Banteay Srei and Landmine Museum

We started the afternoon at Banteay Srei after a rather delicious Cambodian lunch. The Banteay Srei is a 10th century temple that is about 25 kilometers north east of Angkor Thom. Although smaller and only one level high, this temple is very beautiful. It is made from red sandstone, which is harder and more suited to carvings than the sandstone used for the other temples. Moreover, it is the carvings that really make this temple special — they are spectacular and still in very good condition, even though they are over 1000 years old. The temple is also known as the Lady Temple. No one seemed sure exactly why it got this name, but one suggestion is that the carvings are so fine and could only have been done by the hand of a lady. As we walked around the temple vicinity, the tour guide enlightened us.

The Entrance: Only Shiva and Vishnu carvings have been incorporated on the entrance. The French restored this temple and the statues have been preserved in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. The entire area is paved with laterite stone.


Pilgrims took rest in these rest houses before praying.

The main temple consists of three towers and is surrounded by a moat.

Yoni – The female sexual organ. Linga is believed to have sat in the middle of this structure.

The center of the temple carving depicts the following: Laxmi is covered with milk and is being washed off by two elephants so that she is clean enough to get married to Vishnu.

Bull Nandi (Bull of Shiva) always faces the temple.

The statues are only one year old. They were remade without arms because the original statues that were excavated had broken arms.

The library is always situated adjacent to the temple. As per tradition, the pilgrims always went to the temple first and then came out and entered the library.

After visiting Bantaey Srei temple, we visited the Cambodia Landmine Museum located 20 minutes drive from the town of Siem Reap.
Master Class 371

This museum was founded by Akira, local Cambodian who has been independently clearing landmines throughout Cambodia and more recently near the Thailand border for many years.

The sad history of Cambodia involves land mines. There was an article describing that there are 2 million land mines still buried in throughout the country. And the biggest problem is that no one bothered to document where they were placed. As a result, people are still being killed or injured today.

Master Class 375

Personally, I was impressed by what Akira had contributed to Cambodia. Akira is the founder of the landmine museum. He was taken as a boy soldier at thirteen years of age to serve Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and later defected to serve in the Cambodian army. Part of his job for both sides was laying landmines—unmapped and strategically indiscriminate. Later on, he declared a mission “I want to make my country safe for my people” and built an organization mainly provides education and training to rural people about landmine safety, clearing mines and unexploded ordnance from various provinces in Cambodia, and training soldiers to deactivate and clear landmines.

Master Class 385

I understand that it will take time but hopefully one day, Cambodia will become free of landmines.

Saurabh & Yosuke

School Painting @Siem Reap, 2 March 2011

We helped a local primary/secondary school to paint their gate wall.

Click on the photos to view the full image.

Group Photos 

 For more photos, please see

Siem Reap – Key Pointers

Walking along the Old Market, there is a lot that one goes through in terms of a cultural exchange that this fantastic city offers at each of its nook and corners. We thought that since this blog shall remain as a record of the fun times we are going to embark upon in the next few days, it would be a good idea to pen down our last email on this forum as well. Hence, following are a few key pointers that one might find useful before coming here:
  1. Phones work on roaming but seem more expensive for prepaid plans, also make sure you call up your Service Providers o activate before you leave Singapore (For Starhub pre-paid, it is close to $5 per minute on prepaid, data charges are 5cents per KB – I have spent $15 on my BB Data Plan from morning until now, make sure you disable data service in you mobile phone’s options if you want to prevent the mistake I made!!)
  2. Postpaid plans roaming is a bit cheaper I guess
  3. Currency Exchange, is good if you get it from Singapore or else there are a lotta places on streets trading USD Vs SGD (rates differ, depends on how you negotiate)
  4. BARGAIN… and do it everywhere! The highest I was getting was USD 70 for SGD 100, fifteen minutes later another one gave me $75.5
  5. 25 cents (US) = 1000 Riel, if you buy something for $1.50 and give a $2 – you will get 2000 Riel (Yes, they do not have 50 cent coins! Make sure you use the Riel when you buy something next)
  6. Airport entry is USD 20 or if you have SGD (like we did) its SGD 35 pp
  7. Going rate of Tuk-Tuk is only $1-$2.
  8. Window shoppers, you guys will have a tough time!! The vendors if asked “how much?” take it for granted that you WILL buy the article! They will follow you and ultimately convince you to buy something you never wanted in first place. (I will show you my LOCAL CAMBODIAN dress – if you promise you wont make fun when I wear it!!)

People are fantastic -Tourists are friendly and locals are very helpful (but please negotiate – everywhere!!)

Floating fishermen villages – we did not see its reference anywhere – everybody here says we cannot miss it!

Let the fun begin!

-Saroj & Manish

Lodging Industry in Cambodia

Travel and Tourism in Cambodia: A Macro View

Although wedged between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam—competitive emerging market destinations, Cambodia possesses exceptional tourism assets and unparalleled opportunities, led by its World Heritage gem in Siem Reap—Angkor Wat .  Fueled by non-trivial cash flows from Foreign Direct Investment along with hefty Government initiatives to increase capability, tourism investment and growth of visitors has significantly increased in Cambodia since the mid-1990s after the re-instatement of King Sihanouk.  Due to limited but ongoing infrastructure improvements, there are currently three major tourist destinations in Cambodia: Phnom Penh (Capital City), Siem Reap (Cultural Heritage) and Sihanoukville (Beach).  As can be seen in the graph below,  Siem Reap contains the largest capacity for accomodation:

Asia-Pacific Hotel Industry – October 2010 – Supply Structure
Figure 8: Cambodia’s accommodation capacity, by region, 2009
Destination Hotels Hotel rooms Guesthouses Guesthouse rooms
Phnom Penh





Siem Reap





Coastal area





Ecotourism area















Source: Cambodian Ministry of Tourism

Of all international visitors to Cambodia, ~50% visit the province of Siem Reap, making it the top single destination of the country.  Since 2003 (when official tracking of tourist figures began), the number of arrivals to Siem Reap has grown faster than the other two destinations, resulting in an increase of market share for Siem Reap:

2005 2006 % of total 2006 2007 (e) % of total 2007 % change 2005-07
Phnom Penh and other destinations 744,806 843,531 49.6 855,147 42.4 14.8
Siem Reap Province 676,809 856,510 50.4 1,160,082 57.6 71.4
Total 1,421,615 1,700,041 100.0 2,015,229 100.0 41.8

However, the average length of stay in Siem Reap, as of 2007, is reported to be only 1.7 nights.  Since 2003, the primary source market to Cambodia has been South Korea (particularly Kim, Youngsun), with significant increased arrival trends from Japan, US, Taiwan and China.

The Loding Industry in Siem Reap

The Government’s “open sky” policy enacted in 200 has enabled for an increase in direct flights to Siem Reap, which has helped drive up Lodging requests in the province.  Also, new attractions such as Angkor National Museum, the Johnnie Walker Camodia Golf Open and a Half Marathon have assisted the uptick in demand.  Between 2006-2007, arrivals into Siem Reap increased at a rate of 51%:

FIGURE 6: Distribution of international visitor arrivals, 2005-07*

2005 2006 % of total 2006 2007 (e) % of total 2007
Siem Reap Province 676,809 856,510 50.4 1,160,082 57.6
Total 1,421,615 1,700,041 100.0 2,015,229 100.0

Siem Reap has seen a transformation in supply over the last ten years – from a town providing simple guesthouses to a destination with a wide choice of accommodation, including upscale offerings.   While guesthouses are still more numerous in terms of raw numbers, Hotels now provide the overwhelming majority of lodging in Siem Reap.   As can be seen in below chart, Hotel Rooms account for ~75% of all rooms in the market.   Compared to just four hotels in 1969, supply grew to 86 hotels in 2007 and development continues to push forward.  Excluding guesthouses as of 2010, there are 117 hotels in Siem Reap—each averaging 74 rooms for a total Room Supply of 8,675 beds.

Asia – Pacific Hotel Industry – October 2010 – Supply Structure

Figure  8: Cambodias accommodation capacity by region 2009

Destination               Hotels           Hotel Rooms           Guesthouses      Guesthouse rooms

Siem Reap                  117                  8,675                        225                          2,929

Occupancy levels, appearing to be driven by seasonality, show tremendous fluctuation and wide spreads.  Occupancy rates range from as low as 20% in the low season to 100% in the high season.  The top six hotels in Siem Reap had, on average, a 45% occupancy level, with an average rate of US$117 in 2006.  Similarly, Rate shows inconsistency and wide price spreads, ranging from $2 up to over $200/night.

The market currently contains some well-known, branded luxury properties including Amansara (Aman Resorts), Sofitel Phokeethra Royal Angkor and Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, which highlight a possible maturation stage in the market.  This stage can be characterized by larger, branded facilities entering the market, owing to an increased confidence in development opportunity and sustainability.  Of great importance, Marriott has officially entered the Siem Reap lodging market with a 218-room Courtyard slated to open this year.


Siem Reap is the most significant driver of tourism in Cambodia and is rapidly growing.  Since the Government wants to “distribute” these visitors to other areas of the Republic in an effort to “share the wealth” in foreign currency brought in by tourists to ultimately grow per capita GDP, there is some risk that infrastructure issues initiated by the public sector could have a disproportionate effect on Siem Reap.  There is also a real issue that in the coming years, because of the hotel boom in the 2000s, Siem Reap could be reaching the point of over-capacity.   However, the increased development and competition–particularly in the luxury sector, could assist the market in terms of quality delivered—by eliminating the weak.

I believe the longer term effectiveness of the Lodging Market will be driven by a continued aggressive, well-coordinated effort between development investment and tourism marketing, both in the private and public sectors.  But ultimately, the burden of sustaining the Industry lies on the shoulders of the Khmer people to effectively acquire the knowledge imported via Foreign Direct Investment by aggressive Private Equity Firms and established Hotel Operators.

All of these signs point toward increasing capacity and growth within this crucial sector in one of the world’s poorest economies, which could help in the Government’s much needed plan to drive up per capita GDP in the Republic.

Albeit ushered, the Cambodian nation was able to successfully close a chapter in history by successfully bringing legal action to some of the remaining, more brutal remnants of the Khmer Rouge in 2010.  Although the recent events in the Middle East show us the unpredictable, inherent risk in investment, it appears that the Tourism and Lodging Markets in Siem Reap are positively riding the wave of “efficiently moving forward” from a tumultuous past.

– Mark Eckenroth –

History of Siem Reap’s Tourism

From the Very Beginning

In the 13th century, Siem Reap was little more than an expanse of empty countryside but with the first Hindu and then Buddhist mega settlement, it began to boom with the building of hundreds of temples. Many years later, (as shared by Sacchin and Manish in their post of the History of Siem Reap) the École Française d’Extrême Orient (EFEO) began a long association with Angkor as the French became Cambodia’s colonial master in the 19th century. The EFEO funded an expedition into Siam to the Bayon and Siem Reap was still little more than a village when the first French explorers re-discovered Angkor in 1901.

With the acquisition of the Angkor by the French seven years later in 1907, the EFEO cleared and restored the whole site and in the same year, Angkor received its first wave of tourists- an unprecedented 200 people in three months. Siem Reap was the beneficiary of these early waves of tourism as it then began to be developed beyond the huts that previously made up the town. Infrastructure and buildings began to grow with the arrival of tourists, with many French colonial buildings that can still be seen till today. For instance, The Grand Hotel d’Angkor opened its doors in 1929 and with the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap attracted even celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Kennedy.

Then, the Kingdom of Cambodia gained independence from its French protectorate and despite the French pulling out of the country in the 1950s, Siem Reap remained one of Asia’s leading tourism draw. In fact, Cambodia used to be one of the most famous tourist destinations with annual tourist arrivals from 50,000 to 70,000.

However in 1975, the communist Khmer Rouge took over the country and literally drove the entire population of Siem Reap (along with the rest of the population in other cities and towns in Cambodia) into the countryside. Meanwhile, Angkor lay dormant and there was not a single visitor that visited the site as Siem Reap remained off-limits to tourists.

Siem Reap was the scene of heavy fighting that remained sporadic for much of the next decade as the Vietnamese army entered Cambodia in 1979. Decades of civil war, insurgencies, isolation and particularly the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge, the tourism industry was almost totally destroyed.

Siem Reap and Cambodia Today

After conflict resolution in the early 1990s and with strong support from the international community, Cambodia returned to peace and socio-economic reconstruction. Cambodia began to stabilise and with a rejuvenated tourist industry, Siem Reap emerged from a long slumber became one of the biggest Cambodian beneficiaries, taking small but important steps to an important journey to recovery. Tourist arrivals have increased dramatically from 1993 to today, with an annual average increase of about 30 percent. Since, Siem Reap has emerged as the fastest growing city in Cambodia and remains a gateway to the famous heritage site of the Angkor temples.

With these attractions serving as its main draw, Siem Reap has managed to transform itself into one of Cambodia’s fastest growing city and into a major tourist hub. In fact, tourism has become one of the most important industries contributing to the overall economic recovery and development of Cambodia, with Tourism is one of the largest contributors to the Cambodian economy after the agriculture and textile industry and is the second largest income generator after the garment industry. For example, tourism generated tourism receipts of US$1.56 billion in 2009 with more than 2 million visitors.

Today, Siem Reap has emerged as a vibrant and exciting city with hotels and modern amenities, and it has pretty much continued to conserve much of its distinctive image, culture, traditions and architecture. In fact, besides its economic advantages, the Cambodian government views tourism as an effective tool to promote the cultural values and identity of Cambodia which had been lost given the excessive external interventions. An example of which is the Angkor temples. While the Angkor temples have always existed, the Khmers have always regarded it as a religious site and never thought of it as a symbol of national pride. Today, Angkor has become the symbol of nationalism and Cambodian identity, with a recent UNESCO/Trip Advisor survey declaring the Angkor as the most recommended World Heritage site.

Tourism Statistics For the Geeks!

If you want to find out more about their tourism statistics such as mode of arrivals, visitor arrivals by country of destination, top 10 arrival markets, average length of stay and hotel occupancy, etc, download Cambodia’s tourism statistics (2010)

View This Documentary on Angkor Wat!

Do spare some time to view this BBC documentary. It is an hour long but is such worthwhile investment in return for a solid education of Angkor Wat and its wonders. I didn’t even know that the water tributaries that lead to the Mekong River will actually reverse in direction for certain months of the year and back up into the Tonle Sap Lake. In fact, the video even shared how the ancient Khmers would even carve the images of gods into the river beds, including lingums (symbolic of the male phallus) to bless the waters.  Such a showcase of their mastery over their craft of stone carving as an act of devotion to their gods. Watch this YouTube documentary on Angkor Wat. After all, the Angkor Wat is so integral to Siem Reap’s tourism, so make sure you watch it!


Chheang, V (2008). “The Political Economy of Tourism in Cambodia”. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, Vol 13 No. 3

Chheang, V (2009). “State and Tourism Planning: A Case Study of Cambodia”. Journal of Tourism, Vol 4 No. 1

Chen, C.Y., Sok, P., Sok, K., (2008). “Evaluating the Competitiveness of the Tourism Industry in Cambodia: Self- assessment from Professionals”. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, Vol. 13. No. 1

Majestic Angkor Wat


Angkor derives from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘holy city’; ‘Wat’ in Khmer means ‘temple’. Angkor Wat, located 5.5 km north of the modern town of Siem Reap in northeast Cambodia represents a whole complex of wonderful temples and stonemasonry and artwork throughout this area. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia besides being the single largest religious structure in the world, and surely one of the world’s wonders of art and architecture.
Majestic Angkor Wat

The temples of Angkor were built by the Khmer civilization between 802 and 1220 AD. From Angkor the Khmer kings ruled over a vast domain that reached from Vietnam to China to the Bay of Bengal. Within an area of 120 sq. miles, the ruins contain some of the most imposing monuments in the world, including about a thousand temples, mainly Hindu and some Buddhist; the ancient city, however, had an extent some three times that size, and was home to perhaps 750,000 people. The structures one sees at Angkor today, more than 100 stone temples in all, are the surviving remains of a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis whose other buildings – palaces, public buildings, and houses – were built of wood and have long since decayed and disappeared. Angkor Wat was re-discovered by a French man about 150 years ago among heavy forestry, ready to become one of the most visited archaeological and artistic sites on the planet.


The initial design and construction of Angkor Wat took place in the first half of the 12th century, during the reign of Suryavarman II (1113 – c. 1150). Dedicated to Vishnu, it was built as the king’s state temple and capital city. As neither the foundation nor any contemporary inscriptions referring to the temple have been found, its original name is unknown, but it may have been known as Vrah Vishnulok after the presiding deity. Work seems to have ended shortly after the king’s death, leaving some of the bas-relief decoration unfinished. In 1177, approximately 27 years after the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer. Thereafter the empire was restored by a new king, Jayavarman VII, who established a new capital and state temple (Angkor Thom and the Bayon respectively) a few kilometres to the north.

In the late 13th century, Angkor Wat gradually moved from Hindu to Theravada Buddhist use, which continues to the present day. Angkor Wat is unusual among the Angkor temples in that although it was somewhat neglected after the 16th century it was never completely abandoned, its preservation being due in part to the fact that its moat also provided some protection from encroachment by the jungle.

The true history of Angkor Wat was pieced together only from stylistic and epigraphic evidence accumulated during the clearing and restoration work carried out across the whole Angkor site. There were no ordinary dwellings or houses or other signs of settlement including cooking utensils, weapons, or items of clothing usually found at ancient sites. Instead there is the evidence of the monuments themselves.

Angkor Wat required considerable restoration in the 20th century, mainly the removal of accumulated earth and vegetation. Work was interrupted by the civil war and Khmer Rouge control of the country during the 1970s and 1980s, but relatively little damage was done during this period other than the theft and destruction of mostly post-Angkorian statues.

The temple is a powerful symbol of Cambodia, and is a source of great national pride that has factored into Cambodia’s diplomatic relations with its neighbour Thailand, France and the United States. The splendid artistic legacy of Angkor Wat and other Khmer monuments in the Angkor region led directly to France adopting Cambodia as a protectorate on 11 August 1863. This quickly led to Cambodia reclaiming lands in the northwestern corner of the country that had been under Thai control since the Thai invasion of 1431 AD. Cambodia gained independence from France on 9 November 1953 and has controlled Angkor Wat since that time.

Angkor Wat Today

Since the 1990s, Angkor Wat has seen continued conservation efforts and a massive increase in tourism. The temple is part of the Angkor World Heritage Site, established in 1992, which has provided some funding and has encouraged the Cambodian government to protect the site. A survey found that around 20% of the devatas were in very poor condition, mainly because of natural erosion and deterioration of the stone but in part also due to earlier restoration efforts. Other work involves the repair of collapsed sections of the structure, and prevention of further collapse.

Angkor Wat has become a major tourist destination. In 2004 and 2005, government figures suggest that, respectively, 561,000 and 677,000 foreign visitors arrived in Siem Reap province, approximately 50% of all foreign tourists in Cambodia for both years. The influx of tourists has so far caused relatively little damage, other than some graffiti; ropes and wooden steps have been introduced to protect the bas-reliefs and floors, respectively. Tourism has also provided some additional funds for maintenance—as of 2000 approximately 28% of ticket revenues across the whole Angkor site was spent on the temples—although most work is carried out by foreign government sponsored teams rather than by the Cambodian authorities.

Architecture and Style

Angkor Wat is the prime example of the classical style of Khmer architecture—the Angkor Wat style—to which it has given its name. By the 12th century Khmer architects had become skilled and confident in the use of sandstone (rather than brick or laterite) as the main building material. Most of the visible areas are of sandstone blocks, while laterite was used for the outer wall and for hidden structural parts.

Angkor Wat is a unique combination of the temple mountain, the standard design for the empire’s state temples, the later plan of concentric galleries, and influences from Orissa and the Chola of Tamil Nadu, India. The temple is a representation of Mount Meru, the home of the gods: the central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain, and the walls and moat the surrounding mountain ranges and ocean. Access to the upper areas of the temple was progressively more exclusive, with the laity being admitted only to the lowest level.
Angkor Wat Aerial

Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design, which has been compared to the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-20th-century conservator of Angkor, the temple “attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style.”


Outer enclosure: The outer wall is surrounded by open ground and a moat. Access to the temple is by an earth bank to the east and a sandstone causeway to the west; the latter, the main entrance, is a later addition, possibly replacing a wooden bridge. The outer wall encloses a space, which besides the temple proper was originally occupied by the city and, to the north of the temple, the royal palace. Like all secular buildings of Angkor, these were built of perishable materials rather than of stone, so nothing remains of them except the outlines of some of the streets. Most of the area is now covered by forest.

Central structure: The temple stands on a terrace raised higher than the city. It is made of three rectangular galleries rising to a central tower, each level higher than the last. Each gallery has a gopura (a monumental tower, usually ornate, at the entrance of any temple) at each of the points, and the two inner galleries each have towers at their corners, forming a quincunx.

The outer gallery has pavilions rather than towers at the corners. The gallery is open to the outside of the temple, with columned half-galleries extending and buttressing the structure. Connecting the outer gallery to the second enclosure on the west side is a cruciform cloister called Preah Poan (the “Hall of a Thousand Buddhas”). This area has many inscriptions relating the good deeds of pilgrims, most written in Khmer but others in Burmese and Japanese. The four small courtyards marked out by the cloister may originally have been filled with water. North and south of the cloister are libraries.

Hall of Thousand Buddhas

Beyond, the second and inner galleries are connected to each other and to two flanking libraries by another cruciform terrace, again a later addition. From the second level upwards, devatas abound on the walls, individually or in groups of up to four. The second-level enclosure may originally have been flooded to represent the ocean around Mount Meru. Three sets of steps on each side lead up to the corner towers and gopuras of the inner gallery. The very steep stairways represent the difficulty of ascending to the kingdom of the gods. This inner gallery, called the Bakan, is a square with axial galleries connecting each gopura with the central shrine, and subsidiary shrines located below the corner towers. The roofings of the galleries are decorated with the motif of the body of a snake ending in the heads of lions or garudas.


Carved lintels and pediments decorate the entrances to the galleries and to the shrines. The tower above the central shrine rises above the ground; unlike those of previous temple mountains, the central tower is raised above the surrounding four. The shrine itself, originally occupied by a statue of Vishnu and open on each side, was walled in when the temple was converted to Theravada Buddhism, the new walls featuring standing Buddhas.

Decoration: Integrated with the architecture of the building, and one of the causes for its fame is Angkor Wat’s extensive decoration, which predominantly takes the form of bas-relief (is a projecting image with a shallow overall depth, for example used on coins, on which all images are in low relief) friezes. The inner walls of the outer gallery bear a series of large-scale scenes mainly depicting episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. From the northwest corner anti-clockwise, the western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka (from the Ramayana, in which Rama defeats Ravana) and the Battle of Kurukshetra (from the Mahabharata, showing the mutual annihilation of the Kaurava and Pandava clans). On the southern gallery follow the only historical scene, a procession of Suryavarman II, then the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology.


On the eastern gallery is one of the most celebrated scenes, the Churning of the Sea of Milk, showing 92 asuras and 88 devas using the serpent Vasuki to churn the sea under Vishnu’s direction. It is followed by Vishnu defeating asuras (a 16th-century addition). The northern gallery shows Krishna’s victory over Bana and a battle between the Hindu gods and asuras. The northwest and southwest corner pavilions both feature much smaller-scale scenes, some unidentified but most from the Ramayana or the life of Krishna.

Churning of the Sea Milk

Sarah Widjaja and Saurabh Sud

* * *



Cambodia Dance

People in Cambodia use dance to show the divine power, celebrate the social events, and create laughter in daily life. Cambodian dance can be divided into three different categories: Khmer Classical Dance, Folk Dance, and Vernacular Dance.

Khmer Classical Dance:

This form of dance is also known by a name in English called “Royal Ballet of Cambodia”, and it is listed in UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2008. This dance was performed only for royalty meaning  the “dances of royal wealth”.

Khmer classical dance is believed to derive from Indian court dance, which traces its origins to the apsaras(see pic1) of Hindu mythology, heavenly female nymphs who were born to dance for the gods. The traditions of Thailand and Java (in Indonesia) also influenced the music and dance of Cambodia.

Depiction of apsaras dancing, Temple Bayon, 12th century, in the city of Angkor Thom

Pic1: Depiction of apsaras dancing, Temple Bayon, 12th century, in the city of Angkor Thom

Over the history of Cambodia, role of Royal Palace’s dancers have become symbols of the King’s prestige. After the signing of the 1863 Protectorate Treaty, the French, who among many other things controlled the country’s finances, tried to reduce the number of palace dancers in order to lessen the King’s prestige. In the 1930s, the French subsidized the private troupe of Princess Wongat Say Sangvann, which performed for tourists, calling it the “one and only true” troupe. But after King Norodom Sihanouk acceded to the throne in 1941, his mother Queen Sisowath Kossamak found ways to reestablish the royal troupe’s ascendancy. In support of her son, Queen Kossamak transformed performances so that the royal troupe could best serve Cambodia’s image nationally and abroad. She shortened the length of the dance programs, had pure dance pieces followed by dramatic or comic works, and added musical interludes.

However, the tradition of dance, last for over a millennium, was almost lost in the Cambodian genocide, when the Khmer Rouge targeted those involved in the dance and “imposed a massive cultural forgetting”. Khmer classical dance suffered a huge blow during the Khmer Rouge regime when many dancers were killed because classical dance was thought as of an aristocratic institution. Although 90 percent of all Cambodian classical artists perished between 1975 and 1979 after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, those who did survive wandered out from hiding, found one another, and formed “colonies” in order to revive their sacred traditions.*

*(Reference: Earth in Flower – The Divine Mystery of the Cambodian Dance Drama by Paul Cravath)

Khmer classical dancers use silent movements and gestures to tell a story. Dancers do not speak or sing; they dance with a slight smile and never open their mouths.(see pic2) Khmer classical dance can be compared to French ballet in that it requires years of practice and stretching at a young age so the limbs become very flexible.

silent movement

Pic 2:silent movement

In classical Cambodian dance, women, dressed in brightly colored costumes with elaborate headdresses (also see pic2), perform slow, graceful movements accompanied by a percussive ensemble known as the pinpeat. Pinpeat orchestras include drums, gongs, and bamboo xylophones. (see pic3)

Pinpeat orchestras

Pic3: Pinpeat orchestras

The way Khmer classical dance communicate with audience is very complicated. Different position of the arm and the position of the hand relative to the arm can also express different meaning. Besides hand gestures are gestures which are more specific to their meaning, such as that which is used to represent laughing or flying. These other gestures are performed in different manners depending on which type of character is played.

In addition to the renowned graceful hand gesture(see pic4) and stunning costumes, the Khmer Classical Dance, has been closely associated with the Khmer court for over one thousand years. Performances would traditionally accompany royal ceremonies and observances such as coronations, marriages, funerals or Khmer holidays. This art form is highly cherished by many Cambodians.

Pic4: hand gesture of Khmer Classical Dance

Pic4: hand gesture of Khmer Classical Dance

Infused with a sacred and symbolic role, the dance embodies the traditional values of refinement, respect and spirituality. Its repertory perpetuates the legends associated with the origins of the Khmer people. Consequently, Cambodians have long esteemed this tradition as the emblem of Khmer culture. Four distinct character types exist in the classical repertory: Neang (woman), Neayrong ( man), Yeak (giant), and Sva (monkey). Each possesses distinctive colours, costumes, makeup and masks. An orchestra accompanies the dance, and a female chorus provides a running commentary on the plot, highlighting the emotions mimed by the dancers, who were considered the kings’ messengers to the gods and to the ancestors.

Classical Cambodian Ballet: Apsara

Folk dance:

Folk dances play a role of performing art to entertain the audience. Khmer folk are fast-paced, and the movements and gestures are not as stylized as Khmer classical dance. Folk dances mostly are about love or the story about animals. The dancers wear costumes that portray ordinary people character, such as farmers, peasants, and tribe leaders. The elements of folk dance diversify profoundly by different area and local cultures. The most famous of all, Robam Trot, is mainly performed during the Cambodian New Year. The Dance got its history along a legend about a hunter and deer.

Vernacular dance:

In Cambodia, vernacular dance (or social dance) is the dance performed at social gatherings. Some of these dances are heavily influenced by the traditional dances of Laos. But rom kbach, for example, take heavily from the classical dance of the royal court. Rom kbach is a simple dance which uses hand gesture similar to that of classical dance and rom kbach song also utilize the melodies of classical dance songs and combine them with traditional Khmer and Western instruments.

Other social dances from around the world have had an impact on Cambodian social cultures include the Cha-Cha,Bolero, and the Madison. Such dances are often performed at Cambodian wedding receptions and banquets.

Yosuke and Tan-Chi

Bayon Temples

Bayon temple is a magnificent stone structure situated at the exact center of Angkor Thom (literally: “Great City”), which signifies the conjunction of heaven and earth. Angkor Thom is Jayavarman VII’s capital and was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It is much larger in size comparing to the world-famous Angkor Wat and comprises not only Bayon, but also some other famous spots such as The Terrace of the Leeper King and Baphuon temple. Bayon temple is 10km from Siem Reap city center and 2km from Angkor Wat. The map below shows the layout of the Angkor Archaeological Park:


Map showing Angkor Thom

Map showing Angkor Thom


Bayon is the only Angkorian state temple dedicated to Mahayana Buddhism. However, after Jayavarman VII’s death, the temple was modified by subsequent Hindu and Theravada Buddhist kings to suit their own religious preferences.

To understand the importance and origin of the Bayon temples, it is essential to have a grasp of the regime of King Jayavarman VII. It was during the late 12th and early 13th century that the Bayon was built under the rule of King Jayavarman VII, a century after Angkor Wat was built by Suryavarman II. Jayavarman VII was a respected and celebrated king as he led a local army to oust the invaders and to secure the capital of Cambodia. Jayavarman VII was a staunch believer of Mahayana Buddhism and dedicated his reign as king in the service and upliftment of his subjects.
Jayavarman VII was instrumental in creating a grand program of constructing public works and monuments. As part of this program, he first built hospitals, schools, reservoirs, rest houses for pilgrims and other public benefiting works. The second step was to build Ta Prohm temple in honor of his mother and Preah Khan in honor of his father. To mark the completion of the grand construction program, Jayavarman VII built the “Temple – Mountain” at Bayon and developed the city around it.

Characteristics of Bayon
Occupying an area of 9 square kilometer, the Bayon temple’s entrance faces the east.
The temple comprises two galleried enclosures and an upper terrace. The two galleried enclosures bear over 11,000 carved figures depicting legendary and historical events of the Khmer empire. Some of the must-see carvings include:
The All-seeing King – The carvings show a giant fish swallowing an antelope and a prawn hiding among smaller fish, indicating that the king will seek out those in hiding.
A Khmer Circus- This group of panels shows a man holding three dwarfs, a man lying on his back and spinning a wheel with his feet, a group of tightrope walkers and the royal court watching all these from a terrace.
The Chams sack Angkor – This panel on the east wall depicts the war of 1177 in which the Angkor was defeated.

Khmer Circus

Khmer Circus

 Of course, the Bayon is renowned for is its 216 gigantic faces on the temple’s 54 towers. There are various schools of thoughts regarding whom those faces represent. Some scholars believe that they represent King Jayavarman VII himself while others say they belong to boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara. The curious smiles of these faces have been dubbed as the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.”

In 2010, a team of Cambodian and Japanese archaeologists uncovered an ancient man-made drainage system at the site of the Bayon temple, the first time such a drainage system has been discovered.

Conservation and Restoration
The Bayon temple is one of the most endangered monuments among all Angkor monuments. It is also the most technically challenging one to restore.
The first restoration work was led by the École Française d’Extrême Orient in the early 20th century. Since 1995, the Japanese Government team for the Safeguarding of Angkor has been the main conservatory body.










Lonely planet Cambodia – Nicky Ray

Community tourism initiatives in Siem Reap

The fascinating and glorious details of Cambodia’s culture, cuisine, natural landscape, history and unique life-style that are unfolding in front of us through all the great blogs that my other classmates are posting make it obvious that tourism in Cambodia has a great potential. The country offers rich history and an enchanting culture, mouth-watering cuisine and an uplifting touch of religion. In the recent years expectedly, there has been an increase in the number of tourist arrivals to Cambodia. The number of tourists to Cambodia in the year was more than 2 million in 2007 (foreign visitors).
Like in many other developing countries tourism occupies an important place in the contribution to the economic development of the country. However, we have to be wary of unsustainable tourism practices especially in a culturally, environmentally and economically fragile ecosphere like Cambodia. In a Third World country local communities are vulnerable to the consequences that “mass” international tourism can create.
Sustainable or responsible tourism in the context of developing countries is far deeper than just a buzz word. It touches the lives of some of the poorest of the poor and offers governments and people an opportunity to bring economic empowerment to the common people without compromising or hampering the very assets that brought in the tourists in the first place.

In fact realizing this challenge, the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia in June 2008 adopted a policy on “ethical/responsible or eco-tourism”. The basis of this national policy of eco-tourism lies on the three drivers of: planet, population, profit. “Eco-tourism must provide the people with additional means of subsistence but also instruct them, allow them to interact and offer, on both sides, an enriching experience.”

Although many NGOs and international bodies were trying to contribute in this field the government’s efforts helped bring together these initiatives under one central body. The organisation called CCBEN or Cambodia Community-based Ecotourism Network operational since 2005, is a non-governmental organisation that has approximately 27 members, mainly local and international ecological NGOs and some private tour operators like “Hanuman Tours”. The role of CCBEN is primarily to train and inform and act as a supportive institution. The CCBEN also helps create an awareness for responsible tourism opportunities in Cambodia.

The three main geographical regions chosen for their high potential in the eco-tourism sector are the North-East provinces (Mondolkiri, Ratanakiri, Stung Treng and Kratie), those in the South-West (region of the Cardamoms chain, mangroves and beaches) and the Tonle Sap basin, particularly around the city of the Angkor temples and Siem Reap, where the Preak Toal reservation. Osmose is an NGO that works here linking conservation and development in the Prek Toal area of the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, north of Siem Reap.

One of the successful projects of CCBEN Prek Toal reservation, on the Tonle Sap, where boat trips co-managed by villagers are offered to tourists and generate a genuine contact with the community installed on the lake. Some of the rangers in charge of the site surveillance are even former poachers! In fact an NGO called the Lake Clinic works here to look after the health of the communities of floating villages

Another highly relevant and visible program based on community tousim is Save the Children, especially aimed at protecting children from abuse and enabling them to access basic healthcare and education. This initiative is active all-around Asia.

Some of the other initiatives are particularly around Siem Reap are:

Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism Site: This site is very close to Siem Reap city. This temple, that’s now partly overgrown by the jungle, originates from the 12th century and was used as a film set for the ‘Tomb raider’ movie. Around the temple, villagers and silk weavers live their traditional way of life.

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC) is a social enterprise providing alternative, fair, livelihoods to rural communities in Siem Reap province. Located in Sanday Village on the way to Banteay Srey Temple and the Landmine Museum, BBC has established the largest live butterfly exhibit of its kind in South East Asia. This allows families who are sustainably farming butterflies for the enclosure to be supported by revenue generated from tourist admissions.
Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), located near the famous temples of Angkor, is the first nature conservation centre in Cambodia. The ACCB aims to contribute to the conservation of wildlife and biodiversity in Cambodia.
Handicap International is another organization that has been working with the Cambodian people since 1982, to provide mine accident survivors with orthopedic devices.
Sam Vaesna Centre organises day trips from Siem Reap and itineraries across Cambodia to see rare birds in their natural habitat at WCS sites. The ecotourism generates income and employment for villagers in remote sites who provide food, accommodation and local guiding for the visitors.
However, community based tourism activity in a developing economy is difficult to implement, mainly because most villagers owing to poor education and resources do not know much about tourism. They usually make their living by hunting in the forest or cutting trees, it is difficult then for an NGO to ask them to stop doing so. Since community tourism initiatives by definition must involve the local people. All such actions have to respect people’s culture and value their rights. Such comes only through persistent effort and training.

We will hopefully get to sample a little of these initiatives during our Master Class!
Let’s all be more responsible and respectful tourists. I will end my post with some tips for responsible tourism. ?
Wildlife and Forest Conservation
• Do not eat, buy, or encourage in any way, wildlife trade and the capture of wildlife. This includes buying of animals out of pity.
• Take all non-biodegradable rubbish out with you as there are no waste management facilities in the villages.
• Try to conserve water.
• Please do not collect plants and specimens from the forest as souvenirs.
Respecting Cultural Values
• Dress modestly. Cover legs and shoulders whilst in the village. Nudity is offensive, so also dress modestly when bathing.
• Take your shoes off when entering a house or your home-stay.
• Don’t become drunk or use drugs. ? ?
• Don’t flirt with local people. Be respectful at all times.
• Please do not give money or gifts to children or beggars.
• Ask before taking photographs of local people.
Banteay ChhmarLake ClinicButterfly centre

The Floating Markets

Floating markets can be found in many Asian countries, such as Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and India. Their presence can be explained by the existence of large rivers and lakes that support the livelihoods of the people who resides along those water bodies. In the case of Cambodia, three million people live around the dumbbell-shaped Tonle Sap Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.

Tonle Sap Lake is actually a floodplain that expands and contracts twice a year. During the monsoon season, the lake swells up to three times its size, which can be as big as 12,000km2. This is almost the size of the state of Connecticut! The swelling is caused by heavy rainfall and water overflowing from the mighty Mekong River to Tonle Sap via a connection between the two water bodies. However, during the dry season, the lake shrinks and the water level drops several meters to as low as 1m in depth. This hydrological cycle has brought an abundance of sediments to the lake and evolved into a rich ecosystem. In fact, Tonle Sap has been inscribed as a UNESCO biosphere in 1997.

The villagers have cleverly adapted to the ever-changing water levels as a way of life. Some live in floating houseboats and some have permanent homes that are built on 10m high stilts to accommodate the rising water level. And depending on the seasons, others live in thatched huts that can be dismantled and moved. At the lake, people socialize, fish, and trade. The amount of fish caught is so large that it accounts for more than 50% of the country’s supply. Hence the fishermen not only sell fish to the local villagers, but also bring the surplus to markets throughout Cambodia. Other types of produce are transported from the mainland by boats and sold at¬¬ the floating markets or open area along the lake.

While the river and lake are essential to the villagers’ livelihoods, the floating markets have become a key tourist attraction. Chong Khneas is the most accessible village from Siem Reap town, making it the most frequently toured floating village. Tourists can travel on either slender, manually rowed wooden boats or bigger, motor-driven tour boats. Although a typical tour is about one to two hrs, a foreigner can easily feel the pulse of the place. Despite the years of struggle and poverty that Cambodia has gone through, the floating markets epitomize the ever-hopeful youths of the nation. For instance, a young child will paddle around in his tiny tin boat to sell souvenirs or refreshments to the tourists onboard can be observed every once in a while. Along the edges of the lake, even more children can be seen waving enthusiastically to foreigners, welcoming them. For the visiting urban dwellers gliding through the waters of Tonle Sap, it is always a wonder to see how uniquely people can adapt to their surroundings – villagers going about their everyday lives, supported by amenities like floating schools and gasoline refilling stations.

Through these boat trips, tourists not only witness the daily lives and business transactions of the Khmer and Vietnamese villagers, but also appreciate how humans and nature can co-exist seamlessly for decades.Tonle Sap MapFloating Market 01Floating Market 02Stilted Housing


Kai Seah and Stella Chen