Cambodia | The A-Z
Ok so I’m not actually going to give you an alphabetical list of things to do in Cambodia (ain’t nobody got time for that) but what I will do is share all of my favourite things about this wonderful country.
Firstly, Cambodia has suffered a tragic past. Genocide, drought, poverty and political instability means that Cambodia is decades if not centuries behind the western countries and luxuries that we’re used to. However, the people are kind, strong and curious. Having an understanding of what they have endured will help you to be able to process the way they move and work – it’s like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before!
Undoubtedly my favourite place on Earth, you will have your breath taken away amongst the temples that inspired Tomb Raider and Temple Run. Be prepared for early starts to catch that infamous sunrise and hot days under the sun (don’t be afraid to carry an umbrella, all the Chinese do it). Pub Street is unsurprisingly where you’ll get fed and watered at night and if you wander a few streets further you’ll find artists, sculptors, cooking classes and markets. Beware, the pickpockets and thieves are rife, especially the high-speed moped burglars!
I’ve spent many a day and night in the city, and can even thank it for giving me my first hangover after July 4th celebrations last year. A city of many contrasts, you can live it up on any given rooftop or find your way through the maze-like Russian market. At the top of the to-do list would be The Killing Fields and S21 prison, a historical journey that any tuk-tuk driver will bring you on for US$20. My favourite place to get lunch in Phnom Penh is also a social enterprise and you can read about it here.
This sleepy old town still has that French touch from the once colonised era. Expect to meet many expats, even a man from Kildare called Neil that runs the Irish pub. After spending days volunteering in the wilderness, weekends in Kampot were also a treat because of the plentiful food available. Where to go? The Rusty Keyhole for all the home comforts and Écran, a home cinema that sells 10 delicious dim-sum for US$2. Just buy 30, it’ll save you from having to get up and re-order, they’re that good! Gráinne and I had our first ever yoga experience at the Banteay Srey Spa, an inspiring women’s refuge home. We actually spent a full day here, recovering after our ambitious yoga expectations with massages, veggie food and freshly made smoothies.
While in Kampot, get a tuk-tuk tour around the area and be sure to check out the fishing village of Kep as well as the impressive pepper farms. If the weather is in your favour, make your way over to Rabbit Island for a gander. It’s best to stay overnight in Kampot though, where’s there’s much more action (and food!).
Children with Hope for Development, Takeo
The main reason I ever travelled to Cambodia or even to South East Asia was all down to one faithful Skype call in early 2014 with Sokha Treng, Director of the Cambodian NGO Children with Hope for Development. If you’re thinking of volunteering some of your time to people in need, I couldn’t recommend it more. Or, if you’d like to check out the project and contribute in any way (books for the library, art or sports supplies, funds for the school), take yourself into the heart of Cambodia’s oldest province and be prepared to be the only Westerner around. The dusty cycle through tiny but noisy villages with the local children running past looking for nothing more than a Hi-5 and a “hello” have continuously brought me back to this part of the world, and will keep on doing so for the foreseeable future.
Things can go incredibly well or incredibly bad in Sihanoukville. Unfortunately, I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum! Never ever ever ever ever ever (I hope you’re getting my drift) ever ever ever walk around unnecessarily, especially not if it’s the tiniest bit dark or if you’re carrying a bag. In fact, avoid having a bag at all costs when roaming the city. Keep belongings in your pockets, rock a fanny pack, hide your dollars in your socks. Now, once you’ve gotten over this side of things, be prepared for islands with no names, snorkelling in crystal clear waters, dirt biking up mountains and fantastic food. The last time I visited Sihanoukville I stayed at Ren Resort and it’s possibly the most relaxing place I’ve ever stayed! It’s always an adventure in Cambodia and even though there might be more tourists in this area, it’s no exception to the rule!
- US Dollars is the best currency to have here, as it’s accepted everywhere and is equivalent of 4,000 Cambodian Riels. However, if you’re using large notes ($50, $100) don’t expect to be getting change, as people won’t have it.
- The Mad Monkey hostels are fantastic (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot) and make a big positive impact in all of their local communities.
- Don’t give money to children on the street that are selling souvenirs, it encourages their parents to keep them out of school from a young age to earn money rather than get an education.
- Don’t eat dog.
Enjoy your trip, stay safe and feel free to share any tips that you have in the comments below!