OK, so if you’ve been keeping track then you’ll know that so far on my travel diary, I’ve done 10 days in Myanmar, one week in Laos. Next up in my Southeast Asian adventures is two weeks in Cambodia.
I had been anticipating a trip to Cambodia ever since I first moved to Asia, so this part of my trip was definitely a treat for me. For a detailed itinerary of my trip, you can read my previous post on Cambodia travel advice.
Here is my travel diary from my two weeks in Cambodia:
Day 1 – Vientiane, Laos to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After an intense one-week fling with my new lover, Laos, I was now ready to head to my next destination. I started my two weeks in Cambodia in Phnom Penh, flying into the capital city.
I found the transfer to my hostel in the arrivals hall and my driver was a chatty local from the Kampot region with incredible English. He gave me some good tips for visiting the area later in my trip.
I will preface this next part by stating that I have absolutely no sponsorship or affiliation with the hotel, but Billabong Hostel is hands down the best hostel I have ever stayed in. For a bargain US$7 per night, the spacious dorms were a dream, the bathrooms were amazing (and spotlessly clean!), there were activities on every evening, there was a bar and – to top it all off – a swimming pool!
After settling in, I took up a recommendation from my battered Lonely Planet for a meal at Mama’s Restaurant. Walking to the restaurant was no easy task as I was learning how Phnom Penh’s infamous traffic was hectic no matter what time of day it is.
Mama’s Restaurant looked more like a hole than a hole in the wall, though it was a family-run place, as three generations of the same family were waiting tables. I ordered my first Cambodian dish; fish amok. It was delicious. People had told me that Cambodian food was really good and this had confirmed it.
It was a great start to my two weeks in Cambodia and I was excited for what would happen next.
Day 2 – Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
So, in my somewhat haphazard planning of these two weeks in Cambodia, I had gotten a little carried away with booking buses. I ended up travelling back and forth to Phnom Penh rather than taking a more logical or linear route.
Therefore, on my second day in the country and the city, I was already off on a bus to Siem Reap. This was the part of the trip I was most excited about, as I was desperate to see the ancient city of Angkor and watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat.
The journey between the cities took six hours and on arrival it was very apparent how different the cities were. Whereas Phnom Penh had been a sprawling, car-beeping metropolis, Siem Reap didn’t quite know what it was. On the one hand, it’s the gateway to Angkor and on the other, there’s Pub Street.
After settling in at Oasis Capsules, I rounded my second day of Cambodia off with a hearty Khmer curry on said Pub Street and made a plan for visiting Angkor the next day.
Day 3 – The Ancient City of Angkor aka Real-life Temple Run
I started my day nice and early, leaving my hostel at a painful 4am on an old bike that I had rented for the day for US$3. It was unnerving cycling to the Angkor Ticket Office in the dark down unlit streets and the building is inexplicably the other side of town from the Angkor entrance.
I suffered some mild bruising from some surprise potholes, but I knew I was heading in the right direction when I saw tuk-tuks speeding past with more sensible tourists than me in the back seats.
Even at 5am when the Ticket Office opened, there was a huge queue. Luckily, there was also a coffee and cake shop. Smart. I paid a hefty US$20 for my day ticket (with photo) and worked my little legs back on my bike to get to Angkor Wat before dawn broke.
I made it just in time. However, it turns out that everyone else did too, all 20 million of them. Although Angkor Wat is the perfect scenic spot for watching the sunrise, the catch is that you definitely won’t be alone.
As the crowds converged, I decided to try a different route and explored the temple’s interior and grounds, finding hidden spaces that I had all to myself.
This was the start of my epic ‘temple run’, which included cycling around ancient city and visiting 10 temples in Angkor in one day. This is quite a feat when you consider that the staff in my hostel recommended five and my guidebook claimed I would only manage three.
By 4pm I was spent. Drenched in sweat and struggling to keep the pedals turning on my bike, I admitted defeat and cycled back into town, dodging the day’s traffic along the way. Back in Siem Reap, I treated myself to a thali at Curry Walla and couldn’t stop guzzling water.
That evening’s shower may have been the best of my life.
Day 4 – Too Ruined to Do Anything, Siem Reap
Absolutely ruined (geddit?) from my 50km+ temple run/bike ride, I spent most of the following day in a hipster coffee in a trendy Western café treating myself to Western comfort foods such as smashed avo on toast.
By nightfall, I just about worked up the energy to explore the markets, though I hadn’t the strength for haggling.
Having lost a pair of shorts to hostel laundry and having finally realised that most Southeast Asian sights require you to cover your knees (put those sexy knees away!), I ended up buying a pair of the ubiquitous baggy ‘traveller’s pants’.
No elephants on them though; that would have been taking the stereotype too far.
Day 5 – From Siem Reap Back to Phnom Penh
Another day, another long-haul bus journey. This time, it back to Phnom Penh. I arrived back at Billabong – the Holy Grail of Hostels – late afternoon, just in time for some tropical rain. The kind that soaks you through to the bone.
Once the skies had cleared, I ventured over to the Phnom Penh Night Market for some stall snooping, sipping on freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice and nibbling at cheap eats.
Now, I’ve been to my fair share of Asian night markets, but Phnom Penh’s has some character! Karaoke, street performances, vendors yelling, rugs on the floor for people to sit and eat… it was a beautiful chaos.
Days 6 & 7 – Museum Days in Phnom Penh
Back in Phnom Penh, I was ready to see the city properly. I had explored Angkor, so now I was working my way up through to the modern ages through the city’s museums.
I started at the National Museum; a stunning red building with beautiful courtyards. Although, the architecture itself was actually more impressive than the exhibitions. However, I was particularly taken in by an exhibition on Cambodian soldiers who had fought in World War II for France.
Next was a visit to the Royal Palace. If the National Museum was stunning, the palace buildings were spectacular! The palace grounds were a visual feast, though there was little information available without paying extra for a guide, so I felt like I didn’t really learn anything.
The following day, my education on Cambodian history turned to the Khmer Rouge. This included visits to the Genocide Museum at the Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21) site as well as the Killing Fields.
I didn’t know much about the Khmer Rouge before I came to Cambodia. Only that a lot of violence happened under the regime, led by Pol Pot, and that many people had died. I brought along some tissues, ready to shed a tear or two, but the experience was more sobering than upsetting.
Tuol Sleng Prison is very hard to visit, so I was glad I went there first. Later in the day, I made my way to Choeung Ek, the site of the Killing Fields. The memorial monument was very moving and the surrounding grounds were surprisingly peaceful despite the terrible history of the place.
Day 8, 9 & 10 – Chilling in Kampot
Halfway on my journey from Phnom Penh to Kampot, I learnt that Donald Trump had been elected the next president of the United States. It was all everyone on the bus was talking about and everyone in The Magic Sponge‘s bar too once I had arrived (yep, that’s the actual name of the hostel I stayed in).
After my previous day’s visits, I couldn’t help but think about what happens when power gets into the wrong hands. There was a big storm my first night in Kampot, which kept me awake most of the night. I couldn’t help thinking that it was an omen.
Anyway, after several weeks of city-hopping and sight-seeing, I was finally in Kampot. This was the first stop on my Southeast Asian trip that I had dedicated to chill time. Kampot is a lazy village by the river where people come to just relax. It was a slow-paced few days, where I sat in cafes and read and wrote, watching the river go by.
One evening I took a sunset boat cruise along the river. The weather had been cloudy and grey after the storm, so I wasn’t sure how much this sunset was going to be worth it. However, you can see from the pictures (which don’t even do it justice) that the colours were vivid and intense.
After the sun went down, the driver turned off the lights and cut the engine. I wondered what he was doing until I saw him point into the bushes at the glowing fireflies.
Day 11 & 12 – Sihanoukville
(no pictures and with good reason)
With my energy levels replenished with a few days in Kampot, I was ready to tackle a couple of beach days in nearby Sihanoukville, on the coast. However, Sihanoukville was not the quaint, pretty seaside town I had been led to believe, but was in fact more like Magaluf, complete with drunken crowd of backpackers.
I strolled down to ‘Serendipity Beach’, which came highly recommended in my Lonely Planet. The thing is, my Lonely Planet is five years out of date and the beach was anything but serendipitous!
The water was filthy, the sand was full of rubbish and local vendors would not leave me alone. Like Vang Vieng, I felt like I had fallen into the wrong kind of tourist trap, but I guess not everywhere I visit on my trip can be my favourite place!
I cheered myself up with an ice coffee in a café by the waterfront and enjoyed the sea breeze. It was nice being back by the coast again, though it had only been a few weeks since I’d last been by the sea, back in Hong Kong. I wondered how I was going to survive being back inland moving back to Birmingham!
Grossed out by the state of the beach and the town itself, I spent the rest of my time in Sihanoukville lazing by the One Stop hostel pool and Skyping home.
Day 13 & 14 – Two Weeks in Cambodia Come to an End
I had inadvertently booked my bus back to Phnom Penh on the day of ‘Water Festival’, which meant that the bus had to drop us at the airport rather than in town. Although, as I took a tuk-tuk into town with a few of the other passengers, I couldn’t see anything to do with the festival.
After nightfall, the palace was lit up and I could hear fireworks going off everywhere.
I was a brilliant send off for my two weeks in Cambodia. The next day, I hopped on a bus bound for Vietnam, ready to explore the next part of my trip in Ho Chi Minh City.
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