The cities probably every tourist travels to, are Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. That’s exactly what I did with the only difference that I also spent one week in the very north of the country in a volunteer camp.
I spent 9 days in Siem Reap at 4 different stays but from all the other cities this one felt most like home to me; I can’t tell what exactly it was but I fell in love with this city!
- Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is probably the most well known temple complex. It is said to be really beautiful at sunrise so I got up at 4.30 am and rode in a tuk tuk through the dark and chilli morning. Arriving at Angkor Wat there first was nothing to see but dust clouds all the other tuk tuks caused. I soon realized I wasn’t the only person wanting to see the sunrise – I’m really bad at guessing but let’s just say there have been maaaaany other tourists beside me. We all gathered around a small lake in front of the temple in a glowing crowd; everyone staring into their phone, iPad or camera screens. But it definitely has been worth it! It has been a breath taking moment.
It probably is best to pay one tuk tuk driver for the whole day. He will take you to all the temples in the complex you would like to see. I first thought I’d only pay one to drop me off at the entrance but please let me tell you: if you don’t plan on running a marathon that day, get yourself a tuk tuk driver who drives you around.
- Bayon temple
Bayon temple was the next stop on the list of the temple day and another impressive building. It is a lot smaller than Angkor Wat so take your time and walk around the whole thing – or make your tuk tuk driver to drive around 🙂 At all the temples you probably cross a monkey’s path, but at the Bayon temple there are even elephants taking tourists on their back around the temple.
- Ta Prohm temple
This one is very well known – Angelina Jolie was running around the temple as Lara Croft in the movie Tomb Raider.
I found this to be the prettiest and most stunning temple I’ve been to that day. Its wild bunches of huge stones and the giant trees squirming and writhing up the walls make this visit seem very surreal. I have to admit, I did feel like a little Lara Croft among the stones and trees 🙂
- War museum
The history of this country is something that belongs to the country just as much as all the temples. Moun Sinath – one of the guides – was leading our tiny group of 5 tourists through the outdoor museum among tanks and all sorts of weapons, only stopping at walls with pictures to tell us unbelievable and terrible stories.
Listening to a guy who almost died more than 8 times (he is also known as the cat), lost one of his legs, got shot at different parts of body, saw his friend die and experienced all of this in first hand is something goosebumps are bound to occur.
- Markets (old market and night market)
If somebody asked me where to experience the Asian life the best and most intense I would advise this person to go to a market. Inside Siem Reap’s old market it feels like a freaking sauna. I never left that place with dry clothes haha. From little stores crammed full of colourful dresses, pants, skirts and shorts, to Cambodian jewellery sellers, to stores selling beddings, mosquito nets and toiletries, to a section in the middle of this tumult selling fish, boiled eggs, all kinds of grilled insects, various types of meat with flies all over the place – it all can be found under one roof, connected with tiny alleys and a strong smell. Yet I still loved that place and think everyone has to walk through it at least once!
The night market however is a lot calmer and less packed. It consists of a few streets with little stores or booths along the sides. I found the night market a little cheaper than inside of the old market.
But at whichever place you shop souvenirs, clothes or food (however be careful with food offered at little portable booths along the street), never forget to haggle the price down! Start low; even if it feels rude to you – they would never sell it to you if they don’t make profit – and meet the seller somewhere in the middle.
- Pub Street
Pub Street is located in the street next to the night market. It is a long street with – it’s hard to guess, but – pubs and bars at each side. It is a great place to meet up with friends over a very cheap beer or a cocktail. The ends of the street are teeming with tuk tuk drivers, but Pub Street is placed in the inner city so we always just walked to our hostel. However we always were in a group; please don’t walk home alone. I luckily never heard of anything that happened to anyone I know, but you can’t be sure who walks around past sunset. If you are alone just take one of the numerous tuk tuks.
- West baray
West baray is a rectangular shaped water reservoir a little outside of Siem Reap. Its beach is full of hammocks, and once you paid a small amount of money you can watch local kids play in the water while swinging in the shade. Cambodians come here after work or have a family picnic at holidays.
- Floating village
From tuk tuk drivers and fellow visitors I’ve got the tip to visit the floating market. A word and a blow, and a tuk tuk driver dropped me off outside the town of Siem Reap. From there I got in a small boat and the ride through the brown river began. As we arrived at the floating village our boat immediately stopped at one of the shacks which turned out to be very touristic. There were people with snakes around their necks, crocodiles in a cage and a store with stuffed crocodiles and leather bags.
I saw nothing more than a couple of individual wood shacks built on stilts before we turned around. The floating market was the only thing throughout my trip in Cambodia I was a little disappointed at. But it still was an experience and I don’t want to talk anything bad – so I advise you to go and check it out for yourself if you happen to be in Siem Reap.
Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. It is even louder, more crowded and packed with traffic than Siem Reap. I only stayed there for 2 days, but felt like I got the main touristic things done.
- Killing fields
The biggest killing field under Pol Pot’s regime can be visited in Phnom Penh. With an audio guide around the neck one gets guided around, asked to stop at some places where a story is told. The visitor is led by mass graves, the “killing tree” and boxes filled with clothes of the people who died here. The tour finishes at the stupa, a building that stores the thousands of staked human skulls belonging to the thousands of victims killed here.
The killing fields as well as S21 are something you should definitely see during your time in Cambodia.
- Tuol Sleng genocide museum / S21
This is another major place where a part of Cambodians history has taken place. S21 used to be a high school before the Pol Pot regime transformed it into a prison where soldiers imprisoned and tortured victims. I still found to feel a special atmosphere. Every visitor was exploring the buildings in their own pace, but with each passing room the silence of disbelief got louder. S21 was one of the most capturing and shocking places I’ve been to and an experience I will never forget, yet this is exactly why I highly suggest any tourist to visit this place.
Of course Phnom Penh has markets to shop anything you are looking for. Russian market is even bigger and hotter than the old market in Siem Reap. It is loud, crowded, narrow and busy, and while I usually feel like screaming when I’m shopping in a crowded mall I truly loved that place. The little stores are teeming with fake brand products and other ridiculous cheap items.
Since I was in love with markets I also checked out Phnom Penh’s old market which turned out to be a huge flop. It is a place rather for the locals trying to look like western people. It is much smaller and walked through within 2 minutes.
Therefore I rather suggest visiting the Russian market instead of the old market.
- Royal Palace
I’ve visited the Royal Palace in a group of 3 tourists guided by a native Cambodian. Unfortunately he wasn’t the most motivated one and only guided us through the place as quickly as possible with barely any information about the buildings, the history or the royal family at all. So I’ve seen that place and the buildings and interiors were stunning – but unluckily that’s all I can say about it.
- National museum
The national museum is not even a 5 minute walk away from the royal palace. But here our tourist group experienced even worse. Our guide led us the way to the museum and then simply told us to meet him at the entrance when we were done. Next to every exhibition piece there is a board which explains what you are looking at. And even if you don’t feel like reading endless explanation boards you could simply looke at the lovely building or walk around the beautiful courtyard.
Sihanoukville is Cambodian’s most popular bathing resort. The beaches are beautiful and the temperature is way more pleasant than in the rest of the country.
For those who feel like dancing and experiencing Cambodian’s night and pub life, this place is just perfect for you. All day long bar staff hands out flyers with discounts on drinks and even bar tours with included drinking games. Some of the bars even offer special events once or twice a week like BBQs or booze cruises.
This city really offers something great to do for everyone.
- Island boat tour
Our trip started off carrying our little backpacks on our heads as we made our ways to the boat, walking through the waist-high water. The pieces of clothing that have remained dry once we reached the boat, at the latest got wet as we actually started the trip. Waves were sloshing and not even 5 minutes later everything and everybody was soaked – this boat tour reminded me of a whitewater rafting.
That day we visited 3 islands in total, but only snorkelled along the shores of the first and third one. The second and also only island we set foot on was even prettier than I imagine paradise to be. While the boats man was preparing lunch, we got to explore the island. We waded through clear blue water and went on shore. Not far away was supposed to be a tree house farm, so a few of us followed the signs through the jungle occasionally passing a tiny beautiful bay. The tree house farm was a rustic looking community right at the beach. This is for sure a place I want to come back one day. All together this day was amazing! – and now is on my list of my favourite days ever.
The numerous beaches make it almost difficult to decide where to spend the day. They are all really beautiful and if you just want to relax in the sun it doesn’t matter which beach you choose. However if you plan on doing some activities, like riding horses along the beach, I advise you to simply research what you would like to do and which beach offers what you’re looking for.
- Ream National Park
This is definitely a place I recommend visiting. We again rode in a boat but that time we floated in a river among mangrove trees. While the boats man was preparing lunch for us, the group followed a guide right into the jungle. It soon got very steep and while we tourists were struggling for breath, our guide was running up the hills in flip flops.
Around 45 minutes later we reached the spot we were aiming for – and all the rivers of sweat were worth it. We stood on top of a mountain looking down on countless of trees divided by a big river.
Before we continued our trip we had lunch with two little mangrove monkeys joining us and making this meal unforgettable. Our day finished at a remote and quiet beach.
This day was packed with so many new experiences and adventures I will not ever forget.
Of course Cambodia has to offer a lot more, but those are probably the most popular things tourists do during their stay. Whatever you decide to visit, I hope your trip is just as epic as mine was 🙂
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