Cambodia: A Must Go DestinationNovember 12th, 2012 | Posted by in Funding Adventures | Trotting Territories
My trip to Cambodia was a fortunate unplanned trip. I wasn’t intending to go there this year because I have focused all of my abroad travel savings on London 2012. But if you’re a dedicated wanderer and a good friend catches a Php5,400 all in roundtrip airfare to Siem Reap, can you say no? I couldn’t, because a regular fare would cost around Php17,000.
Zero regrets after the trip. Every soul should experience Cambodia’s young and thriving tourism efforts even through after their civil war ravaged country. CNN even included it in their Top 10 Value Destinations for 2013. Read on to see why everyone should put Cambodia in their must visit list.
Immerse in ancient history
No amount of picture or video can equally share the feeling of going back in ancient times. Though the Angkor temples (9th to 11th century) is way younger than Stonehenge (3000 to 2000 BC), this trip made me feel more connected to ancient history.
Imagine gigantic trees still growing on top of temples, the feel of archaic stone carvings, and the pleasant unfamiliar scent from olden trees. You will even notice the crumbling of the ceiling while walking the halls of Angkor Wat. Most of the temple structures in Angkor are so old that it needs immediate restoration before it becomes unsound to visit.
- Be early in Angkor Wat. If you want a good spot for your photos, make sure you’re in the viewing spot by 5:00am. Bring a mat so you can sit down and comfortably view the temples enchantingly for two hours as the sun rises.
- Wear a top with sleeves. No one is allowed to enter the pinnacle of the temple if wearing sleeveless (just like me).
- Buy at least a three day pass to visit Angkor temples. There are so many places to discover aside from the famous Angkor Wat.
- You can’t tour the Angkor complex with just bike because of massive land area (unless you’re doing cycling races already). Hire a tuktuk (local taxi) instead.
- Stay in Siem Reap if you only have 5 days or less. Stretch your visit to at least 7 days if you want to go to Phnom Penh.
- Take cooking or carving lessons.
To my surprise, I spent Php800 more in my Batanes escapade (4d/3n) lean season last year than in this Cambodia trip (5d/6n). Food and accommodations are affordable without the sacrifice of quality experience.
I was not financially prepared to splurge on sumptuous food and spacious rooms but that I was able to do with $250 budget for the whole trip (excluding airfare). We ate in restaurants everyday, visited four tourist sites, and visited Phnom Penh (6-8 hours ride from Siem Reap).
We stayed in a $24 room for three which was spacious and comfortable. Included was transportation from airport to hostel, western breakfast, toiletries, and fast wi-fi. I went around the area and even found a better deal.
No matter how cheap or pricey a restaurant is in Siem Reap, it’s noticeable that it will always have an artistic ambience. I even found a canteen priced place with a restaurant vibe. How awesome is that?!
On the other hand, we didn’t do well on our transportation expense. The hotel called the tuktuk (local taxi) and we were charged $1 per head per hour. Good price right? So we didn’t bargain. After a 7 hour ride in one day, 5 of us paid $35. Turns out, we can get $12/day rate if we went outside and just hailed and bargained for our own tuktuk.
Below are the prevailing prices in Siem Reap. Included are the tour fees as well.
- Guesthouses/Hostels: $6-10/pax/night (average hostel)
- Bike whole day for $1
- Food: $0.5-3/meal (budget); $4-6 (average restaurant)
- Angkor complex pass:
- $20 (1day)
- $40 (3days)
- $60 (7days)
- Draft beer: $0.50-1.00
If you’re planning to go to Phnom Penh, here are the prices.
- Luxury bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh $12 (6hours)
- Royal Palace $6.50
- Choeung Ek Genocidal Center $5.00
- Scout your area. Go around and check the inner roads. I was amazed that a restaurant’s price was even cheaper than street food.
- Siem Reap visit day and night markets. Surprisingly, their wet and dry markets are relatively cleaner than Filipinos’. Prices for textile products are also cheaper since textile industry is the biggest chunk of their GDP.
- Bargain half the price. Most of the goods are affordable their already but get the most of your buck by bargaining. They have high mark ups since it’s a tourist destination but please don’t overdo it. They are still a developing country.
- Go for luxury over local bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. What’s a $2.00 difference if you’re paying for a very comfortable 6 hour ride over a very slow 8 hour bus journey with faulty air conditioning and bumpy ride? Local bus charges tourists $10 while locals get to pay only $4 for the same ride. Ask your hotel to book for you in Giant Ibis.
Thumbs up food
Surprisingly, I generally liked Cambodian food or Khmer Cuisine. Friends told me they prefer Thai and Vietnamese food because they have more strong flavors. However, my mouth welcomed their dishes because I’m a weakling for chili food and I’m into healthier food alternatives nowadays.
Like Filipinos, their staple is rice but you’ll find a lot of noodles and bread too. If we have pandesal, they have baguette because of French influence. If we have bangus, they have mackerel.
Their dishes are noticeably bombarded with vegetables. It is even integrated in their street food menu like fried cauliflower, fresh spring roll, and cucumber. We even ate in a restaurant in Pub Street that offered unlimited vegetables and rice.
I’m not an expert on food but my friend who studied culinary and now a food stylist agrees with me that Khmer food is thumbs up.
- Pub Street in Siem Reap is a must! You can spend three nights just discovering the whole area for food.
- Don’t miss banana pancakes. It’s my personal favorite. Check this video to see how they make it.
- Phnom Penh’s night market. Enjoy local diverse food and merchandise in their night market.
- Cambodian food trip. I didn’t get to take note of their food but here‘s a good list of must tries.
A dark past
For such a beautiful place, I didn’t know that my neighbor country experienced a version of the Holocaust. I didn’t know that approximately 3 out of 8 million Cambodians were killed just three decades ago. I didn’t know that I was still walking with the survivors of the profoundly terrifying Cambodian Genocide.
Usually people will not want to tour to feel depressed right? But I think everyone should give equal time to understand the history of Cambodia as much as they will spend mainly on pleasure. This will heighten your appreciation of this country which is doing its best to revive its economy after this horrendous event.
Genocide has been an impersonal event to me. It has happened in Germany and Rwanda as I have watched it in Schindler’s List and studied it in my International Studies class. But all that seems so far. Not until I have discovered that my Asian neighbor has suffered immensely.
- Let your imagination take you. The Genocide Center has simple structures and they will give you an audio guide to tell you what happened. Listening to all the audio items was an emotional and educational experience.
- Leave a prayer.
- Bring breathing mask or handkerchief. You’ll have a dusty 20 minute ride to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.
Leaving with a bigger heart
When I left Cambodia, I knew it was not just another place to take pictures and spend money for enjoyment. It was also a place where your heart will be enriched with empathy for a whole nation.