At the end of April, after leaving Sri Lanka I decided to go travel around Cambodia for 10 days before starting my 300hr Yoga Teacher Training in Kho Phangan, Thailand.
Cambodia is a wonderful country with beautiful scenery, culture and nature. With a dark history from the Khmer Rouge as well as a deeply spiritual place with its many temples, Cambodia is definitely an interesting country to go visit. There is quite a lot to go see in Cambodia. Because I was only here for 10 days this was my itinerary for the trip I took ticking off some of the main attractions I was drawn to.
Day 1-3 Siem Riep
From Sri Lanka, I landed in Siem Reap the capital and 2nd largest city in Cambodia. It is easy to get around the city of Siem Reap by walking or by taking a tuk tuk. The airport is only a 20 minute tuk tuk ride away from the city centre so it is easy to arrange transport to your hotel when you arrive. There are many hotels to choose from with many range of prices. I decided to stay in a private room at the Onederz Siem Reap Hostel for my stay. It is one of the popular hostel chains around Cambodia geared up for travellers. The Siem Reap location has 2 pools and great reasonably priced food in the restaurant and bar. You can meet many other travellers here with its sociable environment, however it is noisy with music constantly playing in the main pool, and restaurant area. The private rooms are located opposite the road which are more quieter if you want to quiet time to yourself, so you can have a balance of both which works well for me.
The main attraction that brought me to Siem Riep was to go explore the temples of Angkor Wat. I booked a one day sunrise tour through Tripadvisor. The tour included pick up from your hotel in the early morning and being driven round the main temple sites in an air conditioned mini bus with a guide. This is the way I would definitely recommend seeing the main temples because as the day goes on it gets hotter and hotter when you reach midday. While visiting the temples you are already spending much time in the sun and heat, so having some relief in an air conditioned vehicle is much advised. The tour does not include your main entry to Angkor Wat which you buy at the entrance at the beginning of the tour. The ticket is valid for 48 hours. This tour also includes a very good english speaking guide who is very knowledgeable and shares with you lots of interesting facts about Angkor Wat and the temples. We visited the 5 sites; Angkor Wat,Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo and Angkor Thom.
Seeing the sun rise of Angkor Wat was a spectacular moment especially watching the sunrise over the temple. Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Hindu Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, but then was transformed to a Buddhist Temple, then back to Hinduism. The Temple is perfectly aligned with the earth's axis, aligning it with the universe and there are 4 large pools in the middle of the temple representing the elements wind, water, fire and earth. The family would use them to bath in to balance out their energy. During our tour we also visited 3 other Temples in the Angkor Wat complex; Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. All of the temples were really interesting and our guide was very knowledgeable explaining a lot about each temple. If you are interested in understanding more about the temples I highly recommend getting a guide. There were 5-6 of us in our group tour, some solo, some pairs. Socially it was a great experience to connect with others and share the day together.
After a long hot morning exploring Angkor Wat I recommend spending time relaxing back at your hotel or hostel and grabbing some food to eat. Siem Reap had some great vegetarian restaurants including New Leaf Eatery and Vitking House. For traditional khmer food at a great price, Khmer Taste Restaurant is a good and popular choice.
For the next day in Siem Reap, you can wander round the city and check out the markets. I decided to go to a yoga class at Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel during the day. Afterwards, because your Angkor Wat ticket is valid for 48 hours you can go back to the Angkor Wat complex and explore a couple more temples. I decided to do this around sunset and hired a tuk tuk to drop me off and take me back from Phnom Bakheng. Phnom Bakheng is a popular temple to watch the sunset. The temple is open till late with a nice 30 minute walk up the hill to get to it. In the evening if you like to drink and party, head to Pub Street for some night life. This isn't particularly my vibe, however it's an experience to check out and walk through the street, whether you want to participate in the action or not.
Day 3- 7 Koh Rong Samloem Island
After time in the city, I felt ready to spend some time slowing down relaxing on the beach. Koh Rong Samloem Island is the perfect place to do this. The quieter of the two islands, there are no vehicles on Koh Rong Samloem. The ferry drops you off at the port and you literally walk along the beach to whatever accommodation you have booked. The place is simple, stripped back, slow and easy. Only the necessities are available here otherwise take time to relax, dip in the sea and enjoy the nature.
To get to Koh Rong Samloem from Siem Reap, I took the night bus to Sihanoukville which is a popular choice for many people and was a real experience. Book your bus and ferry ticket through Bookaway, however my tip is to book 2 spots, otherwise you will be sharing your small bed with another person. This is what I had to do for my journey. Because your beds are very small it was not so comfortable sharing, however I was thankful I was sharing with another female solo traveller, but you may risk the chance of sharing your bed with someone you do not feel comfortable sharing with. Arriving in the early morning into Sihanoukville, take a tuk tuk ride to the ferry port where you can board the ferry to take you over to Koh Rong Samloem island. Many other people on the night bus were making the same journey so it is easy to make friends and navigate your way. On the night bus, I met 5 other lovely travellers who were all staying in the same hotel as I was.
During my stay in Koh Rong Samloem I stayed at Sara Resort which is a popular choice. Because it is such a small island there isn't too much choice of accommodation with the majority of the choice lie along the front of Saracen Bay. If you decide to choose accommodation on the other side of the island, make sure you are able to carry your luggage by yourself through the jungle as it is about a 25-30 minute walk and there are no vehicles on the island.
Saracen Bay is where you will find the most amenities. There are a few nice places to eat along the beach, because it is an island everything has to be imported so be ready to pay a little bit extra. I also do not remember there being an atm or place to get cash so bring enough for your stay. There are one or two small minimarts however they do not offer many things so again bring as much as you can to the island for your stay. There is also no shop selling fresh fruit (something I always look for while travelling) so either bring some over before you leave or be prepared to pay for the luxury of a fruit plate.
There isn't too much to do on Koh Rong Samloem, so take time to really slow down, enjoy the island and chill. Things you can do is go on a snorkelling trip which is something I did with a couple of people I met there. We went on a private tour since there were a few of us where they took us to a place to snorkel. The water in Kho Rong Samloem is really calm and nice for snorkelling to see the fishies. We also spent time on the boat in the middle of the ocean doing some fishing. Unfortunately we didn't catch anything, but it was good fun.
Another beautiful thing to do on the island is to take a walk to Sunset Beach for sunset. A 20-30 minute walk through the middle of the island, take time absorbing the earthy nature (bring mosquito spray) where you will find a very quiet and untouched beach with only a couple of beach bungalows along it. Take a sunset swim in the ocean and soak up the moments. Other things you can do on Kho Rong Samloem are take a boat tour to see the bioluminescent plankton at night, or do another walk or hike to visit the waterfall or the lighthouse. Ask your hotel for a map for the walks or hikes around the island. I also would recommend to do the walks not during the hottest part of the day.
Day 7-10 Phnom Penh
After enjoying some time on Koh Rong Samloem I made my way to the capital of Cambodia Phnom Penh. Getting to Phnom Penh from Koh Rong Samloem was an interesting adventure. The ferry back to the main island ran smoothly however the minivan bus ride I booked with the hotel to the mainland was a little bit sketchy. I have heard from other fellow travellers that I met up with in again in Phnom Penh who booked their transport with bookaway that they had slightly smoother trip with more tourists on board their ride. My experience however was slightly different. After waiting for a long time at the ferry office, I was taken to a part of Sihanoukville which could be described as a 'bus station' which was just a few shacks with some plastic chairs and signs outside. I waited there for maybe 2 hours by myself before a mini van came along to start my journey. For a while I was the only person in the minivan along with the driver and one lady who was part of staff. They didn't speak any english which was a little bit nerve wracking as it felt a little bit I could have been kidnapped. But I put my trust in these people and kept telling myself I was safe and going to be transported to Phnom Penh. I tracked the journey using google maps and we were travelling in the right direction. During the 4-6 hour journey (I don't actually remember how long it was, but I remember it getting dark) we picked up other local passengers along the way. No-one spoke any english and we stopped for a toilet and food break at some sort of service station along the road. Eventually I could see on my phone that we were near and heading towards Phnom Penh and in the darkness and city lights I could sigh with relief as I finally got dropped off at my hotel.
Phnom Penh is a great city to walk around and take in how the locals live. It is busy and vibrant. Take a walk through along the river at sunset and through the parks and gardens to soak up the atmosphere. Grab some local street food while you are out and about. If nightlife is your thing this can be found in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh has a busy night market with street food and shops and it even has a red light district which is interesting to pass through seeing the Cambodian go go girls. I did feel a little uncomfortable in this sketchy part of the city, but is worth seeing if you are curious. My favourite find as a place to eat in Phnom Penh was David's Homemade Noodles, you can see them make your noodles at the front of the shop while you eat. It is a popular place so be ready to share a table or wait for a table to become available, but I definitely recommend the noodle soup and the homemade dumplings.
The two main attractions which are a must if you want to understand more about the Cambodian Culture and its dark recent history are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (AKA the Prison) and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (AKA The Killing Fields). The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is the memorial site of the S-21 interrogation and detention center of the Khmer Rouge regime which happened between 1975-1979. Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is one of the many 'Killing Field' sites in Cambodia where collectively over a million people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge Regime.
Many do both of these historic places in a day, however the events that happened at these places can be quite heavy on the heart and soul. I did the Prison solo on one day and took a tuk tuk with some friends I met in Kho Rong Samloem to the Killing Fields the other day. This was better for me to absorb the barbaric events that happened at these places during that period in time. You can rent a guide at both the Killing Fields and the Prison if you want to know more about the history and the ongoings during the genocide. There is quite a lot of written information while walking round the prison, but not so much at the The Killing Fields. Even though I was filled with sadness about the horrors that went on at these two sites, it was extremely interesting to learn about and gain knowledge about the Cambodian History and if I return would hire a guide to learn more.
So that was my trip to Cambodia, I look back on it with great memories and really enjoyed the cultural travel experience full of adventures. I got to tick off Angkor Wat on my bucket list of places to visit and learn much about the Cambodian history as well as take some time to slow down enjoy the peace and beauty of Kho Rong Samloem. There are many many other spectacular places to visit in Cambodia, but for 10 days this was a great mix for me. Would you go visit Cambodia, what would be on your highlight list?