also being the largest and most impressive of all Cambodian monuments and generally regarded as one of the finest religious structures in the world.
Built in the 12th century, Angkor is a highlight on our Cambodia tour packages and includes an extensive look at the South Gate of Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Baphuon, the Elephant Terrace and the Terrace of the Leper King. This vast complex, covering several square kilometers, was carefully engineered with canals and reservoirs to control flood waters and survive droughts. It was once (by some estimates), the largest city in the world, housing as many as one million inhabitants.
Although Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu Temple dedicated to Vishnu, similar to the 9th century temple of Banteay Srei dedicated to Shiva, modern day Cambodians are mostly Buddhist. It is not uncommon to find monks in their orange garments performing rituals as one of the thousands of monasteries found within Cambodia.
Much like the monks, the beauty of Cambodia is in the quiet moments of reflection amongst the grand temples or the sometimes overwhelming history. It is a country unlike others that should be seen to be understood.
A bountiful country often overshadowed by its tragic past, Cambodia is today a nation under restoration. Following the brutal and devastating rule of the Khmer Rouge, whose reign brought with it the destruction of the country, its accomplishments and its people, Cambodia is now in the process of undertaking a structural restoration of its unique architectural marvels, while at the same time restoring a social balance. The tragedy of the country's past is only compounded by the fact that despite its wealth of attractions and beauty, Cambodia often only remains synonymous with the infamous deeds of the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer civilization flourished from the 9th century to the 13th century after the collapse of the Indianized states of Funan and Chenla, and, having incorporated religious and political aspects of Indian culture, went on to dominate Southeast Asia, and leave their indelible mark on Cambodia. Nowhere would Khmer culture and achievement be more evident than a tour to the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, which is unquestionably the zenith of Khmer architecture and stands as a testament to the dedication, ambition and architectural genius of the ancient people. Though undoubtedly the most unforgettable monument in Cambodia, and arguably in Asia, Angkor Wat is but one of many such structures that have stood more than just the test of time through Cambodia's torrid past.
Since there exists no accommodation at Angkor Wat itself, the nearby Siem Reap has been developed to cater to visitors to the site, and is complete with full amenities for the traveller, such as banks and cyber-cafes. For those who prefer to get closer to nature, to the south of Siem Reap is to be found a crocodile farm.
From taking a tour exploring the striking colonial buildings at the country's capital Phnom Penh, or to the Royal Palace, built by the French in 1866 and which houses the 17th century statuette 'The Emerald Buddha,' history enthusiasts will remember Cambodia and its abundance of varied monuments long after their trip has ended. For those willing to venture to reach memorable sites, Kbal Spean lies about 50km from Siem Reap and near the foot of the Kulen mountain and a trip here would reveal images of various gods carved into the rocks of the riverbed, but it is an attraction only accessible by hiking. And for those looking for something even more energetic, the water festival Bonn Om Teuk - the annual boat rowing contest which draws over 10% of Cambodia's population - and the popular sports of kicking a sey, which is similar to hacky-sack, as well as soccer provide adequate exercise and entertainment.