Many holidaymakers prefer to spend their leisure time a little off the beaten track. In recent times, many adventure seekers have eschewed the chance to visit tried and trusted holiday hotspots and instead opted to head somewhere a little different. The number of Cambodia vacations, for example, is on the rise and in Europe people are finding, even in some of the most popular destinations, islands, towns and villages that have been barely touched by tourism.
In this article, we shall examine two such cities that have become two of the best kept secrets in holiday tourism: Phnom Penh, the far flung capital of Cambodia situated on the banks of the Mekong, Bassac ad Tonle Sep Rivers; but first we shall look at Ajaccio, capital of the French island of Corsica and situated 210 nautical miles southeast of Marseille.
France is, of course, one of the most popular holiday destinations for the British but most people are inclined to spend their time ambling around mainland France. Many British people may take their car with them when visiting France, which makes Corsica difficult to reach, seeing as it is an island and over 200 miles away from France’s southernmost shores.
There are, however, regular flights to the island and if you want car hire Ajaccio has plenty of outlets available allowing you to get around the city and the island. Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and his influence in the city is ubiquitous. His former residence is now a museum, there is another museum dedicated to his exploits in the town, the central market place is named after him (cours Napoleon) and his statue is one of the most visited landmarks in Ajaccio.
Ajaccio is not solely about this former French political leader. Works of art can be viewed at the Notre-Dame de la Misericorde, while the Fesch Museum is home to a fabulous collection of paintings and art collections. Further afield, a trip to the beautiful UNESCO Archaeological site at Cucuruzzu and the Piscine Naturelle de Zoza, a superb and naturally formed rock pool and waterfall that is deep enough to swim in and enjoy most of the year, is well within the reach of Ajaccio-based holidaymakers.
One of the oddest things about culture is how it bridges divides and a visitor to Phnom Penh could, while wandering around the city’s French quarter, be fooled into thinking that this city would not look out of place in Corsica. Phnom Penh, however, is a large and varied city, a cultural melting pot where philosophies and architecture of both the east and west mingle easily upon the eye.
The beautiful terracotta National Museum is well worthy of a visit and guides are available who speak both English and French to inform guests about the many treasures on display. These include pottery and bronzes dating back to the fourth centuries, as well as statues of Vishnu and Shiva.
Wat Phnom, situated on a beautiful tree covered hill in the northeast of the city, is an important monument in the city. Not only do locals believe that the temple is powerful enough to ensure that anyone making a wish there shall have it granted, but the temple played a key role in how the city came to be named. Legend has it that the Pagoda was built in 1373 to house four statues of the Buddha, which had been deposited on the hilltop by the fast-flowing waters of the Mekong River. They were duly discovered by a local woman named Penh and as such the name Phnom Penh (the hill of Penh) became synonymous with the city.
Bargain hunters in Phnom Penh can also hone their bartering skills at two outstanding markets. New Central Market is the biggest and contains a huge number of stalls selling an array of locally produced items, including food, fabrics, shoes, gold and silver jewellery, clocks, flowers and antique coins. If you are a fan of the art of the area, or have an interest in finding some antique pieces on your stay, then Tuol Tom Pong Market is the place to head. Also known as the Russian market, this is not the place to head if you are reticent about bargaining as the prices initially stated by vendors can be very high!
For all their differences, Ajaccio and Phnom Penh do have many things in common: the mixture of French influences alongside other cultures, fantastic attractions and beautiful scenery and best of all, the guarantee that whichever city you decide to head to, you will have a fantastic time!