Being Thailand’s less travelled smaller neighbour, Cambodia is often underestimated or visited mainly because of the archeological and spiritual magnificence of the Angkor Wat Temple. I must admit though, that before visiting I didn’t know that much either, as I just jumped on my next adventure from Laos, with very little research and just a few places in mind to visit. What I discovered there though, left me breathless, in awe, inspired and in love way too many times.
First Stop – Siem Reap and the Temples
You can’t go to Cambodia and not visit Angkor Wat and the ancient temples. You just can’t! There is so much information, programs and videos available about the incredible ancient mega structure, that no words I can say will do it any justice. What most of those videos and guides don’t tell you though, is how intensely this single visit will influence you on emotional and spiritual level. Admiration. Awe. Speechlessness. Smiles. Tears. A mixture that will cover your body in goose bumps from head to toe. The exquisite architectural monster, combined with the recently discovered underground cities will make you feel so small and insignificant, asking yourself the same question times and times again: “How is this even possible?”. The more I think about this question, the more the answer I get is – aliens or ancient mega humans, no joke. Here’s a cool video to give you a bit of a visual idea:
The Temple Visit
I formed a group with 3 other fun loving solo travelers and we went for sunrise visit with a 1 day pass for the temples, which cost 20 USD. In my opinion this is the best option as you get to see all the bigger temples in 1 day, avoid buying a 2-day pass and avoid the massive crowds that arrive for the normal day visit. It’s a 13 hour long day of walking, taking hundreds of pictures and sweating in the heat, but it’s totally worth it!
Angkor Wat may be the main attraction for the tourists, but my personal favourite was definitely Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, known for the smiley stone faces. All in all, my visit to the ancient Khmer city gave me so much more than I expected and hoped for. Enjoy a short video from my visit:
For the Foodies and the Party Goers
Besides the amazing temples, Siem Reap has a pretty vibrant city scene to offer as well, so spending a few days there is not a bad idea. This is where I also received my second great surprise from Cambodia – The Khmer food!
There are plenty of street food stalls where you can get cheap-cheap meals ($1-$2), although the traditional Khmer restaurants are not that expensive either. We found an amazing place in the center called Khmer Kitchen where we received fantastic service, incredible food and great atmosphere, all sealed with a glass of tasty white wine 🙂 The prices for the dishes could be around $3-5 but the amount and the quality of the food are superb. Mmmm… I’m drooling just remembering those meals :)) Just try everything.
If you fancy shaking the booty after dinner, Pub Street is your place … similar to Kao San Road in Bangkok it is impossible to miss. There we found tons of buzzing bars, loud night clubs and busy restaurants, but as we fancied something a bit more relaxed, we wandered around and ended up in X Bar, which had everything we needed! A bit hidden, on the second floor of a corner building, it offered great cocktails, nice music, space to dance around, pool tables and super friendly staff (here I must say a bit Thank You to Michael from Poland, who made our nights there incredible – cheers to you friend!).
Siem Reap is lovely for an evening walk as well. The bridge over the river is covered in beautiful lights, the night market is just a few steps away and there are cheap massage studios at every corner.
For my stay there I booked 3 nights at a nice hostel just 5 minutes walk from the center, called Tropical Breeze Guesthouse (My Trip Advisor Review). A cute private room there cost $10-12 at the time, Happy Pizzas were available in the restaurant’s menu for $7 extra and a pint of beer during happy hour was 50 cents. Sweeet.
Off to the Beach and the Islands of Cambodia!
While Sihanoukville is widely recommended in most travel guides for Cambodia, I decided to visit a place that is just gaining its popularity – Otres beach. I stayed in a cute little hostel right on the beach, called Moms Kitchen on The Beach (My Trip Advisor Review). The private rooms are very basic, but hey, they’re right on the beach and cost $10 a night! What you get for this is clean beaches, free sun beds, pristine waters, cheap beer sold at the bar and swimming with the incredible fluorescent plankton at night!
I spent there several beautiful, joyful, carefree days, laying on the beach, soaking up the sun, sipping on a cold drink and enjoying life. There are a few bars open till late at night and a few parties going on around, with an absolute must – Otres Market. It’s a cute little venue, a short tuk-tuk ride away with live music, nice cocktails, food stalls, market for mostly hand-made goods and later on, a DJ Party. If you’re in the area of Moms Kitchen, Corner Bar is the place for the party lovers… You can dance until the sun comes up and honestly, I’m not sure the bar actually ever closes 🙂
If You Want To Experience A True Island Life, You’ve Got It
Cambodia has several amazingly beautiful unspoiled islands, the most popular being Koh Rong, his little brother Koh Rong Sanloem and the very secluded Koh Ta Kiev.
I decided to visit Koh Rong first and then move to Koh Rong Sanloem, but the truth is that I got so completely captivated by the beauty, relaxed atmosphere and ease of life on Koh Rong, that I never made it to Sanloem. I just thought that it can’t get better than that and went by the saying “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. A little snorkeling trip was a good way to see the other islands for a day, but for a nicer experience bring your own snorkel.
Most of the bars and restaurants are around the pier village Koh Touch, which in my opinion is rather unpleasant. Roads don’t really exist, but due to the high population in the area and all the construction work going on around, it’s quite dirty and stinky. Once you get out of the village though, you’ll find endless beaches with fine white sands, pristine waters and hardly anyone around you! Speaking of which, make sure you visit Long Beach. You can either trek through the jungle or pay for a long tail to get you there.
In the evening you can enjoy a candle lit dinner right on the beach, and have a fresh, massive seafood BBQ plate with a pint of beer for, wait for it – $5!
Here’s a little video of my Cambodian Beach experience:
I decided to get away from the main town and went to a cute little camping site called Suns of Beaches (My TripAdvisor Review). Honestly, those 5 days of camping were one of the highlights of my entire trip! You can get to the camp with a boat that runs 3 times a day or trek through the jungle for around 1 hour, for which you get zero light pollution at night and a starry sky like I’ve never seen before. Did I mention the fluorescent plankton? Remember this epic scene from the movie The Beach where Leo swims with his girlfriend? Well, it’s 10 times better! The feeling is as if you’re swimming among the starts of the Universe. In three words – Oh – My – God!
Don’t Skip Phnom Penh – it Will Tell You Books About The People
As a city Phnom Penh is considered rather unpleasant, dirty and noisy, and this is why most travellers decide to skip it. When a random tuk-tuk driver tells you to be careful with your phone and put it away, you know that you’re not entirely safe. While all of the above is true, you might need to take a flight to or from the capitol city, which has a shattering, but also incredibly eye-opening experience to offer – a visit of the Genoside Museum S21 and the Killing Fields. Just by typing those words my eyes got filled with tears and I got goosies all over. It’s hard, it’s not fun and most probably you wouldn’t do it again, but it gives you a whole new dimension on your understanding of the country, the culture and the unbelievably sweet and friendly Khmer people. I didn’t feel like taking any pictures during the experience and I don’t think that pictures can give you the slightest idea, but I’ll try with only this one:
I stayed in the city only 2 days, which in my opinion is more than enough. I had booked at Aura Thematic Hostel (My Trip Advisor Review) close to the center, which was nice, clean and had a rooftop bar.
Other Recommendations for Cambodia
There is a place that was highly recommended by the Cambodian expats I met, as well as other fellow travellers, but I did not have the time to visit – Kampot. I cannot give you any personal impressions, but tell you what – from everything I’ve heard, I’m definitely going there when I go back to Cambodia. Oh yes, I am going back as I absolutely fell in love with the country, the food and the people, and I’m also a bit glad I didn’t visit Kampot during my first visit. It’s aways good to have something to look forward to 🙂
If you found this post useful, please like and share. Let’s spread the love 🙂