When I reflect on my recent trip to Cambodia , I can safely say that there were three things about the place which left a mark on me, and will stay with me forever : temples, history of the place and Buddhism (not necessarily in that order).
I am sure most of the tourists who visit this country might have something similar to say. I am here to share my connection with these things.
Let me start with Buddhism, since for me its the most difficult to explain, to myself or to anyone else. Having visited other Buddhist places earlier (like Thailand..twice), I was surprised to realise the effect it had on me during / after the trip. Was it a function of seeing thousands of Buddha statues and carvings in the temples there? Or did it happen on acount of browsing through countess Buddha paintings and statues to carry back home as soveniors? Frankly I do not know. One thing I do realise that any image or thought of Buddha inspires a feeling of peace and serenity now, unlike earlier. I am keen to explore Buddhism and its teachings, which am sure will be a wonderful intellectual and spiritual journey.
The second impressionable fact about Cambodia is its history. A visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Meuseum and The Killing Fields will expose you to the hair raising stories of the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge , which resulted in the death of 25% of the Cambodian population between 1975 and 1979. I did not have the courage to visit The Killing Fields after I had finished with Toul Sleng, it was far too depressing for me to handle. During my trip I picked up a book called "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers" which describes the the inhuman condiditons which the people of the country were subjected to, under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. I also saw the movie "The Killing Fields" on youtube, which captures the life of a reporter during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. I would highly recommend the book and the movie (which is based on another book) to anyone who really wants to understand what the country has gone through. Be warned though, it will not be easy on your mind and feelings.
The third thing, which Cambodia is most known for, are its temples : Angkor Wat and the group of temples around it. If you are an Indian, you will be easily able to relate to the carvings of Ramayana and Mahabharata on the walls of the major temples. Most of the major temples are devoted to Shiva, Vishnu and Buddha. Carving and statues of "Samudra Manthan" are pretty common. It's a really wonderful journey and one of the most enjoyable and not to be missed things is Angkor Wat at sunrise.
Walking through the temple ruins, you will be reminded of Hampi several times, and you will be tempted to compare the two places. Hampi is one of my favorite places in India, somehwere where I look forward to going again and again and spending more time each time. By the time I finished Angkor, I still was not able to decide which was better, Angkor or Hampi. The one obvious difference between the two places is the size : Angkor is definitely bigger, the temples are huge and much more awe inspiring in terms of size. Hampi continues to still hold a special place in my heart even after my Angkor trip, and I still cannot decide which is better :)
The above three things more than justify the Cambodia trip for me and the trip will remain one of the most memorable vacations I have had in a long time.
I would want to make a special mention of the people of Cambodia, we had a great experience with them, very polite, non-agressive and hospitable. They speak English with a distinct sing-song tone, something you are bound to catch up within 2-3 days of your stay there :). Last but not the least, a trip to Cambodia simply cannot be complete without a Tuktuk ride, so make sure you don't miss that :)