Be Captivated by The Angkor Wat in Affordable Cambodia

Cambodia continues to be one of the more affordable travel destinations in the world, full of great food, culture, and history.  While the country has been mostly stable in recent years, the country has experienced much tragedy in the preceding decades.  Subject to bombing campaigns during the later half of the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge took over the country in 1975, and initiated one of the worst genocides in modern history, before being ousted by the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea in 1979.  This and the subsequent Vietnamese occupation did not end for more than a decade, until finally the monarchy was restored in 1993.  Today, Cambodia still faces poverty, corruption, and lacking political freedom, however, when compared to the past, Cambodia is improving, albeit slowly on these fronts.  Notably, tourism makes up a huge portion of the Cambodia economy, and violent crime is relatively rare in the country, despite the past tumult.

Cambodia’s less recent history is a tapestry of different influences, going back centuries.  The country was originally part of the Indianized kingdoms of Funan, and later Chenla, before declaring itself an independent kingdom in 802 after decisively splitting from Java.  This Khmer Empire was originally Hindu like its predecessor kingdoms, but by the end of the 13th century, Buddhism had almost completely displaced the religion.  Today, 95 percent of the country is Buddhist.

The Angkor Wat is the country’s centerpiece and was built in the 12th century, initially as a Hindu temple, though by the end of that century it was rededicated as a Buddhist temple.  It remains the largest religious complex in the world, and is the nation’s greatest icon.  It is also featured on the current Cambodian flag.  Tragically, the Khmer Empire entered centuries of despair after a steep decline in the 15th and 16th centuries.  This largely ended in the mid-19th century when France colonized most of Indochina, ending the colonial competition of several powers that had laid waste to the land.  Cambodia would be under French administration until 1953, with the exception of the Japanese occupation during the Second World War.  Remarkably, the Angkor Wat was largely occupied during the hard years that Cambodia faced, unlike many similar religious sites from the period that were abandoned and crumbled to dust.  It was intact enough by the colonial period that the French marveled at its construction, and by the 20th century, restoration efforts commenced.  Sadly, much of the artwork was looted during the civil war, however, the complex did not suffer too much damage.

Today, half of the visitors to Cambodia come to the Angkor Wat.  At the time of the foundation of the current Cambodian state in 1993, only 7,000 visitors came to the famous site; today that number is in the hundreds of thousands.  The site no longer faces the catastrophes of war and decay, but now is besieged by legions of immodestly dressed tourists which have been a thorn in the side of the Buddhist caretakers of the functioning religious complex.  Tourists are advised to dress appropriately and to show respect for the site, which is only fair given its storied and fascinating history.

Cambodia offers visas on arrival and e-visas to most nationalities, and the country is an extremely inexpensive place for a holiday.  Travelers will find that the food is also heavily influnced by its neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand, though chili is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it is in Thailand.  Amok is a fine example of a curried dish that has similarities to its Thai cousin, but far less chili.  The French baguette has also gained a special prominence, as has coffee with condensed milk, which is also famously a staple in Vietnam.  Hotels are not very expensive either, with many reasonable accommodations costing about ten dollars.  Of course, the five-star experience will cost more in the hundred dollar range, however, this is still significantly less than other similar destinations.

Cambodia has largely woken up from its national nightmare that spanned recent decades and arguably, centuries before that.  This said, the country has a way to go, but this should not discourage tourists who will benefit greatly from touring the country.


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