By Heather Fields, Peregrine Travel Qld Blogger winner 2017 – senior category
I was seven years old; in front of me was a book featuring a story about a city swallowed by the jungle centuries ago, which was gradually being cleared and revealed to the world.
Accompanying images showed huge stone walls, impressive towers, delicately carved dancing girls and bas reliefs which covered entire walls. This was, of course, Angkor Wat. One day I was going to visit that magical place.
Well, forty years later I did, and that magnificent temple has captivated me ever since.
Spirit like phoenix rising
What I was not expecting, was the beautiful people who captured my heart on that first and subsequent holidays. I liken them to a phoenix rising from the ashes: the spirit of the Cambodian people is returning after the horror of the Khmer Rouge who decimated the population and attempted to obliterate one of the most beautiful cultures of the world.
Yes, I was so thrilled to be returning to Cambodia and this time with Peregrine Travel, a company I admire for their commitment to responsible travel.
Peregrine select hotels, restaurants and transport based on local ownership and support organisations who are empowering the disabled, homeless and those living in poverty by providing training in income generating skills and job opportunities. It was a heartening to realise that while we were on holidays, we were helping to make a difference to the lives of everyday people.
Phnom Penh – a transformed city
I met my fellow travellers at Phnom Penh. Now this is a city transformed! No longer brimming with beggars, it is cleaner, vibrant and evokes a feeling of optimism for a brighter future.
We were fortunate to visit the stunning Silver Pagoda and impressive Royal Palace, the busy Central Markets where our guide tempted us with tasty street food samples, S21 Prison Museum, and who could forget the Khmer dancing at the National Museum?
Khmer dance is breathtaking and there was nothing better than the performance presented by Living Arts, an organisation passionately committed to preserving Cambodia’s cultural heritage.
A heart stopping cyclo ride (pedal powered tuk tuk) through the crazy city streets prior to a relaxing cruise watching the sun set on the city skyline, and it was time to move on from the city.
Next, our tour took us to the ‘oh-so-green’ rice fields and farms of rural Kampot, Kep, Battambang and Siem Reap, where we often saw people working in the cool of the afternoon.
A cultural immersion of the best kind
Prepare yourself for cultural immersion experiences which will make your toes tingle!
We sampled spring rolls with a family who made rice paper, sipped rice wine and tried sticky rice cooked in bamboo! We toured a pepper farm producing world famous Kampot pepper and watched workers applying their trade at a salt farm.
We enjoyed sunset drinks and snacks served at a little farmhouse, savoured the ‘aroma’ of fish at a facility which produced fish sauce, witnessed the traditional making of rice noodles and saw artisans producing silver products, ceramic pots and stone and wood carving.
Oh, and we visited a local school where the walls were made from recycled plastic bottles stuffed with plastic bags! Yep… I saw it with my own eyes!
We also worked with the local ladies to make our own ‘green bag’ so we could say no to plastic bags. Cutting, measuring, sewing and laughing, somehow we all managed to leave these happy women with a bag, despite our very limited skills.
And just when we thought we had indulged in far too much delicious Cambodian food we were treated to one last surprise…. the Urban Adventure Cambodian Cookout where we created our own traditional meal. The tantalizing flavours of Fish Amok, Chicken and Mango Salad, Bananas in Palm Sugar were accompanied by a totally unforgettable cocktail made from lemongrass and coconut cream…. mm!
The temples of Angkor were a fitting finale to our tour.
From the grandeur of Angkor Wat, the exquisite carvings on Banteay Srei, the enigmatic gaze of the 200 faces at majestic Bayon, to the mysterious atmosphere of Ta Prohm monastery, we explored, we marvelled, and we left with some very special memories.
Banteay Srei (pictured left) is sometimes called the Pink Temple and displays the finest carving detail.
Memories and friends to treasure
Jam packed with a variety of experiences, the memories of this tour will linger long after I return home. A huge thank you to our endearing guide, Long; your expertise, flexibility, guidance, and knowledge of all things Cambodian was much appreciated.
Peregrine Adventures, please accept my sincere congratulations to the organisers for highlighting Cambodia from a local perspective and supporting the fragile economy. Your commitment to our environment is exemplary and hopefully, one day, will stand as an example to all tour companies.
To my fellow travellers; thank you for your friendship, the laughs we shared and your patience when I needed one more photo.
And lastly to the people of Cambodia… I applaud your resilience and spirit, and my wish for you is a bright, stable and fair future… until my next trip!
Heather won the 2017 Peregrine Travel Qld Blogger competition in the senior category. Heather’s prize was a 12-day Peregrine Cambodia in Depth tour (see below) from $2995*. (*T&Cs apply). You can follow Heather’s adventures and see more images from her Cambodian trip on her Instagram page – Silver Adventurer.