Cambodia through the lens

By KC Wong

Going to Cambodia was my wife’s idea: She thought that taking our children to a developing country would help to widen their horizons beyond theme parks and fun rides.

We decided to focus just on Siem Reap to have more time to explore this ancient city. it was a wise decision.

We did not have a fixed itinerary, but we definitely wanted to visit Angkor Wat (main picture). Tuk-tuks could be easily and cheaply hired for around US$12 (S$15) a day. Walking within the temple grounds is not advisable, especially with children, because some of the temples are a few kilometres apart.

As our tuk-tuk cruised along the road in the forest leading to Angkor Wat, a sense of anticipation gripped us on the almost 10-minute ride from the ticket entrance to the temple. The awe-inspiring view as the temple slowly revealed itself among the trees humbled us.

The ant-like tourists dotting the steppes of the temple simply magnified the sheer scale of this piece of magnificent architecture. The whole temple was bathed in golden light and reflected in the moat at sunset. one can also view it at 6am when the temple’s silhouette stands in front of the sunrise.

The next day, we set off to explore the other temples like Angkor Thom (below, left), The Bayon (below, right) and Ta Prohm. We limited ourselves to the few that are near one another to prevent temple-fatigue. As the adults appreciated the historical marvel, the children were busy enjoying the Unesco World Heritage Site in their own way. Thousand-year-old boulders and roots of banyan trees became their playground and local children, their playmates.

Beyond Angkor Wat, don’t miss the floating villages off the South-east Asia’s biggest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap, and in this case, Kampong Phluk. The village is 20km south-east of Siem Reap.

We alighted from our rented car at the end of a dirt road and boarded one of the many boats that were docked along a canal. Before that, we paid US$15 per adult for entrance tickets. The money goes to a village development fund.

Kampong Phluk is a cluster of three villages of stilted houses built within a floodplain. The 3,000 or so primarily Khmer villagers live in wooden houses built on stilts that are 6m to 7m high. During the dry season when the water level is low, the villages seem to float.

Kampong Phluk’s economy is based on fishing and shrimp harvesting. it sees comparatively fewer foreign visitors and offers a close look at the submerged forest and lakeside village life.

If temples and floating villages don’t appeal to the children, there is always Happy Ranch on the outskirts of Siem Reap. it is a horse farm that offers half-day trail rides or a simple one-hour orientation (US$22) around the village perimeter. My children thoroughly enjoyed their hour on the horse backs, which brought them through the countryside. if you have time, take the longer rides to explore padi fields and tourist- free temple ruins.

Getting there

Several airlines serve the Singapore-Siem Reap route, but the more common and cheaper ones are Jetstar (3x weekly) and SilkAir (6x weekly). Each way takes about two hours. Depending on the flight you are on, there will be a brief stopover in Phnom Penh or Da Nang.

Tuk-tuks are plentiful at the airport and the traffic-free transfer to the town centre takes only about 15 minutes.

Traveller’s tips

– Cambodia is a beautiful country with beautiful but under-privileged people. It is a good opportunity to educate the children on simple pleasures of life and not to take things for granted. There are many charity organisations which visitors can donate essential items or volunteer at. However, do your research beforehand as there are also many dubious ones out there. A good place to start might be The Ponheary Ly Foundation.

– When you visit the temples, avoid wearing dark-coloured clothes if you want to stand out in the photos as the temples are mostly shades of grey. It is not always necessary to include THE landmark or icon in the photos. There are probably hundreds of tourists vying for the same spot and you might include many strangers in the pictures anyway. Find a less crowded and at the same time identifiable spot with good lighting.

– Siem Reap wakes up very early. By 8am, many shops are already open. You can start each day very early so that you can take advantage of the beautiful morning light for some exceptional pictures, pack in your activity for the morning, and have time in the afternoon for naps and family playtime.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Divsion, SPH. []