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May 17, 2010
Cambodia: Of ancient temples—and admirable optimism
In the 16th century, Antonio da Magdalena, a Portuguese monk, described it as being “like no other building in the world … of such extraordinary construction that it is not possible to describe it with a pen.” Nearly 200 years later, French explorer Henri Mouhout characterized it as “grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome … a rival to that of Solomon, erected by some ancient Michelangelo.” And, more recently, Cynthia Barnes—OAT’s Corporate Marketing Manager—hailed it as “absolutely breathtaking.”
What are they talking about? Angkor Wat, the spectacular, larger-than-life Khmer temple that lies in the heart of the ancient Cambodian city of Angkor. Although I’ve traveled extensively in South Asia, I’ve yet to visit Cambodia—but after hearing about Cynthia’s time there, I definitely want to experience the beauty of Angkor for myself.
Cynthia, who visited Cambodia after spending nearly three weeks in China was pleasantly surprised by the tranquility of Angkor. “After the hustle and bustle of China,” she says, “it was nice to be in such a calm and peaceful place. In fact, I was surprised there weren’t more crowds: other than a handful of backpackers and some local monks, we were the only people there.” And that wasn’t the only thing about the ancient city that surprised her: “I couldn’t believe how big it was! Angkor is a vast complex, stretching for miles and miles. And while Angkor Wat was definitely the highlight, there are literally hundreds of other temples, too.”
Yet, while the ancient city of Angkor was undeniably impressive, Cynthia was even more amazed by the Cambodian people. “They’re incredibly friendly,” she says, “and so happy to welcome visitors to their country. Considering what they’ve been through in the not-so-distant past—how much they suffered under the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge—their optimism is truly extraordinary.” In fact, during her brief stay in Cambodia, Cynthia met a number of local residents missing limbs or eyes due to encounters with land mines. “Despite the fact that they, quite literally, bear the scars of the past,” she says of the Cambodians she met, “they are intent on moving on with their lives—and building a better, brighter future for themselves and their families.”
Have you been similarly inspired by the resilience and courage of people you’ve met in your own travels? If so, I hope you’ll share your thoughts with me—and other travelers—by posting your comments below. (You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring the South Pacific, India and Nepal, and the Eastern Mediterranean (specifically, Greece and Croatia). If you’ve explored these destinations with OAT, I’d love to hear about your experiences—and see your photos! Email me at email@example.com.
UPDATE: As my team and I were working on the stories for this update, civil unrest in Bangkok escalated. At OAT, our travelers' safety is of the utmost importance, and, after assessing the situation carefully, we feel it is safe to continue travel to the region. As of 4 pm on Tuesday, May 18, 2010, we are operating all scheduled departures to Thailand. We continue to be in close, constant contact with our Bangkok office staff and are rerouting our itineraries to avoid the area in which the protests are based. Reports from our travelers on-site are that they are safe and sightseeing is going as planned. We also have a dedicated team of associates contacting all travelers departing between now and June 1.