Cambodia was first up on OUR LONGER SE ASIA TRIP on which we also visited VIETNAM, LAOS and a small part of THAILAND. We flew in to Phnom Penh from Europe via BKK and tried to survive the first couple of days not getting hit by a motorbike crossing the road. We learned soon enough the best way to do it is to be patient and wait for the right moment or even better – just follow the locals. Always walk steadily and do not panic. Once you´ve mastered that, you are all ready to go out and explore.
When: October 2007
Visited: Phnom Penh, Battambang, Tonle Sap, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat
How: low budget backpacking
Stayed in: guesthouses
We were TWO GIRLS TRAVELLING and had no inconveniences. We did a circle from Phnom Penh to Battambang, took a boat to Siem Reap from there and drove back to PP with a bus. We skipped the beach and continued on to Vietnam instead. You can see most of the attractions in about a week, but if you want to have a better experience plan 3 weeks for it. That´s also convenient because everything is relatively cheap.
Between towns BUS TRAVEL is the easiest (very good experience with Capitol Tours). The bus will stop regularly on the way, letting you time to eat and visit toilets. Finding a TUK-TUK in towns should not be a problem, and renting a MOTORBIKE for the countryside is a great idea. If you are not so keen on driving yourself, it´s usually not a problem for your guesthouse to arrange a DRIVER. For a change take the BOAT on Tonle Sap lake (PP to Siem Reap, or Siem Reap to Battambang and vice versa).
For BREAKFASTS we usually paid 1$, DINNER or lunch was 2-3$, BUS tickets between Phnom Penh and Battambang, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were 4$ and the service was good. The CHEAPEST ROOM WAS 5$ (for 2 pax) and the most expensive one was 9$ (for 2 pax). 1 day entrance fee for ANGKOR WAT is 20$, we also had to pay for the CAMBODIA VISA, 20$. The BOAT from Battambang to Siem Reap was 15$. One hour massage should be around 6$. The Siem Reap area is packed with tourists, therefore also the most expensive.
Try the traditional noodle soup “KUY TEAV” for breakfast or take the western style banana PANCAKES. For lunch/dinner choose from RICE and NOODLES varieties mixed with meat, fish or just vegetables (BOK CHOY, BAMBOO shoots, WATER SPINACH, baby corn, beans, peas). Everything is mixed with amazing spices. Oh and don´t forget the FRUITS! Eating fruits with FISH and rice is quite common too. Food is CHEAP and delicious, a visit to a local MARKET is definitely worth the time.
WHAT WE SAW & DID
Angkor Wat is probably THE BIGGEST ATTRACTION IN THE COUNTRY – the place itself really is magnificent and definitely worth a visit, it is also under UNESCO. But to be honest there are so many tourists that the whole experience becomes a bit of a hassle. When the sun starts to set down everybody starts to climb the stairs to the top in order to see the SUNSET and its almost like an ant colony. If you buy a one day TICKET (which you should, unless you are really into history) you will want to make the best out of it, but the complex is huge. So, do yourself a favour, read some information forehand and decide where you want to go. Expect extreme heat and mediocre food, compared to the restaurants back in the town. My favourite temple: TA PHROM!
The ROYAL PALACE, WAT PHNOM, The INDEPENDANCE MONUMENT, SISOWATH QUAY.. you know, the stuff from the book. The Central MARKET is a fun waste of time and unless you are totally disinterested in history pay a visit to the TUOL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM. Actually maybe you should do that first, combined with seeing the KILLING FIELDS OF CHOEUNG EK. That will give you the creeps! I won´t talk about the history too much, but its definitely something one must read about before coming to Cambodia.
Ou yeah and then there is NIGHTLIFE. Karaoke is a big part of it, but so is sex tourism. Well, I think if you are a man then you will probably be having a slightly different experience with the locals than we did. As a man you will probably have a different experience also at checking into guest houses, but maybe that´s a whole other topic to write about.
Go off tracks, HIRE A BIKE or a driver with a motorbike. Explore the small villages between the RICE FIELDS, discover more temples and if you are really lucky the motorbike will broke down and you will use this opportunity to drink and talk to the locals while the bike is being repaired. We had a wonderful experience wit the locals!
There is another funny thing you can do, ride the so-called BAMBOO TRAIN, also known as a NORRY. Its a kind of an IMPROVISED RAIL VEHICLE that operates on the almost abandoned railway tracks. Because of its simple construction it´s quite easy to remove one from the track in case two of them meet. Which does happen often. There is supposed to be only one real train a week coming through on those tracks, and we were just so lucky to see it and move our norry out of the way. It is kind of a tourist attraction, but it´s still kind of unique. I´m not sure something like this exists anywhere else in the world, so why not do it when you are there.
TONLE SAP LAKE
Taking the BOAT RIDE on Tonle Sap lake FROM BATTAMBANG TO SIEM REAP was a story on its own. It took us forever to cross (AROUND 9 HOURS), but the scenery was worth it. Our boat was somehow damaged, therefore we had to make one longer stop and another boat was brought to the banks where we were waiting. Half of our boat had to move to the new one and then we could continue without having to pump the water out of the boat. There was one additional planned lunch stop where the toilet won over the food in the adventure category (peeing directly into the lake through a hole in a wooden pier floor vs. rice noodles).
As I said already, WE DID NOT GO TO THE COAST. Maybe that was a mistake, I guess there are many corners and islands that are still peaceful and pretty much undiscovered. So who knows, maybe that´s a good reason to return one day!
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