In our previous two episodes, Getaway
joined tours from the Captain's Choice, a family-owned and operated company, established in 1994. They offer tours throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Central and South America. Tours are all-inclusive, luxurious, personalised and go to exotic and remote destinations.
The services of local tour operators and guides are used at each destination, which not only helps their economy, but also provides tourists with invaluable local knowledge and experience. As a way of repaying communities for their participation, the Captain's Choice supports a variety of charities in some of the countries they visit.
A tour escort team is with you all the way, ensuring everything goes smoothly. They look after luggage and boarding passes so minimal time is spent at airports, and, where possible, they also coordinate customs and immigration clearances. An English-speaking tour doctor also travels with the group.
The first leg of the journey took us to Thailand, the second to Laos, and this week, we visit the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Once known as Kampuchea, Cambodia has a population of more than 13 million people and is the successor state of the once powerful Hindu and Buddhist Khmer Empire. Most Cambodians are Theravada Buddhists of Khmer extraction, but the country also has a substantial number of predominantly Muslim Cham, as well as ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese and small animist hill tribes.
Cambodia borders Thailand to its west and north-west; Laos to its north-east and Vietnam to its east and south-east. In the south, it faces the Gulf of Thailand. It is dominated by the Mekong River and the freshwater lake Tonlé Sap, a most important source of fish.
While Phnom Penh is the capital city, Siem Reap is the highlight of a visit to Cambodia. It is the country's fastest growing city and the gateway to one of the world's wonders.
Between the ninth and 15th centuries, the Khmer Empire was so powerful it included Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and parts of northern Malaysia. It has European colonial and Chinese architecture in the Old French Quarter and around the old market. In town there are apsara (nymph) dance performances, craft shops, silk farms, rice-paddy countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the lake.
Siem Reap's main attraction is Angkor Wat, the world's largest single religious monument. Local legend says it took 50,000 elephants, 500,000 horses and 37 years to build. King Suryavarman II was the number one architect of the pyramid Hindu temple, which was built to celebrate his idea of heaven on earth. It later became a Buddhist temple, but is revered by both religions.
It has more than 3000 wall carvings of dancing apsaras and each one is different.
An international team of researchers established that Angkor was the largest pre-industrial city in the world with an urban sprawl of 1850 square kilometres. Its closest rival is the Mayan city of Tikal in Guatemala, which was a comparatively tiny 80 square kilometres.
Angkor has been under the jurisdiction of UNESCO since 1992 as a World Heritage site. Many temples have been restored and they attract around a million visitors each year. The ruins were once pilfered by hungry collectors, but it is now fiercely protected, and restoration is never ending.
The ruins are amid forests and farmland and it is obvious that the Cambodian god-kings strove to out-do their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in Angkor Wat.
Evidence of the importance of Angkor is everywhere it's image is depicted on the national flag, it's the name of national beer and cigarette brands and also the name of many hotels and guesthouses. It is a symbol of pride and nationhood.
Sokha Angkor Resort is in the heart of Siem Reap and within walking distance to the Old Market Place, which is popular for local handicrafts. Its 276 rooms and suites are decorated in traditional ancient and modern Khmer design.
The resort has three restaurants, two bars, a salt water pool, jasmine spa and massage rooms, sauna, steam bath, Jacuzzi meditation room, a beauty salon and gymnasium all very welcomed after a day of exploring the marvellous temples and shopping at the markets.