“He who kisses joy as it flies by will live in eternity’s sunrise.” – William Blake
Cambodia taught me more life lessons than I care to admit. So, I’ve decided to pass on some of the information I learned while I was visiting. Here are the IF 7 Top Tips to Visiting Cambodia.
The one thing that struck me most about Cambodia was when we arrived at the boarder and we all got off the night bus we had taken from Bangkok and lined up to buy our visas (Visas are available on arrival for around $10 and last 30 days, for Irish citizens anyway) was the contrast. Thailand is a relatively well off country in South East Asia and when you cross the boarder – everything changes. I certainly wasn’t expecting them to be the same but there’s a huge contrast between Thai people’s standard of living and the Cambodians. It’s definitely something to look out for when you’re making your way there – it’s so interesting to see one style of life on one side of a road and on the other, you see a completely different style of living.
The Angkor Temples are a another UNESCO World Heritage site. I love a good UNESCO World Heritage Site – I’ve written about ones that I’ve visited in Barcelona and Jordan already – and there are more to come too! Angkor Temples are some of the most important temples in all of South East Asia, and that’s saying something when you consider just how many temples there are there. There are over a thousand temples – so my first tip would be to choose which temples you want to see and/or get a guide. A guide who will also act as chauffeur for the day and drive you from your hostel to the site and then from each temple to the next costs around $20-30 for one day.
We went to see an abundance of temples and I think, in order to avoid temple fatigue, you should decide whether or not you’re going to do a one or two day visit. And I would recommend doing a maximum of 5 temples in a day. If you have a guide they’ll explain which temples are the most popular and bring you to them. Our guide was amazing (if not a little bit too political!) but he brought us to all of the most popular temples as well as some extras.
My favourites temples were:
- Angkor Wat – I’d recommend getting to the temples before sunrise to see the sun coming up behind this impressive temple and to beat (some of) the crowds.
- Bayon Temple – This temple is iconic for the giant sculptures and the wonderful photo ops!
- Ta Prohn – You’ll recognise this one from Tomb Raider. This was by far one of the most impressive temples I’ve ever seen. Every building has a monstrous tree growing over, around or through it. It’s amazing.
- Preah Khan – This originally served as a Buddhist temple. Like Ta Prohm, it has tree roots covering almost every building.
- Baphuon Temple – This temple has some beautiful statues that have been impeccably preserved and all of which have hungreds of flowers and trinkets dedicated to Buddha laying nearby – it’s gorgeous.
We were in Cambodia during the Low Season (which lasts from May til October) and it meant that is was roasting hot and humidity was extremely high every day. The trip to Angkor Wat is a long day out and you’re exposed to the sun in the middle of the day. Make sure to bring suncreen with you, lots of water to drink and finally (and most importantly) when visiting any temples in South East Asia, you should dress modestly. Be sure to cover your shoulders and your knees out of respect, but it will also shield you from the midday sun.
The Cambodian people have to be the friendliest and most smiley people I’ve ever come across. Everyone was so welcoming and delighted to see us – daily we would have people shouting “Hello!” from across the street.
However, you must beware of the children selling souvenirs and postcards because they are ordinarily organised beggers controlled by local criminal gangs. Any money that you give them will be taken off them and it won’t actually help the children at all. This broke my heart, but sadly it is a fact and you should try your hardest not to give in because you’re not helping them you might actually be hindering their life because you’re an aid to organised begging which means it will continue.
Get a history lesson at Choeung Ek Killing Fields. On an even more sombre note than the poor street children I think, as devastating as it it, it’s extremely important that everyone visits the Genocide Centre in Phnom Penh. I balled crying the whole way around it, but I had never been taught anything about the Genocide conducted by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot in Cambodia before in my life and it’s so important that we learn about these atrocities. Not only that but it adds to the tourism in Cambodia which means that the people that survived and the next generations have an extra form of income which is a small feat considering the devastation that took place there.
Use Tuk Tuks as your form of transportation. Tuk Tuks or moto taxis are some of the best (and sometimes the only) form of transport in Cambodia. The drivers are usually extremely friendly, speak English and they’ll tell you more information about whatever you want to know. Our Tuk Tuk driver on the way to Choeung Ek even provided face masks for us when he felt it was getting unusually smoggy.
On a lighter note, my sixth tip is to wander, wander, wander! We were in Phnom Penh for a little bit longer than we had planned while we waited for a travel agent there to sort out our visas to get into Vietnam. But, I’m so glad we did. It meant that we got to spend time wandering the streets of Phnom Penh, getting to know the people and trying their famous gelato! There is a fantastic gelato place in the city called The Blue Pumpkin and I couldn’t recommend it more. Their gelato is to die for and they have the coolest chill-out lounge ever with a fantastic view of Mekong River. We even caught an aerobics class on the promenade!
Stalk the stilt houses. One of my favourite pass times while travelling around Cambodia was to look at the houses on stilts and watch the people working in the rice fields. It’s mesmerising to see so many wonderful people out working with their hats on in the paddy fields filled with water. It’s very impressive, and definitely something to look out for while you’re there.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time during our visit to get to the coast, but the next time I go back to the ferociously friendly Cambodia, I really want to go to Sihanoukville, Koh Rong and Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) Kep. All three of which I heard a lot about from fellow travellers while I was making my way around South East Asia, and I immediately had FOMO!
I hope you enjoyed this post and you will arrive in Cambodia a little bit more prepared than I was. If you enjoyed my travel tips, do let me know, I’d love to hear. And I might do more posts like this one! You can find me in all of the usual spots – snapchat (imperfectlyfree), instagram, facebook and twitter!