Cambodia: Ancient, Vibrant and Fascinating

by on Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cambodia is a fast growing tourist destination and there’s a reason ISV selected this region of Southeast Asia for the location of our optional excursion package.

Discover the mystical temples of the World heritage listed Angkor Wat (c) used with permission by ISV alumni, Mary Hegenbart

Sharing its borders with Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, Cambodia’s history predates that of Thailand.  At its peak, Cambodia’s Angkor Kingdom stretched from the Mekong in Vietnam to the south of what is now Burma (Myanmar).

The beautiful Angkor Wat (c) ISV alumni, Claudia Marina

Over 1,200 years ago the mighty Angkor Empire reigned for 400 years as the greatest empire mainland Southeast Asia has ever seen. Grandiose cities were built under powerful ‘God-Kings.’ Wars were waged, and land was claimed. Religions shifted from Buddhism to Hinduism and then to Shivaism. This mix of historical influences can be seen nowhere else in SE Asia and this means that the temple ruins that we see today as part of Angkor’s World Heritage Area are as varied and contrasting as these ideals.

Cambodia is a fast growing tourist destination that is alive with culture © Narelle Webber, ISV Int’l Program Director

Today, Cambodia has roughly 15 million people that are ethnic Khmers, equivalent to 96% of the population. However, unofficially there are up to 20% of the population that is ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham Muslims, in addition to nomadic hill tribe minorities.  This amazing blend of cultures gives Cambodia a distinctive and exceptionally lively feel.

When you walk down the streets at night, it can often feel like the old Indochina on one street and then modern Asia on the very next. You can relax outside of a café built in the French colonial style and enjoy foods that range from traditional Khmer fish amok to Chinese dumplings or a Thai curry.

The incredible Angkor Thom (best known from the Lara Croft, Tomb Raider movie © Narelle Webber, ISV Int’l Program Director

Due to Siem Reap’s multiculturalism, there are also a range of religious influences including Buddhism, Hinduism, Animism, Islam and Christianity. Nowhere better can these influences be seen than in the many markets and shops around the city and countryside which offer handicraft in their respective styles and spices like black pepper and cumin that are considered the best in the world.

The 5-day ISV Cambodia Excursion aims to showcase some of the highlights of this “Pearl of South East Asia”, offering a taste of the ancient kingdom, enduring culture and ‘modern’ village life.

Read more about Angkor and why it is considered one of the world’s most important archaeological sites here.

Tourism Cambodia offers some more information on Cambodian history.

ISV participants that first join our four-week program in Thailand can then experience Cambodia for themselves (available on most ISV departure dates). Sign up today! To learn more about ISV’s optional excursion to Cambodia visit our website.

~Chad Allen, SE Asia Program Director

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