The week and a half we spent in Cambodia was a mélange of highs and lows – from feeding elephants and exploring ruins to crying in the killing fields and puking off the back of a ferry. The best part was getting to experience it all with two of our best friends, Scott and Christina.
A trip to Southeast Asia would be incomplete without a stop in Siem Reap. With an ancient royal city and massive temple ruins, it is no wonder that Angkor is the main tourist destination in all of Cambodia.
They say you need about 2-4 days to see the temples in Siem Reap. We gave ourselves 3 full days and only spent 2 of them touring the ruins (they all start to look the same after awhile). We paid 30USD per day for a personal driver to take us from site to site.
Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, was our first stop. Since this would be the main attraction of the day, we decided to pay for a personal tour guide – which I definitely recommend if you are not already an expert on its history. Not only was our guide passionate and informative, he also claimed to have a knack for palm reading. Apparently Sean is a controlling loner, I need freedom, Christina is ‘Trumpy’ (whatever the fuck that means), and Scott will never find someone that loves him as much as he loves them.
After a traditional Khmer lunch and a few more temples – Ta Prohm Wat being my favorite of the day – we were told to hike a mountain for a premiere sunset vantage point. Unfortunately, tons of other tourists had been given the same instructions. We decided to leave before sunset in order to avoid the mass exodus of sightseers.
By the end of day two we had seen enough temples and had our fair share of lines and crowds. As extraordinary as the Angkor is, the touristy Disney-like vibes begin to take a toll and the intense heat doesn’t help.
On our last day we opted sleep in and hit up a mini-golf park in the city, Angkor Put. It was a little difficult to find but the misters throughout the course and mini replicas of temples at each hole made the search worthwhile.
For all things shopping, food, and nightlife, Pub Street was our go to. The alleys are lined with restaurants that turn to nightclubs, street carts displaying various bugs (for consumption!), and little markets selling everything under the sun.
UPDATE: Best Regards from Far did a post on the Phare the Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap (A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide). I wish I had known about it while I was visiting. Check out the article HERE.
ANIMAL WILDLIFE ALLIANCE
Sean and I had originally wanted to go to an elephant sanctuary while in Thailand but the one we were most interested in was booked through the year. So when Christina told us about the Wildlife Rescue in Cambodia, we added it to the itinerary.
Not only did we get to pet and feed elephants, we also had the chance to see leopards, tigers, otters, bears, and more! The best part was going into the macaque cage and feeding a group of baby monkeys. They sat in our laps, jumped on our shoulders, and groomed our hair.
My parents weren’t thrilled when we told them Cambodia was on our list of destinations. They always get overly worried whenever we travel and this trip was no exception. In fact, they preferred we skip the country altogether. After reading up on the crime and violence, especially in Phnom Penh, we could understand why. Luckily we were travelling in a group and we always make a point to be aware of our surroundings. We made sure to keep our belongings hidden and be back at the hostel before dark. There were definitely some sketchy characters but in the end, our time in PP turned out to be more depressing than frightening.
I knew very little about the genocide in Cambodia before our day at Killing Fields and the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21). We purchased audio tours (6USD/person) at both sites to learn about the country’s dark and not so distant past.
On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, marched into Phnom Penh and started a genocide that would last almost four years. Visiting these devastating mass murder and torture sites was by no means an enjoyable day but it was necessary for us to really understand the people and history. Even looking at the photos now (months later) brings tears to my eyes. How can humanity be capable of such horrific acts of violence? Millions of innocent lives lost – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, BABIES. It breaks my heart.
Perhaps our only frightening endangerment in Phnom Penh was eating tarantula. Christina and I only tried a hairy leg while Sean and Scott ate the entire thing.
KOH RONG – THE BEGINNING OF THE END
The WORST destination of our entire trip – maybe even the worst place we’ve ever been – FOR REAL. Basically nothing more than a filthy island taken over by backpackers and European runaways. There are so few natives that you would never guess you were in an Asian country. Hostels, bars, and restaurants were run by westerners that partied harder than all of their clientele.
The bungalows we stayed in were disgusting cesspits with creaky floors and creepy bug nets. Don’t bother taking a shower in the cold, dark, spider infested bathroom. We’ve dealt with worse accommodations but this place was the most expensive hostel of our entire trip.
Only Scott escaped the island food poison free (he also only ate cheeseburgers the entire time in Cambodia).
SIHANOUKVILLE / OTRES BEACH
We were beyond spent by the time we arrived at our accommodations in Otres Beach. Christina was puking non-stop, Sean had some sort of stomach bug, I was barely keeping it together, and Scott was bummed because we were all too sick to do anything exciting.
At one point we mustered up the strength to take a dip in the perfectly tempered waters and sunbathe on the beach. Besides that, most of our time was spent in bed or hovering the toilet bowl. It was a shame because Otres Beach had the chill and relaxing vibe that we were longing for. If we had the chance to do it over, we would skip Koh Rong altogether and spend more time in Sihanoukville.
You live, you learn.