Cambodia: Angkor “What”?

by Narelle Webber on Thursday, 6 October 2011

On our first ever ISV optional excursion to Cambodia in August 2011, a handful of adventurous ISV participants discovered something just as incredible as Machu Picchu, right here in Southeast Asia.

ISV 2011 Angkor Wat Temple

As the International Program Director for ISV, I’m required to have a working knowledge of all our programs, and I welcome getting out of the office and spending time with our participants. I’m thankful that this August, a small number of ISV participants had heard enough about Cambodia to give our brand new five-day excursion a try. I had the pleasure of joining them along with our Thai Tour Manager, Metreeya (aka May) and our local Khmer guide, Thomas.

The results? A mind-blowing historical and cultural saturation that rivals anything I’ve ever experienced in my travels (including the Colosseum in Italy, Ephesus in Turkey, and Machu Picchu in Peru). This is hot and steamy Southeast Asia with vibrant and colorful markets –and the temples of Angkor did not disappoint. Thomas showed his local knowledge by telling stories about Hindu and Buddhist influences on the superbly intact temples of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, as he weaved in interesting tidbits about the Khmer Rouge and even French, Thai and Vietnamese occupations. At Angkor Wat, we felt the bullet holes in the walls of the architectural masterpiece from the recent civil wars, yet it was hard to imagine this now peaceful country in such turmoil. It is far easier to imagine the French man in the mid 1800’s who stumbled by accident upon Angkor, which was overgrown by the jungle, Tomb Raider style.

Bayon Faces in Angkor Thom

The Incredible stone faces of Bayon, 12th Century, Angkor Thom

The bustling town of Siem Reap was fascinating, with heaps of places to eat, drink and shop, boasting intriguing markets as well as chic bars and designer shops. Free time options were plentiful as well: May and I tried out a cooking class where you get a t-shirt, make three dishes and receive a small recipe book, all for $10. I must say that the mango salad, fish Amok and pumpkin in coconut milk with tapioca were delicious.

We explored the region by foot, bicycle, tuk tuk, boat (Tonle Sap lake) and (thankfully), air-conditioned van. It was sweltering HOT, and we all sucked down fresh coconut juice, fruit smoothies and cool water in earnest. Rain came as a relief, and we were all thankful for the vibrant green that lush rice paddies display at this time of year.

The Landmine Museum also made a big impression on us all. Cambodia has a very traumatic history and today there are still hundreds of thousands of landmines throughout the countryside. As part of ISV’s responsible travel ethic, our aim is to support ethical tour operations and experiences, and broaden our participants’ understanding of global issues.

Children in Floating Village, Cambodia

Cambodian kids playing amongst the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest in SE Asia

The participant evaluations are in now, and all rated the Cambodian excursion 5/5 for Overall Experience. YES! So now we are hopeful of filling all excursion dates to Cambodia for next season.

This is a tremendous addition to the ISV Thailand Program that adds great value to any Southeast Asia experience. I urge everyone travelling to Thailand with ISV to consider adding Cambodia to their trip.

Sign up and bring your friends — you won’t be disappointed!

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