Cambodia is a country located in Southeast Asia that has been pillaged by it’s neighbors, bombed by the Americans, and more recently witnessed the genocide of millions during the Khmer Rouge. Even with it’s rough and tumbled past, Cambodia has made great strides in recent years and is a hidden gem that most travelers all too quickly cross off their lists of places to visit. If you’re on a shoestring budget, love adventures, and a country with depth, Cambodia is right up your ally.
I have been to Cambodia a few times and I must say, I love the country. It’s one of the few place in the world where a ride around town will cost you $2, a beer $1, a fantastic dinner for $2.50, and a nights stay in a luxurious hotel for just $20. Tucked in Southeast Asia, it’s a very humble country where you feel like you are going back in time. Right from when you leave the airport, something magical is in the air. You catch a tuk-tuk to your hotel or hostel, whizzing past slower vehicles at breakneck speeds as the hot humid air bristles through your hair. You feel like you’re living on the edge in a tuk-tuk, a odd combination of half motor bike and half chariot, a contraption not found anywhere in the modern world.
The big site to see of course is Angkor Wat, the ancient temples located in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is definitely a major tourist trap but has an authentic feel to it. It’s a place like no other, the people are friendly (if not pushy to sell something), the food is great, and the beer is cheap. You need a few days to see everything there is to offer in Siem Reap, it really is breathtaking to get up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise at Angkot Wat. You can get up and close to all the temples too, even walking through them, it’s like being in a museum only up close and personal.
Phnom Penh is the next big city you should visit, it’s the capital of Camboida and the largest city. As with any other major city, there is plenty to do and unlike other big cities, Phnom Penh has that behind the times feel to it. Dirt roads are still a common site and modern cars are outnumbers by motorbikes and tuk-tuks. When in Phnom Penh, it is important to visit the Killing Fields, one of the sadder parts of Cambodia, you take a tour through the genocide that you never knew happened. It’s amazing how everyone knows about the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide but so few have ever heard of the brutal Khmer Rouge. It’s truly shocking to learn what this poor country went through and so recently.
If you wish to learn more about the Khmer Rouge, please be sure to visit the Phnom Penh Genocide Museum, an actual prison camp where many of the victims of this terrible atrocity were tortured and killed. It’s a truly humbling experience and a reminder that we as the world should be more vigilant towards these crimes against humanity.
Phnom Penh isn’t only a city of sadness, there are plenty of beautiful temples and museums to lift your spirits. I honestly think the temples and royal palace in Phnom Penh are more beautiful than the ones you will find in neighboring Thailand. It’s remarkable the strides this country has made since the 80’s and 90’s. You really see the birth of an up and coming country when you visit some of these places.
Finally if you are sick of the cities, there are plenty of beaches to visit in Cambodia as well. Sihanoukville and Kampot are the home to pristine beaches and are practically empty anytime of the year compared to beaches in neighboring countries. You really can’t beat finding a bungalow right on the beach for $10 a night while drinking a $1 beer. It’s heaven.
I absolutely love Cambodia, it’s a country rich in history with beautiful sites all around. I will have many future articles that go more in depth regarding the sites and things to do in Cambodia, stay tuned. This is just a teaser!