Travelers to Siem Reap from now until January 9 can enjoy not only Angkor Wat but also an intriguing introduction to the vast cultural traditions of the Korean Peninsula.
Opened on November 21 by President Roh Moo-hyun of the Republic of Korea and Prime Minister Hun Sen — not to mention an august procession of elegantly clad elephants and horsemen — the inaugural Angkor-Gyeongju World Culture Expo 2006 presents a dizzying assault on the senses.
The $6 million festival aims to bring a taste of Korea to Cambodians and to present visiting Koreans with the magnificence and mystery of the Kingdom’s ancient Angkorian era. Attractions include time-honored kimchi recipes and totem-pole carving, buffalo racing and bloody, but non-lethal, cockfighting exhibitions.
Each day of the 50-day event features live shows by Cambodian and Korean performers, as well as entertainers presenting the cultural expressions of some 16 other countries such as India, Poland, Italy and Uzbekistan.
Dozens of snack stalls dot the food court, with Korean and Cambodian cuisine taking center stage along with a range of Asian and Western favorites. A small, neon-lit amusement park offers bumper cars, inflatable slides and games of chance, all beneath the towering presence of a colorful Ferris wheel.
Handicrafts from both countries are readily available, and a lively night market emerges after sundown, illuminated by the glow of an enormous fountain. But despite the abundance of Korean and Cambodian products on display, the expo is primarily designed as a place to stroll, linger and look, rather than to promote private business.
The day is filled with exhibitions, exhibits and live demonstrations. A recent afternoon featured a display of Korean woodcarving, the performance of an indigenous Cambodian hill tribe’s hunting dance and the elegant gestures of a professional Indian dance troupe.
Three exhibition halls and two large stages dominate the festival compound. The first two halls feature a crash course in the cultures of Cambodia and Korea. The multimedia Korean exhibit details the rise of Korean culture from the Silla Empire until today, and culminates with a proud reminder of South Korea’s unexpected run to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals in Seoul. It places an additional emphasis on the Korean language and the makings of unique national dish, kimchi.
Cambodia’s corresponding pavilion presents reproductions of relics housed in the National Museum, a miniature replica of Angkor Wat and human-sized cement figures from all walks of life. The Kingdom’s exhibit focuses on agrarian and architectural themes and provides a quick look at the development of Khmer culture.
The third hall features two 3-dimensional films produced by Korea’s Ajou University. The 15-minute movies – based on the folkloric traditions of the Silla and Angkorian periods– are shown in English and run at various times throughout the day.
The cockfighting competitions, scheduled to begin the last week in November, aim to present the blood sport in a more humane and traditional light. The lengths of the fights will be measured by burning incense, traditional music will be played as accompaniment and the fights will not be to the death.
Tickets to the expo, available at the gate, are $20.