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Cambodia Best Places To Visit

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Rapidly developing into one of the most exciting and vibrant holiday destinations in South-East Asia, Cambodia offers a great many attractions to the visitor: the majestic splendour of Angkor Wat draws thousands every year, as does the provincial charms of the capital city Phnom Penh, with its dusty colonial elegance and the bargains to be had in the many small markets throughout the city.

 

Ratanakiri — Jewel Mine of Cambodia

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Guidebooks and tourist publications all warn visitors to Bangkok to be wary of the “gemstone scam”. Unsuspecting tourists who are herded into jewelry stores by pushy Tuk-tuk drivers are sold so-called bargain stones. They are then “persuaded to avoid the “import duties” by having them conveniently mailed to their home countries. If they turn up at all, the stones usually turn out to well short of the value quoted.

No one likes to be taken for a sucker – but fortunately, there is a way to avoid these unscrupulous middle men, by going directly to the source!

Looking around the dusty jewel town

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In the red dust coated province of Ratanakiri in the northeast of Cambodia, the locals are hard at work cultivating a range of produce, from cashews to bananas, sugar cane to glorious blue onyx gemstones. From the main township of Ratanakiri*, a short 30 kilometer, 2 hour drive over roads so rough they are nicknamed “dancing roads, ” visitors can venture out to the mining town of Chum Rom Bei Srak.

 

Here, we found sorters busy at work shifting through freshly mined stones. As they expertly work their way through the pile, stopping occasionally to trim the stones with wire cutters, they check for cracks and flaws that will determine whether the stone ends up a precious 5 carat jewel or a less expensive 1-2 carat stones.

This town, with its modest, wood slab stores and stilt homes, is no more than a cluster of buildings along the main road at the entrance to the mine. In contrast to the rest of Cambodia, it has a barely lived in feel. This is hardly surprising as the mine was only discovered 4 years earlier.

There are no fancy equipment or structures in sight, just a rough field of simple square holes with foot holds cut into the inside walls of the mine. Some are more elaborate, connected by shafts, but most look no more sophisticated than an oversized rabbit hole.

The miners work in teams of close friends and immediate family. Unquestionable trust and honesty is required in order to work the mines successfully, as a good stone could be the equivalent of a month’s salary in this deeply impoverished country. The work is hard, with only simple tools available, buckets and hand-turned winches to dig out the mines to the minimum 8 feet depth. The stone seams do not appear until at least this depth below the surface.

Odd foreigner’s request — to polish own stones

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The day we visited, Chinese New Year celebrations saw most of the miners enjoying rice wine parties rather than working their mines. However, Mr Yuen, a 24 year old, 4 year veteran of gemstone mining was hard at work with his cane-woven sieve in a water-filled slush pit.

He paused long enough to show us some of his earlier finds. In our hands they were rather uninteresting looking cola colored pebbles. While we admired the stones and the hard labor to extract them, our ex-commodities trader tour guide could not help himself and out of habit he started negotiating a price. When we realised that we could have these expertly cut in town to reveal the polished blue jewel beneath, the $5 US price tag for 3 stones seemed a worthwhile investment.

Our return to the township of Ratanakiri saw us drop by one of the 3 gemstone stores. These are simple, tiny rooms, opening directly onto the street without even a wall, door or window (Tiffany’s they certainly are not!). Instead, there was just a glass counter in front displaying the cut stones with a workbench visible behind. The lack of furnishings allowed us to view the skilled cutter practicing his craft, working the rotating wheel in the style of a potters wheel to turn the brown stones into blue gems.

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Our chosen cutter took some convincing before taking on our 3 stone commission. Normally dealing in lots of 50-100 stones at a time, he couldn’t work out why we crazy tourists would pay more to have our stones cut than what we would spend to get ready-cut stones. But with some fast talking by our local guide named Lucky, our request was met, with a deal struck at $1 a carat.

With the heating and cutting process taking 2 hours, and the setting sun a reminder that we were expected at a 75th birthday party soon, we were going to have to wait until the next day to see the finished product. But the following day, our freshly cut, freshly polished “babies” arrived. Like any new parents we fussed over and photographed our new arrivals from every angle. Our “eldest”, biggest stone came in at a whopping 4 carat, our middle 2- carat, and the runt of the litter, the one we were told would turn to dust under the cutters tools, a respectable 1-carat. Total investment, including cutting: US$12!.

Had we beat the scammers and made a good investment? Who cares! For 12 bucks we got to take the journey from mine, to gem cutter to finished stone. As an added bonus, we met a visiting geologist, on the hunt for Asian Rubies and Sapphires, who declared our modest investment a savvy buy and our gemstones to be worth at least $100 US. Definitely the most satisfying jewelry shopping I’ve ever done!!

Siem Reap: Things To See & Do

Angkor Wat

The biggest attraction in Siem Reap is this magnificent city-temple complex, just 10 km to the north of the town. Over 100 temples cover an area of 600 square kilometres, but the undoubted focal point of the entire structure is the colossal Angkor Wat. Often credited as one of the wonders of the Asian ancients, the scale of Angkor Wat is hard to believe, but to give you an idea, the walkway from the gate of the compound to the main building itself is a full kilometre long.

 


 

Angkor Thom

Though far less famous than Angkor Wat, the surrounding Royal city has many other monuments that are almost as spectacular. Further afield there is the three-tiered pyramid temple mountain, the Bayon; The Baphuon and the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper Kings –

all three now in ruins, but still imposing nonetheless.

 


Pre Rup

One of the temples in the surrounding lands, this particular site is noted for its perfect proportion, and the first appearance of the long colonnades that would become commonplace in later temple constructions.

Phnom Penh: Things To See & Do

The Royal Palace

The Palace is a magnificent example of Khmer architecture, all the buildings are set in beautifully maintained courtyards, filled with pots of flowering plants. The Throne Hall is used for official functions, such as Ambassadors presenting their credentials and is decorated with murals depicting the Khmer version of the Ramayana epic

Details

Opening Hrs: 8 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tue – Sun.
Pricing:

USD 2

More Info: For more information contact Cambodia Tourism at info@mot.gov.kh or call +855 023 216666
Getting Here: Address: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 


The Silver Pagoda

Located beside the royal palace, this is one of the richest shrines in the world and is named for the magnificent floor. Each of the 5, 000 tiles is pure silver and in total weighs more than 5 tons. That isn’t the only treasure in the Pagoda: the Emerald Buddha made from Baccarat crystal and another Buddha statue is made of solid gold encrusted with almost 10, 000 diamonds. Beside them, the other gems and artefacts look meagre, but the collection of treasures is in itself impressive.

Details

Opening Hrs: 8 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tue – Sun.
Pricing:

USD 2 (included in the ticket price to the Royal Palace. Cameras cost USD 2 extra & video cameras USD 5 extra. Flash cameras are prohibited.

More Info: For more information contact Cambodia Tourism at info@mot.gov.kh or call +855 023 216666
Getting Here: Address: Corner Sothearos Boulevard and Street 240, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 


Toul Seng Genocide Museum

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge’s Security Forces took over a former High School and turned it into Security Prison 21. The prison has been preserved in the state it was in after the Khmer Rouge abandoned it. Over 17, 000 people were held in the Prison for torture and interrogation before being executed in the “killing fields”. Detainees who died whilst being tortured were buried in mass graves with the prison grounds. Each detainee was meticulously photographed and the photos cover the museum walls from floor to ceiling. Only seven people survived prison S 21. A wall map of Cambodia made up of skulls was once on display, but has since been removed.

Details

Opening Hrs: 7 a.m. – 11:30 a, .m.  2 p.m. – 5:30 p.m., Tue – Sun.
Pricing:

USD 2

More Info: For more information contact Cambodia Tourism at info@mot.gov.kh or call +855 023 216666
Getting Here: Address: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 


National Museum

Housed in a traditional red pavilion, the National Museum is dedicated exclusively to Khmer art and sculpture. The majority of the exhibits are from Angkor period (9th to 15th Centuries), but some date from as early as the 4th Century. There are many magnificent sculptures, many of which are unique in the world.

Details

Opening Hrs: 8 a.m. – 11:30 a.m., 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Tue – Sun.
Pricing:

USD 2

More Info: For more information contact Cambodia Tourism at info@mot.gov.kh or call +855 023 216666
Getting Here: Address: Corner of Street 13 and Street 178, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 


Wat Botum

This is one of the original and most important wats or temples in Cambodia. Founded by King Ponyea Yat in the 15th century, Wat Botum also forms the burial ground for many local dignitaries over the years, with a pair of large green and yellow dragon guarding its entrance.

Details

Opening Hrs: Daily, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pricing:

No admission charges specified, although it is advisable to leave some donation at the temple.

More Info: For more information contact Cambodia Tourism at info@mot.gov.kh or call +855 023 216666
Getting Here: Address: Street 7, Near Sihanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

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