Two Weeks In Cambodia
Two years ago, I fell in love with Vietnam. When it came time to book my big 2016 trip I decided somewhere similar in Southeast Asia was a must. I thought two weeks in Cambodia would be remarkably similar to Vietnam and I was beyond excited to visit this wonderful country. I still ADORE Vietnam, but in Cambodia, things didn’t go exactly as expected.
I spent two weeks in Cambodia in total. I visited several different places in the country: Phnom Penh, Kampot, Battambang, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.
Top Things to See and Do in Cambodia
Angkor Wat – the reason most people visit Cambodia. The temple ruins are massive and you would need a few days to explore all of them. We spent a full day from sunset to late in the afternoon and went to 3 different sets of ruins. These included Ta Prohm which was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. It was so was amazing to see in real life. If you are travelling to Cambodia you must go and explore these ruins, they are breathtaking. Take a lot of water with you as it can get very hot!
I also went along to a local family’s home on the river where they shared dinner with us. Some of the kindest people we met on the trip and lovely to talk to.
This is a beach destination where you can take a boat to a nearby deserted island to chill on the white sand beaches. It’s also the only place I managed to sample the nightlife and it’s definitely buzzing! It’s not a quiet place to hang out, but its good place to use as a base to visit the nearby islands, which are quiet and serene. I went on a snorkelling boat trip but, while they do offer diving as well, I am not sure how good that would be considering the snorkelling was quite murky. I recommend booking a boat tour that does 2 or 3 island drops otherwise you will just stay for hours on one beach, which can get a bit boring.
Sihanoukville had many nice restaurants compared to other parts of Cambodia. We found a vegan café called Dao Of Life and a sushi bar called Sushix The fresh smoothies and juices and vegetarian sushi were a nice change from veg and rice!
I loved Battambang, with it’s friendly locals and fading French colonial architecture, this is the place to get a real taste of Cambodian life. We saw some temples and then took a day tour on a TukTuk. We went on a bamboo train and saw the beautiful surrounding area. We even went to a small rice wine factory (in the loosest sense of the word). This was one of my faves, it’s Cambodia without the level of hectic tourism elsewhere.
The Capital of Cambodia. This place is more built up than a lot of other towns but it’s also, therefore, a bit more susceptible to tourists and therefore people aren’t as friendly as in the countryside. There are many interesting things to see here.
Killing Fields – we had a guided tour of the killing fields and I think a visit here is necessary to understand the country. It’s not the happiest way to spend your day but it’s very educational and a memorable experience.
Tuol Sleng Museum (S21-Prison). As above we toured the prison with a guide and learnt more about the treatment of prisoners. The stories were harrowing and again, not a fun filled afternoon but again, extremely interesting to learn of what happened.
The third largest city in Cambodia and my least favourite place I have been ever. Unsurprising as I got robbed by staff at the Mekong AG Kampong Cham. Needless to stay between the theft from staff and uselessly corrupt local police I don’t recommend the hotel or that area. Just a personal opinion I am sure you can see why. If you decide to go to Kampong Cham you could check out the ruins at Nokor Wat and visit the Bamboo Bridge. The Bamboo Bridge is, as it sounds, made of Bamboo. As the rainy season takes hold it washes away and is then rebuilt. You can rent a bike and have a go at travelling over the bridge yourself.
I don’t think this is a big destination that a lot of travellers go to. The main reason to travel to Kratie is to go on a Mekong Boat trip to spot the rare Irrawaddy dophins. We spotted two of the dolphins! Very exciting despite my terrible lack of pictures. The Mekong River Irrawaddy dolphin population inhabits a 190km stretch of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Lao so we were very lucky to see them. The reason pictures are hard is because they don’t jump out of the water. They are very shy!
A beautiful town with friendly people and with some of the nicest restaurants and architecture in Cambodia.
Sunset Cruise – I went on a sunset cruise on the river in the evening. It was picture perfect as we watching some children playing on a raft as the sun set. On our way back we pulled to the side of the river to see hundreds of fireflies flashing on and off in the dark.
Thoughts Now I’m Back
My memories are mostly happy ones; I made new friends, saw some amazing sights and did some really fun things like quad biking and hiking.
The people confused me in Cambodia
The kind and extremely warm-hearted local Khmer people are so at odds with others you will meet during your stay. People in the countryside greeted us with smiles and waves wherever we went. Schoolchildren waved to us from their bicycles as they travel home from school. The man whose home we visited for a homestay meal was so sweet and treated us like part of the family.
Alternatively a lot in larger towns or tourist areas seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. In Vietnam’s touristy areas sometimes the badgering at markets could get a bit annoying, but that’s it, ‘a bit annoying’. I never felt disrespected or laughed at. In Cambodia I was constantly hassled for money or just by people shouting. If a westerner tripped up or dropped something then people would smirk or laugh. Many people stood, arms crossed with a surly expression, such as the woman below! This meant that at times I felt unwelcome and a bit uncomfortable. I got the impression that the younger people felt they were due a share of something whether they earned it or not. And if they saw something you had (money/gadgets) that it was fine to take it.
I am Just Sharing My Experience
Bad things happen everywhere, not just Cambodia. But I have never been robbed before in any country and I can only speak about my experience. I’m not comparing places. I’m simply sharing my experience. Do I blame them? Well I can’t say that I can. There is so much corruption in the country from the Government to the Police; they aren’t set a good example. Some are so poor that seeing more westerners with nice things must be hard for them. To then realise that if they do steal something there is unlikely to be much police comeback, it must seem like a fairly decent option if they are desperate.
I won’t go so far to say that I feel unsafe for my whole stay here but I felt glad to be in a group and after the theft I felt constantly on edge.
Should You Go to Cambodia?
If you are someone wanting to learn the good and bad about different cultures then yes. Despite its troubles, Cambodia is a very interesting place. To learn the reality of a country still reeling from so much death and chaos is hard unless you visit it. Some of the people there will be the kindest people you will ever meet. Some won’t be, but that’s reality. Nowhere is perfect. In addition, without travelling there I never would have seen the temple complexes of Angkor, something I had always wanted to see.
My advice would be to still travel to Cambodia but be extremely vigilant throughout your visit. Get a high level of insurance; keep receipts of everything you take in case it is stolen and you need proof of the cost. Spend a bit more on hostels or hotels with good security and locking doors and windows. Wear a money belt or bum bag, they are safer than a cross body bag.
Use the hotel safe if it appears in good working order. If no safe then lock your bags shut with valuables inside. Remember to avoid isolating situations and using transport alone. Watch your drink like a hawk and don’t drink too much.
It may be a corrupt, barren country but there is a rich history, some amazing people and a beautiful coastline.
If you do plan on travelling there let me know!