Many people think that Cambodia is only Angkor Wat and that is just not the case. There is so much more to Cambodia than this and there is much to see, do and take in as you explore this country!
1.) Khmer Charm. If you have not ever experienced the Khmer culture, you have yet to experience the marvel that is the Khmer people simple being people. From the way that they laugh as they encounter each other in the road while driving, the way that food stands, markets, families and business people seem to flow and work together seamlessly and the genuine smile that welcomes most visitors with gratitude, the embracing charm of the Khmer People make Cambodia worth it all in itself. One of the things to enjoy from the Khmer culture is the charm that is in the silk scarves and many other crafts the people make by hand. Shopping for unique local pieces for dress or décor as well as your Western needs can be done afford-ably and in abundance. So pack light since it is a warm country and leave room for all of the great things you can bring home for yourself and your family and friends!
2.) Fantastic Food! Since this country sits right between Vietnam to the East and Thailand to the West, they have adapted some of the delicious food styles of these food haven countries as well as having their own flair! The most common dishes found in Cambodia are lemongrass and fish paste coconut curry called Amok, it is served on rice typically and wrapped in a banana leaf with a choice of meat. The other is a pan friend dish called Lok Lak that is perfectly spiced and served on rice with salad and at times, French fries. Vietnamese Pho, Thailand’s Pad Thai, Curries, Soups and a delicious serving of Fresh Spring Rolls are never far away! Of course, there is the Pizza at Ecstatic Restaurant as well! High end restaurants delivering Mexican food, Sushi, Indian, Mediterranean and Italian are always available with prices beyond fair! If you are a healthy type or just enjoy fruits and vegetable, the markets are abundant with Dragon Fruit, Coconut, Papaya, Mangos, Pineapple, Bananas, Mangosteen, Lime’s and are always at a great price! Enjoy the fruits and vegetables!
3.) Siem Reap Town! Yes, we just said Siem Reap Town. The temples are amazing and we are leaving that until later on the list because you already know that Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor Wat. What you might not know though is that Siem Reap is one of the most pleasant small towns in the world that is full of Colonial Charm. The old buildings and new alike make for a fun frontier and life is buzzing all around. From Pub Street to the Night Market all the way to the cultural displays that can be found on the cozy River front, Siem Reap town is full of activities and adventure. Easy to navigate and well equipped to meet all Western Standards, Siem Reap is a great place for Yoga, Shopping, Relaxing and Exploring and offers high end amenities for those seeking such! Siem Reap is kind of perfect when you really think about it!
4.) Historical Discovery. Some of us may know more than others about what happened in the Khmer Rouge and this is an important part of history to understand. The Killing Fields and S-21 Genocide Museum are not done in a distasteful and gory manner. To the contrary, they allow you to embrace the beauty of transformation and moving forward that has become an essential part of what has allowed the Khmer people to emerge from such terror with open hearts for what the future may hold. The story is well told in the recording that accompanies your Killing Fields tour and the insight and understanding available are wonderful, regardless of your position on the event. More is to be discovered as well since the Khmer history goes back to the colonization by the French and before this to the World Ruler status that was once self-proclaimed by the Khmer Kingdom that is now Angkor Archaeological Park.
5.) Coffee! I bet you did not think of some of the world’s best coffee when you thought of Cambodia but you were mistaken. The coffee in this country is incredibly rich and delicious and available hot or iced at any time of the day for an average price of about $0.75 or $3000 Riel! They can be found for even less and are usually served with a delicious helping of condensed milk. The coffee is rich like a pure dark cocoa delight and is absolutely refreshing for hot days of exploring. Neighboring Vietnam has a coffee contender with the likes of Mondulkiri’s Roast and other locations as well. If you are a coffee lover, you know how frustrating being met with repeated Nescafe can be, especially in South Asia. If you are to ask if the coffee is “real” in a Cambodia restaurant you are going to get a strange look as Nescafe is not a well known method of getting coffee! Enjoy the delicious coffee and be sure to buy yourself a coffee tin at the market so that you are always only a cup of hotwater away from delicious coffee, even when you get back home!
6.) Kratie. One of the best kept secrets off of the tourist track in Cambodia and just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Lao border that is the gateway to the famed 4,000 islands, Kratie is a place to relax and unwind. Small, quiet and completely authentic, enjoy a laid back eco-friendly adventure in Kratie. The Mekong River or Irrawaddy River Dolphin is nearly extinct and the highest concentration of them remaining in the Mekong and one of the highest in the world reside right here in Kratie! Transportation can be arranged and a van ride from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap will have you there in less than 3 or 4 hours! It is worth the ride and the drive out to the Dolphin sighting area is quite gorgeous and allows you to peek into the most humble of the already genteel Khmer community.
7.) Sihanoukville and the Coast of the Gulf of Thailand. Most people only think about Angkor Wat when they think of Cambodia and they don’t realize just how much this spectacular and small country has to offer. With a fair lot of coast in the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia offers some stunning beaches and incredible and isolated islands for those that want to get away. Sihanoukville is a hip town on the coast that offers entertainment, restaurants and just about anything that you need. Popular with expats, travelers and backpackers alike, Sihanoukville offers dreamy beaches at dreamy prices. If you want to scoot off of the beaten path a bit and enjoy something a little bit more relaxing, go to Otres beach where there is enough life for you to get three meals a day that are not the same and do some mingling on the beach. From the Mushroom Hut and their hip cottages to the Golden Sunset and their dream cabanas with roll up thatch walls literally on the water, there is something on Otres for everyone! Islands are abundant as well and you can take a trip to the dreamy and idyllic Koh Rong where the last series of Survivor for France was filmed. The beaches are some of the most crystal clear in the world and you can again be as remote as one might be able to imagine or intermingling with the small local town and a few other tourists at Monkey Island! The choices are endless and a cool coastal retreat should most definitely be a part of your trip to Cambodia!
8.) Phnom Penh. Most people don’t think much at first of the Charming and Sleepy capital of Cambodia as there is no huge night life or scene like Khao San Road in Thailand, but don’t allow this easy glance over allow you to miss the magic that is Phnom Penh Cambodia. There is nothing not to like about this capital city as the River Front is filled with restaurants that are laid back to very high end. The city is small and easy to navigate anywhere in a tuk-tuk for under $4 yet has enough variety to keep you entertained. Beautifully constructed Plazas and Parks with monuments and statues fill the city and they are perfectly lined with flowers, plants, trees and strolling monks. The entire River Front is beautifully paved and goes until you meet the Naga Casino and the Carnival by the water! Much is to be enjoyed in classy and charming Phnom Penh. Fantastic restaurants can be found inside of quaint and inviting French Colonial structures and if you are in the middle of a big journey, everything you could need can be found. The Central and Russian Market offer great shopping at less than half of the price of neighboring Thailand and if you need a Visa to go to India or somewhere else on your journey, it can more than likely be easily found here! Service is friendly and buses leave on the hour for other locations in the country and being only 6 hours away from the fun of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, Phnom Penh is the perfect stopover to recharge and enjoy the conveniences of life in an easy going atmosphere. Of course, you can also see the King’s Palace, many temples, the National Museum, The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum while you are there!
9.) Angkor Archeological Park and Angkor Wat. This is one of the most amazing sites that you may ever see in your life and is a must for all world travelers for many reasons. It is incredible to see the preservation of the work that was done over a thousand years ago on some of the temples and how detailed and perfect the construction was before modern tools and means of building were available. It truly does get you thinking. When you visit the park, you get to cruise through the calm and happy life of the grateful Cambodian people and see the families, cows and dogs as you venture through the expansive park that makes up the Kingdom of Angkor. Once a ruling spot for much of SE Asia, the history is rich and you can enjoy embracing the purpose of each structure as you follow the story and watch décor change as religious rule changed. One of the most interesting things about this empire though was the respect of the previous religion from ruler to ruler, even if the religions changed. It is intriguing to learn of the Rulers of the World, as they claimed to be at one time and see how the Khmer Kingdom once triumphed before tragedy. The story gives you an understanding as to who the wonderful Khmer people are. Enjoy being up close and personal with the temples without a great deal of interference by security and the like. You can ride your bike, take a tuk-tuk, travel by bus and more through the park and are able to really see the detail in close proximity which makes it even more enjoyable. There are so many temples that you may want to arrange and time your days out right so that you may beat the crowds and get the opportunity to see and photograph the temples sans tourists all over the place, and this is surprisingly easy to do.
10.) Life Changing. Most people don’t think about their vacations, holidays and trips in terms of being life changing. We often think of the other important elements like the food they serve, cleanliness and safety, availability of Western Amenities, cost, etc. The amazing thing that Cambodia has to offer is a change in your perspective. It is nearly impossible to travel through the country, learn of the history of what the Khmer people went through and see the genuine smiles on their faces today as they laugh at what many react at and not think that maybe there is something more to learn about life. The people may seem to be poor by standards of having “stuff” but they are rich in satisfaction and gratitude which leaves them a very happy bunch of people. The energy of the happiness can be felt and the synergy of their life style just screams out at you. They understand that they need one another to survive and look to understand one another vs. fight, knowing this very need. It is not to say that it is perfect, yet it is wonderful and offers something to learn that will have you going home and looking at your life a bit differently. This very thing has many looking at how well the Khmer people work together to survive and thrive and what is possible for other cultures as their symbiotic social economic circle flows quite smoothly.