I’d like to say before I start we did very little in Cambodia except drink! To be fair it was my birthday whilst we were there so drinking obscene amounts of vodka joss shots and beer towers was of course completely acceptable. Unfortunately partly due to this and mostly due to time constraints I feel we missed out on a lot of the more beautiful and remote parts of Cambodia that make people fall in love with the country. What we did see was the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Let me start with Phnom Penh. Firstly it’s very, very Western. Whilst the country was piecing itself back together after the reign of the Khmer Rouge it seems foreigners swarmed in and westernised the place. You even pay in American dollars. If you’re missing your creature comforts whilst travelling South East Asia this is the place to head, our street alone had a Starbucks, Costa, Dominos and Krispy Kreme Donuts to list but a few chains residing their. It’s hard to get a sense of the culture here.
The main place everyone who visits Phnom Penh heads to is The Killing Fields. It’s hard to sum up this visit in just a few short sentences so I’ll write a separate post but suffice to say it makes a long and harrowing day. The other main attraction of Phnom Penh is the Grand Palace, it’s definitely worth a visit to see the beautiful buildings and see some first class posing from tour groups! However maybe try not to do it on a horrendous hangover and two hours sleep as all you’ll be thinking is I want my bed. Overall Phnom Penh is a nice city and worth a visit, if only to take the trip to the Killing Fields. But it lacks the charm and appeal of the Vietnamese towns and cities I fell in love with and a couple of days spent there was more than enough.
So we moved on to Siem Reap. I loved Siem Reap ten times more than Phnom Penh, it’s smaller, has a traditional market in the centre of town, a river which gets lit up at night and a whole heap of cute cafes and restaurants. Most people come here to see Angkor Wat so it is teeming with tourists, but you can’t blame them because Angkor Wat is seriously impressive! We got there at 5am so that we could see the sunrise over the temple and it is truly spectacular. But the inside of Angkor Wat doesn’t quite live up to the breathtaking external view, it was the other temples in the Angkor Wat complex that I enjoyed the most. Bayon with it’s many faces, the little water temple which you walked out over the lake on a narrow boardwalk to, and of course the Tomb Raider temple (which unfortunately would have been a million times nicer if it hadn’t been packed with tourists). Despite us being grumpy, sleep deprived and ridiculously hot this was one of the best days of the entire trip so far and truly a sight not to be missed.
The other delight Siem Reap had to offer us was Pub Street. At night the streets in the centre of town fill with portable bars all blaring music and flashing lights, and we wound up here every night dancing in the street, drinking the local beer and making friends with the locals. Those who tell you Siem Reap is a quiet little town are wrong, this is the place to party!
Before we went we were told Cambodia was dangerous, dirty and unfriendly, hold on tight to your bags and don’t expect a warm welcome was the advice given to us. But in my opinion those who told us that were wrong. Everyone we met was friendly from the tuk tuk driver who took us around Phnom Penh to the tattoo artists we befriended in Siem Reap. Although I do not feel we even scraped the surface of everything Cambodia has to offer we saw a whole lot that makes the country amazing, and I only wish we had time to discover more!