On a whim we decided to buy a cheap flight over to Cambodia with one goal in mind…to check out the famed Angkor Wat. We spent some time exploring temples, discovering undeveloped beaches and learning about the horrifying past of Cambodia. Our time was mixed with extremely beautiful places, constant reminders of poverty, lessons about humanity, and we feel that we have left Cambodia with a new perspective. Out of all of the places we have been so far on this trip it was the most raw.
Siem Reap, Phnom Pehn, Otres Beach (outside of Sihanoukville)
Things We Liked
Angkor Wat, cheap beer ($0.50-$1), friendly people, nice beaches, no currency conversions (they use USD mainly), ease of travel, and very little language barrier
Things We Disliked
Tourists everywhere, bus rides (no road rules whatsoever and so many Cambodian karaoke videos), incessant selling of goods/services, lack of Khmer food scene (so much western food), and trash everywhere.
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is a collection of ancient temples outside of Siem Reap and exploring here was exactly why we chose to make the trip to Cambodia. We spent a full day exploring the ancient temples and they never got old (even as we were dodging rain/mud for most of the morning). It was an absolute highlight of our trip so far! We will post more on Angkor Wat in a future post (and more pictures since we have SO many).
2. Otres Beach
After our 10 hour *slightly terrifying* bus ride down to the coast from Siem Reap, we were really hoping that it was worth it. Otres Beach (Otres 2 to be exact) was exactly what we were looking for. We arrived at our beach bungalow in complete darkness to dirt roads, a highly undeveloped area, and a lot of mosquitoes. The next morning when we woke up we were totally surprised to find our beach paradise! Although it was rainy season and we experienced our fair share of rain and clouds, we enjoyed some rest and relaxation on the beach. It was refreshing to be in an area where there is absolutely nothing to do but to kick off your shoes and relax for a while. We have heard that Cambodian beaches are what Thai beaches were 20 years ago before development and resorts were everywhere.
1. Killing Fields/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
During the late 1970s, Cambodia experienced one of the worst genocides to have ever happened at the hands of their government at the time, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. It is thought that between 1.5 and 3 million people (roughly 25% of the population in Cambodia) lost their lives for no reason at all the short span of 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days.We spent the day visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the site of a former high school turned into one of the most notorious prisons (S-21), and at one of the most well known killing fields at Choeung Ek, best known as simply The Killing Fields. To read more about the Cambodian Genocide click here or to read more about the places we visited click here. I honestly can’t write a post about our day spent at these places. Many other people have and they are a touching tribute to these places, but I don’t have the words to do it justice.
While we were grateful to learn about Cambodia’s past, we were equally horrified by what happened here and to see what humanity can do to one another. At the end of the audio tour at The Killing Fields the narrator said these words that won’t ever leave me:
“This was hardly the first case of genocide. We never thought it could happen here. But it did. And the thing is, it can happen anywhere…Tragically, it will probably happen again. So for your sake, remember us – and remember our past as you look to your future.”
In our travels there have been many places that have evident poverty on this trip, but Cambodia’s poverty was the most palpable so far. It was a reminder about how incredibly fortunate we are. As we traveled 10 hours by bus down to the south of Cambodia, we were able look out the window and see a snapshot of life for many in this country. The scenery we passed along the way varied from basic houses to dilapidated shacks. This bus ride and our week here as a whole was eye opening and made us think about our lives differently. Why do I have so much when others have so little?
The hardest part of this is that this poverty exists all over the world, even in our own backyard. Cambodia is not even the poorest country in the world, not even close. It isn’t even the poorest country I have been to, but it still made us feel pretty shitty that we are fortunate enough to be traveling the world when some people haven’t even made it to the beach on the other side of Cambodia.
Our entire time in Cambodia we were asked if we wanted to buy a t-shirt, pants, bracelets, massages, pedicures….this happened as we are eating dinner in restaurants, seeing the iconic temples of Angkor Wat, or relaxing on the beach. Nowhere was exempt from touts. It wore us down.“Tuk-tuk for you? Where are you going? Maybe later? Maybe tomorrow?” We walk 5 more steps and get the same thing. Again. And Again. As much as we wanted to be annoyed we also tried to keep in mind that all of these people are just trying to make a living. Unfortunately, they have found that pestering tourists is the way to go about this. They even sell t-shirts that say “No tuk-tuk today” which is pretty amusing until someone tries to sell you that shirt over and over. Its a vicious cycle.We did hire a few tuk-tuk drivers while in Cambodia and this gave us the opportunity to not only get to where we wanted to go, but to also to learn from them about their lives in Cambodia. Life can be difficult in Cambodia and most people are working long hours just to get by with enough to feed their families and/or send their kids to school. It was humbling to learn about and we are thankful for our interactions with the people we did. These are some of my favorite moments from the entire trip. Special thanks to Sok and Nara for making our time getting around Cambodia so special!
Total Number of Nights: 8
Currency: $1 USD = 4,000 Riel (KHR) = $1 USD (US dollars are the main form of currency we used here, although since there are no coins they use Riels for anything under $1. It was weird to go to an ATM and get USD back. Also, so nice not to have to convert currencies in our heads at restaurants!)
Number of Miles Traveled: 720 miles (including our flight from Thailand)
Number of Miles Walked: 38.4 miles (average of 4.8 miles per day)
Steps Taken: 82,613 steps (average of about 10,300 per day)
Transportation Used: tuk-tuk, bus, mini-bus
Type of Accommodations: Hotel (2), bungalow (1)
Number of Beds: 3