Angkor What?

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November 7th 2015
Published: April 17th 2018
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The title has already been poached by a watering hole in Siem Reap, and since Siem Reap is the gateway to the sheer wonder of a tourist magnet that is the religious complex of Angkor Wat, it comes as no surprise that this is Cambodia's chief tourist attraction. A place of superlatives then, beyond any reasonable doubt, but were the delights of Angkor Wat going to topple the dizzying heights of the best of Myanmar? In terms of sparkle and sheen, probably not, since the temples of Angkor are largely monochrome, unlike the gleaming silvers and golds of Myanmar's pagodas, but look closely, and the true beauty of Angkor Wat will reveal itself in the form of etchings, carvings, architecture, shapes, stonework and all the attention to detail which makes the place come alive on so many levels. Contrary to what is said about the necessity to set aside a plurality of days in which to see the complex, it is possible to gain a snapshot view of the place in the context of just one day, but that is also assuming that you or your guide gravitate to the main visual highlights in succession and don't linger too long at each one along the way. The nearby town of Siem Reap grew up largely as a result of the influx of capital which visitors to Angkor brought to the region, and as a result, the town's dining scene is second to none, as is the selection of hotels to suit all tastes and budgets. In addition, the evening entertainments scene is very well represented, and the circus show which goes by the name of Phare is a commendable performance executed by energetic youngsters who are trying to make a name for themselves. On an even grander scale, an evening show named 'Smile of Angkor' is downright unmissable, accompanied by a pre-show buffet, but with special effects, a stage presence and choreography so professional that it will lead you to believe that this show is among the cream of Asia's productions. Travelling south to the coast, and the resort town of Sihanoukville is an enclave of fun and frolics set to a backdrop of the tourist trappings which you might expect from the nation's primary seaside town. Aside from a couple of local temples and pagodas, do not expect anything too representative of traditional Cambodia here, but do try at least to sample a boat trip to one of the outlying islands so as to catch a glimpse of the most unspoiled and undeveloped areas of Cambodia, but in the case of Koh Rong Samloem, better hurry along before those much-touted developers do actually swoop in and change all that. Other activities which can be enjoyed in the town are quad biking, waterfall tours, beachcombing, shopping at the local indoor market and other pastimes of similar ilk, and although it looked as if the night market scene had not taken off here (unlike Siem Reap), it also seemed like that prospect was in the pipeline for the not-too-distant future. Road conditions in southern Cambodia having improved dramatically in recent years, a coach ride to the nation's capital city Phnom Penh was next up on the agenda, and with the Grand Sihanouk Ville hotel also having impressed on various levels, it felt somewhat mercilessly short a stay in this town of growing appeal.

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