On our five-month long trip throughout Southeast Asia, we allotted roughly a week and a half to explore the Kingdom of Cambodia.
We hadn't really researched too much about the country, so our expectations were few. What we've come to discover, though, is Cambodia has a lot more to offer than the infamous Angkor Wat Archaeological Park (although it is marvelous in its own right.) With that being said, we're going to give you an outline of our stay in the country!
Phnom Penh (Days 51-53)
The first few days we stayed in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. We found ourselves at the Billabong Hostel, easily one of the best hostels we've stayed at thus far. From there, sketching out a rough itinerary was super easy, due to the pamphlets of information sparing no reccomendations throughout the hostel lobby.
Lots of must-see attractions in Phnom Penh are located in close proximity to one another, and are easy to walk to (if you can stand the sweltering heat.) We battled through it ourselves, only opting for a tuk-tuk once or twice.
With a few days in Phnom Penh, here's what we did!
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The Kingdom of Cambodia has a dark and twisted past that's essential to learn about when it comes to understanding the country's history.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S-21, was a former secondary school turned death camp. During the Khmer Rouge regime, it has been estimated that over 20, 000 people were victims at S-21.
Walking through the courtyard and abandoned rooms, it was hard to imagine being in such circumstances. Torture devices had been left as they were found, blood stains splattered on the walls and all. To say the least, it was gruesome.
We opted for the audio tour and reccomend you do the same; there's no way you'll be able to learn as much on your own just walking around.
Wat Phnom Temple
This seemed to be a big attraction in the area, so we payed a visit in the early morning hours. For a $1 foreigner tax, we were permitted access to the temple grounds. There wasn't much to be seen here, but the people inside Wat Phnom were banging on drums and making some pleasant music.
National Museum of Cambodia
Markets are nothing new to us by now, but this one right down the street from our hostel grabbed our attention. All shops are located under a dome structure, shielding merchants and customers from the elements. We thought it was pretty neat, but not really worth checking out if you're strapped for time - unless you were looking to buy a knockoff Rolex, of course.
Every palace we've visited so far seems to occupy tons of space but remain vacant other than the occasional tour groups passing through. The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was no exception. They had just closed at 1100 when we were passing by, so we didn't get a chance to see inside. It looked pretty interesting from the outside, though!
This spot was so good that it deserves a specific mention.
There's not a whole lot of plant-based restaurants in Phnom Penh, but we managed to come across not only a veggie-friendly establishment, but also one of the best places we've been to on our trip so far.
Sabay Vegilicious used to specialize in serving dog meat, but they've since parted ways with that niche and are now focused on creating wholesome and nutritious plant-based cuisine.
Our favorite dish was the tofu coconut amok. Paired with brown rice, veggie spring rolls, and iced coffee with soybean milk, it makes for a delicious meal.
Smack-dab in the center of the city stands a monument erected to memorialize the Kingdom of Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. We were unaware of that at time we passed by, but discovered it upon writing this.
We likened the experience to foreigners strolling around Washington D.C. and Capitol Hill, ignorant of past US history. Regardless of your heritage, it will greatly enhance your experience if you learn a couple facts about the places you're visiting!
Same as the Independence Monument, we had no idea of the implication of this statue upon passing. We came to find out that it was built in the late 1970s and stands as a commemoration of Vietnamese and Cambodian people.
Finding ourselves ready to move on from the city life, we booked a bus through the Billabong Hostel to Sihanoukville. Munching on our breakfast the next morning, we were informed our bus had arrived earlier than expected. Taking one last bite of our granola, we grabbed our backpacks and rushed onboard - only to sit at a tourist information center for a 30 minutes, waiting for the actual bus.
Once it had arrived, ourselves and other passengers climbed onboard to endure a five-hour journey to Sihanoukville. Halfway through the trip, we pulled over for a quick pit-stop at a rest area, grabbed some fried rice and thereby received a complimentary "foreigner tax." Hunger curbed for the meantime, we found ourselves back on the bus for the last leg of the trip.
We woke from our daze in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. Once we'd stopped, it was only a ten minute walk to the pier, from which we purchased two tickets to paradise. With an hour to kill, we chowed down on some expensive Khmer food alongside the water. When 1430 rolled around, we were seated on the ferry, ready to go.
The ferry had stopped at a couple other beaches along the way, but an hour or so later we were moored pierside, more or less, at Koh Touch. Grabbing our belongings, we set out to find our bungalow and drop our bags off.
Koh Rong Island (Days 53-54)
When you picture tropical beaches, Cambodia probably isn't the first place that comes to mind. Usually overshadowed by its neighbor Thailand or other places like Hawaii, Cambodia boasts equally majestic beaches that can give either aforementioned destination a run for their money.
Koh Rong island is actually home to over twenty beaches, but we found ourselves at Koh Touch beach. It is one of the most popular beaches among travelers, but it still seems sparsely populated - minus a small concentration of bars, restaurants, and guesthouses right in the center. When we were there, quite a bit of construction was going on, leading us to believe that this island will be jam-packed with tourists in no time.
If one desired some real solitude, it would only take a brief trek into the dense jungle to achieve that. Informing someone of your intentions beforehand might be a wise idea, for it's not uncommon for people to get lost. Make sure to bring some bug spray, though!
Either way, we found ourselves staying at the Mad Monkey Bungalow Resort.
For a mere $5, we relaxed in handcrafted beach bungalows and sipped banana smoothies while feeling the cool ocean breeze. There's no hot water, AC, or proper bathrooms available at the majority of accommodations on the beach, but these were minor inconveniences for us; after all, we were staying on a tropical island for only a few bucks!
The food here at Mad Monkey was decent, and the views are unreal - so that's two thumbs up from us!
What did we end up doing in Koh Rong?
The island had no shortage of activities. Diving, kayaking, fishing, and island-hopping were among the most advertised tours, with ziplining and jungle-trekking coming in a close second. We found it amusing that people would venture far out to an island, only to get right back off of it! To each their own, of course.
We recharged on the beach
During our visit to the island, we chose to find ourselves a shady patch along the shore, and alternate between napping and swimming in the warm gulf water all day. We unplugged, relaxed, and did absolutely nothing - and felt great about it.
The truth is that the hectic pace of travel can be a bit much at times. With always being on the go, exploring new places and sampling new cuisines, our daily habits can easily begin to slip. By taking a moment to breathe and get mindful, we allowed ourselves time to recharge before heading back on the road. What better place to do such a thing then on the beach?
We came to find out soon after that loafing around in the beating sun all day with no sunblock was, in fact, a bad idea. Our skins turned an unmistakeable pink color and were sensitive to the touch. Luckily, we saw a spa along the beach advertising aloe vera sunburn massages for $15, and it was not long before we were in the queue.
An hour-long massage underneath a shady hut, all while hearing the gentle lapping of waves against the beach, provided us with unbelievable tranquility and left our bodies and minds at ease.
Eating a delicious plant-based dinner was next on the agenda, followed by strolling along the beaches gazing at the sunset one last time. We arranged our ferry ticket for the next day at 0900, and finished the remainder of the evening chilling out at the bungalow.
The next day...
Taking our sunburns and bug bites elsewhere, we hopped on a ferry bound for Sihanoukville. From there, we had a bumpy two-hour ride to the city of Kampot. Roads, or lack thereof, made the ride quite interesting. Huge potholes had the bus bouncing the whole time, and the lack of driving laws made for an exciting trip.
Here in Cambodia, it seems like all of the vehicles like to play chicken; driving opposite directions, they see who is first to move out of the way. We'd speed past dump trucks, only to be a few feet from a head-on collision with another one! Our driver handled the bus smoothly, though, and we all arrived safely in Kampot.
Kampot (Days 55-56)
Stepping off the bus, we didn't feel like we were in Cambodia anymore. This city was much cleaner and organized than the others we'd visited, which was a nice change of pace. It was reminiscent of our time in Da Lat(link) with its French colonial architecture.
Not too enthusiastic about visiting a pepper farm or taking a tour to the national park, we found ourselves lounging at the Monkey Republic hostel. Taking advantage of the high-speed wi-fi and AC (both luxuries in Cambodia), we posted up and plugged in our phones and laptops and got to work.
We typed all morning until our fingers were numb, leaving us ready for a break. Keeping our health in mind, we looked up the nearest gym. It was a 30 minute hike to get there and a couple cents to enter a warehouse full of scattered, old equipment. Making do with the rusty machines and tattered benches, we were able to squeeze in a full-body workout within an hour. Stopping at a random restaurant on our way back to the hostel, we were pleasantly surprised at the value we'd received. Stir-fried morning glory and some noodle dishes were what we enjoyed for dinner.
We ended up arranging a bus ticket to Siem Reap for 0700 the next morning, from where we planned to spend the next few days.
Siem Reap (Days 58-61)
After an all-day bus ride, we eventually reached Siem Reap. Our first priority was getting situated at the Noni Tree Hostel . Once all that was said and done, we ventured out for some dinner. Right down the street was a great restaurant, saving us the hassle of running around browsing menus. Afterward, we headed back to get some rest for the upcoming day at Angkor Wat.
Tired from the day prior, we didn't end up waking early enough to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Rather, we grabbed a tuk-tuk around 0800 and arrived around a half hour later.
We saw the legendary Angkor Wat Archaeological Park
For the longest time, we've wanted to visit Angkor Wat and see it up close and in person. Finding ourselves in Siem Reap and a short tuk-tuk ride away, we were able to actualize this fantasy and witness this ancient archaeological masterpiece ourselves.
Stepping back into time and crawling through crumbling tombs and decrepit temples, we viewed centuries of history etched and carved into the hardened stone around us. Belief systems that stood the test of time; nearly inconceivable constructs of the human psyche manifested in physical form; impeccable craftsmanship void of modern construction tools.
All we had to say was... wow.
Reflecting diachronically upon these temple grounds, we found a mirrored image. Although distant on a chronological timeline, much of our daily life is irrevocably similar. Aside from modern technological and societal advancements, our core human nature still holds firm.
An attempt can be made to describe the awe this place evokes in words, yet justice will not be met. Rather, we can try to share the experience through a few photos.
After knocking out the biggest thing we'd planned in Siem Reap, we spent the next day wandering through the city streets. Spending an extra day with no particular objective in mind allowed us to experience the city for what it was worth, instead of blazing right through and moving on to the next destination.
The next day, we hopped on a bus bound for Bangkok, Thailand in the early morning, waving goodbye to Cambodia and the life-long memories we'd made.