After a relaxing time on Phi Phi Island I arrived in Bangkok ready to start my next adventure; a 40 day Intrepid Tour starting in Cambodia for 12 days. Rather than bore you with a day by day account of my trip I am going to just write the highlights, and if you ever have questions about transport modes, general costs, accommodation or anything else you can drop me an email and I’d be more than happy to help.
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
You can’t really visit Cambodia without taking the time to go to Angkor Wat, which is the central feature of the UNESCO World Heritage Site containing many amazing temples and remains.
We decided that seeing the sunrise over the temple was something not to be missed, and woke at 4am in darkness with spots of rain. Not to be deterred we lined up to get our temple passes and wondered aimlessly in the dark with minimal torches (who is organised at that time of morning?!) until we found a huge group of people vying for the perfect spot for the sunrise. Of course we joined the masses, but found a nice spot along the side of the lake where there weren’t too many people. It was quite nice just sitting around waiting for the sun to rise and there are coffee stands if you need a caffeine hit like I do at that time of the morning. There are well-trained local children selling postcards and other knick-knacks which is really quite sad. They can lay the guilt on quite well, with stories that they can’t go to school unless they sell a certain amount. Needless to say, we succumbed and bought some postcards but have since learnt that this only drives parents keeping the children out of school which of course was not our aim.
Finally, when the sun did rise, the haze of the morning and lack of cloud made for an uninspiring sunrise. Notwithstanding though, it was nice to be there so early to enjoy the serenity before the large tour buses came later in the morning as most of the people there to see the sunrise seemed to disappear with the lack of a decent photo so we had the place mostly to ourselves for a while.
The Angkor area is so large and full of so many ruins that avid temple goers spend at least a week there exploring. Most other tourists spend one to two days. We did a full day of temples with a guide, which I thoroughly recommend. It is easy to look through the temples and find that eventually they all look the same; a guide is able to give you some background and all guides in the area are accredited through the government so you know you are getting your money’s worth.
One of the aspects that I enjoyed was that locals still frequent the temples. Monks are a common sight as are Cambodian Buddhists who come to pray. It is nice to see that the temples still are such a significant part of day to day life in Cambodia.
Most of the temples are a fair distance from each other, and not able to be done on foot. I would recommend hiring Tuk Tuk’s, motorbikes or private cars to get around.
We visited three large temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple – the temple of the Smiling Buddha’s, one of the most unique religious buildings in the world and Ta Phrom – the temple that Tomb Raider was filmed in. It is a full on day and we were exhausted by the end of it, but it was well worth the early wake up call and struggling through the extreme heat.
On a side note, Siem Reap is a tiny town but has a very touristy central with the main street being “Pub Street”. We enjoyed dancing at Angkor What?! bar until the early hours.
The Cambodian Children (Kampong Cham)
Sometimes when you start travelling, it takes a while to have a realisaton moment that you are in fact in that location, somewhere completely different from home. My moment and my favourite memory in Cambodia was when hiring a bicycle in Kampong Chang, venturing to an island across the Bamboo Bridge and riding through the villages until our hearts were content. Why was this such a highlight? Not being such a main thoroughfare for tourists the villages were authentic and the children would run out of their houses to welcome us and some even joined us on their bikes. Their smiling faces and willingness to communicate with us was something we didn’t encounter anywhere else.
We were lucky enough to witness a local wedding, a cock fight, local food being cooked and tobacco growing to name a few, whilst cycling around.
Relaxing at Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is a beach town through and through. Extremely touristic with beach bars/ restaurants lining the beach backed by the main street of town. The beach is filled with umbrellas or large cane chairs that you can relax on if you have ordered from the respective restaurant. While dining or lounging many touts will approach you with bracelets, clothes, offers of massages or manicures and pedicures. Despite this, or because of it, I quite enjoyed the chance to stay here for two nights and unwind and constant travelling can be draining.
While we enjoyed being pampered and drinking ourselves silly we also had a very memorable island day trip which can be organised by any tour operator for about 15 USD, including lunch and snorkelling.
The Killing Fields, Phnom Penh
Unfortunately, I was unwell with Cambodia-Belly the day I was supposed to go to the Killing Fields and could not move from my hotel room. My friends who went said that although it was tear-inducing, it was also a must-see and very educational. This is on my list for next time I visit Cambodia and should not be something you miss if in the area.
Homestay in Cham Bok Village
One of the wonderful things about Intrepid tours (I’m a big fan of them if you haven’t noticed) is that you do get opportunities to do things that may not come across your path if you were travelling without an arranged tour, such as home-stays, dinners at local Cambodian’s houses and other things that may not be advertised.
We spent a night in the local village of Cham Bok. This village often has home-stays with various groups and shares the responsibilities for doing so, such as housing, cooking and entertaining is shared around the village. Tourism is a big part of the village’s economy and it would struggle without the visitors.
We enjoyed watching the host family doing their daily chores, settling in, having a delcious group dinner followed by a performance by the local dance school and a trek to a waterfall the following day. All in all a memorable and pleasant experience.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and at times the poverty may be confronting in the form of young children selling goods or old women lying on the side of a street with their children begging for money. The country also does not have an established rubbish-removal system and litter is excessive in some areas. This is all outweighed by smiling faces, an interesting culture, delicious food and relatively un-touched wilderness with suitable activities to suit every traveler With so much on offer and the low-cost of visiting this country (meals are easy to obtain for less than 2 USD.) there really is no reason not to book a trip.
Click here if you would like to see a detailed itinerary of my 40 day trip, including costs and availability.
– Wish you were here xx