Siem Reap can be reached by boat, plane, and bus with the boat trip offering amazing river views. The six hours river trip starts on the Tonle Sap River and continues into the lake so large that the shore is not visible. Many people along the waterway still live in rattan mat houses, some on stilts, some on floating platforms.
Timeless sights include children, in uniform, paddling their small wooden boats to the bright blue, floating school, while others fish and go about their daily routine. Along the river people fish and farm as they have done for generations.
The glory of Cambodia is found in the huge temple complex of Angkor. It is the heart and soul of Cambodia, a source of great pride and inspiration as they rebuild their lives. Even amid the throng of tourists it is easy to be entranced by the aura of Angkor. Most temples are entered by short jungle walk - disabled veterans play traditional music and monkeys gambol about. Within the temples is the heady smell of incense, saffron-robed monks, fortunetellers, and halls lined with religious bas-reliefs.
Spending some time in the Angkor temple will show visitors the marvel of the Khmer empire. Huge stones piled perfectly on top of one another highlight the artistry of their people, and the numerous bas relief friezes depict stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. There are representations from the Hindu mythology, as well as scenes showing the battles of Hindu gods.
The temple complex covers 81 hectares and is dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu. The temple is a representation of the Hindu cosmology. The central monument represents the sacred Mount Meru, and the five towers symbolize Mount Meru's five peaks. The temple’s greatest treasures are the bas-reliefs around the walls of the outer gallery and the hundred figures of devatas and apsaras.
To enter Angkor Thom, most visitors prefer to use the Victory Gate. It is one of the most popular entrance into the complex, and like the other gateways of Angkor Thom, it is also topped by giant stone faces facing the four cardinal points.
Bayon is the ultimate destination in Angkor Thom. Over 200 smiling stone faces are carved in the 54 towers compressed in a very small area. Most of the gigantic faces in Bayon resemble the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, leading scholars to conclude that the faces must represent him. However, others are also convinced that those belong to Lokesvara, the deity of compassion.
Pictures of Ta Prohm usually bring to mind the movie Tomb Raider. However, Ta Prohm in real life is more majestic. Most of the structures have been overrun by huge strangler figs, and their victorious spreading out is a sight to behold. Most of the structures in Ta Prohm have roots growing out of them and along them, and most are bigger than the temples themselves.
It would be best to buy some food before entering Ta Prohm. There are stalls outside the entrance, but the meals are usually overpriced. Cambodian vendors accept (and even expect) haggling.
Prasat Kravan was named after the cardamon trees that used to be planted in the area. It is a small complex showing wonderful brick masonry and unique stone carvings. There are five towers facing east, but only two have remaining superstructures; these have receding tiers, giving an illusion of height. All the bricks in Prasat Kravan have been joined not by mortar or cement, but by a vegetable gum commonly used in the ancient times.
Cambodia is a study in contrasts. The people of Cambodia survived incomprehensible suffering during the 1970s when an estimated two million people died. This is the same Cambodia that created the magical Angkor Wat. Built between 9th and 14th centuries when the Khmer civilization was at the height of its creativity, it is believed to be the world’s largest religious structure.