Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Without question, the heritage of Cambodia far surpasses that of any of its neighbors, harking back to a past time when Cambodia was the dominating force of the region. Its territory, far in excess of its current one, encompassed much of what is now Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. The architectural achievements from this period are without equal in the region and are on par with the wonders of ancient Egypt or the Aztec monuments
Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 square kilometers and is divided into 21 provinces. It is bordered to the North by Thailand and Laos, to the East and South by Vietnam, and to the South and Southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. Much of Cambodia is relatively flat with vast tracts of land given over to rice production. Other areas of Cambodia are mountainous, including the Dangrek, Cardomen, and Elephant mountain ranges.
Climate and Seasons
As a tropical country Cambodia is bathed in almost all year sunshine and has a high average temperature. There are two distinct seasons, the dry and the monsoon. The monsoon lasts from May to October with southwesterly winds ushering in the clouds that bring 75-80 percent of the annual rainfall often in spectacular intense bursts for an hour at a time with fantastic lightening displays. The dry season runs from November to April averaging temperatures from 27 to 40 degrees Celsius. The coolest and most comfortable for those from cooler climes is from October to January.
The Cambodian language, Khmer, is part of the Mom-Khmer family and has its origins in Pali and Sanskrit. It is spoken all over the country except in some tribal areas where local indigenous languages are used. In larger towns and cities English is spoken by an increasing number of educated people. French is spoken by some of the older members of society and Chinese by many of the business people. All facilities catering to tourists employ English speaking staff who more often than not speak several other local and international languages including German, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and even Russian.
Though abolished during the Pol Pot regime the official religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is also practiced in Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Cambodia in the 12th Century by King Jayavarman VII, where it replaced Hinduism. Much of this is in evidence at Angkor Wat where Buddhist statues sit atop Hindu plinths.
The largest ethnic group is the Khmers. Of the minority groups the largest is Vietnamese. There are also a significant number of Chinese descendants who dominate the business community and indigenous minority groups of Hmong, Pong, and Tai amongst others who are collectively known an Khmer Leu.
All visitors to Cambodia should have up to date inoculations as recommended by their doctors. Visitors should take preventive measures against mosquitoes as in any tropical country, especially at dusk. Health insurance, especially medical evacuation cover is recommended as international standard healthcare is minimal, especially in rural areas.
Rice and fish are the main staple of the typical Cambodian diet though many dishes are prepared with beef, pork or chicken. Seafood is abundant in coastal areas with shrimps and crab amongst the favorites. Local specialties include Amok (fish cooked in coconut milk) and a variety of soups, and curries similar in taste though not in spiciness to Thailand. Phnom Penh is truly cosmopolitan with Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Nepalese, Indian, Turkish, Mexican, French, Western and other restaurants dotted around the capital.
There is a large choice of entertainment venues around Phnom Penh from lively nightclubs to quieter social venues to karaoke bars and fully licensed casinos. For those interested in cultural offerings there is traditional Cambodian music and dance, especially the graceful and popular Apsara dancing which dates back to the Angkorian period, the Russian trained royal ballet, performances of classical Western music and the French Cultural Center offers something different every night from dance to theatre to cinema and music. Bars and nightclubs are widely available especially overlooking the river., One such place is the Foreign Correspondents Club, an interesting meeting spot for expatriate residents and foreign visitors. In addition, many international hotels provide live entertainment for their guests such as jazz pianists and vocalists singing contemporary ballads. Cambodia’s guests are never short of anything interesting to do regardless of taste and personal preference.
Handicrafts and Souvenirs
Cambodia is widely recognized as being associated with beautiful carvings though many of the artisans were executed during the Pol Pot regime. Cambodia is home to some of the most exquisite religious sculptures in the world, many of which command extraordinary prices on the world market. Woven silk products are highly popular as are basketry, gold and silverware, and all kinds of jewelry made from precious stones including the famous Pailin rubies. Also to be found are traditional musical instruments, paintings, and ornate stone rubbings taken from the temples.
All the major international hotels have the usual range of sport and leisure facilities including multi-gyms, saunas, pools, and tennis. There are also independent fitness centers around the capital including the International Youth club with an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Near the center of town is the Olympic stadium with free access to the running track and sports field.
Currency and Banking
The official currency if Cambodia is the Riel which come in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000, and 100,000 notes. However, in the major towns and cities US dollars can be freely spent though travelers are recommended to use smaller denomination notes as change may be difficult. Most places will refuse old, tatty, or damaged US bills. Due to the economic problems in the region the currency has slipped from 2500 to the US dollar to around 3700 to 3900 to the dollar at the time of publication meaning Cambodia is an even better value for money tourist destination than before. Popular local and international currencies can be exchanged openly and freely and there is no black market. Major credit and charge cards are only accepted in a few places so travelers’ checks or cash are recommended.
Government offices: 7:30 am to 11:30 am and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday.
Business offices: 8:00 am to noon and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Saturday.
Shops: 8am to 8pm 7 days a week.
Banks: 8:00 to 3pm Monday to Friday
Markets: 6am to 5pm 7 days a week.
Cambodian tourist visas are obtainable upon arrival at Pochentong International Airport and at Siem Reap International airport. The application procedure is very simple and takes approximately ten minutes to complete. One passport photograph is required and the one-month visa costs $20. Similarly, an extendible business visa is also available upon arrival and costs $25.
To further ease the application process, Nine Dragons Tours, as part of their customer care policy, will facilitate the application prior to arrival. Clients may fax or e-mail their personal details though they must still bring a passport photo with them. Arrival and departure cards and customs declarations forms, usually issued on the airplane, must be completed on arrival and kept until departure.
There are direct flights to the capital of Phnom Penh from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vientiane, and Guangzhou. All of these cities serve as gateways to Cambodia meaning Cambodia is easily reached from further afield. Cambodia can also be reached by road from Thailand and Vietnam. Another exotic way to reach Cambodia is by river boat or sea cruise.
Direct flights exist from Bangkok to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, and schedules have been expanded to twice a day. For those with limited time Nine Dragons Tours can organize special accompanied excursions in conjunction with other tour operators for those vacationing in Thailand but still wish to experience the wonders of The Lost City of Angkor.
Grand Hotel D’Angkor
Nokor Kok Thlok
Towering over the surrounding tropical forests, Angkor Wat exists as one of this planet’s last great, unexplored tourist destinations. Situated amongst one of the world’s great irrigation systems close to the Tonle Sap, itself possibly the most amazing inland expanse of water on Earth, Angkor is simply incomparable.
Not only did the skilled and hardworking Khmers build Angkor Wat and the architecturally different but equally stunning Bayon, Banteay Srei, and Ta Prohm temples, but also more than 100 other impressive monuments and temples in and around the ancient capital. Many of the temples are decorated with intricate carvings detailing the glorious past of this proud and ancient culture including the fascinating solar calendar on Angkor Wat’s eastern wall which had remained undeciphered until only recently.
With much of the hinterland reached by many of the country’s inland waterways including the Mekong river, many visitors take the exhilarating boat trip to Siem Reap, the home province of Angkor Wat, passing on the way the many fishermen and unique floating villages of the Tonle Sap lake. Everywhere one goes in Cambodia beautiful landscapes await from lush green rice paddies to the red earth of Rattanakiri, with ubiquitous sugar palm trees dotted all over the country.
Cambodia’s northeastern province of Rattanakiri is the home of several ancient and indigenous hill-tribes. These intriguing indigenous tribal people with their primitive lifestyles are threatened, though largely untouched by modern society and retain their own particular languages, cultures, rituals, and beliefs.
Cambodia is a must, as all its previous visitors will testify, especially to visit Angkor Wat. Not only does that first spectacular glimpse of Angkor Wat amaze and perpetually remain in the memory, but so too does Cambodia as a whole. Who could possibly forget the other facets of this marvel: the charming smiling faces of the Cambodians, the beautiful unspoiled palm fringed beaches with white sands and turquoise sea; gentle waves lapping on the shore. The beach resort of Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) is one of nature’s paradises. Like Sri Lanka or Thailand before the developers moved in, Kompong Som is home to one of the world’s last natural beach destinations. Looking back to shore one only sees the sea, white sand and green hills in the background. Don’t forget about the delicious fresh fruit and succulent seafood available here, the mountain top views that stretch forever or the vibrant markets burgeoning with exotic produce.
Cambodia assaults the senses leaving memories of a once mighty country that stay in the mind undiminished by the passage of time. The sights and sounds of a unique land with a tragic past captivate more and more people every year and offer a genuine experience for all who are fortunate enough to discover Cambodia.
Without doubt, with its inherited wealth, Cambodia, has enormous potential for tourism, either as a single destination or part of an Indo-Chinese tour, especially for those wishing to escape the tourist traps of the world or discover one of the great cultures of the world that should rank alongside that of Egypt and the other world renowned destinations. Though still in its infancy, the tourism sector is attracting investors both domestic and international who are venturing into this market, evident by the international standard facilities becoming available.