Some of us try to escape obesity stricken western world and its stressful lifestyle by hiding in a health retreat. Why not escape to Cambodia instead and adopt the local lifestyle? A week in Cambodia costs less than a day in a health retreat. We all heard the proverb "when in Rome….." so why not join the Cambodian population in their healthy lifestyle.
A day starts at 5.30 with a brisk walk to a park or riverfront to join the local population in exercises and aerobic classes; a spectacular sunrise is a bonus. The sunset classes are even more popular since they end with dancing, graceful, relaxed movements of Cambodian traditional dance. Sadly many tourists just gawk at the locals, take photos but do not join in the fun and happiness that radiates from everybody.
The exercise is good for both, body and soul. It is also essential for the enjoyment of visiting the historical sites scattered throughout Cambodia and concentrated in Siem Reap area. The stairways to the top of many temples are not only dating back to the 11th century but they are also steep, so a high level of fitness is quintessential.
Once used to getting up early for the morning exercise, it is easy to wake up in time for a tuk tuk trip to Angkor Wat to watch a sunrise and take a postcard picture of the temple reflected in the Sacred Lake. There is restoration work in progress and scaffolding can disturb your picture but the prospect of renovation and preservation of this magnificent site is more than welcome. The future generations will be able to admire the site and experience the spirituality and serenity of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
Bayon area has many temples, towers, giant stone faces, elephant terraces and is best explored on foot. Ta Prohm has tree roots growing through the temples and ruins. Banteay Srey and Banteay Samre are famous for well-preserved carvings. A sunset at Phnom Bakheng is spectacular.
A tuk tuk is the way to travel in towns and cities. It is a "dusty" experience but a shower can easily fix that problem. An air-conditioned coach tour makes one more of an observer than a participant in the local scene. It is also good to get used to open air experiences to ride a bamboo train in Battambang.
Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and can be reached from Siem Reap by local boat. It is a spectacular six-hour journey through rivers and Tonle Sap Lake, the biggest lake in Asia. There are stilt house villages on the riverfront and the lake itself.
It is impossible to escape an encounter with the troubled past of the 70s. Phnom Sampov, a tuk tuk trip from Battambang is only one of the sites where the atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge are visible with sculls and bones, of those killed or wounded and thrown into the caves to die, now rest in peace in a temple. The Killing Fields are also a tuk tuk trip away from Phnom Penh and document Pol Pot’s brutal crimes. These visits brought back history lessons about concentration camps like Oswiecim, Treblinka and many others in Poland during the World War II. The sad thing is, the history lesson has not been learned and that here in Cambodia Khmer killed Khmer.
In spite of the tragic and brutal past the Cambodian people still hold their heads high. They are welcoming, friendly and cheerful. This hard working nation battles poverty. It is wonderful to see that the Cambodian spirit has not been broken. One would never guess the tragedy behind the smiling faces enjoying their healthy and fitness-oriented lifestyle on the riverfront, their daily pursuit of well being.