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The trip was planned as a surprise visit for mother bear’s birthday. A colleague had recommended Cambodia as a lovely place to visit and was in Zen-mode upon returning from his holiday. I got the details of a personal hire car/tour guide from him and set out to plan the short getaway. Co-coordinating a trip from scratch was a tad bit hard with the guide having intermittent access to internet and delayed replies. All bookings and arrangements were made via internet/email and luckily, most things went well.

Places Visited (over 5 days):

  • Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre

  • Central Market

  • Angkor Night Markets

  • Pub Street

  • Angkor Wat , Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei & others

  • Phnom Kulen National Park, Big Buddha

  • Silk Farm

  • Tonle Sap Lake Wonder (Cruise)

  • Smile of Angkor Show

  • Royal Palace

We planned the 5 days and 4 nights trip to coincide with a public holiday as taking leave was a tad bit hard in the corporate world that I was in, at that time (back in 2013). We arrived in Phnom Penh on the 1st day (6th Feb) and stayed for a night before starting the bumpy and rickety journey by road to Siem Reap the next day.

There was a member of the royal family who had passed on and there was an obligatory mourning period that was declared. Hence, our plan to visit the royal palace on Day 1 of the trip was a flop. Surprisingly, I saw fireworks on that night and was told that it is a part of the “mourning”. We made do with travel lag and body massages by masseuses who came straight to our hotel! I also checked out one of the central markets in the area and was surprised by the variety of goods up for sale.

The next day, I visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre and it was quite a saddening traipse through. We had audio players with numbers to listen to, at various places throughout the centre. I was deeply moved by how realistic the players were – there were sounds of the trauma that people had endured and looking at the present day marked sites, I was transported in time. After this, we were meant to visit killing fields that made this centre apparently pale in comparison, but even this was too much to handle emotionally, hence we skipped the fields. There was a stupa full of skulls as a memorial for those who passed on. Cambodia was filled with prayer structures and memorials (there is a way to tell the difference, but I just wasn’t able to).

We visited a couple of other pit stops along the way and also tried local Cambodian cuisine. I loved the Fish Amok. It’s a traditional Khmer dish of fish cooked in coconut milk gravy that was fragrant, Zesty and Flavourful. I had this quite a few times during the trip and there were minor variations of it that I enjoyed.

Along the way, we stopped by Skuon and there was a street buffet of fried creepy crawlies. Fried Tarantulas, Maggots, Crickets, Roaches and the lot. I’m all for trying local delicacies when I travel, but this made me squeamish even before I contemplated it- I should’ve brought along more bug repellant!! There were heaps of local potteries, artsy places and local fruit stalls along the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Riep. The corns on the cob (sold at random roadside stalls) were delicious and the statues at some of the pottery places were larger than life sized.

The next day we rested and took it fairly easy after a long drive to Siem Reap. One of the Must-Dos and main things on our list was a visit to the Angkor Wat. I left in the early hours of the morning hoping to catch a glimpse of sunrise at Angkor, but alas, the clouds were low and unfavourable to the much hyped spectacle. The grounds were massive and I got quite a workout just exploring it. Some structures and the highest point required vertigo inducing climbs on tiny, ancient stairs.

We also visited other temples like Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei and I walked the grounds of the place where tomb raider (which starred Angelina Jolie) was shot. My quick star moment awaited me – minus any Hollywood producers at that time! I visited quite a few temples over a day and gave myself an amazing workout. I skipped out other temples that we had planned as the group was exhausted. The gazillion pics that I had do not do the sight justice and it is a challenge just streamlining them for this blog post.

Over the next few days, I visited quite a few places. My first fish spa experience at the Angkor Night Markets was hilariously ticklish. I was convinced to try it out by a fellow traveller who was nonchalantly trying it out with a drink in hand. The markets held a variety of goods at low prices and smelt of delicious food. Pub Street and the night markets was an interesting checkout. I also weaseled in a visit to the silk farm to see where my silk shawls came from and no visit to such a place is complete without token goods. The visit to Phnom Kulen National Park with 1000 lingams near a waterfall and a massive Buddha temple with a huge reclining Buddha atop a mountain was mesmerizing. I was lost in the transience of peacefulness in the area. A minor culture shock was seeing creepy crawlies in bottles (ranging from snakes to insects and crickets. These are apparently meant as good luck charms.