What I Did: 4 nights in Siem Reap, 3 nights in Phnom Penh, 3 nights in Kep
I was curious about visiting a country to recently coming out of such a brutal war but the residual effects I saw were small, money notes were very clean and new, as all the currency had been destroyed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Everyone had cell phones, as land lines had also been destroyed. My experience was nothing but positive and I feel grateful to have been in the right place at the right time and been able to experience a country at such an interesting time in its history.
Angkor Wat is a given; you should go see it, sooner rather than later. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said before, it’s a wonder and no matter how jaded you are and how many churches and monuments you’ve been to I think you’ll be at least a teeny bit breathless at the thought of this city being built so many lifetimes ago.
Phnom Penh was what I needed. Siem Reap itself was an unnatural clash of raw ancient ruins and a tourist town popped up to support the masses coming to see them. It didn’t feel real. But if in Siem Reap, tourists were the main event, in Phnom Penh, we were mere bystanders. Not unwelcome, not a cause for fussing, just another element in a living, breathing, vibrant city.
Kep was the sleepiest town I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite parts of the trip. I was a bit jaded coming off Thailand’s beaches and while these can’ compare I think its worthwhile to see Cambodia’s coastline.
Getting around: Its roughly five hours between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh and Kep. We took busses for both routes. Just be aware these are not the busses of North America or even Thailand, there are no bathrooms, cracked windshields, relentless Khmer pop music videos and an even more relentless horn honking driver. Bring noise cancelling headphones, an empty bladder and a sense of humor.
Food: I’m probably one of the world’s most unqualified people to rate a country’s food, as I think getting cheese pizza with little green things sprinkled on it is adventurous. With that said I did not find much of the Cambodian food to be very appealing, though my Dad raved about the fresh crab in Kep. I mostly stuck to Thai and Western food.
People: Every Khmer person we encountered was courteous and kind to a fault, slightly reserved (though that could be the language barrier) and smiling. Cambodians are often described as resilient, and its easy to see why.
Good to know: Don’t take reil out of the country; it can’t be exchanged. Do some sort of reading about the country’s history, it will make everything so much more real. Don’t come expecting a cushy trip, and I say that despite obviously having a higher budget than I did in other countries. Go.