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Mice Asia Net : October 2008
vietnam and cambodia LEFT: Nature takes control at the Ta Prohm temple near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photograph by Philippa Margan, Next Stage Events, Sydney. BELOW: A street vendor in Hoi An in Central Vietnam. Photograph by Philippa Margan, Next Stage Events, Sydney. the way through a village where kids chortle at the sight of the Westerners. Moon River offers a beautiful garden with statuary and illuminated trees and traditional building. While not a great aficionado of the cultural presentation, this was a particularly good one, if a little on the long side. Destination Asia’s guides were top class, all of them knowledgeable, entertaining and intuitive to the mood and requirements of their charges. Treasures of the Khmers It’s a bit of an ask to rise at 4.30am to take in sunrise over the thousand year old temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but is definitely one of the best things you’ll ever do in a travelling life. So many of those “must see” ancient monuments or marvels of nature involve making one’s way through seas of commercialism or ghastly urban sprawl, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to land at a spanking new airport at Siem Reap in Cambodia and soon find ourselves heading up a comfortable wide road, minutes later passing right by the mighty temple of Angkor Wat at sunset while en route to our hotel. The 900-year-old temple is located within a moat and reached by a splendid causeway rich in statuary and symbolism. There’s so much to absorb in terms of the artwork and grandeur of the buildings and the gentle Cambodian guide paces his pitch perfectly to the mood and composition of the audience. There are some 300 temples in a 500 square kilometre area dating from the Khmer civilisation, of which Angkor Wat is the supreme example and national symbol for modern Cambodia. The temple has been dedicated to both the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, and the 28 miceAsia.net architecture and artwork that has survived centuries of conquest and neglect is simply stupendous. Visitors have significantly closer access than anything they might encounter in Europe for example. While Angkor Wat impresses for its mysticism and “completeness”, Ta Prohm is fascinating for its tumbled-down state, and the massive banyan trees that have overgrown its structures with what seems like the bodies of giant serpents. The intense jungle heat and emerald green of the moss-covered temple stones throws up a thousand photo opportunities. It’s not uncommon to find people just sitting in utter wonderment of it all and quite oblivious of the camera-toting hordes. Then to the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom, the last capital of the Khmers, another marvel of engineering and art, most notable for the smiling 200 stone faces of Lokasvara, a deity within Buddhism. Angkor Thorn is also renowned for the Gallery of the Three Headed Elephants, a vast viewing platform for the reigning kings. Cambodia is a desperately poor country, devastated by civil war and one can’t ignore that deprivation is a factor of life, despite the presence of mushrooming resort complexes at Siem Reap. One can really see how tourism can be a force for good in a place like this, giving work and dignity to a people who have endured unspeakable horrors in recent history. We stayed in Le Meridien Hotel, Siem Reap, which is beautifully appointed and runs like clockwork. The breakfasts were a highlight and were notable for serving local foods along with the traditional international fare. The hotel has a small, but well-appointed ballroom for meetings and several breakout areas. Visit www.destination-asia.com for details on events in Vietnam and Cambodia.