AS SEEN ON – Written by TheHomeWanderers for journeyconnected.com
Cambodia is a place where many
If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, be prepared to witness the most striking ancient temples of the world and be humbled by an extremely turbulent history. You leave with all of your senses alive and a feeling that you have truly immersed yourself in South-East Asian life.
Look no further than right here for your ultimate Cambodia Travel Guide packed to the brim with my best recommendations for your visit. You’re welcome.
1. Watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat
OK, so this is the one and only time I think I will ever be motivated enough to wake up at 4 am and trek through the pitch black darkness! With absolutely no light to help guide us, we joined the crowds at the Angkor Wat temple grounds and clumsily felt our way towards the main building. Something about being sat on plastic chairs, surrounded by people of all cultures and languages, eagerly awaiting the rise of the sun was exhilarating.
As the sky above us gradually started filling with light and colour, the biggest religious building ever to be discovered on the planet slowly came into view. So. Cool.
Now we were slightly disappointed that there wasn’t a ‘Lion King’ inspired yellow spherical sun appearing in the sky (it would definitely have made a better Instagram photo) but I cannot begin to describe the feeling of awe and excitement as we begged for more light so we could go and explore!
Built in the early 12th century for the Hindu God Vishnu, the structure was completed from bottom to top and then intricate carvings and decorations were completed from top to bottom! The carvings still remain unfinished to this day around the base of the building and it’s crazy to think that people used to climb the hundreds of steep stairs along its sides.
A number of monkeys have clued into the tourist hot-spot and will definitely steal your breakfast (and pose for plenty of photos) and you can witness young monks visiting the temple in their robes brighter than the sunrise.
The entire grounds, spread across more than 400 acres, is serene, surreal and an absolute must-see when visiting Cambodia.
2. Channel your inner Lara Croft at Ta Prohm Temple
Easy to visit on the same day as Angkor Wat (20 min drive), Ta Prohm is worth every second battling through the exhaustive heat and crowds. It was such a fascinating place as if I’d stepped onto another planet, climbing over rubble and ducking under vines. The buildings have slowly been strangled by nature, with trees splitting rocks in two and roots as wide as oak trunks wrapping around old carvings. Nature has so easily turned what once was a beautiful temple to absolute ruins. I can see why Cambodia was used for the Tomb Raider movie location!
3. Count the faces at the Bayan Temples
We tried to count how many faces are hidden and incorporated amongst the buildings and it is near-impossible! I don’t know much about architecture but I can definitely appreciate the genius behind the construction of each face by building blocks, differing in size, shape and style and hidden so perfectly throughout the location.
*Note: Tourists are offered elephant rides here, but please reconsider – There are places you can go to see them well looked after and in their natural habitats.
4. Meet the Phare Circus Performers in Siem Reap
The aim of the Phare Circus is “to break the power of poverty by the brightness of the arts”. If you have some time to spare one evening to experience the breathtaking talent of Siem Reap’s jugglers, acrobats and live musicians, I would definitely recommend it! The funny and meaningful story is subtitled in English on a screen next to the stage and is performed by young adults who come from underprivileged backgrounds. Follow their Instagram here.
5. Witness the ‘How much can we fit on a motorcycle’ Challenge
After enjoying the street party night-life of Siem Reap (AMAZING), we drove 7 hours across turbulent Cambodia farmland to Phnom Penh. During this road trip, I couldn’t believe the amount of luggage/merchandise/animals/materials/people that can fit on the smallest mopeds and carts!!!
My favourite sight was whenever I caught a glimpse of a worker casually taking a nap on the gigantic pile…
6. Get educated at the Killing Fields Museum and S-21 Interrogation Centre, Phnom Penh
Not for the faint-hearted but so important to visit in order to understand the horrifying and very recent history of Cambodia; a country that has only known peace since 1994.
Over one million people were killed and buried in various Killing Fields across Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, 1975-1979. At this particular site in Phnom Penh, you are warned to try and avoid walking on any bone fragments that may be visible in the ground and the size of the mass graves and trenches are powerfully distressing. A touching tribute of multi-coloured bracelets is laid out by visiting tourists.
The nearby S-21 Interrogation Centre is a building that was previously a High School before the regime took hold in Cambodia. It was transformed into a prison where unthinkably cruel torture and punishments took place and it has been preserved as it was left ever since.
We felt humbled to speak with 2 survivors who regularly visit the site and are grateful to spread the word of the atrocities committed here. They exuded such strength and positivity that it made me re-evaluate how lucky we are to have lives filled with such love and peace.
7. Have your hair threaded in Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is a busy coastal city, famous for its crowded seafood restaurants and enthusiastic locals offering hair-threading and massages to sunbathers.
Just what you need when you’re sunbathing on a beach in Cambodia… A group of locals using serious pressure-selling techniques to convince you to let them thread your body hair!
With yells of ‘no pain no gain!’, perhaps one of my favourite memories of my Indochina Discovery tour is watching a brightly-dressed woman thread away at my shins, my friend’s armpits (and even the back hair of one of the boys…) At around $10, the smoothness was definitely worth the pain and the memories!
8. Soak up the sun in paradise on Otres Beach
Make sure you ask a tuk-tuk driver to whisk you away from the busy Sihanoukville main beach and drop you straight into paradise: Otres Beach.
It will feel as though you have stepped into a vacation magazine.
Otres Beach is a hidden gem that not many tourists are aware of when visiting Cambodia. Stretches of largely secluded soft white sand are waiting for you and luxury resort seating areas are open for all. I spent the day catching up on some ‘me’ time under the shade of swaying palm trees and swimming in an undisturbed ocean. Heaven.
9. Volunteer with the New Hope Foundation
I was lucky enough to visit this Foundation and witness the incredible work that they do for local Cambodian youth. We visited their Medical Centre, which provides extremely important free healthcare to local children whose families would otherwise be unable to fund their treatment.
We were also asked to sit in on a classroom of teenagers from the local area as they were taught English. They were eager to meet us and practice their language skills; skills that are only available to them due to the organisation providing them free of charge in order to better their futures.
Finally, an incredible dinner was provided to us by the young adults who are learning hospitality skills in the Training Restaurant. Hands down the best Asian food I’ve ever tasted – Including some perfectly seasoned crickets!
It is amazing to be able to give back to the country that you are travelling in and to support local Cambodians in need.
For more information on the Foundation and how you can volunteer, visit their website here.
10. Drink with the locals!
Who would you take
What are your best memories and stories from Cambodia?