Taking a step back from chaotic Vietnam, we were pleasantly surprised with our travels around Cambodia in May 2017. We were met with cheeky grins and kids running around our feet to say “hello”. Whilst Cambodia is a markedly poor nation, it is one filled with a tenacity and drive to move forward. After a harrowing recent history of internal conflict the wounds are still healing, but the prognosis is positive.
We arrived in Phnom Penh by day bus from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. We then went directly to the worst hostel on the planet. They say it’s these experiences that make us stronger. Well, hopefully something good came out of my misery. There is a lot of commentary on the dangers of Cambodia, Phnom Penh in particular, but we experienced no threats to our safety. We found everyone to be friendly, helpful and always wanting to put us in a tuk-tuk, “tuk-tuk, lady?” In Phnom Penh we explored the Royal Palace, the local temples (known as Wats) and learnt the horrific details of the Khmer Rouge reign at the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison.
Heading north to Sen Monorom on a “VIP” bus that was far from road worthy, we explored the jungle of Cambodia. We watched the thunderstorms roll in each evening and had a relaxing time breathing in the soothing smells of nature. The Mondulkiri Elephant Project gave us the opportunity to get up-close and personal with rescued elephants, but also had some questionable practices, which are detailed in the blog. The Bu Sra waterfall was a long, but worthwhile, tuk-tuk drive away. This was our chance to see how the locals really live, bathing in the river and running around dirt-floor houses. Despite their hardships they were the happiest and friendly looking people I have seen so far.
After returning to Phnom Penh briefly, we headed south to Kampot. The smell of Kampot Pepper filled the air and the taste filled our meals. The bungalows were located next to a cooling river, where we lazed about for hours on end. Butterfly Tours took us on an exciting guided motorbike trip to temples located in caves, with beautiful green mountains in the background and water buffalo wandering around aimlessly. We also swam at the beach in Kep, despite the water being uncomfortably warm.
Another questionable bus later and we arrived at Sihanoukville to catch a terrifying speed boat to Coconut Beach on Koh Rong Island. We camped for three nights in a little tent right in front of a gorgeous white sand beach with turquoise water. With a Big Kiwi Breakfast and Kiwi Burger on the menu we were in heaven, until the heavens opened and flooded our tent. A boat trip around the island almost turned into an episode of Survivor, followed by lighting lanterns and floating them into the sky and swimming with sparkling plankton under the dark night sky.
The overnight “hotel bus” to Siem Reap was a long trip, but surprisingly comfortable. Siem Reap was a small town, filled with restaurants, bars, and tourist markets. Our first day at Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm temples was spectacular. We wandered aimlessly through temples and managed to escape the crowds by venturing out in the hottest part of the day. Our second day saw us waking up well before the crack of dawn to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat and then on to temples located further away. We admired spooky swamp lakes and climbed never-ending stairs to reach the temples on top. On our last day we went even further afield to a remote waterfall and Banteay Srei temple, whilst learning about the life of our tuk-tuk driver along the way.
Cambodia was a very cheap country to travel around. It was quite undeveloped, but its charm was in its simplicity. The temples were definitely a highlight and worthy of their acclaim. However, I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to get up for the sunrise again. The beach was spectacular, but it is evidently moving further into the rainy season here as we begin to approach June. This makes for some remarkable storm watching, but it does take more effort to plan our days to escape the downpours. As we head into the next chapter of our travels, Thailand, we’re looking forward to a more modern lifestyle and lots of beaches. However, this will mean no more 50c beer. “You can’t have your beer and drink it too”, isn’t that what they say?
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