While I have travelled quite a lot, the majority of my trips have been with friends or family, or perhaps only a night or two alone in a new city. I decided to take the plunge into my first solo trip and booked my flight to South East Asia! As this was my first trip alone I booked myself into a tour (also my very first tour) from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh city. I am so glad I did this! Not only was everything planned and accompanied with the most amazing local guide, it gave me the confidence I needed to know that I am capable of travelling anywhere on my own and can always rely on my own two feet. With that said, this is the overview of my tour through Cambodia.
When you cross the border from Thailand to Cambodia you will have to cross on foot to go through customs. This was the only customs border I’ve been to where I was allowed to bring food through with me. This didn’t last long though as once we made it through customs I was bombarded by people begging for my food and ended up giving it all away. A very intense welcome to Cambodia.
After crossing the Thai/Cambodian border and having my first Cambodian meal (fish amok curry) we started our bus ride to Siem Reap. A quick word on driving in Cambodia… don’t. While there is technically a designated side of the road to drive on people tend to overtake other vehicles whenever they want and we almost had so many head on collisions in our bus that we lost count. There is also a lot of honking every time you pass another car or motorbike to let them know that you’re there. From experience I recommend not being hungover if you have a large bus ride because I can almost guarantee it will be the worst bus ride of your life.
While most people know Siem Reap as the gateway to the ancient Ankor temples, this city actually had ALOT more to offer than I was expecting. While you can find everything here from cooking classes to quad bike or horseback rides, or (if you’re gamer than me) you can even attempt The Flight of the Gibbon and zipline through the treetops. With so much to offer and not enough time, below are the highlights of my time in Siem Reap:
Mingling with the locals – We decided to explore the city as soon as we got settled at our hotel however, we were stopped before we got off the street by locals and kids who wanted to play games with us. We spent the afternoon playing soccer with the kids and another game (which while popular in Asia I had NEVER heard of) where a shuttlecock was thrown around and had to be kept in the air. Needless to say, we didn’t really see much of the city that afternoon as we lost track of the time mingling with the locals.
Pub street – The Koh San of Cambodia! As its not so creative name suggests, this is the street to party. While very touristy, if you want to experience the nightlife of Siem Reap, this is the place to be.
Tonlé Sap and the floating villages- The largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, Tonlé Sap is only about 15km south of Siem Reap. While a magnificent sight in its own right, the real gem of the show is all the floating villages you need to pass through in order to get there. These villages rely predominantly on fishing for their survival however you will also see them farming morning glory and also the occasional crocodile farm. Be sure to keep your eye out for pots and pans hanging on the porches of the floating houses. These pans are a sign to the village that the family is looking for a suitor for their beautiful and eligible daughter.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus – As an animal lover I first and foremost want to note that this circus does not involve animals. Phare, The Cambodian Circus is an organisation that uses visual arts and theatre as a tool to revitalise the art scene of Cambodia and to create opportunities for Cambodia’s youth that would otherwise have been absent. Many of the performers have come from extremely difficult backgrounds of poverty or abuse and have transformed their lives through the opportunities that this organisation has created. Supporting a great cause and witnessing an amazing, high energy performance of acrobatics and dance, this is an absolute must see when staying in Siem Reap. If you would like to learn more about Phare or provide a donation you can do so at http://pharecircus.org/.
The Temples of Ankor – I would be lying if I said this wasn’t my major reason for wanting to visit Cambodia. Ankor Wat had been on my bucket list for some time now and seeing it in real life was every bit as magical as I imagined, so magical in fact that I have dedicated it its own blog post that I hope to publish soon on The temples of Ankor. It will be well worth the read 😉
On the banks of the Mekong and in close proximity to Phnom Penh, this quaint provincial capital is considered one of the major cities in Cambodia and has always been an important hub for trade and transportation, especially during the french period. This city was not originally on my list of must see places however I am so glad I found myself here. The locals were so friendly and this was possibly the best cultural experience I had during my time in Cambodia.
After a breakfast of tofu lok luk and fresh juice overlooking the mekong we decided to rent out some bikes and go exploring. We cycled through some nearby temples while making our way to the ferry to head over to a nearby island. This was a local ferry and was basically a few canoes tied together with planks of wood on top. Somehow it was still sturdy enough to transport the locals from the island everyday so that was good enough for me.
This local island takes the prize for the most amazing time I had in Cambodia. The locals were all so friendly inviting us through their houses to try the guava and grapefruit from their gardens in exchange for a chance for their children to practice some english. We also came across a number of other unexpected and once in a lifetime opportunities while riding through the island. We were invited to play volleyball against of group of locals and I also found myself beckoned into a class room to teach english. Dylan and I stood in front of about 20 children telling them all about who we were, where we were from and about our families while they laughed at the silly english names like Connor, Craig and Elisabeth. This unplanned and amazing experience was one I will never forget. It was amazing to see how these people live outside of the hustle and bustle of the cities and main tourist destinations.
That night tour guide had organised for us to have a home cooked meal at one of the villagers houses. The community splits this money by getting people from different families to cook. The person who owns the house gets a cut as well as each of the families who cooked for us. We dined on a mix of fried rice, amok curries and lok luk (which are all MUST try dishes in Cambodia) on bamboo mats on the floor of a very hospitable families home. After dinner they sat with us over a few shots of spider wine, literally 20 tarantulas drowned and fermented in alcohol. I wasn’t brave enough for this ordeal but apparently its extremely good for your joints…
After this we continued on to Phnom Penh, A family home stay and the beach town of Shihanoukville. To continue reading you can find the rest of my journey in the next blog post – Cambodia Part 2.
Amberlee Jane xx