26th Feb 2018 – 5th March 2018
A wonderful country that simply surprised us from the minute we arrived to the minute we left… if only we could have stayed longer!
The promenade Phnom Penh
Cambodia was always in our plan whilst travelling South East Asia although not a country high on the list or one we knew much about, just that we wanted to delve into the rich history there. We have learnt all too often now that when you enter a country with no real high expectations it often surprises you and can easily turn into a magical and memorable place just as Cambodia did for us. One of the best things about this country for us is the people! From the minute we arrived they were so happy and welcoming, we really loved their genuine company here. Originally we planned a 3 week trip in Cambodia but with time creeping up on us and having to leave Vietnam for a while on a visa run, we decided to change plans and head to Cambodia for just one week. We figured this was just the right amount of time to travel Phnom Penh in the South and Siem Reap in the North.
Arriving via Vietjet from Ho Chi Minh city we had 4 nights in the capital city of Phnom Penh. We fell in love with this city. We knew it was going to be a little crazy in the central area so we planned a couple of nights outside of the city to allow for some breathing space!
Our first night was a little retreat treat at The Bale! Every traveler needs this now and then right? It can get so tiring so finding time out to relax and recharge is so important. They collected us from the airport and from then on it was feet up and relax. Around 30 minutes out of the center on the Mekong River are beautiful and spacious rooms, a delicious restaurant and a gorgeous infinity pool. Our favorite thing about staying here was probably the amazingly tasty and healthy breakfast.
The Bale Phnom Penh
A tuk tuk from here into the centre costs $8 where we next arrived at The Pavilion which we couldn’t recommend highly enough for the perfect city break. Once you enter the wooden gates it feels like a tranquil escape in a great central location. The 2 beautifully refreshing swimming pools and lovely spa means you can really relax after a long busy day.
One of the main reasons for us visiting Phnom Penh was to learn of the dark history that took place in this city. We had watched a couple of documentaries on the subject and read up on it beforehand to have a basic understanding but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to learn. We will not giveaway too much but just inform you of the tour we took and let you know you are in for a tough and emotional day that you will never forget and may even change your outlook on life.
Bamba experience tours – S21 Prison and The Killing Fields Day Tour
Our tour was a private tour with audio guides included at both locations and a private tuk tuk driver who waited for us at each location. Our tour lasted 8am-2pm with hotel pickup and drop off. We really recommend this private tour as it’s such a hard history to learn you want to do it in your own time and have a quiet space to take it in afterwards. It doesn’t include lunch but if you want to stop for lunch the driver will happily wait.
We believe that this history makes the Cambodian people what they are today. It seems that they are so grateful and happy for their freedom and their life and it’s just amazing to be around. A good read or film to watch concerning this history is ‘First They Killed My Farther’.
The promenade Phnom Penh
Thing to do:
This is all within walking distance and can be done within 1 or 2 days…
Walk along the central promenade where you can see several famous statues and monuments such as; the king and the relationship of Cambodia and Vietnam monument. It's also really cool to watch groups of monks stroll through here in their religious dress
Do this walk at sunset to get a true ‘locals’ feel. This is when the Cambodians come out to play! Many run and walk the promenade while others play tennis or football all with children playing around them
Watch the sunset wherever you are it is one of the best we have ever seen! A good place to watch is on the promenade or along the Mekong River
The activity on the promenade goes on late into the evening with fitness classes taking place, dance squads practicing and street food being served
Visit the Royal Palace just off the promenade. The palace closes between 11am-2pm for lunch daily
Walk along the Mekong River day, night or dusk to see all of the fishermen working, the local house boats (you will not believe the size of boat a family will live in), children washing and playing in the river, Buddhist people worshipping in the small temples by letting birds free and singing
Visit the national museum to learn of the history of Cambodia
If it is in the budget do a Mekong sunset tour. They range in price depending on if you want to include drinks or dinner. Just haggle with a local who has a boat and it will be beautiful!
Stay on the Mekong river
There are some different options for this you can either use it as a way of travel which kills two birds with one stone and actually saves you some money. There are boats which you can sleep on that travel North or South on the Mekong River and are cheaper than flying whilst also saving money on a night’s accommodation. We did not do this option but have heard only good things with people saying that they woke up for the sunrise and sailed even sailed through local fishing villages.
View from The Floating Bungalow
The way in which we stayed on the Mekong was in a floating bungalow with Mekong Floating Bungalows. This was such an amazing and memorable experience. We were taken there on a sunset tour around 5:30pm and arrived to a single floating bungalow alongside the floating restaurant with a view of the sunset behind the whole city skyline. We sat on the balcony floating with the river all night enjoying Khmer curry, red wine and the breathtaking views. It was also really interesting to see the Vietnamese refugee floating village nearby. They flea the communist way of life in their country along the Mekong arriving with no passport. There is a little tension between these two countries as a result.
Places to stay:
The Bale B&B high price range – includes airport transfer. Relaxing and luxury retreat
The Pavilion B&B mid price range – perfect city retreat
Mekong Floating Bungalows B&B mid price range – includes boat transfer to and from and sunset tour. Basic and clean room but the experience is so memorable
The Pavilion Phnom Phen
Places to eat:
The Pavillion restaurant mid price range – local and western options
Restaurants all along the Mekong for all types of budgets. We picked local restaurants for cheap local food. Try the Khmer curries
Lots of good veggie restaurants down the cobbled backstreets of the city for the mid range budget
DON'T eat at The Vegetarian! Bad service and awful food
Sunset tour on the River Mekong
There are different options when travelling in Cambodia. Most backpackers choose the bus system they have there as it is often the cheapest option. You do however have to be careful as we have heard many horror stories! Always book with an established company and print your ticket / confirmation so they cannot argue it with you and always keep your valuables in your hand luggage close to you. You should aim to spend around £20pp when travelling the 6 hours from Phnom Penh – Siem Reap to ensure a good quality of bus. We actually flew internally via Vietjet as it was £40pp and takes only 45minutes. We figured as we only had a short time in Cambodia we didn’t want to waste a day travelling or travel through the night and tire ourselves out. The other option is via boat along the Mekong which we mentioned above. A tuk tuk into town from the airport is $5.
Angkor Watt Siem Reap
The only reason we travelled to Siem Reap (of course) was to see the incredibly famous Angkor Watt. We weren’t sure what to expect from the area or what else there was to do there. However, we were pleasantly surprised. It is more of a town than a city and has a great local and undeveloped feel to it that reminded us of The Philippines at times. The local people in Siem were so lovely and friendly and we just loved interacting with them! We also liked wandering the streets at night and seeing the locals eating their crickets and interesting cuisines in the small markets.
How to see Angkor Watt:
Of course there are many agencies offering day tours here which will cost you an arm and a leg but all you need to simply do is befriend a tuk tuk driver, haggle the price and arrange a meet up time and point. The hotel wanted $25 for a private tuk tuk for the day but on the street we got one for $15. This was for the small tour which we believe is all you need to see. This includes the 3 main temples and takes up most of the day. The ticket for 1 day costs $37pp… we know it’s outrageous! But of course you have to just pay it. You can also get a multi-day pass for $62 but for us we felt 1 day was enough. We were told to avoid sunrise as it gets too crowded with tours so we went at 7:30am to avoid sunrise and the 10am tours. You stop on the way to collect and pay for your ticket. The drive from town to the complex takes around 45 minutes. You driver will take you to all 3 stops in your own time and wait for you at each one. They also wait for you to eat or drink whenever you need to. There isn’t really a time limit. We were done by 2:30pm and headed back into town. By the time you get to the final destination; Angkor Watt it will be the hottest part of the day and for us it was unbearable and we couldn’t wait to grab an ice cream and leave! We think leaving Siem around 2:30pm would be perfect to arrive at Angkor Watt at the end for sunset. It will also be a little cooler as it gets later in the day. Our favourite temple was Byon (below).
Things to do:
National museum – we didn’t do this as we did the museum in Phnom Penh
Have a wander through town and meander down the river
Explore pub street at night for places to eat and bars. This is where the backpackers party
Nightly market. Also check for certain markets that happen on certain nights
Take some time out at Natura Resort and use the pool when purchasing food and drinks
Places to stay:
Seasons D’Angkor B&B 18pn – great central location. Great comfortable and clean hotel that is currently being refurbished
Natura Resort high price range – a little off the beaten track along the river. A beautiful nature inspired resort
Places to eat:
Natura Resort – mid price range. We loved tasting the traditional healthy Cambodian set menu
Charcoal restaurant – high price range. Amazing local food served with beautiful presentation in a great setting and atmosphere. Try the tasting platters
Abacus restaurant – high price range. Beautiful French cuisine a little off the beaten track
If you are looking for more budget food try the night markets or there are cheap restaurants everywhere serving local and western dishes. Just choose a busy one
When travelling by bus take care and precaution
Avoid Angkor Watt
Local currency and the $ is used here which can often get confusing. Take time to work out the real value of things before you pay
Always check your change
Learn the history of this country
Use tuk tuks
With love from the globe,
Isabelle & George x
Currently in Thailand.