Churning of the Sea of Milk at Angkor Wat

Cambodia Final Thoughts

Dec 14, 2014 - ourglobaltrek

With rich culture and beautiful sights, Cambodia turned out to be a great country to travel in, despite it being the least developed country on our trip so far. After nearly three weeks of royal palaces, idyllic beaches, and ancient temples, we slowly but surely fell in love with the Kingdom of Wonder. Some final thoughts and impressions we had about Cambodia:

His Final Thoughts

Carlos at the pond of Angkor Wat
Carlos at the pond of Angkor Wat

Cambodia has an interesting history. From the rich Khmer empire that built Angkor to a dark and bloody regime that killed a quarter of the population in one of the world’s worst genocides, the Khmer civilization has gone through high ups and even lower lows. Unfortunately, the country is still recovering from its low period, which may take a few more decades. Until then, it suffers from poor infrastructure and corruption from the poorest people to the highest ranks. However, the strength and resilience of the Cambodian people is undeniable and something to admire. I have no doubt that they will recover to be one of the greatest nations once again.

Similar to Vietnam, it was common to see scam attempts in Cambodia. But even so, Cambodia seemed less scammy and more reliable than Vietnam in general. This is entirely based on the personal impressions I had after traveling through both countries, which is probably not completely objective. In Cambodia, the scams came mostly from tuk-tuk drivers or street vendors, who would try to charge you more than it should cost. Tourist attractions listed prices for foreigners vs. Khmer people (unlike in Vietnam) – adding transparency and earning credibility. We almost got robbed in Cambodia, but the police seemed genuinely concerned in solving the matter and they caught the suspects within minutes. They explicitly told us that foreigners bring a lot of money to their country so they want to keep us safe, as well as create a better society for the local people.

Surprisingly, Cambodia was highly “westernized.” Since Cambodia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004, it has seen a constant stream of imported goods taking over their market’s shelves. The highly tourist-dependent economy also forced a fast adaptation to western habits and demands. Most signs have an English version, people vastly speak basic English (better than in Vietnam), restaurants serve western dishes and despite the riel being the official currency, the US dollar is used as a de facto currency (even for locals). At times, Cambodia strangely reminded us of home in this sense.

Another big surprise here for me were the beaches! Unlike Thailand or Maldives, I’ve never, ever heard anything about beaches in Cambodia. If you asked me to name the top beaches around the world, they would never make the list. From beaches in Brazil to the Caribbean to Asia, I’ve been to countless beaches in my life, but none like the ones in Cambodia. I was impressed. The remote island of Koh Rong was pure paradise, with its untouched white sand, emerald-colored waters and laid-back atmosphere. It was the perfect place to relax. No wonder many people go to Koh Rong as tourists and end up spending the rest of their lives here. I can only hope that they preserve this place to be the way it is forever.

I loved our time in Cambodia and I’m truly leaving with a broken heart.

Her Final Thoughts

Julie at the Bayon in Angkor Thom
Julie at the Bayon in Angkor Thom

Coming into Cambodia, I was highly anticipating Angkor Archaeological Park in all of its glory and splendor. Of course, the real thing was so much better than what I imagined, it blew all of my expectations away. No words or pictures can do Angkor justice; it has to be seen and experienced for itself. I personally think it should be on everyone’s travel/bucket lists. Whether you’re a history buff / architecture nerd, a regular tourist wanting a glimpse of the national symbol, or you just like seeing pretty things, Angkor can be appreciated by absolutely everyone.

Angkor Wat was obviously the pinnacle of Khmer art and architecture, and I enjoyed learning about its history and construction much more than I thought I would. Despite not being a morning person, I’m glad we took every opportunity to see the Angkor Wat sunrise – it has to be one of the most beautiful on earth. Outside of Angkor Wat, other temples are worth mentioning. The face towers of Bayon were magnificent and just so cool; trees growing over the abandoned temples of Ta Prohm or Preah Khan were otherworldly; the boardwalk on the waters leading to Neak Pean was very unique; having the temples to ourselves early in the morning was unforgettable… I could go on and on. We visited 17 temples in total over the course of 3 days. All of them are outlined in our Exploring Angkor series, which has also been our biggest project on the blog so far (and very fittingly so) that I’m really proud of.

One unfortunate thing about traveling in Cambodia is that its attractions are spread awkwardly in different parts of the country. While we looped the island of Taiwan and traversed down the length of Vietnam, Cambodia could not be traveled in the most efficient way. The capital of Phnom Penh is in the center, the beaches of Sihanoukville / Koh Rong and Kampot are in the south, and Siem Reap, the temples of Angkor and Battambang are in the northeast. Combined with the limited roads and poor road conditions (we rarely drove over 30km/h), there was a lot of backtracking and long days spent on the bus.

Food so far on the trip has been amazing, but Cambodia didn’t continue that trend. While Khmer food wasn’t a disappointment, it also was not that memorable. There were only a few true Khmer dishes while the rest was Khmer versions of Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese food. All restaurants also offered Western dishes. We probably didn’t eat authentic Khmer food most of the time, but the few selection, small portion sizes, and higher prices made it difficult.

I’m sad that I may never come back to Cambodia again. We missed Kep in the south, the entire northeast of Cambodia which is mostly rural and undeveloped for tourists, as well as other temples at Angkor that were further out, such as the Roluos Group and Koh Ker. But we visited everywhere we wanted to and have no regrets. Cambodia left an everlasting and overwhelmingly positive impression on me. Now I fully understand why it is the Kingdom of Wonder.