Mentioning about Cambodia is obviously mentioning about the two cultures in a country. The first one is the Khmer Empire that built the incredible temples at Angkor. And the other one is the Khmer Rouge, the murderous regime of Pol Pot that gripped the country in the 1970s, which repressed the entire nation and left up to 2 million people dead. Both still affect the country today, but that’s the problem of the past, Cambodia nowadays has become a modern country with developing tourism.
So let’s explore this beautiful part of Southeast Asia!
In the capital, Phnom Penh, you shouldn’t expect to see a booming metropolis like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. The city will appear a bit more like a chaotic marketplace with traffic, vendors and dogs constantly mixing together.
The scenery of Phnom Penh
The main tourist area is around the Mekong River and the Royal Palace which has comfortable restaurants and bars, and it’s also a pleasant place to spend time with. Most visitors, though, are interested in the two best-known sites in Phnom Penh — the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison (now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum). These are the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. The S-21 Prison was once a school that was turned into a torture chamber for perceived enemies of the state.
Siem Riep of Cambodia
These days, the city of Siem Reap is probably more well-known to tourists than Phnom Penh is. Because it’s the base from which tourists can explore the temples of Angkor. The most famous of which is Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world at 162 hectares (400 acres). Around it, within the rest of the ancient city of Angkor, there are about a thousand temples of various sizes. Many are small and in ruins, but it’s easy to spend days exploring the larger ones hidden among the humid jungle that surrounds them all.
A meal in a restaurant in Cambodia
Siem Reap has grown dramatically and is now a tourist city full of hotels and good quality restaurants and bars. However, it means the prices here are a little higher than the rest of the country. But no matter what, Cambodia overall is still an inexpensive place to visit. Local meals cost just a couple of dollars and, even in nicer restaurants, you can normally get lunch or dinner for about USD $5.00. The cheapest guesthouses start at about USD $5.00 and a budget (but good quality) hotel room can run about USD $20.00.
When you venture into the countryside, you will be able to experience a warmth and friendliness from the local Cambodians in rural areas, but there’s no way to avoid seeing the poverty. On a positive note, though, there’s an increasing trend for ecotourism options in the countryside. These projects offer homestays or activities where local people from the town are involved in hospitality or guiding. It means the money spent by foreigners stays in the community, rather than going to large companies.
The coastal city of Sihanoukville has become popular lately. Don’t forget that Cambodia has a fantastic coastline and there are lots of beach options if you’re looking for some sunshine and sand to add into a holiday dominated by temples. Parts of Sihanoukville have become a magnet for the backpacker, but there are some quieter parts to be explored. Those looking to avoid the young party crowd have other beach options on the coast, like Kep — a quiet coastal town surrounded by jungle and famous for the freshly caught crabs served in local restaurants.
The coastal city of Shihanoukville
From Kep, it’s just a short ride by boat to Rabbit Island, one of Cambodia’s (relatively) hidden gems. This small island has no Internet and very limited electrical power. With basic accommodation offered along the main beach, the island is pretty much otherwise deserted. It’s a perfect escape for people looking for some peace and quiet.
Rabbit island of Cambodia
So, coming to Cambodia, you’ll find yourself traveling to the country which is a land of diversity complete with hectic cities, large tracts of jungle, scattered farming communities and peaceful paradises, with thousands of years of history and culture which can not be forgotten.