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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
12 Sep 2011

After our few days in Chiang Mai (see Back from Chiang Mai), Nick and I spent two days in Cambodia, much more friendly to wine drinkers than heavily taxed Thailand. The ad on the back of the tuk tuk below is for The Station Wine Bar which promises 'Always 12 wines by the glass'. The picture was taken in the main square of the country's second city, population less than half a million.

wine_bar_tuk_tuk

There seemed to be no duty on alcoholic drinks whatsoever. In Siem Reap's main supermarket we saw bottles of vodka at $3 (the US dollar is the currency used everywhere) and also a wide range of wine including the first growths below that anyone could have popped into their basket or pocket. Chx Cheval Blanc and Mouton Rothschild were on sale at $395 a bottle, considerably below the average retail price elsewhere. Of course one does not know what condition they are in, but none of the wine I tasted while in Cambodia showed any sign of having been stored badly.

Bargain_first_growths_in_Cambodia 

But of course there is, ahem, very much more to Cambodia than cheap wine. I cannot recommend it highly enough as a holiday destination. And the people need your dollars as they recover from the terrible times they endured at the end of the last century.

Siem Reap in the middle of the country, a short flight from Bangkok, is the fast-developing town closest to the most extraordinary complex of 11th- and 12th-century temples that were covered with jungle growth until the French started to restore them in the early 20th century. This enormous task (there are about 1,000 monuments, some of them vast) was interrupted by the Cambodian civil war and the terrifying Pol Pot regime but has restarted, leaving some temples such as Angkor Wat almost complete and others delightfully, though potentially dangerously, overgrown and semi-ruined.

Below is a sequence of short visual impressions of Angkor Wat where we arrived around 6.30am (real junkies arrive in time for sunrise). The very top levels are not opened until 8am after which time it becomes almost overrun by tourists (all of whom have to cover their shoulders and, if female, upper legs but take off their hats - policed by guards) but we were lucky enough to be the first up the steep flight of steps and had a few moments of peace up there. You can see what it looks like from there in the three-minute film below.

Depending on which Khmer king built each temple, they started off either Hindu or Buddhist and tended to be converted at least once to the other religion in the relatively short era of the Khmer empire until the 15th century. (It is thought that as many as a million people once lived in Angkor, the ancient Khmer capital - but this is just one of many mysteries surrounding these atmospheric ancient monuments.) I got rather confused by all these changes of deity and at the very end of the film I should have said Vishnu not Buddha.