The second leg of my Cambodian Travels continued… While this post should make sense on its on I still recommend reading My First Solo Trip – Cambodia! Part 1 first or my separate post on The Temples of Ankor if you are interested in Ankor Wat 🙂
The capital of Cambodia! While this city is bustling with activity, attractions and food (including the well known “happy” pizza) and was the centre for the khmer empire and french colonialists, it wasn’t my favourite city. Aside from the dampening history of the killing fields, it is a place that you must have your wits about you for there are scams and pickpockets galore and you will not find much of a cultural experience here. In saying that, it is definitely a must see city, I just wouldn’t recommend staying more than perhaps three nights. As I was only there for two nights I did not get to see and do everything I wanted too (including the national museum, independence monument and a mekong river cruise) however this is what I did do.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda – While these are two different attractions they are generally visited together as they are in the same complex. The Royal Palace is the residence of the king of Cambodia and feels like walking through a fairytale with its assortment of beautifully architected khmer buildings. At the time I visited, the Chinese priminister was in Cambodia so the royal palace was draped in both the flags of Cambodia and China (which adds some confusion to my photos). The silver pagoda, much like Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew, is the temple that houses Cambodia’s emerald buddha. This is definitely a must see when in Cambodia!
Boxing matches – Our tour guide managed to get us free entry into a Muay Thai match between Thailand and Cambodia. We walked in and couldn’t believe it when we were sat on a platform right in front of the ring behind the Cambodian sports minister! What an experience! While I by no means follow Boxing, Muay Thai or any martial arts I found this incredible so if you are someone who does follow this then you definitely have to see a fight while in Phnom Penh.
Killing fields and Genocide Museum- Along with Ankor Wat this was my other major reason for wanting to come to Cambodia. This is where almost a third of the country was tortured and murdered by the khmer rouge. Visiting this place is actually what prompted me to want to start a blog just to spread the word and educate whoever I can. Many of the people responsible for these crimes were never brought to justice and were actually RE-ELECTED back into power. This nation is still not able to openly talk about these events and the genocide is not yet taught at schools. If you don’t know much about this than I highly recommend doing your background reading before visiting this recovering nation.
If you are lucky enough you may also get the chance to talk to one of the seven survivors of Tuol Sleng who are now allowed to sell their books at the site. With stories of torture and having their nails pulled out or watching their families murdered before their eyes these people still cry when they talk about and relive these horrifying experiences. This was such an emotional experience for me and I honestly think for everyone who speaks to them. I had the privilege of meeting both Bou Meng and Chum Mey and purchasing their books from them. The most amazing examples of forgiveness and learning to move forward that I have ever seen.
After Phnom Penh we took another bus out to the country for a home stay with the locals. In contrast to Phnom Penh this was a small village surrounded by wilderness. Many tours are trying to encourage tourism outside of the cities to help the economy in rural areas and also to provide another source of income based on culture and eco-tourism as opposed to begging or selling trinkets.
While in Chambok we went hiking with the locals and a few of the local dogs through the jungle to some hidden waterfalls (apparently we had to bring the dogs with us to watch the path for snakes ). After the hike we had yet another amazing meal cooked for us before watching the kids from one of the schools perform some traditional dances, and then heading back to our beds on the floor in one of the local family homes.
While not as much of a cultural experience as the rest of Cambodia, Sihanoukville was a super chilled town with bars and restaurants all along the beach. The perfect place to relax and party. My biggest regret while in Cambodia was not taking the ferry out to Koh Rong! Koh Rong is an island off the coast from Sihanoukville and while I cant really say much about it (seeing as I didn’t go) all of my friends that have been have said it was well worth it…
But back to Sihanoukville… along the beach side you will most definitely be asked if you want to buy bracelets or get a massage or your nails done. NEGOTIATE A PRICE BEFORE THEY START! Or you may find yourself $40USD out of pocket when they finish. Being pre-warned about this saved me so hopefully I can do the same for you.
Another thing that you should be prepared for is begging along the beachside. Some of these people will do anything they can for money because they are so desperate including maiming their children so that people are more likely to give them money. While it is awful to see, giving money to the children is only making the problem worse. We had a man walk past us and drop a baby that was only about three months old on the ground right in front of us so that he could get our attention. We cleaned the baby up and while he was too young to eat a mashed banana, he drank water straight from our water bottle. We offered the man food instead of money which he didn’t want so he left hoping another group of tourists would be more lucrative.
Sihanoukville also has a very dark side that may not be so apparent in the touristy areas. This beautiful beach town is also a hub for child prostitution. Luckily I was not exposed to any of this on my trip however, I have friends who saw young girls in clubs in both Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh and they were powerless to stop it. Just a word of warning that parts of this country can be very confronting and upsetting making it apparent that Cambodia still has a long way to go.
Just as every rose has its thorn, while confronting and sometimes very upsetting, Cambodia is a nation full of culture, history, beautiful landscapes and friendly people. It provided me with one the most eye opening and life changing experiences of my life and I would recommend that everyone should go and see it for themselves. If you are thinking of going or have any questions or comments please reach out to me. I could talk about this country for days!
Amberlee Jane xx