Category Archives: Cambodia

4 Reasons to Love Visitors Abroad

Looking at my calendar from this summer, I can’t believe how much is blocked out under “Family in Town.” On my flight down to Cayman, I already knew my mom was coming down to visit soon. Little did I know at the time my dad, sister, cousin and her husband would soon be buying tickets to Grand Cayman as well! And in a turn of events that brought tears to my eyes, four of my best girlfriends are meeting Mark and me in the Honduras. I was reading on another travel blog this morning about how stressful it can be to have family and friends visiting when you’re traveling, and while I totally understood all their points, I felt myself coming up with my own list of why its great to see familiar faces from home.

1.    You get to act like a tourist

This applies more when you’re stationed somewhere for a while then when you are constantly on the road yourself, but still, long term travelers sometimes develop “tourist fatigue” as well. I loved going to the museum and taking the Mastic Trail tour, and without my mom in town, I don’t know if I ever would have done such “touristy” things. It’s the same principle that kicked in when Mark was staying with me in New York. Sometimes it takes showing someone around your home to really appreciate it.

being a tourist in Georgetown

2.    It abates homesickness

Its been hard for me to miss graduations, birthdays, fathers days and more these past two summers, but I think of it as a warm up to when I’m really on the road and have to miss the big things. Seeing my dad last summer in Cambodia and seeing um, practically my whole family here this summer has made it nearly impossible to feel homesick.

3.    They become part of the journey

By coming and seeing a glimpse of what I’ve been doing all summer, I feel that my family, some of the most important people in my life, are more included in my journey, and can come to understand better why travel is such a priority to me. Especially last summer, when I was so adamant about backpacking around Southeast Asia by myself, it really strengthened my relationship with both my parents that they were so supportive, and especially with my Dad that he was willing to fly around the world to be a part of it.

tackling Angkor Wat

This summer, when I’ve come to Grand Cayman, in large part because of my relationship and also to begin feeling out a photography career, it makes me feel like everyone who has come down here supports both my relationship and my photography aspirations. It also tells me they wanted a Caribbean vacation.

4.    They come bearing gifts

Last summer, when I met my dad in Bangkok, he handed me a package that might as well have been pure gold- American tabloid magazines and new underwear (after a rat got into my bungalow and shredded all my dirty clothes- lovely). Last night while I was on the phone with my sister, I asked for, you guessed it, US weekly. And a sewing kit. You might think both those things would be available on an island as developed as this. Yes in fact they are, but as I explained to Olivia, a small 99 cent sewing kit from the states will retail for approximately $13 dollars here. Cayman dollars.

While a four hour flight to a Caribbean paradise might not be the largest investment, I appreciate every bit. And I hope as I’m pulled to further and more exotic corners of the globe, they keep coming! And that they bring the trashy tabloids.

YES

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Three Cambodian Boutique Hotels

For my trip to Cambodia with my Father, I did extensive research into hotels in each city we visited. While I was traveling Southeast Asia for a summer, he was only coming for two weeks and I wanted to make sure it was a special trip. We used 50USD a night as our guideline and that left us with tons of options to sort through. In the end, all three were amazing in their own way and I was seriously impressed with the standard of boutique hotels in Cambodia. If you are looking to splurge or you are lucky enough to travel full time on a healthy budget, I highly recommend:

The River Garden
Siem Reap

I was dying to stay at this hotel in Siem Reap called Viroth’s which was hopelessly chic but only had rooms with one bed, so I went with my second choice, Lonely Planet recommended River Garden.

When we arrived we were a bit disappointed to see that the hotel was under construction, an understandable and unavoidable fact of life for hotels, but still not the greatest thing to arrive to. The lobby was totally under construction and even a bit hard to access. That aside, the room and bathroom were beautiful, as were the grounds and the pool.

I really liked the location of this hotel, being a bit removed and out of town allowed us to see so much more about how local people live, but we were still close enough to town to enjoy the restaurant and nightlife scene. I do recommend this hotel, with previously stated reservations. For some reason I seem to have had a four-day temporary lobotomy as I have no pictures of this hotel! So I scrounged these up on the internet to give you a better idea.

credit: Google

Credit: Trip Advisor

Blue Lime
Phnom Penh

Based on photos and reviews, I didn’t hesitate to book Blue Lime and was not disappointed. The design of the hotel and pool is very sophisticated without losing its charm. The pool, I loved the pool! I found the staff to be very sweet and when they didn’t know the answer to a question they took the time to find it. Breakfast was served poolside and I looked forward to it every morning! Also had free internet and computers in the lobby. And all for less than the equivalent nightly rent on my apartment in NYC. Out of all three hotels we stayed in, Blue Lime really hits the nail on the head. Amazing.

Cement furniture!

L: Exterior & Pool / R: Porch

Best part: the pool!

Veranda
Kep

We couldn’t afford Knai Bang Chatt, (featured in a previous post) so Veranda seemed like the next best!

It totally lived up to my treehouse dreams and more. Our room was like a Swiss Family Robinson set, with one indoor room and one outdoor room, and an amazing indoor/outdoor bathroom. And the view was breathtaking. One note- if you are out of shape this might not be the place for you. It is high on a hill and when we arrived and were taking a tuk tuk with our luggage, the tuk tuk driver had us get out and walk up the hill with his luggage as he couldn’t manage up with all the weight! And we are not large people! To us it was funny and a good story but if you were out of shape you might not be laughing.

Outdoor bedroom

Porch

the view

the "hallways"

restaurant at night

Cambodia Roundup

Cambodian Wedding Party

What I Did: 4 nights in Siem Reap, 3 nights in Phnom Penh, 3 nights in Kep

Overall:

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.

Moto-mounted police force

Final Night in Cambodia

The Sailing Club

Our final night in Kep, we treated ourselves to dinner at the Sailing Club, the restaurant at Knai Bang Chatt, a bizarrely placed luxury hotel on Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List, in the middle of sleepy Kep, where rooms start at over $100 a night. The restaurant is set right on the water and wouldn’t be out of place in Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Cape Cod. While the hotel seems ridiculously overpriced and not as fun as the many treehouse-style accommodations on offer (like where we stayed!) I definitely recommend the restaurant as the food and drinks are wonderful and you can’t beat the sunset view.

Good question!

All in all I couldn’t be happier we visited Kep. Its still somewhat off the radar, and definitely is if you venture beyond the small town itself. While a part of me would like the place to stay pristine and untouched by western tourism, it would be a hard secret to keep and with the way tourism is currently exploding in Cambodia we might be one of the last waves of travelers who got to see this part of the coast in its current state. As someone who often laments the end of the explorative “Golden Age of Travel” (whiny and pessimistic post about this coming soon), it was a comfort to know there are still places that exist in the world where a blonde haired westerner is a novelty, at least for now. Go while it still is!

Sunset

Photoshop free

Toddler Goat Herders

A typical modern Cambodian

In a country with one of the biggest sightseeing draws of them all, Angkor Wat, some of my favorite moments involved seeing not much at all. On our final day in Kep we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to a pepper plantation and then to a mysterious white sand “secret” beach. So secret it wasn’t on a map or in any guidebook other than a local tourism leaflet, but we’re always up for adventure.

Cambodian gas station

The pepper plantations are the areas claim to fame, and supposedly there was a time when no fine restaurant in France would be without the famed Kampot pepper. Today its sold in gift shops all over the country, though we paid a fraction of the price by going straight to the source and buying in bulk (guess what’s going in your Christmas stocking, family and friends!). It was a lazy and mildly interesting stop where we wandered around the plants and walked into the owners hut to make the sale, while chickens and puppies ran around our feet. Our driver then told us through beginners English and sigh language that only a few years ago, the mountains we were standing below hid ex Khmer Rouge members. We asked if the people were scared, and if it had been dangerous, and he just shrugged, either not understanding or simply finished with the conversation.

Fields of pepper

Some helpers

And then we were off to the secret beach. As we got further and further away from the small bit of modern influences in Kep, the world went back in time. The occasional motorbike gave way to bicycles and ox carts. Food stalls and cell phone stands gave way to rice paddies and more rice paddies.

Every residence we passed, children ran out front, squealing, “Hello, goodbye!,” looking pleased with their mastery of English greetings and their spotting of a blonde haired foreigner. While we were clearly witnessing what any world organization would deem poverty, everyone looked content as they went about their daily routine.

When we did arrive at the beach, we had a kind of funny “are we in the right location?” kind of moment as we stepped through a few peoples garbage strewn properties to find a seaweed covered beach. “Not so good this time” our driver concluded, picking up some seaweed in case we were unclear as to why. We decided to have a little walk up the beach to give our behinds a rest from bumpy unpaved roads. As we walked we saw in the distance a heard of goats approaching. As they got closer we saw they were attended by two young boys, armed with empty 2 liter soda bottles, I suppose in case one of the goats got out of line. The younger boy was very shy and at first ran and hid behind a tree though they eventually warmed up to us and without a word of shared language I was able to take pictures of both of them and show them their image, and judging from their reactions it may have been the first time. They were a million miles from the children we met in Angkor. So while we didn’t get any swimming or sunning in, the secret beach and the glimpse into a slower way of life was one of the greatest moments of my travels thus far.

Our new friends

Our "secret" beach

Beach Cows and Guard Pigs

Labeled as "Ko Tunsay" on map

Luckily I didn’t drag my Dad all the way to the coast for just a lackluster beach. Just a short boat ride off the coast lies the island of Ko Tonsay, a seriously underdeveloped and rustic island with clear water and calm surf. Its possible to stay the night for in a beachfront villa for the bargain price of $5, but the lack of electricity kept this in the day trip category for those of us who just cant get over the luxury of flush toilets and bedside lamps.

Wow! Toilet Paper!

Just some beach cows

I had read that its possible to hike around the island in about three hours, so we thought we’d feel it out before getting too settled on the beach. The undefined trail had us feeling like we were in an episode of Lost, and when the trail turned into what appeared to be the front yard of one of the seven families on the island, protected by a very menacing guard pig, we were waved through by the smiling residents. This must be a daily occurrence for these people, but they didn’t seem affected in the least. Once again it seems the idea of personal property and privacy, of the differentiation between private and public space, is not a top priority for Cambodians.

The guard pig!

Where the walk brought us...

When we finally turned around and retreated, we spent the rest of the day reading in the hammock (me), eating fresh crab from the sea (Dad) and enjoying the sun and the beach (both), interrupted only by the occasional beach cow. Just a typical day on a Cambodian beach.

It is the Gulf of Thailand after all...

Back to the Beach in Cambodia

Downtown Kep

When planning our two weeks in Cambodia, I knew it was only fair to my Dad to get some beach in there. While spoiled me had spent the past three weeks on a tropical island, my father was flying in from landlocked Albany, New York and was dying for some quality sand time. My research indicated few options for beach bumming in Southern Cambodia, the main ones being Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep. Turned out Kampot had no beach and Sihanoukville, while I had heard great things about it, was a bit of a party town. So I settled on sleepy Kep, described by my travel bible Travelfish as “former playground of the French and Cambodian elite.” Emphasis on the former. However, part of the charm is the dilapidated and crumbling mansions and the ghost town feel. Kep gave me glimpse of life untouched by western culture- one of the most “authentic” experiences of my entire trip.

One of Kep's crumbling mansions

Interested?

While there isn’t much to do in Kep, it’s a pleasant and walkable town. The only beach in Kep itself is a narrow strip of brown sand far from the postcard perfect beaches on the other side of the Gulf of Thailand. It’s main landmark is a large mermaid statue appearantly constructing in honor of the Cambodian fishmerman’s wives left behind waiting. While guidebooks claim the beach is unappealing for swimming, the Cambodians who frequent the place must disagree. As one of only a handful of westerners, we couldn’t resist jumping in either and I think it was pretty pleasant. The Cambodians are very modest in dress and even swim in oversized tshirts and pants and I felt slightly uncomfortable in a bikini. Note to self: Next time, pack wetsuit.

Kep Beach

Kep's biggest attraction....