Travel and Cambodia

Embrace Life, Travel to Banteay Chhmar

A place no one talks about that has changed the way I think about our world

That’s me in the ruins

I’m not exactly sure when I read this quote for the first time, but it certainly stuck in my head.

“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar

Most people bet on tomorrow, instead of living in the present moment. There is so much to explore on our wonderful planet. There is so much to learn by engaging with different cultures.

Sunset in Banteay Chhmar

We tend to stick in our community bubble and barely notice what’s really going on in the world.

If most people travel, they travel to places designed for tourists to see what they want to see. They arrive in comfortable tourist bubbles in which they get overcharged for the illusion of being in a different culture.

In fact, they only want to be distracted from their unfulfilling life.

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”– Paul Theroux

If you want to grow, you have to walk an inconvenient path out of your comfort zone. But this is where growth happens, this is where tourists become adventurers.

Driving on a tractor through the village

This is where you can learn to appreciate life and understand the benefit of being born in countries with an excess of food, a stable health care system, the luxury of clean water, and most importantly: personal security.

Did you actually know that 40 years ago more than 25% of Cambodia’s population has been murdered cruelly and terrifyingly by its own citizens in the Cambodian genocide?

It’s not that convenient to think about, right? Welcome to reality!

I have been to a couple of places in Africa and Asia where people live in the poorest conditions.

The ruins of Banteay Chhmar

One of them is Banteay Chhmar. A place with a notorious glorious history which couldn’t be more different from what you will find nowadays.

Have you ever heard of this site? If not, you are in great company!

It’s one of the most underrated spots in southeast Asia and the ideal counteractant to over-touristed Angkor and over-commercialized Siam Reap.

Don’t get me wrong! I love Siam Reap and the magnificent Angkor Wat, it’s a once in a lifetime experience! But sometimes the price you pay for supremacy is frankly too high!

The Ultimate Indiana Jones Experience

In the spring of 2020, my partner and I arrived in the small village with a few other locals coming from Sisophon.

In Cambodia, you mainly commute with the locals in their cars; buses and taxis are practically not existent off the beaten track. If you are curious about how traveling with the locals looks, you can check out my recent story about the trip to Banteay Chhmar.

The place was once the cultural and powerful center of the Angkorian era. It featured the central Banteay Chmmar site and nine different satellite temples.

Nowadays, this small village is only a small shadow of its eventful past. Most of the mighty temples are have been reclaimed by nature.

Into the ruins

They are hidden in the jungle for hundreds of years and have been discovered only recently. Most of the complex is still covered by trees. You are free to discover places that haven’t been seen by humans for almost 1,000 years.

If you come to the area today you see only a few oxen, tractors, farmers, and many huts in poor condition. You would never think that here once stood an enormous center of power and splendor.

Be Indiana Jones, walk through the jungle, and explore ruins

But the beauty of the place comes not only from its troubled past, it comes from the honest and authentic nature of its people. Most people here are on and live on less than a dollar a day.

A community unites

The people of Banteay Chmmar organized the “The Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism (CBT)”, which focuses on supporting the community.

This basically means you stay with locals, you eat at their table, and ride through the area on tractors or oxen carts. This will barely cost you more than $10 a day and makes a real difference for the locals.

Stay with the locals:)

The tourist guides are locals!

We were fortunate enough to get in touch with Haul, who has been with us for two days. He is among the people I honestly miss the most.

Haul and me

This guy has a moving past. His father was killed by the Khmer Rouge regime 40 years ago, and he was forced to leave for Thailand when he was a child.

He worked under harsh conditions in a clothing factory near Bangkok and only recently returned to his home town Banteay Chmmar. He has worked hard to rebuild the house of his family, and only recently started to grow vegetables.

My partner, Haul, and I in front of a satellite temple

As a guide, he wears his uniform with pride. He proudly calls himself Khmer and has a lot of stories to tell. Can you imagine how much you can learn if you spend a whole day alone with an English speaking tour guide from Cambodia?

Let me tell you, life is precious. Life is beautiful. We, the western people, often don’t realize how lucky we were to be born into privilege rather than poverty.

It’s basically the same with health. We can’t appreciate it until we aren’t healthy anymore.

900 years ago, this has been a powerful temple

One of the things I remember is that Haul never visited Siam Reap, home to Angkor Wat. This city is only two hours away from Banteay Chmmar. Why? He simply can’t afford it.

It still makes me think. A tourist guide in Cambodia can’t afford to see the most important heritage of his own country. For us, the trip to Siem Reap was only another stop on our journey. Just like all other steps while we traveled for 365 days.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” — Gustave Flaubert

Life is short. Life is beautiful. I’m lucky. Realizing it is a lesson that I learned through my travelers.

Disclaimer: Kat and I took all the photographs shown to you in this story by ourselves🙋‍♀️🙋‍♂️

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Marcus Franke

Marcus Franke

Traveler |Photographer | Adventurer | Investor