Updated: Dec 6, 2019
We would like to share our story from our trip to the Kingdom of Cambodia because we felt like this land is full of wonders and going through a huge transition. In our story, we will highlight the places you should absolutely visit, as well as the ones you should definitely avoid!
Phnom Penh is the Capital of Cambodia, if you’r looking for a cheap flight, then you are very likely to land there. As we came to Cambodia mainly to visit the temples and enjoy the long white sand beaches, we decided to remain only one night in Phnom Penh and to fly straight to Siem Reap the day after. Indeed, from our experience, there is not much to see in Phnom Penh. Generally speaking, the “developed cities” in Cambodia are not of a big interest. Traditional architecture has barely survived to the globalized development and the overall aesthetic and attraction of the modern cities is not what you would expect.
We could feel Cambodian people just got out of major crisis such as French colonization, threat from Vietnamese colonization, civil war triggered by the Red Khmer emergence, which we are not going to elaborate in here. As a result of this series of dramas, it feels like the locals are still in chock and not really into decorating as their main concern is more about de-mining the lands and trying to get out of poverty. Don’t expect beautiful streets, decorated houses or flowers in modern cities. All you will find is very bad condition roads, new buildings without any architectural interest and dirty shops.
The overall aspect of the modern cities is a shame when we consider that tourism is the main source of income for the country. However, the treasures resides elsewhere. The treasures of Cambodia can be found in its ancient sites and temples, built around the 14th century by a series of great Kings in a single area, which took us to Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is the closest city from the temples areas. We have spent 4 days there to have plenty of time to visit most of the temples and recover from our long journey. Siem Reap is full of charming guest houses, the streets are okay even nicely decorated sometimes. There are many international restaurants which is very appreciated since we did not particularly fell in love with the Cambodian cuisine. There are a few museums (including a Museum of mines and camps from the Red Khmer period) that can be worth visiting if you are interested in history and willing to go deep into the terrible sufferings that the Cambodian people went through (we are talking about genocide here, as one quarter of the population was killed in two decades during the Red Khmer Regime).
Siem Reap is above all, a base, a launching pad, toward the temple sites. Many packages are proposed (full day, half day, single temple etc..). Most of the temples are located in the same area and can be visited in a few full days. A one day pass can be bought for the price of 40 USD, then you need to count another 20 USD for the tuck tuck driver to drive you all day long (the big tour is between 5 to 8 hours). And yes, usually the prices are indicated in USD, for some obscure reason, which makes everything a little bit expensive for Asia and still quite cheap for westerners. So don't forget to have some USD in hand.
We had a very good experience with the full day package, starting with the sunrise at Angkor Wat (7th wonder of the world) which is a mind blowing site. This incredible complex of huge temples, built and engraved with so much precision will give you an idea on how much advanced the ancient civilization living here was. Everything about Angkor Wat is impressive, magical and unique. It is a must see.
Then we have been heading to secondary temple sites (smaller and older but very beautiful as well). The Preah Khan Temple is also not to be missed. It hosts splendid gigantic trees that conquered back the temples over the centuries. Nature is taking back its rights there and the locals respect the trees so much that none of them had ever been cut down.
We also dedicated one day to go visit the ruins of the Banteay Srei old temple during the sunset, about 1h30 from the city by tuck tuck. It was very nice but not really worth going so far to visit ruins when you can visit nicer temples nearby. The Banteay Srei temple ruins ticket fee is separate from other temples packages, 5 USD.
As we were traveling in Cambodia for our honeymoon, our plan was to spend a week on the beach. We had chosen the island of Koh Rong for this part of the journey, renowned for it’s white sand beach and backpacker friendly vibes. However, to reach this little paradise on earth, you have to pass trough the gates of the dark city: Sihanoukville.
5 Years ago, Sihanoukville, was a westerner backpacker spot for chilling on the beach and partying on the sand. However, today it is one of the ugliest place we have seen in our entire life.
From the moment you land at the international airport, you get assaulted by the taxi drivers. They know PassApp, the convenient app you can use to order a cab or a tuk tuk is not available in the airport area which is too far from town; so they will charge you 20 $ and try to prevent you from forming groups of passengers, which is exactly what you need to do in order to optimize the costs per passenger. The best is to gather all the foreigners, and form teams of 4 people, accordingly to everyone’s drop off location. It's gonna be a bit tough but you'll make it.
The road to the city center was bad, very bad and very long (about 1h30). We were dropped in front of our guest house, which was very expensive and ugly (the pictures were really deceiving). As we went out for dinner, we discovered that the neighborhood was full of dirty bars and clubs, crowded with prostitutes and their clients. The entire city is being rebuilt with foreign investments and is on its way to become a gigantic complex of Casinos and luxury hotels. Meanwhile it is just a very dirty place, with a high concentration of crimes and abuse in all kinds. The vibe was terrible and we actually had to spend the evening in our room watching funny videos to forget about all this. Here, the beaches are so polluted that we didn’t even consider swimming. The city looks like a gigantic trash bin, under construction. Without mentioning that most shops and restaurants are being owned by Chinese, written in Chinese for Chinese customers. Unless you’r very into cash games, drugs or prostitutes, we strongly recommend to remain as short as possible in this place, while you have to pass trough it to take the ferry (45 min) to Koh Rong, which is a must go and see ! If possible, arrange your travel so that the boat is going the same day as your arrival in Sihanoukville so you don't have to spend the night there, the last ferry leaves Sihanoukville port at 5pm. You can book your round trip boat tickets online for 22 USD, the return ticket can be used any day at anytime, but you need to register at the ferry's office one day prior to your departure.
A real paradise on earth. Everything that you would wish for is there. Beautiful sand beach, bungalows, good vibes, outdoor parties, good food, massage on the beach, snorkeling and more. We recommend Koh Rong Community Peer in low season (around September - October) as it is full of life and activities, amazing for backpackers whereas the other parts of the island are more quit which can be good especially if you want to chill on high season. It is very likely that wherever you go on this island, you will enjoy the landscape, the vibe and the activities. People are nice, the nature is still preserved and the prices always affordable.
We stayed in a bungalow with beach view that was less than a minute walk to jump in the wild sea and only 5 min walk away from the pier where all restaurants and shops are. It was such a wonderful feeling to sleep with the sound of the waves chanting in our ears.
As vegetarians, we were very spoiled, since almost every single restaurant had a wide selection of tasty vegetarian and vegan food.
We had such an amazing Cambodia trip ending in Koh Rong island, and we'd definitely recommend this little piece of heaven to any of you who is planning to visit the kingdom of Wonders, the Kingdom of Cambodia.
If you have any question about Cambodia, leave us a message and we'll be happy to help you !