The Friendly Country of Cambodia
A trip to SE Asia for most backpackers will include a stop in Cambodia, which is most famous for the temples of Angkor Wat near Siem Reap. If you have the time there is more to see and do in the friendly country of Cambodia. Here is some information from my travels that may help you along the way.
Language: Khmer Language – (sok sa-bai) How are you? (or-gOOn) thankyou
Currency: Mostly US Dollar but also the Riel (r), 1USD = 4,000r
Climate: May to October is Monsoon season and November to April it dries out and becomes warmer especially towards March and April when temps can reach the high 90’s.
Religion: Theravada Buddhism. See the Monks. (pictured right)
Government: Currently Cambodia is a Constitutional Monarchy, so there is basically a King which is the ruler but must follow a constituton. This is a big step from the communist ruling of the Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia’s largest city with a very suburban feel. Take away the Royal Palace, the temples, and the huge billboards of the King and it could be a city in the States. They drive big Toyota trucks, nice sedans, and even Land Rovers.
Where to Stay: The options for accommodation here are more spread out than most other backpacker friendly cities. There is a cluster of guest houses and restaurants in the center of town near the Independence Monument. The other option is river side area between the Royal Palace and Wat Phnom on the numbered streets 5 to 19.
Eating: Phnom Penh is famous for their Happy Pizza served down at the riverside near the Royal Palace. The special ingredient lies in the sauce and makes you feel a little funny. It will put a smile on your face and if you eat too much you’ll be on the couch laughing. Try the Pink Elephant restaurant and if you’re a light weight have a shake instead of a pizza.
Shopping: I didn’t do any shopping in Phnom Penh but look there is a market in every town. They all pretty much sell the same stuff. Never pay the full price is my advice.
Where to next: Somewhere else in Cambodia, Probably Angkor Wat. The problem with Cambodia is that there is not a good path through it to hit all the sites without having to come back through Phnom Penh (P.P) See Side Trips Below.
The majority of people will take a trip from P.P to either the Ratanakiri Province in NE Cambodia or to the Sihanoukville area to the southwest of P.P.
- Ratanakiri Province is known for its great trekking opportunities- there are jungles, a volcanic lake, and some indigenous people known as Chunchiets. They are basically ignored by the government and rely solely on land by farming what nature gives to them. (bananas, pineapple, sugar cane, and coffee among other crops) If you’re looking for waterfalls and lush green forests then head to Banlung and from there you can jump on a tour or plan your own trip into Virachey National Park. (If you are heading into Cambodia from Laos via Pakse or vice versa then this area will be a worthwhile stop)
- Sihanoukville is a closer side trip to P.P and is popular for its beaches. Since I had just been at every beach in Vietnam and was heading to the Thai Islands I decided to forgo the beaches of Cambodia and make a trip to Koh Kong for a village stay with some locals.
- The Koh Kong trip was one of the coolest experiences I had while in SE Asia. Check out the pictures and read the story on my blog….
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
This is obviously the main attraction of Cambodia and for that matter one of the most amazing places in all of SE Asia, maybe the world. I have been to that place in Peru (Macchu Picchu) and it doesn’t hold up to the temples of Angkor Wat. There are just so many and they are spread out over such a large area.
Where to Stay: Siem Reap is the town you stay in when visiting Angkor Wat. There are two clusters of guest houses here. One is in the center of town, here you are surrounded by bars and restaurants and you may not be able to sleep at night because of the noise. I opted for the quieter area which is in the North East of town across the river from the Royal Residence and south of National Route 6.
What to do: Go to Angkor Wat of course, read my blog article
Eating and Drinking: It’s all concentrated in the center of town surrounding the market called Psar Chas. Because Siem Reap is the largest tourist town in Cambodia there is a lot of western food and prices are a bit higher. For cheaper restaurants search outside of the center of town, particularly east of the river.
Where to next: Depends where you came from. But the two obvious choices are Bangkok or Phnom Penh.