Saturday, August 27, 2011

C is for Cambodia

Sure, let's state the obvious. But the experienced traveler will also know that when in this Jungle Book-inspired Kingdom, C is not just for Cambodia, but also for


and of course, crickets, which are eaten fried on a stick.

I've been in Cambodia for about 5 days now and can safely day I've experienced a very wide range of emotions here. Sometimes, I'm in awe of history and natural beauty, while other times I am annoyed or distressed at the social issues here and the way I am treated as a foreigner girl from the States. But all that aside, there have been some pretty miraculous things here we've seen and done. Some highlights:

Angkor Wat

We saw Angkor Wat the first full day we were in Cambodia and I consider it a must-do if you are going to be brave enough to travel out here. You can rent a driver for the day (or make plans for up to 3 days, if you want to see every crack and crevice of each temple) for about $10-$20. Our driver took us around and made sure we saw everything we wanted to on our short timeline. Personally, a day was more than enough for me. After 8 hours of ancient-ruin-seeing, they do start to blend a little bit. A couple logistics for those who might travel there:

Angkor Wat is, itself, a temple in the whole slew of temples of that region. There are many more beautiful temples than Angkor Wat, so it'd be good to do a little research if you want to pick and choose which ones to see. Also, if you do decide to visit Angkor Wat (which is the most famous of the temples so I'm guessing you'll end up there), remember that there is a strict dress code if you'd like to go to the top. For men and women, shoulders cannot be exposed and you should wear pants or a skirt/dress that falls below the knees. They really enforce this and you will be denied access to the top if you aren't appropriately dressed. However, on a hot day, if you'd like to wear lighter clothes to the other temples, it's okay. Just bring a sweater or scarf to cover up later.

Take a night bus

Let me start off by saying: do not take the night bus if you expect to wake up feeling refreshed. If you don't like adventure, do not take the night bus. If you get carsick easily, do not take the night bus any bus in Asia. If you like to arrive at your accommodation when they are open and have a room ready for you, then do NOT get on that night bus. But-- if you like to travel cheaply; if you like to try new things; if you like to ride fast down dark, bumpy roads and hear all kinds of sounds from outside your bus; if you can sleep when you feel like you're inside both a space capsule and a very loud, angry uterus; if you can handle the 'bus hangover' you will surely feel as a result of just a few hours' sleep... then, by all means, take the night bus.

Personally, I liked it. But the next day was reserved for recovery, spent mostly on the couch of our hostel's lobby playing cards.

The two cities we've been in so far are Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Here's a very short summary of my (and by 'my' I mean someone who did not do much research on anything about Cambodia before traveling there) thoughts on each:

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is really cheap and has hoards of hostels for backpackers (we stayed at 'Happy House Guest Hostel' and it seems to be everything the name implies). Siem Reap has many dirt roads with bright orange sand all over, and is divided by a pretty large river full of Asia-esque brown water. There is trash everywhere and you should mind your things because street children are all over asking for food and money and trying to sell you postcards. As poor as it is, there is a lot to see and do, including visits to Angkor Wat and seeing the local markets (which we never made it to due to some illnesses and I'm still regretting). Overall, it was a pretty pleasant experience and we should've stayed longer.


Sihanoukville is touted as a foreigner hub and sounded like a great place to go to the beach. Although the rains are heavy here and makes beach-going impossible, it's not so much the weather that's got me down as the rest of the locals, who kind of make me feel as though I shouldn't be out past dark. Our hostel is located a minute's walk from Serendipity Beach, which is supposedly the most touristed spot in Sihanoukville. Usually I avoid highly-touristy locations; however, I do feel some comfort in knowing we're near other backpackers and don't really feel like venturing any further off this particular path right now. Some advice for people wanting a positive beach experience in Cambodia:
- Paying a little more than the minimum for accommodations goes a long way.
- Do not go to the beach alone.
- Do not buy from the children or give them gifts, as it keeps them out of school. Plus, if other children see you buy from one, you will get swarmed and maybe even physically attacked.
- If you like to party, stay at Serendipity Beach. If you want something mainstream but with better views, try Victory Beach, just north.
- Lastly, if you want to ensure good weather, try to plan your trip outside the July-October rainy season.

That's a wrap for now. Tomorrow we're headed to the Vietnam Embassy (conveniently in Sihanoukville) to get visas for the following week. Just a week left of this crazy adventure!
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