Places to see: Indo China


Located at the junction of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh has been Cambodia's capital for most of the last six centuries. It retains a rather dusty, small town feel, with crumbling French colonial buildings, sprawling Wats (as the pagodas are known here), and the imposing Royal Palace. Brutal legacies of the genocide that occurred under the Khmer Rouge include Tuol Sleng, the one-time school that was used as a torture centre and has now been preserved as a museum, and the Killing Fields, an area nearby were some 17,000 men, women and children were murdered and dumped in mass graves. Not for the faint-of-heart, these sites are sobering reminders of the Khmer Rouge's brutality'and the rest of the world's failure to intervene.


To sum up the magnificence of Angkor's temples in a few lines is impossible. Built between seven and 11 centuries ago the temples'about 100 of which are still standing'were devoted to Buddha and Hindu deities. Within the fortified city of Angkor Thom lies The Bayon, the third tier of which is lined by more than 200 huge, carved faces of that stare down from 54 towers. Other highlights include the Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm, which was not been restored and looks just as it did when French explorers stumbled upon it in the 1860s, and Angkor Wat, a vast temple complex dedicated to Vishnu in the early 12th century. Many of the temples are covered with fantastic carvings depicting religious stories and scenes from daily life.


Set along a bend in the Mekong River, Laos' capital is a relaxing place to while away a few days. You'll find some beautiful old Wats to explore, a large market that holds the best selection of handwoven textiles in the country, a variety of good restaurants serving an international mix of cuisine, and pleasant riverside bars at which to sip a beer and enjoy the sunset. This is a lovely spot to recover from the rigors of travel.


The site of Laos' former royal capital, the little town of Luang Prabang is a gem. Nestled in an elbow of the Mekong surrounded by treed mountains, this remote northern town has long been Laos' religious centre. You'll find dozens of historic temples, lovely French-built villas, and streets lined with charming old shop-houses. With its main hall inlaid with a dazzling mosaic of cut glass the Royal Palace is well worth a visit, as are the Pak Ou caves, a Buddhist cave shrine some distance up river. An early wake up to enjoy giving Alm Bowl to the monks on the street for making a merit.

While there are many theories, nobody really knows why hundreds of huge stone jars are scattered across several sites on a barren Laotian plain. Carved from solid rock, most of these containers weigh from 600kg to one tonne apiece; the largest weighs six tonnes. The jars are said to be 2,000 years old but again, nobody knows for sure. Were they sarcophagi, water jars, rice stores' Scientists continue to debate this intriguing find; other visitors just marvel at these mysterious relics.

Set on the Mekong River, the southern town of Pakse features French colonial architecture and a colourful market stocked with fresh produce grown in the nearby Bolaven Plateau, a highland region inhabited by a number of ethnic minority groups. Pakse is also the jumping off point for a visit to Wat Phu, an exquisite, Angkor-era temple complex built between the 6th and 13th centuries. Even the most temple-weary visitor can't help but be captivated by the mesmerising beauty of these lonely ruins
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