Travel Channel executive producer Daniel A. Schwartz traveled to Cambodia with the Expedition Unknown production crew and host and explorer Josh Gates. It was Daniel’s first time in Cambodia and we thought it was the perfect time to get a “newbies” perspective on the country.
What brought you to Cambodia?
I went to Cambodia to film Expedition Unknown, a new Travel Channel show coming in 2015, with host and explorer Josh Gates. We traveled through the country, from the capital Phnom Penh all the way to the northernmost mountain border. Josh was on a mission and we were there to document the adventure. Using breakthrough Lidar technology , the city of the founding Khmer ruler had just been found. Locating a place that was once believed to be mythological was a huge find for many reasons. One reason in particular: a belief that the king kept a sacred, magical object with him. Cambodians believed the king’s power to vanquish his enemies lay in an object called a lingum. Josh was determined to get to the mountain before looters arrived and sacked the place.
What were you expecting to find on this mission?
Before the visit, I had read of Cambodia’s troubled history from 1975 to 1979, when the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million of their people. I was prepared to experience a nation affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), frightened by foreigners. This was the opposite of my experience. I found Cambodians to be kind, generous and thoughtful.
What were some unforgettable moments?
During our week in Cambodia many places left indelible impressions. There was the floating village on Tonlé Sap Lake, which we visited on the way to Siem Reap, by boat. Four thousand people lived on barges, boats and rafts in the middle of the lake with churches, stores and even a school. It’s a village that has been there for hundreds of years, and that moves several times a year depending on the water level.
Angkor Wat (pictured above) is so impressive, it’s hard to describe. It’s part of a complex that comprises thousands of temples. Imagine walking through a stone artwork that is inscribed with carved, granite and limestone tapestries telling epic tales that are still gripping. These temples and the geometric irrigation systems around them supported a city of over a million people a thousand years ago—making it the largest and most advanced of its era.
Also, the food! During our journey through Cambodia, we had the freshest food, from mango shakes to fresh watermelon juice and delicious French and Cambodian cuisine.
Do you have recommendations on where to stay?
The food varied, but like the hotels, were both consistently wonderful. In Phnom Penh we stayed at the Plantation Hotel, which had a fresh breakfast buffet, and an extremely large pool. Though it’s right in the center of town, the ambiance in the courtyards of the hotel was quiet, relaxed and lush.
In Battambang, the rest of the (film) crew stayed in the Bambu Hotel, but I stayed at a 19th Century French Villa called The French Villa. It had soaring ceilings and rooms that looked untouched since the turn of the century.
In Siem Reap, we stayed at the Hanuman Alaya Villa, (River Road, Phoum Trang). This was a particularly elegant hotel with a lovely waterfall and pool.
Any tips for planning a trip to Cambodia?
I am not sure if the end of April is the best time to visit Cambodia as it is the hottest time of year, with daytime temperatures averaging 95-99 degrees and nighttime lows of 80 degrees.