Sourm sva kum! This week I am featuring my travels and experiences in Cambodia. When Landon and I decided to travel to Southeast Asia, we picked the cheapest destination to fly into. That destination happened to be the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“Cambodia? Is that where all the cocaine trafficking is? Where Mr.Crowley taught English for a few years? Oh wait… that’s COLUMBIA. Okay so where is Cambodia then..?”.
So it’s safe to say I knew absolutely nothing about Asia or the country of Cambodia before arriving there. For a few weeks in my mind after booking the flights, I honestly thought Landon was taking me to Columbia for my first backpacking trip. Oddly, I was actually quite happy to be doing so. I thought to myself… well I trust that he will know what he’s doing. But after I brought up some of my concerns about backpacking Columbia he informed me that Columbia was not where we had booked our trip to. Thank goodness… I was relieved and he got a laugh at my poor knowledge in geography.
Later through my own internet research, a few things emerged from my search bar about Cambodia; mosquitoes, poorly conditioned busses, “Happy Pizza” and flesh eating fish. This is all I had to go by when I was packing my 32L backpack.
Spoiler alert! All four of those things did indeed exist in Cambodia.
We flew from Edmonton to Vancouver, Vancouver to Taiwan, and Taiwan to Cambodia. The flights were long, specifically the flight from Vancouver to Taiwan which lasted about 18 hours in itself. Unfortunately Landon had the flu on our way to Asia so it made for some restless flights.
Our last flight from Taiwan to Cambodia was a little sketchy. It was a smaller plan and when attempting to land, we came in with too much tail speed and the pilot had to circle around and attempt another landing (insert foreign captain voice). There wasn’t much of a runway and I was glad that we wouldn’t be flying within Cambodia again for the rest of our trip.
Upon arrival I could immediately feel the wave of heat and humidity hit me like a wall. I was already sweating before I got off the plane, I believe it was around 40 degrees when we landed. As we were standing in line to get our Visa’s, I already noticed the mosquitoes swarming around my legs. Picture me sweating, I’m in in a foreign airport with no windows or doors and I’m being bitten by mosquitoes that might be carrying dengue or malaria. Insert some slight panic. After making it through customs and exiting the airport, I fully expected there to be a swarm of locals trying to scam us of our of money with a taxi to a hostel. This wasn’t quite what happened. We hired a tuk tuk (carriage pulled by a motorbike) driver and had a very pleasant, first experience taking one. The traffic chaos was unavoidable and I was in awe watching all of these motorbikes seamlessly weave around each other at all different directions. The driver ended up taking us to a hostel where we vegged out for the first couple days while Landon recovered from the flu.
The First Few Days
I basically just hid in our hostel room while Landon was sick. I was too scared to leave the room without him. I don’t think we ate anything the first day. After the second day he asked me to go buy us some bottled water. Nervously, I emerged out of our room and went up to the reception to asked to buy some water. Landon gave me the amount of money that he knew it should be and I was successful in my attempt to bring back water… but that was the extent of my adventure the first couple days. It’s such an indescribable experience to be somewhere and have no idea how to speak to anyone or how their currency works. You all of a sudden can relate to how foreigners must feel when they come to Canada and interact with you as an English speaking Canadian. In Cambodia, you get used to two things real fast… the constant repetition of the word “tuk tuk” and how to say “no thank you” in the Khmer language.
We spent 13 days in total in Cambodia. Within these 13 days we were able to travel to: Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kampot, and Siem Reap.
Sihanoukville- Otres Beach
By the Ocean… a backpacker’s paradise. I never wanted to leave. It was by far my favourite spot in Cambodia.
- Sea Garden Space Cookies- Sea Garden is a restaurant/hostel along Otres beach and where I found some edibles known as “space cookies”. Little powerful chunks of goodness, these cookies definitely added to my experience on Otres Beach.
- Mushroom Point Hostel– My favourite hostel on Otres Beach. Landon and I had a private bungalow right beside the Ocean. It was generally cheaper for us to split a private room rather than paying to sleep in communal areas. The bungalows are little mushroom shaped huts up off the ground. We got to wake up each morning to the sound of the waves coming into the shore. Amazing… and cheap! I think about $7 USD each, maybe even less.
- Papa Pipo’s– Pizza!!! The pizza is great, but even more so is their gelato… especially after a space cookie. Landon and I ate here quite a bit during our stay in the Sihanoukville province.
- Coral Beach Island– A boat with “Coral Beach” painted across it waits near the shore every morning to take people to an island known as Koh Ta Kiev. Here we enjoyed a very hot stay on the island in a hammock park. We both slept in military style hammocks for the evening for about $5USD each. The island also has bungalows and a neat slack line park. Worth a night for sure.
Some of our hottest days in Cambodia were spent in Kampot. There was almost no breeze and it was so hot, even the locals seemed to sleep the afternoons off. Despite it being winter when Landon and I were there, the temperatures still reached the high thirties, early forties.
- Wonderland Ice Cream– Two men from France own this Popsicle shop and they are very talented! Hand crafted, the flavours are extremely refreshing for those stiffing +40 degree winter days in Kampot. Landon loved mixing the lime and raspberry ones together. A great spot to check out in Kampot.
- Bokor Mountain– We each rented a motorbike to take up Bokor Mountain. It took me a little bit to get the gist of how a scooter worked and after almost running over a local and breaking my sandal off, I managed to make it up the mountain to experience the breathtaking views. It’s refreshingly breezy at the top of Boker as well. This was a very cool, independent experience. It was certainly one of my highlights of Kampot. You pay a fee to enter the mountain pass, but besides that the excursion is quite cheap. Unfortunately, the Chinese continue to buy up this land and develop resorts on the Mountain, so I don’t know how long this will be a possible activity to do in Kampot.
In Siem Reap we hired a Tuk Tuk driver for the entire day to take us to the temples and around the province. We had a great couple of days in Siem Reap.
- Angkor Wat– Ahh, one of the ancient wonders of the world. Well known for the magnificent view of each morning sunrise coming up over the temple. In my experience the temple was over crowded and lost it’s wonder after you had to push through the eighth crowd of tourists taking photo after photo.
- Bayon Temples– Now this was cool. Instead of watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat, our driver took us to the Bayon Temples just down the road. Since the crowds were busy taking photos of the sun rising over Angkor Wat, Landon and I got to experience the Bayon Temples essentially, just the two of us. This made for a great temple experience that I was more than satisfied with.
- Tonle Sap– In Tonle Sap our Tuk Tuk driver took us into a village where I got to spend time with some of the local Cambodian children. This was my favourite experience by far in Cambodia. During this little trip, we also stopped at a lotus farm for the sunset (pictured as the feature photo of this post). This was super unique and well… I love lotus flowers!
- Wild monkeys- We had our driver take us to where the monkeys can be found hanging out in the trees nears the temples. We pulled over onto the side of the road, bought some bananas… and we waited. Sure enough they soon saw the bunches of yellow goodness and emerged. We fed them bananas and they even drank from our bottles of water. Landon had them play with his GoPro Camera and we got a few videos of them doing so. This was again, another unique experience we had in Cambodia.
Unique to Cambodia
What made Cambodia different from the other countries I travelled to in Southeast Asia? This is where my internet research was solidified.
- Tuk Tuks- The tuk tuks were very different in Cambodia, they were simple and vintage. The tuk tuks only seemed to get bigger and more expensive as you went from country to country in SE Asia. My favourite experiences were in Cambodia.
- $1 Meals and Cheap Cheap Accommodation– Cambodia was by far the cheapest country we travelled in. It doesn’t get better than paying one dollar for an entire meal.
- Outrageously High Temperatures– Cambodia was also by far the hottest country we experienced on our trip. Nothing compared to the heat we felt in Kampot… nothing.
- Night Busses (that broke down often)– Night busses existed only in Cambodia and Vietnam (simply a bus with bunk beds instead of seats) and often the goal was to make the long bus rides quicker… genius idea.. if they actually made it to their destinations without breaking down. So out of the 3 busses that we took in Cambodia, two of them did end up breaking. One broke on our way from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville in the middle of the day where Landon and I hitchhiked the rest of the way. And the other time was from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap where the bus broke down in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. Using a phone light and a pocket knife the drivers attempted to wield the overheated bus back together. Their attempts were unsuccessful and we waited hours for the other bus driver back in the city to wake up and come to our rescue.
- The Ancient Temples– Can’t say we really experienced anything similar to the temples that we did in Cambodia. They were very rustic you could see the age of the history that was made behind them.
- Happy Products– In Cambodia, you can go up to the bar and ask to buy a happy cookie. What a great time and very well known in Cambodia. Simply just edibles, where else in the world can you go get a pot pizza or cookies from a bar?
- The Fish Vendors– Yes, all the Cambodians were trying to get you to pay to get your feet “cleaned and massaged” from these little sucker fish. I actually had my experience in Laos, not in a cesspool of contaminated feet water. The fish were less scary than what I had originally thought and they didn’t make me bleed or bite into my foot skin.. so that was a plus.
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Cambodia was a great place to backpack. I truly enjoyed all of my experiences there and I hope that someday I will find myself back on the beaches of Sihanoukville.
If you are planning to, already have, or just love the idea of travelling Cambodia, drop some comments below. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for stopping in and until next time,