The one thing that can surpass a trip planned on the spur of a moment is the holiday destination itself. And that was definitely the case for Mourya Boda, when she made her way to Cambodia. This week, You & I learns more about a trip that revealed quite a fascinating balance between a time long gone and a thriving culture, perfectly co-existing in harmony.
On this five-day visit, Mourya was accompanied by her friends – Vineela Reddy, Roopa Raju, Nishitha Reddy, Pallavi Reddy, Neelima Reddy, and Unnati Pingel. The group chose this particular country in the hope of exploring a place that offered historical and cultural heritage, and a variety of luxury and adventurous activities at the same time.
“We flew to the capital city of Phnom Penh, via Bangkok, and from there we drove to the Siem Reap resort town, which was the main destination of our visit,” said Mourya. Since Cambodia issues visas on arrival for Indians, it made the travel quite easy for the ladies. “We then checked into the Anantara Resort Hotel, which was located very close to the famed ruins of Angkor Wat; the gateway to the Angkor region,” she further shared.
The group began their holiday by first exploring the three famous temples in the region, starting with the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. The construction of this structure was initiated by Suryavarman II and completed by Jayavarman VII. “This UNESCO World Heritage Site is certainly a national symbol and the epicentre of Khmer civilisation,” she said. Definitely the best preserved temple at Angkor, the place of worship was first built as a Hindu shrine of the deity Vishnu, and by the end of the 12th century it was transformed into a Buddhist temple.
Next up on their list was Ta Prohm. “Nestled under the shadows of the giant root systems, the Ta Prohm temple was first known as Rajavihara (monastery of the king),” said Mourya. What makes it such a fascinating place to visit is the fact that it has been maintained in the same state that it was found in. While the massive roots growing in and around the ruins give off a sense of neglect, Ta Prohm is in fact one of the more popular tourist spots in the country. It is also known as the location of the spot now dubbed as the ‘Tomb Raider Tree’, where Angelina Jolie (as the character Lara Croft) picked up a jasmine flower, before the scene morphed into her falling through the earth. The temple is currently under restoration, and is being worked on by Indian archaeologists who are collaborating with the Cambodian government.
And finally, the highlight of the temple tour was the Bayon Temple, constructed right in the middle of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, north of Angkor Wat. “This temple is known for the gigantic faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara,” said Mourya, adding “each of these works of art face outward and keep an eye on all four directions. We could see that it was just a big stone stacked in a pyramid-like position, leaning against each other to stabilise it, without any mortar. To think that a big monument can survive more than nine centuries with just the basic laws of physics is just amazing,” she said.
Apart from their cultural exploration, the troupe was also able to experience the famous sunset from Phnom Bakheng, which is located on a hill, allowing an unobstructed view of this natural yet beautiful event. “We even treated ourselves to an equally beautiful sunrise at Angkor Wat,” stated Mourya. “This was followed by a hot-air balloon ride which was a wonderful experience. The aerial view of the ancient sites was absolutely breathtaking.”
When it came to experiencing the local cuisine and culture, the group didn’t miss out on trying restaurants like Embassy, Malis, and Heritage. “As a vegetarian, I might not have been able to try out as many options as I would have liked. But my friends enjoyed the local seafood, which is very famous in this region,” shared Mourya.
They also visited the famous Pub Street in Siem Reap. “Contrasting the serene ambience of the temples, these streets were brimming with an assortment of pubs, restaurants, street buskers, and an interesting night market,” she reminisced. The women even got the chance to check out Phare, the Cambodian Circus, and an Apsara performance, which showcased cultural dances in traditional Cambodian dress.
“As we neared the departure from this beautiful city, we were glad to have experienced some well-deserved and relaxing spa treatments,” shared Mourya who then added, “Despite the long days of traversing through the vast temples, the lengthy hours of shopping, and the exploration of the city in general, the entire experience of the culture and people as a whole was definitely what made it a memorable trip.” --- as told to Roshni