The Kingdom of Cambodia is full of lush green rice paddies, stunningly elaborate temples and welcoming people. Although Cambodia has suffered from a dark past from half a millennium of civil conflict, foreign invasions and genocide it is continuing to improve and develop. Cambodia has much to offer for the tourist industry.
In the capital Phnom Penh you can often feel the past together with the present. When we first arrived to Phnom Penh I immediately noticed the drastic change in infrastructure from my earlier visit in 2004. The roads had all been rubble back then, there had been few cars but millions of rickshaw motos. Now newly paved roads made way for the brand new SUVs that occupied the roads and modern buildings lined the streets. What a drastic change. I wondered if the charm of the crazy was still in Phnom Penh.
After visiting the Central market, Russian market and wandering around the city it was clear to see that this chaotic city still remained the crazy chaos was as charming and excciting as I remembered. You can still eat happy pizza. Choose from gun menus to shoot coconuts (AK47s, rocket launchers, grenades and the lot) as well as indulge in the gruesome local snacks of spiders, crickets and other insect sold around the city.
The next stop on our journey was Sihanoukville & Koh Rang Island where we found a very sleepy seaside town and the gateway to an array of gorgeous islands.
One of these hippy islands is Koh Rang Island where we went scuba-diving in the shallow reefs where we saw beautiful corals in so many vibrant colors and were able to get a long bottom dive time due to the shallow reef. The corals were so beautiful and colorful I really recommend a dive in Koh Rang, perhaps not the best in the world but definitely worth it if you are in this part of the world.
If going to Cambodia you must visit the temples at Angkor Wat in the north of Cambodia. They are out of this world, we were blown away, words can’t describe how stunning they are. The
whole place is like an Indiana Jones’s dream, just incredible. There are so many temples that are all stunning, the huge trees that have grown in, on and around the amazing carved temples are also amazing. We were awe stuck as was everyone else, spending two to three days taking in the beauty of the sunrises and sunsets setting behind the temples is a memory for life not to be missed.
One of the funniest memories i have i Cambodia that sums up the traffic is taking off early in the morning to see the Angkor sites, we sat in the tuk tuk eating yogurt whilst being driven directly into oncoming traffic, they don’t have road laws here and it shows. It’s a funny memory in that reoccurs in my mind as we weren’t even concerned about the imminent danger, we were more concerned with trying to eat yogurt with a straw.
Another place we visited was the Vietnamese Water Village. Cambodia's ethnic Vietnamese live here on the lake with poor conditions and have little opportunities. It was sad to see the poor conditions in which the people here were living, but at the same time it was amazing to see how happy they were with so little and very proud of what little they had.
After forever on a tuk-tuk we arrived, at the Vietnamese Water Village from Siem Reap reassembled our battered bones and got onto a small wooden boat with an engine that looked like someone took it from a 1980’s car and blue-tacked it to the back of the boat, it was so loud and inefficient I think I could have made a better engine with some twigs and a few elastic bands. After an hour we reached the village and like the rest of Cambodia it was desperately poor, the people live on stilted houses and fish for a living, it was as old as time and nice.
We decided to ask to see our boat driver’s house to his surprise and happiness. We pulled up outside his house jumped onto a bank and climbed up a ladder, the house was so basic, just a floor, a few warped faded posters and a basket of river shrimp drying in the sun. He proudly showed us a water pump he made himself which sucks the river water up to his terrace. We showered the place with complements and he grinned. As it goes in Cambodia, his house is very good, it has walls a roof and a constant supply of filthy water, which is a lot better than no water. We climbed down the precarious ladder and were shown round the small village, we bought a mango and shared it with him which seemed to make his day. We stopped for a cup of tea in the street and got chatting to some locals and to a man whose job it was to find rubbish and sell bits for scrap value, he was so proud of his job and told us all about it gleefully, it just goes to show that your life is what you think that it is. We paid a dollar for the tea to their shock and joy and then left.
Another place of interest was Battambang 4 hours away from Siem Reap though amazing countryside. We arrived in Battambang and walked around the towns old rustic market where we saw mountains of pineapples, literally hundreds if not billions of them piled high. See photo below. =)
In Battambang our mission was to visit local schools in the countryside to give donations and to find out more about rural countryside life. We got up early and went to the market to buy books, hundreds of pencils and some balls to give away to the schools. We had a local man with us for the next few days because he was from a local village and knew all the remote villages. We drove for about an hour and came across a small poor village, we went to the school and gave pencils and books away. The children were so happy they were almost in tears. They were so poor that only a few of them could afford a pencil and paper, the poor ones used a battered slate and worn clumps of chalk. We then gave some sponge balls away, they could not have been happier and even though we didn’t have enough balls for everyone they shared them without even thinking about it. They were such lovely people. We went to various other schools in the area and told the driver sporadically to stop at shacks to visit locals to make donations so that they could buy walls and food. We heard and witnessed the aftermath of the numerous landmines in the countryside. It is a dangerous area riddled with landmines that could go off at anytime. Not only did these communities not have access to water or sufficient food, they also lived in an area full of landmines. It was the saddest experience and I wanted to do as much as I could to help as much as I could.
We drove up to a hill, the only hill around. At the top there was a cave with a 40 metre drop where the Khmer Rouge pushed men women and children to their deaths. 3 million people were killed here just 30 years ago. That’s a lot of people, the scars run deep and everyone knows someone that was killed. In the cave was a gate and behind it were hundreds of skulls and human remains. Very sad and there are no words to describe it.
Battambang was a sad area to visit, sadness from the horrific past and also from the current poor conditions and lack of opportunities. There are no words to describe how sad and emotional we were visiting this area, we donated as much as we could and advised that those who we donated to buy chickens with the money, so that they could sell the eggs and later sell the chicks. We also donated so that those who we visited buy walls and food. I hope that those who we visited were able to buy what they needed, but we only visited a few homes out of hundreds of thousands in the area.
Although Poipet is not a destination I would recommend anybody to go to because of the dangers, we were invited to a Cambodian wedding in Poipet and it was incredible. Therefore we ended up staying in Poipet.
The wedding hall was huge and full of tables, there were about 800 people there. We sat at our table and met more friends and family, they didn’t speak English but were hilarious, every time somebody raises their glass everybody has to drink from their glass, the problem with this is that there was someone doing it every 2 minutes and we were all tipsy. The food was flowing and different people thought it was hilarious to fill our bowls with more and more food. There was a band playing classic Cambodian music on stage, it wasn’t so bad. We had a great time. The Cambodian version of the cake cutting is nice, the bride and groom stand round a table filled with lots of different fruits which is also the centrepiece and the groom picks up a piece of fruit and offers it to the bride, she shakes her head so he offers a different piece of fruit she shakes her head again then on the third time she agrees and eats the fruit from the man’s hand. Then the bride offers the groom fruit and so on. It’s a nice ceremony.
After the fruit ceremony the bride and groom, followed by close family started dancing round the fruit. The dance involves a lot of hand twirling and short steps, it’s very Asian and elegant. After a while, more and more people join in and before long a hundred people were dancing around the fruit
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a land full of history , mystery and beauty that is slowly but surely developing. Our adventures through Cambodia were an emotional journey of seeing the struggles of local life, but they made us realise that you should appreciate what you have in life. It is a land to be explored with rich culture, friendly people and stunning landscapes.