Slowly I start to get something out, little by little, sparingly. If you are thinking of planning a trip to this wonderful country, in this post you will find a bit of useful information. Let's start from the beginning. Why Cambodia?
We chose Cambodia because when the heart starts pawing while viewing photos of a destination, well, that's the right place. The next destination. A trip to Cambodia is a journey into the past of the Khmer Rouge and the green rice fields of rural areas, so far away from Angkor Wat. The trip was organized entirely on the Internet from booking flights, accommodation, transfers, and everything.
Cambodia Travel Itinerary
First stage: Siem Reap
You can get a direct flight to Siem Reap or you can choose to get there by bus from Bangkok. The trip is longer and more intense. Nine hours by bus was not exactly a cakewalk but crossing the border on foot in Poipet will leave a lasting impression. There is a lot of greenery and lots of water, and the river-lake Tonle Sap accompanies us throughout the journey. We reach a nice pub near Pub Street. We sit around a nice table with wicker armchairs and order without hesitation the local highlight of seven samples of local dishes for two people.
All meals are served in small containers made with banana leaves from fresh spring roll, made with local vegetables to dip in an aromatic sauce with chopped peanuts; mango salad, fruit salad with the addition of smoked fish; pork ribs, roasted and seasoned with honey; fish amok, the specialty of Siem Reap, the Mekong fish stew and vegetables cooked in coconut milk; Green curry with chicken; Cha Ta Kuong, water sauteed spinach; and the boiled rice to accompany everything. After returning to the hotel, we stop to book a tuk-tuk for the next day to devote to the small temple circuit.
The day starts with a hearty breakfast from the hotel buffet with croissants, fruit, Khmer pancakes and the now ubiquitous fried rice with egg and peas.
What to see in Siem Reap?
The temples of Angkor. One of the most beautiful places in the world, and a vast archaeological site a week will not be enough to explore it far and wide with its unique charm, and the mystical and indescribable beauty. It is one of those places to see at least once in your lifetime. It would be better to stop for at least 3 nights in order to fully exploit the place. And no, I do not recommend staying only for one night because you'd see too little of this wonder!
Angkor Wat is so magnificent, fascinating and impressive that remains forever printed somewhere in the brain and heart. It cannot be explained and must be seen at least once in your life because, for many words that we can spend to describe it, we will never be able to convey that feeling of awe that I felt while crossing its temples swallowed up by the forest and incorporated in a luxuriant nature.
Angkor Wat is a gigantic complex built in several centuries and with gigantic dimensions, the brainchild of rulers who were revered as gods. The buildings exude history, decorations and carvings tell stories and legends of the Khmer people. The most interesting sites are Ta Prohm, impressive because of tree roots that have literally wrapped the stone structures, creating amazing effects between rock and wood that seem engaged in an eternal struggle. Then there is the walled city of Angkor Tom from the impressive Bayon, a building beautifully decorated with huge faces of the King Jayavarman VII who seem to watch the visitor from every angle.
The distances to be covered are very impressive, especially if you are going to reach the most distant temples and surrounded by greenery like we did. Also, having a local guide allowed us to immerse ourselves in the Cambodian culture, to understand something more about the lifestyle of local people. For me, it was really worth it.
Back at the hotel we identify the place for dinner and we reach it by walking for a few minutes, that is located in Alley Street, a parallel of the lively Pub Street, predominantly occupied by restaurants. Our choice is Amok, and the name says it all because they specialize in cooking the namesake Khmer dish. We order a tasting of appetizers of noodle with chicken, spring roll of local vegetables and papaya salad with shrimp and a tasting of chicken, shrimp, and vegetables, all served in classical banana leaf and accompanied by generous portions of rice.
Next day we visit Pre Rup, Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Preah Poan, Preah Khan, Phimeneakas and the Terrace of the Elephants. The temples are of minor importance compared to those of the first day but the Ta Som deserves a note, completely enveloped by a root arch. The Preah Neak Poan was only accessible by means of a long wooden gangway that cleaves a rich vegetation that is rooted directly in the water.
And to round off the Preah Khan, it is less celebrated than the more well-known sites, and therefore less crowded. But it is worth visiting because it is one of the four most beautiful temples of Angkor while the others are all on the small circuit, namely in Bayon, Ta Prohm and, of course, Angkor Wat. On the way back we made a stop to meditate in a beautiful Buddhist pagoda, Wat Preah Prohm Roth which was worth a visit, even if you are not Buddhists.
Once back at the hotel we have a Khmer massage to round off. Next, in a state of full satisfaction to the experiences and the things seen, we head back to Pub Street for dinner. This time the choice falls on Cambodian BBQ because of the ethnic menu and the ways in which it is served. In practice, they serve a nice tasting menu for two persons, which consists of a circular tray with chicken, squid and the unbelievable crocodile. All raw.
Then comes a small barbecue that is placed on the table, and all around is surrounded by a moat made with chicken broth, noodles, and vegetables that are boiled during cooking of the meat. The evening ends with the classic shopping before departure.
Where to stay in Siem Reap?
I recommend a boutique villa, surrounded by nature! Yes, the pool is essential after a busy day between the temples of Angkor.
Second stage: Battambang
The day begins with a hearty breakfast by the pool with croissant, dumplings, tea, juices, fried rice with vegetables and sausages.
How to get to Battambang?
The bus is the most convenient, but you can also get to board a boat though the trip is longer if you're not lucky enough to travel in a dry period.
What to do in Battambang?
Battambang is not so much famous for its tourist attractions except for the bamboo train. As for the authenticity of the place, the friendliness of the people and the atmosphere is intimate. I advise you to include this stage in your itinerary. For me, it was really significant.
Where to stay in Battambang?
I chose a hotel, that was clean and unpretentious. And I suggest you also try the Bamboo Rice, a typical snack.
It is rice and beans placed in bamboo and is a sweet and nutritious snack!
Third stage: Phnom Penh
We came to Phnom Penh by bus from Battambang. It was a pretty short trip of about 6 hours.
What to see in Phnom Penh?
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. I think it is the less interesting stage of the journey, were it not for the Toul Sleng Museum and the Choeung Ek where you can relive the sad page of Cambodian history. A stage that can help you really understand the country, its past, and its people. In Cambodia, tuk-tuk is undoubtedly the most common way to get around town.
In the Royal Palace, however, I was struck by the architecture and a Southeast Asian belief that every day of the week corresponds to a color (Monday: Orange; Tuesday: Purple; Wednesday: Gray; Thursday: Green; Friday: Blue; Saturday: Purple; Sunday: Red). Wearing these colors bring luck and fertility. It comes from feng shui and I think it's beautiful. Isn't it? To visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda you must wear long pants and shirt with short sleeves.
Fourth stage: Koh Kong
Koh Kong is a place of the border, a border post, a few kilometers from Thailand. A few meters from the border in the Srok Mondol village in Seyma, they opened a huge resort with adjoining casinos. And a little further on there is also a kind of zoo safari with dolphin shows and other animals, to the delight of tourists. We arrive at the foot of the Cardamom Mountains. In the morning, Koh Kong proves to be different. Once we prepared the backpack we proceed with the first excursion in a tuk-tuk trip to the bridge over the river Tatai. From there we embark on a longboat of those you see in the movies on Vietnam and go up the river through the jungle for at least thirty minutes.
After passing a bend, in front of us appear the Tatai waterfalls. Just going over these enormous rocks we get to the rapids and the water holes. The water is warm and wet. For dinner, we go to the riverfront, where they make Thai cuisine. We eat fried rice with Nems (Chiang May style), where nems stands for a crumbled spicy sausage and fried meat in a sweet and sour sauce.
Next day we proceed to Mangrove Forest and Koh Yor Beach, the most beautiful of Koh Kong and the mangrove forest within the Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary. This time we eat fried rice Yangh Zouh (rice with meat, squid, and shrimp seasoned with a mix of spices and herbs), and fried spicy squid (cuttlefish served with a sweet and sour sauce, enriched with peppers, onions and lots and lots of mint). The day in Koh Kong ends and leaves an aura of mystery about the schedule for the next day.
The next morning with a speed boat and a trip of an hour, we reach Kho Rong, away from the crowd and with a wonderful sea. At Sihanoukville, in the nighttime, we enjoy at the Serendipity beach, the beach of backpackers, where cocktails are almost as in Europe and there are shows with fire. What they say is the best beach in the city is the Otres Beach.
The next morning we left for heaven. The archipelago in front of the most popular resort of Cambodia boasts thirty-two islets in the 200 km. One of these is the stunning Koh Rong Samloem with white sand, clear green water, no hotels but only bungalows on the beach powered by solar energy and a forest, located in the middle. With a walk of forty minutes in the forest, you can get to the wild Lazy Beach where there is the second of three eco-island resorts. To reach the island from Sihanoukville take a boat from the Russian Pier. There are many who also organize an alcohol based party on the way back.
If there's one thing I love to do when I travel around Asia and Latin America, in addition, to crossing the borders on foot, is to visit the local markets. In southern Cambodia, I fall madly in love with the crab Kep market (PsarKdam) for its timeless atmosphere, the bright colors of people's clothing and the cloudy sky that went to a wedding with the sea. Anglers fish for crab and fish directly in small boats off the coast, which are then carried by the women ashore in large baskets and sold fresh for restaurants in the city.
Kep was once the first beach destination of Cambodia, can be reached by taxi in thirty minutes from Kampot or two hours of cycling. Leaving Kep we headed to the Bokor National Park mountains. At Bokor, there is a Buddhist temple that almost touches the sky overlooking the sea where we note that what matters is the substance. Personally, it is a place that I loved because I felt it very real and touristy.
Cambodia Travel Tips
I hailed Cambodia with an alarm clock at six to be able to visit the Russian Market at dawn with sleepy eyes to see the vegetables available on the counters, staging clothing and souvenirs, the arrival of the people that slowly animated the market under the sun's rays filtered by the plates.
The Amok is the national dish, a classic Khmer dish made with coconut milk and fish steamed in banana leaves. Beef Loc Lac is a dish prepared with chopped veal and accompanied by a particular sauce. The insects in Cambodia deserve a separate chapter and in fact, there are stalls selling spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, snakes, blue crabs and other fried amenities.
Another specialty or rather a Cambodian extravagance that is very popular especially in the souvenir shop would be a distillate containing a scorpion.
If you want, you can attend a traditional Cambodian dance, as there are different types of this kind of art that was part of the Khmer culture for more than a millennium and a pepper plantation, one of the most popular products of Cambodia.
What is the currency used in Cambodia?
The official currency is the riel. My advice is to arrive on the site already with a with a good stock of dollars.