Before our trip we were talking to someone who had recently been Cambodia and told him we were heading to a place called Banteay Chhmar, based on recommendations. Based on him having no idea where I was talking about, I assumed I was pronouncing it wrong. It soon became clear I was indeed pronouncing it wrong, but more importantly, Banteay Chhmar isn’t exactly overrun with tourists, with visitor numbers in the hundreds annually (vs. the millions visiting Angkor Wat each year).
So why visit Banteay Chhmar? The main draw is the massive temple complex, built in the eleventh century, but subjected to semi ruin over the centuries. But one key draw of the place is the Community Based Tourism initiative that is active in the village. Tourism, through local homestays and a tourist centre, is used to positively and sustainably protect the local heritage and help improve the livelihood of the local community in this remote area.
We visited Banteay Chhmar as part of a small group, and were welcomed into the home of a local family, Siev and Nil, who had converted part of their house into a homestay. After a welcome coconut to drink from the garden, our host took us on a walk around the village and showed us the market and the local school. It was completely different to any other place we visited in Cambodia, and we felt very lucky to experience this lovely place. Strangely, whilst the noises of local dogs and livestock was quite loud (as well as the tip of watching out for scorpions playing in my mind), we slept very well, woken only by our driver mending the van engine early in the morning.
For anyone travelling to the north of Cambodia, do consider visiting Banteay Chhmar – it truly is a rewarding part of authentic Cambodia. The Community Based Tourism initiative have a website with many details on how to visit.
After a three hour drive, we arrived into Siem Reap – the home of Angkor Wat and one of the most visited destinations in South East Asia. With the massive increase in tourists from all over the world, hotel developments line the roads as you enter the city. It is fair to say that Siem Reap has developed into a tourist town – and proudly so – with every amenity demanded by every type of traveller. Is that a negative? In some ways, perhaps (not least the sheer amount of people at the main sites and beyond), but the same time, testament to the incomparable attraction that visiting Angkor Wat holds.
Angkor Wat is amazing and the experience doesn’t need further comment by this traveller. I’ll just share some of the images we took.
A notable omission from these posts on our trip around Cambodia has been the food we had the opportunity to try across the country. This requires a post of its own…