photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

photo credit: Mary Jo Plouf

By Mary Jo Plouf

The Kingdom of Cambodia, recently known as the Khamer Empire is bordered by Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia is one of the most populous countries in the world and one of the poorest. The current head of the government, Hun Sen, has ruled the country for twenty-five years. Although still a relatively low income country, it has enjoyed the largest economic growth in Asia, with a 6 percent growth for the last ten years in textiles, agriculture, construction and tourism.

The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh but the most famous tourist attraction is located near the small village of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thon are known throughout the world as World Heritage Sites and the number of tourists is increasing by almost a million a year. This has insured that the relatively small area has a large number of new hotels and good restaurants. The city also features a number of museums, the French quarter market and the Apsara dancers.

unnamed (2)Our Gate 1 Travel Group made one stop in Cambodia. We were there to Angkor Wat and Angkor Thon and the entire site was majestic. It was impossible to photograph the whole complex and the words, stunning, awe inspiring, vast, spiritual, magical etc. do not do it justice. It honestly has to be seen to be believed. Many tourists spend as much as a week wandering through the grounds and examining the beautifully carved walls and complicated structures. It is one of the best tourist destinations in Asia.

The French began the clearing and restoring of the site when the ruins were rediscovered. They rescued it from the jungle which had taken over the entire complex and covered the structure. They left many of the old trees which had become and part of and grown into the foundation of many of the buildings. It is hard to tell if the picturesque old trees are holding up the buildings or the buildings are holding up the trees. There are no longer any monks residing on the sites. We spent most of a day roaming the grounds. It was very hot so some of us declined the opportunity to climb the steep steps to the top turret. The ideal time to visit the compound is at sunrise when there are few visitors and the light is best for taking photographs. The other time is sunset when the entire front of the compound reflects in the reflecting pool near the gate

The Cambodian diet consists of rice, fruit, vegetables, noodles, fish and a little meat. It is much like the rest of South East Asia, but the seasoning is definitely Cambodian and a little French . Siem Reap has some of the best restaurants in Cambodia. Transportation is easy and consists mainly of tuk tuks which operate between the city and all of the hotels on the outer fringes of the city. The crime rate in the city is very low and there are few problems for those who prefer to visit the nightclubs and late night restaurants.

The main religion is Buddhism.

A Visa is necessary for U.S. citizens to enter Cambodia, but it can be obtained upon entering into the country for $20 or $30. There is no need to prepare for this in advance.

The best time to visit is October through March. The rain season is April through August. It is definitely a tourist site that deserves to be seen without rain.

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Mary Jo Is a journalism and language arts major from the University of Minnesota. She was the travel editor for Marco Polo Travel Magazine for ten years and the editor for has traveled extensively through Latin America, Asia, Europe and the United States as a travel journalist.