Keeping up with the Cambodians

21/12/2015 at 6:08pm
Categories: Travel News

Cambodia is a country filled with endless adventure, cool temples, tragic history, beautiful beaches, crazy tuk tuks, deep fried tarantulas and the coolest people you’ll ever come across. Guarantee you’ll have a cracker of a time!

Quick facts
  • Capital City: Phnom Penh
  • Currency: Cambodian Riel and United State Dollar (mostly USD, some change is given in Riel)
  • Population: 15.14 million
  • Official Language: Khmer

The first thing that came to mind when I thought about Cambodia was Angkor Wat; one of the biggest religious monument in the world (and thanks to Lara Croft for making it a huge tourist attraction). To be honest Cambodia was a country I didn’t know a lot about and I had no  idea what I was really in for, but I promised myself two things: ‘always keep an open mind, and take everything in your stride’.

A quick note – I didn’t backpack through South East Asia, I went with a touring group called Geckos Adventures ‘Epic Adventure Tours for 18 to 30- something’s’. I wasn’t overly confident on backpacking solo and I didn’t want to do the whole Contiki thing. The reason I chose Geckos was that they’re a small touring company with a maximum of 16 pax, they’re affordable and their style of travel is a bit different to other touring companies – you travel via local transport, do home stays in local villages and your tour guide is a local as well, so heaps of great tips along the way! Overall I can’t rate Gecko’s Adventures highly enough and I believe my Cambodian tour guide was the reason why I had the most ‘epic adventure’.

Throughout my time in Cambodia I learnt one common thing – it’s filled with the most beautiful, humble individuals you’ll ever met; you’ll go to Cambodia for the culture, and want to stay for the people. It’s a country that’s experienced wars, horror and poverty yet everyone is extremely friendly, warm hearted and will make you feel so welcomed. I never expected to fall in love with it as much as I did, I’ve always believed everything happens for a reason and I’m so happy for taking the chance and booking my ticket to this amazing country. What I love most about travel is the people you meet along the way, the positive impacts they’ll bring to your journey and have on you as a person, whether it’s big or small. Travel will always open up your mind, make you grow as a person and give you a different perspective into a wider lens of living. On that note – to those reading this blog I hope one day you take a chance too, if you’ve ever thought about going to Cambodia but you’re unsure – don’t be. Take the chance and do it, I believe everyone who visits this country will have a lot to learn.

My journey through Cambodia…

Siem Reap: The ‘gateway’ to many adventures – temples, floating villages, country paddies, and the city itself is a lot of fun! There’re markets galore (same same but different) restaurants, bars, tuk tuk’s and don’t forget to treat yourself to a massage, or ten! What most tourists go to Siem Reap for is to see Angkor Wat and all it’s beauty. Angkor Wat was definitely one of my highlights especially the 3am wake up to watch sunrise.. tick that off my bucket list!

Recommendations:
  • Angkor Wat, sunrise or sunset is a must!
  • The floating village – I will admit I didn’t get to actually ‘see’ this.. (self inflicted and major regret) but after chatting to everyone on my tour they highly recommended it. Another great insight into how the locals live
  • Markets, markets, markets
  • Head to Pub Street for the nightlife
  • ATV/Off road tours – quad bike through the country side
  • Treat yourself to a massage, starting from USD$8!

Kompong Cham: It was one of the noisiest, bumpiest local bus rides from Siem Reap to Kompong Cham, but it was a great insight to the local transport in Cambodia and had a few laughs along the way. Kompong Cham is a quite town located along the Mekong River, and a nice place for some down time. One of my favourite highlights was a bike ride through the rural island of Koh Paen and witnessing that side of Cambodia’s cottage villages and the locals. As we cycled our way through the village it was so delightful to see families standing out the front of their houses waving as we rode past and watching the children play out the front of their homes, the sound of their laughter was so infectious! Later that night we enjoyed a traditional Cambodian dinner in the local village area and even tried tarantula whiskey (which I swear was just vodka).

Phnom Penh: Leaving Kompong Cham to Phnom Penh we did a quick stop at a local market where we were able to taste some local Cambodian delicacies –fried tarantula, crickets, scorpions, water bugs.. basically any fried insect you can think of.  As the saying goes ‘when in Cambodia…’ Arriving into the capital city of Cambodia with a population of 1.5 million, traffic was definitely turned up a few notches from Siem Reap. A must do in Phnom Penh is the Choeung Ek memorial, also known as the Killing Fields where up to 8,000 human skulls mark the site. This peaceful field was the execution ground and mass grave of victims of the Khumer Rouge killed between 1975 to 1979 and still till this day they’re uncovering human remains where bones show visibly through the dirt and sand. Afterwards head to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum also known as the S21 Victims – The Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia, another raw and confronting part of Cambodian history. For something different even checked out a local soccer game and although I’m not a soccer fan the atmosphere was electric!

Recommendations:
  • Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
  • National Museum
  • Killing Fields of Choueng Ek
  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Chambok: It’s not often you get to travel to a remote village in the middle of Cambodia, so this stop was a real treat for me. We were welcomed into the village of Chambok by the locals for our traditional home stay – there was no wifi, no showers and no phone signal which made the whole experience even better. The next day it was great waking up and watching the locals go about their morning. Later we explored the most beautiful waterfall which stood 44m high, it was the best way to cool off after the 45min trek! Our time in Chambok was a short one night stay but it was probably one of the best and a wonderful opportunity to witness everyday Cambodian life for myself.

Sihanoukville: Southwest of Cambodia is Sihanoukville known for it’s beaches and tropical islands, here you’ll find a much relaxed atmosphere and lots of tourists. It’s here where you’ll rest up during the day and party at night.

A few things I learnt along the way:
  • You’ll be a pro at using chop sticks
  • Only drink bottled water
  • Carry tissues with you everywhere you go – especially for women
  • You’ll get a good booty workout from all the squatting!
  • Grab a business card from the hotel you’re staying at to get yourself home
  • As a sign of respect, when entering homes, schools, temples, or anywhere that holds a place of esteem in society take your shoes off when entering that building.
  • When entering temples you must have your shoulders and knees covered
  • Bug spray is essential
  • A smile says a thousand words!

I left Cambodia sad but happy, sad to say goodbye to the people I met, and all the great places along the way, but happy to have experienced everything that I did for myself. I can’t wait to return back to Cambodia one day!


 

 

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