Cambodia – Love it, Hate it – Unrivalled Ruins, Dark History, Beautiful People

Cambodia, a country with a dark past, spectacular ancient ruins, eclectic culture, relaxing beaches, and floating villages. This country is perhaps one of the most controversially exciting destination I have visited; conflicting emotions ranging from loving it as a whole to grieving for it’s people.

Temple Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
Temple Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

We arrived at the Phnom Penh airport via Asia air after lots of commotions and running through airports (ferry and bus from Koh Lanta, Thailand to Krabi, airplane from Krabi to Bangkok, airplane from Bangkok Thailand to Phnom Penh, Cambodia)  and praying that our baggage would arrive. A friend of ours who lives in Phnom Penh, recommended heading straight out of the airport, where prices are high and pressure higher, and catch a tuk tuk to our hotel; great recommendation, outside the airport fence, price were incredibly cheap. The initial scene was shocking – wide streets packed with bicycles, some motorcycles (motodops) and tuk tuks, and very random luxury automobiles.

Phnom Penh, Street, Cambodia
Phnom Penh, Street, Cambodia Photo Credit: see below

One anguishing night spent in Phnom Penh: Our friend met with us for a dinner filled with great conversation, fantastic tasting food at extremely affordable prices and unfortunately heart wrenching views. Beggars, poor selling their wares, and sick children, appearing on the brink of death, relieving themselves in the street. It is a busy, run down, dirty, poor city where the extreme of rich and poor is sadly, in your face evident. However, the enduring people somehow greet you with respect and smiles and warmth, such braveness in the face of such a recent horrific past and dismal future.

Beautiful faces of Cambodia!
One Dollar Sir, Beautiful faces of Cambodia!  Photo Credit:  See below

Speed boat whisked us away from the Sisowath Quay the next morning, direction Siem Reap and the promise of long lost temples. Our boat, overfilled with backpackers and hippies, made it’s way along the incredible Tonle Sap river. At times we sat up on the roof, taking in the incredible views, although I did sneak into a seat inside for a short nap! The countryside is awesome along the riverbanks many stilted villages, floating villages and a lot of farming along the river.  It is all done by hand – we did not see any oxen and certainly no equipment other than spades.  It is a nice change to be out of the city and speeding along this peaceful river.

Fishing Village, Tonle Sap, Cambodia
Fishing Village, Tonle Sap, Cambodia Photo Credit: See below

7 Hour Later, we arrived in Siem Reap – We absolutely love this placeCool, laid back vibe; oodles of Tuk tuks and small crowds of easy going, slow moving backpackers, hikers, students and lost in time, enjoying life, hippies.  Cool restaurants, awesome markets, good food.  The prices – cheapest we have seen yet on our Asia tour.
* Nice room with pool – USD$25.00
* 2 course western meal for 2 with 2 cocktails and 3 beers and a water – USD$7.50
* Angkor Wat Temples – priceless!! (See price list below)

Distant Promises, Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Distant Promises, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

We rented a tuk tuk for our temple tour of the ancient lost city of Angkor Wat.  The temple area is 97 square kilometres and there are temples and ruins everywhere.  It really was an incredible experience – definitely worth going back to see more and spend more time.  We saw the temples of Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider), Angkor Thom, Bayon, Thommanon and Chau Say Thevoda.  My favorite was Bayon, the temple of faces!

Beautiful Bayon Temple, Cambodia
Beautiful Bayon Temple, Cambodia

We booked an overnight bus to Sihanoukville, the beach area, leaving the following day at 7pm.  The trip is 10 hours, so we hoped we would be able to catch some sleep on the long ride. No real surprise, the bus was oversold and we did not get a reclining seat, instead a seat at the back of the bus crammed in with several other people; it was the nightmare ride from hell! The on board “restroom” was a curtained area with a bucket, but they stopped often so we could stretch and try to find better relief possibilities. Finally we arrived at the Sihanoukville bus station, grabbed a tuk tuk and headed to friendlier shores.

Sihanoukville Beach, Cambodia
Sihanoukville Beach, Cambodia Photo Credit: See below

Long, white sand beaches with virtually no tourists made our beach stretch, Otres Beach, an extremely tranquil setting.  You can walk for hours in the soft sand, or just laze around watching the waves roll in.  The road to get here was pretty much non-existant – a dirt road with lots of bumps winding through an empty countryside, arriving to nowhere.  We met some great adventurous, backpackers and seen a few very sad cases as well (heroine addicts). All in all, an amazing, eye-opening trip filled with amazing enduring Cambodians with an amazing country full of surprises!

Sunset, Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sunset, Otres Beach, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Angkor Archaeological Park – Photo Album
Angkor Wat – Youtube
Angkor Archaeological Park – Prices / Info, Government of Cambodia
Travel Advice / Warnings – UK Government
Travel Alerts and Warnings – US Government


photo credit: A la limite de Phnom Penh via photopin (license)
 photo credit: One Dollar, Sir! via photopin (license)
 photo credit: Fishing Village in Tonle Sap via photopin (license)
 photo credit: 2015-12-24 16.10.38 via photopin (license)

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I am an avid traveller who believes that travel means participation. Whether it be observing traditional cultures, eating native delicacies, or drinking local drinks, one must fully immerse oneself to truly understand and enjoy a destination.

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