My time spent in Cambodia was the most confronting and beautiful experiences of my life (so far). I have never traveled to a place that was so affected by war and poverty, and is still struggling to rebuild and get back on the right track. There is immense history surrounding the country that I never learnt in school which really made me feel a mix of shock, naivety, and excitement all at once. Cambodia is famous for its historic temples, interesting cuisine, sad and painful history, and beautiful people.
My experiences whilst traveling through Cambodia was a mixture of good and bad. I had an amazing time exploring the sites and meeting the local people, but I was also mugged by somebody on a scooter, spent a deal of time in hospital, and was sick from both medication and food while I was there – but I didn’t let it detract from how incredible the country was! Bad things can happen anywhere you travel, you just need to pick yourself up and continue exploring. So let’s explore Cambodia!
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
There is nothing more memorable than watching the sunrise behind Angkor Wat, and this was a huge bucket list tick for me. Although on the day that I visited it was cloudy, and I was also extremely ill, it was still beautiful watching the colours of the sky change behind this phenomenal structure. Built in the 12th Century, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, so you do need a bit of time after the sunrise exploring the grounds. It is baffling to imagine how it was built so long ago, and it thankfully sustained minimal damage during Pol Pots regime. Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful temples and experiences I have had so you have to add it to your bucket list – if it isn’t already on there!
Ta Prohm, Siem Reap
Also famously known as the Tomb Raider temple (from its feature in the Lara Croft film enterprise), this temple is an incredible representation of how powerful nature is! Built around the same time as Angkor Wat, it was originally used as a Buddhist Monastery and University, but it was eventually abandoned and neglected, causing it to merge with the jungle. When it was discovered, it was left in the same condition that it was found due to the incredible beauty the jungle had added to the temple. Ta Prohm is a fantastic representation of both nature and modernity, and it is truly fascinating wandering through the ruins – just make sure you watch your step and don’t trip on a vine!
Bayon Temple, Siem Reap
Another incredible buddhist temple built around the 13th Century, Bayon Temple is famous for the multitude of smiling faces built into the stone, and offers a contrastingly different style of architecture to Angkor Wat. The 200 faces of Lokesvara are what makes it so appealing to visitors, however there are numerous different scenes carved into the stone depicting mythological events.
The Floating Villages of Chong Khneas, Siem Reap
During the wet season, the majority of Cambodia is prone to flooding. If you live on water, not land, you do not need to pay the land tax, so it is a popular means of living for the locals. It is interesting to see how others live as it was a huge disparity to back home in Australia. Some houses even had floating gardens or floating chicken coops beside their homes! Although the water in the area was polluted and smelly, the people were friendly and the children were so happy.
The Killing Fields, Phonm Penh
I had never heard of Pol Pot’s Regime until I started booking my trip to Cambodia. Call me naive, but it was not something that we covered in school and I was quite young and inexperienced when I explored Asia. If you do not know anything about Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, or the Killing Fields I strongly recommend you google it now and educate yourself – it was only 40 years ago that this all occurred! It is an extremely depressing and devastating part of Cambodian history, and the entire time I was wandering through the killing fields I had tears in my eyes. More than one million people perished where we were walking, and each year during the rainy season they uncover more bones, clothes, children’s toys etc. It is extremely confronting, shocking, and depressing, but I believe it is important to reconnect with the past to move forward in the future.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh
Another shocking and confronting part of Cambodian history, Tuol Sleng chronicles the Cambodian genocide from Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s regime. It held over 20,000 prisoners for extended periods of time, and was also the site of a multitude of executions. There are story’s of torture, horrible prison life, and the shocking fact that the majority of prisoners were actually foreigners (even a handful of Australians) as Pol Pot was determined to purify the Cambodian people.
Meet the People
Although I had a pretty shocking experience being mugged by somebody on a scooter, I don’t blame that person for what happened. The living conditions in Cambodia are so different to back home in Australia and poverty is very high. I did find, however, that the people (especially the children) were absolutely beautiful and wanted to talk to you and show you their country. You can never really connect with a country unless you connect with the people!
Eat all the Food – The Weird & Wonderful
Cambodia food is so fresh, tasty, and healthy – what more do you want when you are traveling? Delve in to the incredible spring rolls, curry’s, fish, salads – or if you are more adventurous try something like tarantula, snake, or even rat! Food is an important part of any culture so make sure you try it all.
Have a Drink at the Famous Foreign Correspondents Club, Phnom Penh
The FCC is famous for housing journalists and important delegates during the Vietnam War, and is a great place to grab a drink, write in your journal, check out the views of the Tonle Sap river, or just people watch. The clientele are generally tourists, so it is also a great place to meet fellow travellers!
Have you ever traveled to Cambodia? What were some of your highlights?