Howdy all and well, it’s that time of the month when I choose a destination – be it city, country, region or interesting rock – and declare it to be ‘destination of the MONTH’, a fair accolade by any measure. And well, this time around, after much deliberation in my mind, I have gone for the South-East Asian country of Cambodia, a county with a dark history, natural beauty and one of the world’s GREAT historic sites in Angkor Wat! There’s no doubt that Thailand’s sometimes visited neighbour packs a fair punch as a destination, so today, let’s talk about it!
I visited Cambodia a long time ago now, actually in the year 2000 and that is nearly 22 years ago now! I really must get back there in the next few years to have more experiences, take better photos and you know, vlog! When I visited the place was just starting to become a tourist destination as people discovered the incredible waterways, temples, beaches, people and of course Angkor Wat! Since then there has been improvement in infrastructure – proper roads built, the roads taken back in 2000 couldn’t take a mini bus, you had to go from the Thai border to Siem Repp and Batambang in a pick up truck! However, in all fairness, that was part of the adventure as we traversed roads that were unsealed and basically mini-ravines as the water of the wet season washed part of them away. And there were very few bridges too so the number of routes was extremely limited.
The old tourist ‘circuit’ generally takes in Siem Repp, Batambang if you have a little more time, the capital Phnom Penh and then perhaps a stop or two down south. I visited Kampot where I went for a swim in a nearby river and nearly got carried away to the ocean, visited an abandoned hotel which I think has either been pulled down or actually converted today, and toured with a group of young guys in a group with some other travellers and we discovered the real hospitality of the Khmer people.
Angkor Wat is near the town of Siem Repp and is the number one site in the country without a single doubt. It is the most visited place in the country, but it is like the pyramids, you just can’t miss it because it will blow your freaking mind! The ancient city of Angkor is a collection of some of the most impressive sites/temples you will ever see made out of rock, with incredible carvings and more. The most iconic of which is Angkor Wat, the main temple, however there are plenty of others that will amaze you and many find their favourite is Ta Phrom, the ‘jungle temple’, of Lara Croft/Tomb Raider fame.
In the same region a few hours from Siem Repp is the town of Battambang. Locals will guide you taking you on the back of a motorbike around the area near Battambang, which has a distinct French Colonial feel and some interesting buildings, to sites around the region and perhaps tell you of stories of what happened under Pol Pott and the infamous Khmer Rouge. Certainly 20 years ago there were plenty of stories to be told, perhaps less so today as it was now longer ago. Beautiful region.
Getting around Cambodia even today isn’t fast and that easy, but you can still catch a boat along the lake for a few hours (five or so I think) to get from Siem Repp to Phnom Phen. This trip is awesome and well worth it! Cambodia is a country built on the water, and this is a great way to experience a bit of the life there.
The capital has markets, friendly people, dodgy people, a Royal Palace worth seeing, beautiful riverside views and isn’t vaguely as big as the main cities in neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam. Not the highlight of Cambodia, it is still worth a couple of days. You should visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which I think used to be a school but was turned into a prison during the time of the Khmer Rouge. It’s very confronting, but it’s important to know about the history of a place and what its people, those who survived and those who didn’t, went through.
Sihanoukville is right south and these days has become very popular, and there are other popular beach spots too. Not going to rival the islands of Thailand I suspect, and I’ve heard a few negative reports from people who’ve visited there in the last few years. When I visited it was just starting and they were just beginning to build guesthouses, and it was lovely. Still, today you are on the coast and I’m sure you’d be able to find a place to chill and relax for a few days if you looked and moved away from the main tourist/backpacker areas.
Cambodia’s east is a part I didn’t go, and it still wasn’t always safe to visit at the time and it was even more poorly connected than the north-west. Today it does offer a little for the visitor if you’re prepared to ‘rough it’ some what, although it’s not got many towns or a lot of people. It might be the next Cambodian frontier!
Anyways, there’s my little summary of Cambodia, a little country that I think packs a real punch. If you are in the region and have time, I think Cambodia is in many ways a much more interesting and rewarding place than Thailand.
Thanks for popping by! Do consider Cambodia if you’re headed to South-East Asia! You will be amazed! May the Journey Never End!