If you’re planning a trip to Asia, you’re most likely heading to Thailand to drink Chang and lax on the beach. I won’t lie, that sounds like a fab way to spend your break but given I’ve just come back from Cambodia (and won’t shut up about it), I’m going to give you the inside scoop on why this little gem of a country needs to be on your bucket list.
If you’re someone who loves to travel for the below reasons, then Cambodia is the place for you.
- Meeting great people
- Learning about and experiencing different cultures
- Eating a shizz tonne of delicious food
- Drinking the cheapest cocktails of your life
When I started planning my trip, I had a mixed response from friends and family: “I hear it’s amazing and you’ll love it!” and “why would you want to go there?” and lastly “why do you always go to places that can give you the shits?” (because eating amazing food is life, duh). I’m glad I stuck to my instincts because what I experienced was a mind-opening and soul-fulfilling trip to what is now one of my favourite destinations.
Where did we go?
- Siem Reap – home to the impressive Angkor Wat temple
- Phnomh Penh – the countries capital and home to Cambodia’s darker history
- Sihanoukville – home to beaches, waterfalls and delicious seafood
I’ll try not to ramble on, but here are a few highlights from my trip.
You know how every travel guide ever tells you Angkor Wat is a must-see? Yeah, they aren’t lying. I’m still in awe of the vast beauty of the temple and learning about its history plus seeing firsthand the intricate carvings was a truly wonderful experience.
If you love to shop and drink, then Pub Street is for you. Try 50c beer and $1.50 cocktails (USD) that are strong AF but super tasty. There are karaoke bars for those with-or-without musical talent, great clubs for you to make a love connection in and if you love to barter, the night market and alley-ways are full of great stalls just waiting for you to grab a bargain.
If history is your thing, then the Killing Fields are where you need to be. A main player in the country’s four-year genocide, the Killing Fields are home to some dark and inhumane events that are actually more horrible than the namesake – definitely not for the faint of heart, there were tears shed by yours truly. Subsequently the S-21 prison where you can meet two of the prisoner of war survivors is an equally horrific and eye-opening historical site that I recommend visiting.
For those wanting to do something a little lighter, there are some great museums and markets not far from the center of town that you can either walk or take a tuk-tuk to. The Grand Palace is indeed grand but I’d suggest waiving the fee and viewing it from the outside. Another town with great bars, amazingly cheap massages and equally great food – I highly recommend eating at Friends, a cheap restaurant where proceeds go to helping with the education of the students who work there. I can vouch for how AMAZING the food is.
Right on the water, this is the place to do all your relaxing and eat all your seafood. Good for a two or three day stop over at the end of your trip, Sihanoukville doesn’t have too much to see and do but this is why I loved it! I sat on the beach, drank cheap cocktails and went to see a beautiful waterfall about an hour out of town. You can also venture for a mini-hike around the National Park.
My bucket list must-dos
- Sunrise at Angkor Wat
- Tomb Raider fans (the Angelina Jolie version) should visit the Bayon temple
- Dinner at a local village/homestay
- Guided tour of the Killing Fields and S-21 prison to hear about the real history of the country
- EAT LOCAL FOODS – Amok’s are your friend and your tummy and taste buds will thank you! Look for “Khmer” options on the menu
- Eat or hold a tarantula at the markets
- See the socially conscious Phare Circus full of amazing acrobatics
- Try your hand at bargaining in the local markets. Everything is dirt cheap so you’re getting a deal no matter what you pay
Instead of giving you a gigantic list of useless travel tips, here is everything you DO need to know:
- Fly into an airport if you can. I took the land border from Thailand -> Cambodia and it was hectic, confusing and slightly intimidating
- Visa’s can be applied for on arrival but check with your travel agent and local embassy before you go
- You can use $USD everywhere and you’ll get more when you convert it back to $NZD
- Always carry toilet paper/tissues. There are a lot of western style toilets but they don’t always have TP on hand – even in restaurants
- Bug spray yourself like there’s no tomorrow. Seriously
- Head to the doctor a couple of weeks beforehand to find out if there are any vaccinations/tablets you need. I had to take malaria tablets
- Water, water, water – it is hot AF so hydration is key
- Speaking of water, drink only the bottled kind. Usually $1 – $2USD for a big 1.5L
- Take a little handheld fan with you everywhere because you will sweat and it will be gross
- Pick pocketing is a problem in certain areas (and particularly at night) so keep your passport and anything with bling locked in your hotel safe
- Take a hotel card with you when you leave in case you get lost
- Tuk-tuks are usually between $2 – $4USD per trip but you can always ask your hotel what it should cost
- Don’t talk about the Government in public
- Go with the flow
This article was written by Her World’s travel editor