ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា; Preah Reachanachâk Kampuchea
When you are thinking of traveling to Cambodia there are three main places that you should put on your must see list: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and the island Koh Rong!
Cambodia is a nation in recovery, carrying the weight of a heavy history with triumphs and defeats that little of the world truly understands. I went to these three different places in the nine days that I was traveling through Cambodia – here’s how you can to do it too!
Day 1-2 Phnom Penh:
*When you arrive*
I flew into Phnom Penh on a hot April afternoon, the airport is very easy to navigate and you effortlessly end up near all the Tuk Tuk’s (taxis) when exiting the building. There is a flat fare from the airport to anywhere you need to go for nine dollars, (Cambodia’s main currency is the US dollar). Before doing that I urge you to get a Cambodian SIM card for your phone. This can be easily done right before you get to the Tuk Tuk’s – for around three dollars I got enough data and calling for the nine days I would be there.
While you are in Phnom Penh you should make it a priority to go to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, also known as the “Killing Fields”, along with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Both of these are emotional places to visit, but the genocide that took place in the not so distant past is beyond horrifying and unfortunately not many people know much about it.
At the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, you are able to walk the grounds of the mass graves with a very informative audio tour while, at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum you can take a guided tour for a dollar more than the entrance fee which I definitely recommend.
You can discuss with your guide their or their parents’ experience with the genocide because every single person you see or meet in your time in Cambodia will have a connection to it. Don’t forget to tip your guide well – we learned that they live off the tips and get very little as an actual wage.
Days 3-7 The Islands:
From Phnom Penh you can take a night bus to Sihanoukville and arrive in the early morning. They will let you get some breakfast at a near by restaurant or nap until the ferry departs to Koh Rong, I think it was close to 8AM.
When you get to Koh Rong you will be greeted with many different slatted plywood buildings taking up a portion of the coastline. You can wander the street there and check the availability – it is difficult to book ahead of time!
We opted for a night of camping on the other side of the island at Koh Rong, Nature Beach. This quiet tent camping spot, was a good place to chill out, make sure to bring your mosquito repellent (!!!), I got the worst bug bites of my travels there!
Take an afternoon hike to the other side of the island where there is a village on the water – be warned, although it is a beautiful walk the villagers did not seem happy when we appeared. When you are adequately relaxed from your time camping you can take the ferry that departs two times a day back to the main pier.
For the remaining nights you should spend some time on the main strip of Koh Rong, joining in on the bar crawl or climbing the steps to their very own “sky bar,” which does have a good view of the water! Although the Bar Crawl was good fun, we also went to a “Half Moon Party” which was dismal at best. I would definitely urge you to pass on it and do the Bar Crawl instead!
When you have explored Koh Rong head over to its little brother island Koh Rong Samleom! This island is smaller than Koh Rong, and it is much less inhabited, there are just a handful of hostels that you can check into when you arrive. The “Fishing Hook” boasts the best sea food on the island – unfortunately it was closed for a three day wedding that was taking place while I was there, but the locals highly recommended it!
Rent a kayak from on of the hostels and paddle your way around the dreamy blue shores, or go snorkeling via jumping of the pier on the far end of the island. Beware of the sea urchins – their huge purple spikes are cool to observe but be careful not to get too close!!
**ask the locals where the luminescent plankton are while you are there, head out to the completely deserted beaches around midnight and swim in the glittery waters**
Days 7-9 Siem Reap:
You can get the ferry from Koh Rong Samleom back to Sihanoukville quite easily just make sure to reserve your spot a day before as the boat fills up! In Sihanoukville just off the pier you can reserve tickets on a night bus to Siem Reap. In a short 12 hours you will arrive, tired but alive!
There are a multitude of party hostels and guest houses in Siem Reap, it shouldn’t be a problem finding one suitable for your preferences. We stayed at the Funky Flashpackers Hostel, it was very nice, a really good place if you want to meet people and hang out by the pool, although there was a constant track of music blasting which after a day got tiresome.
The first day we were there we hired a Tuk Tuk to take us around the city and to the outskirts just so we could get a feel for the land. I would highly recommend doing this, you’ll see more of the countryside and the day to day life that goes on in Cambodia. While you are out make sure to get a sugar cane drink from a vendor on the side of the road! They smash the fresh sugar cane in a press right there and serve it to you over ice. Yum!!
After touring the city relax and rest up for your early start the next day. Even though it seems ambitious waking up at 4AM to see Angkor Wat at sunrise, it is a must do. You can grab a Tuk Tuk anywhere in the city who will happily to take you around the Ruins of Angkor for a price you agree upon, if you don’t want to haggle you can arrange a pick up through your guest house or hostel (just make sure you are arranging this a day prior).
After watching the sunrise your driver will take you do the different ruins of your choosing! There are guides at Angkor Wat who you can pay to tell you a little bit of history about the temple – me, being cheap opted out of the tour but I am totally kicking myself now!! Don’t make the same mistake I did! Also make sure to cover your shoulders and knees as you wont be allowed access to the top part of the temple, sarongs and wraps wont do, they are very strict.
By around 11AM we were exhausted, and “templed out”, it had started to become unbearably hot so we made our way back to the hostel for a nap. Later we headed to Siem Reaps famous Pub Street for dinner and drinks! Before you head out the next day check out the markets in the city! I picked up some beautiful paintings and hand crafted goods.
Overall Cambodia did not disappoint! It was a trip filled with emotional ups and downs, 85 bug bites and memories that will last a life time.