T I M E
3rd August – 16th August 2018
V I S A
We got our visa on arrival and it cost us $20.00. Again, 2 passport photos, 2 spare pages & 6-months left on the passport before expiry is required. This bought us 30-days to explore, but we always knew we didn’t want to stay longer than a fortnight.
S P E N D I N G
Over the two weeks, I totalled up my spending to £520.00. Although Cambodia is very cheap, numerous things can make it more expensive than it should be. With the use of the dollar preferred, don’t be fooled when the locals try to massively over charge you. Just remember, a dollar is worth a lot to them so don’t barter too much – they require our tourism to live.
R O U T E
- Phnom Penh 2. Kampot 3. Sihanoukville 4. Koh Rong Sanloem 5. Koh Rong 6. Battambang 7. Siem Reap
P H N O M P E N H
Day 1 – 3
Our first day was pretty much taken up by travelling from Phu Quoc into Phnom Penh via minivan, ferry & finally, a bus. We checked in that evening at Mad Monkey hostel – Mad Monkey is a fun party chain of hostels throughout Southeast Asia and, like Vietnam Backpackers, you can buy a pass that you can use to stay at all hostels you cross paths with. With my craving for pizza still ever high, I got on researching and found a place nearby, in Cambodia, of all places – I was least expecting to find one here! The next morning we headed to ‘My Friends Café’ for breakfast where it was a hungry, malnourished coeliac backpackers dream! I indulged in pancakes for breakfast, I ordered a cheese sandwich to takeaway for lunch AND took away a whole pizza to demolish later at dinner. I was in carrbbbbb heaven and man did it feel good.
We spent our afternoon in a completely different mindspace to our earlier indulgent morning. We decided to take a tour around the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide museum, followed by a visit to the most renowned killing fields in Cambodia, Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre – this was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. Travelling shouldn’t always be white sands, clear water and palm trees. It’s about throwing yourself into the countries culture and learning about their history – why visit a country if you are too ignorant to learn anything about it. If you enter with little knowledge, you should leave full of it. Like Vietnam, Cambodia has a huge history and unfortunately, a very tragic one at that. If you are not able to visit Cambodia due to recent events, or maybe you have no interest in visiting the country at all – then the least you should do is read up on the events that occurred in 1976 (when most of your parents were still children!!). A quarter of the Cambodian population were believed to have been killed in this awful mission of the Khmer Rouge’s new leader, Pol Pot, to create a classless communist state based on a rural agrarian economy. Three things that will stay with me for as long as I can remember from that day. 1 – the splatter of blood that still stains the prison walls. 2 – one of the seven survivors, Bou Meng, who bravely sits within the prison grounds, telling his story to tourists alike and selling his book and 3 – the killing tree within the killing fields, where colourful bracelets hang representing the innocent infants and children who were beaten to death during the genocide.
After an emotionally draining day, we headed back to the hostel where we ate our earlier purchased food and hit the hay before heading to Kampot the next day.
K A M P O T
Day 3 – 5
A short 2-hour journey took us from Phnom Penh to our next destination, Kampot. We had originally set aside one week to spend in Cambodia, but having done my research, I felt there were was so much more I wanted to explore than just your generic places. My travelling companion had also been to Cambodia before, so it was a nice excuse for her to see some new places. Kampot was the first of those, and you could tell it was off the beaten track due to the limited amount of backpackers here. We left our hostel, another Mad Monkey, to explore the town and got breakfast at Backyard Café & Bread – a lovely café, which was brilliant for gluten free options. So pleasantly surprised by Cambodia! We had a leisurely day walking around the town of Kampot – not much to see in the town itself, but lots to do in the outer areas! We had a tapas dinner at a restaurant called baRACA with some girls we had met back in Phnom Penh and had drinks back at our hostel (not the usual Mad Monkey atmosphere as there was very few people checked in at this time – rainy season). The following morning, we got breakfast at Simple Things, a gorgeous yoga studio/café – thinking back there was quite a zen, hippy vibe across the whole of Kampot – quite like Pai, Thailand. We came across this amazing café called Epic Arts Café on our daily wander, which is a registered, non-funded charity, providing equal working opportunities. Most of the café’s staff were deaf, so they use an innovative ticking ordering system. It was wonderful to observe, and to be a part of helping boost the confidence of these amazing individuals. We sat and drank coffee here for a couple of hours and then took a short tuk-tuk (every place had a different style tuk-tuk and this always made me laugh.
I don’t think you could have even called this man’s tuk-tuk a tuk-tuk!) ride out to Kep, a sleepy sunset village situated 30-minutes from Kampot. Kep is notorious for its famous Crab Market and La Plantation, the largest organic peppercorn farm in Asia. Head down to the seafront to try a notorious combination of both, the famous Crab with Local Pepper – yum! Our little tuk-tuk driver waited for us the whole time while we explored (they do this a lot for a little extra cash) before taking us back to the hostel in Kampot. The following morning we took a bus to Sihanoukville where we would get the ferry across to the first of the two ‘luxury’ islands – Koh Rong Samloem. However, luxury it was not & this is where our trip started to take a dramatic turn for the worse.
S I H A N O U K V I L L E / K O H R O N G S A M L O E M
Day 5 – 8
As we approached the pier to catch the hour ferry across to the island, the greatest darkest rain cloud I have ever been under, took over the sky and the heavens opened. We were certain that the ferry wouldn’t leave the dock, but sure enough in true Cambodian style, the journey was going ahead – so off we ran down the pier in the torrential rain to get onboard to Saracen Bay. Once at Saracen Bay, we were met by a long-tail boat supplied by the hostel, which was, surprise surprise, a Mad Monkey. The hostel itself was its own private resort and had it not been such terrible weather the WHOLE time we were there, it would have been absolute paradise. The communal area was on stilts in the sea, there was hammocks in the water, the rooms were individual log cabins. It had a real Bali feel. As you can’t go anywhere else besides the hostel, they put on nightly events and day time snorkelling and fishing trips. So, the following morning, with a stinking hangover and in the torrential rain, we decided it would be a great idea to jump on the day trip to go and snorkel & catch some fish?! Was it not for the hilarious people we went out to sea with, this day would have been a nightmare. When the weather got too bad, even for our Cambodian tour guide who just kept saying it was a ‘bit of rain’, we headed back to the resort. It rained for the rest of the day, and as the forecast said it was only going to get worse, we had to make the hard decision to leave the island early and head to Koh Rong the following morning.
K O H R O N G
Day 8 – 10
Here it is – the famous day of our travels. I am not exaggerating when I say we are lucky to be here to tell the tale! Our boat journey from Koh Rong Samloem to Koh Rong was genuinely the most terrifying, life questioning experience of our lives, which still haunts me over two years later. I naïvely have never thought about being on water, in water, anything about water. I have had two accidents in water and nearly drowned, yet I still have never been afraid of it. In fact, being in water is my happy place. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get onto that boat in the rain and there would be any issues, but I was soon taught how terrifying the ocean can be. Picture this, so many backpackers wanted to the leave the island due to the storm, so we were all piled onto a long-tail boat and taken to Saracen Bay to catch basically, a fishing boat to Koh Rong. About half an hour into our journey and in the middle of the sea, the storm we had been in for a couple of days took a sudden turn for the worst. I mean, our old wooden fishing boat was vertically facing into the ocean, and waves double the size of the boat were going over us, constantly, for what felt like hours. At first, I tried to remain calm for the people on the boat who were already panicking. This was until I saw the fearless Cambodians driving the boat, put on their life jackets! I turned to a group of boys we had met on the Koh Rong Samloem, who twenty-minutes ago were laughing and joking, and there was one crying & one saying a prayer. Everything we owned was ruined, soaked rotten, but I have never in my life been so happy to see land in the distance. We walked straight to our guest house, Green Ocean, and both rang our parents in absolute floods of tears to tell them what had happened and that we loved them. This really was the pinnacle day where we questioned if we could continue with our travels throughout this particularly bad rainy season. We had Bali & Philippines booked for a couple of weeks’ time, but having heard horror stories from the travellers we had met along the way, who had been stranded on islands for days, and it only being the start of rainy season & finally, after experiencing our first traumatic experience, we made the decision that rainy season was not the time we wanted to be on these tropical islands and we would put our future plans on hold for the time-being. We went to Koh Rong with three girls we had met at the previous island and thank God we did. The rain never stopped and we honestly did nothing for two days until the forecast said it wasn’t due to rain for two hours, where we HAD to brave the boat back to Sihanoukville (believe me we looked at every option possible to get off that island besides boat).
S I H A N O U K V I L L E / B A T T A M B A N G
Day 10 – 13
I realised when we arrived back on land and got off the boat in Sihanoukville, that I was starting to feel really poorly. I rarely ever feel sick, but this was the craziest feeling. I couldn’t physically stand up straight, my bag which I had carried on my back for nearly 3-months at this point was suddenly outrageously heavy and I couldn’t walk 2 minutes without having to sit down. Unfortunately, we had to kill a whole afternoon until we got the night bus at 7pm – which was the worst when all you wanted to do was get into a bed and rest – I did even contemplate checking us in to a hotel for the day. Sihanoukville is NOT a nice place – don’t stay here unless you need a stopover. It is a casino town run by the Chinese Mafia and it is not a safe place for travellers from what I have heard. Luckily the weather was still bad, so we passed time here by getting a massage, eating Mexican food before getting the night bus to Battambang in the evening.
Ahhhhh bliss, a 14-hour night bus when you feel like shit on a stick. As you can imagine, this journey only stirred up whatever I was fighting off beforehand and made me feel a hundred times worse. We checked in at ‘The Place’ hostel – which was super cool and modern, HUGE rooms and a lovely rooftop area where breakfast etc. was held. I really was beside myself at this point, and having noticed a huge lump develop on my neck, we decided it was time to head to a health center and get seen to. As I previously said, Cambodia of all places was full of surprises. We were recommended to go to Hando Medical Center where I spent the rest of the day having different tests to figure out what was wrong. Initially, they believed it to be Dengue Fever – a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, but fortunately those tests came back negative. Still to this day I don’t know what was wrong, maybe just physical exhaustion, but I continued to feel this way for three days until I was VIOLENTLY sick in Siam Reap – details to follow. We went for dinner at Jaan Baji, a restaurant that was recommended all over the internet for their authentic nourishing wholesome Cambodian food. It was a gorgeous restaurant and my friend loved her meal, I just couldn’t stomach anything yet. The following day, we did what we came to Battambang for and went on the Bamboo train. Maybe you’ve seen Jack Whitehall’s hilarious series ‘Travels with my Father’, where they take the bamboo train or maybe you’ve never heard of it! Like everything in Asia, it was an experience to say the least. You are technically sat on a slat of bamboo for 15 minutes, and when you come head to head with another ‘train’, the drivers have to battle it out between them who has got more passengers on their ‘train’. The loser has to kick everyone off, completely dismantle their train (made from bamboo and a motorcycle engine) in order to let the other past!! This happened to us twice, of course. Me and my friend still talk about this day now, and she says she has never seen me so white and quiet in the whole time she has known me.
But the day didn’t end there. I soldiered on as there was more we wanted to see before leaving in the morning. We took a tuk-tuk out to the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. Another terribly sad execution site, southwest of Battambang. The cave is situated up a mountain, and was used by the Khmer Rouge to kill their victims and subsequently push the body into the cave. The cave has now been turned into a memorial to those who lost their lives here, and some of their bones are still kept here. At the bottom of the mountain, crowds gather just before 5.30pm to watch THOUSANDS of Bats leave their cave for a night of hunting. This stream of bats literally goes on for 30/40 minutes and is the most mesmerising sight. I couldn’t quite believe there was SO many! To finish up a surprisingly productive day considering how bad I felt, we headed to Phare Pnleu Selpak – Battambang’s very own Circus. The beautiful thing about this circus was that it is a non-governmental organisation, that supports community development through providing social, educative and cultural services to the children of Battambang and their families. It was genuinely amazing, the kids performing were so talented and SO funny! We laughed the whole way through, they bought so much character to the stage and acted out the whole of Cambodian history in such a wonderful way.
Considering how poorly I felt, I loved Battambang. It was quiet, less touristy, but had some really amazing things to see. I’m glad we saw what we did and made the most of it!
OMG – I forgot to mention the market!! Also shown on Jack Whitehall’s series. You have never seen a market like it. You have to go and witness it for yourselves. Picture skinned frogs, live snakes in bags ready to be eaten, bugs, insects. If it moves, Cambodians will eat it – trust me.
S I E M R E A P
Day 13 – 15
Our final stop in adventurous Cambodia! I do recall thinking at the time that I couldn’t wait to see Angor Wat and just get out of the country. But now, looking back, I can appreciate the beautiful places we saw and visited in the two weeks we were there. We just weren’t in the best mind space after our boat journey and then falling ill. Never the less, we got an early bus to Siem Reap (around 2 hours) and checked in at Lub D Hostel. I know I have said this about loads of hostels, but if you are visiting Siem Reap, you have to stay here! It was SO nice and modern. Lucky for me, the beds were soooo comfy (or maybe they weren’t, I just would have found anything comfortable at this point) and the rooms were huge – so I took myself to bed and slept for the rest of the afternoon. We got dinner at a restaurant across the road called The Brothers, which offered very standard Cambodian cuisine. A nice cheap eat!
Like most, we opted for the sunrise tour to Angor Wat with a private driver that we had been recommended by a kind girl in our hostel. Still feeling pretty ropey, we set off at 3.30am to catch the ‘sunrise’. As we arrived at the largest religious monument in the world, a beautiful temple that people travel all over the world to see, I panicked and asked our driver to quickly pull over so I could projectile vomit all over the entrance. Well done Bek – you sure do pick your moments. Now that the vomit, that had been kindly brewing in my stomach for the last 3 to 4 days was now on the floor of the most stunning setting in Cambodia, I put my head down in shame and ventured in to the Temple to watch the ‘sunrise’ at the lotus pond and explore the temple. What an unbelievable place it truly is, every nook and cranny has a different marking or story to it. We got a blessing from one of the monks and spent a couple of hours walking around the temple itself. Once finished, we asked our driver to take us to Ta Prohm (better known for the Temple where they filmed Tomb Raider) and Bayon Temple (The Faces of Bayon) before dropping us back to the Hostel. You could have explored for the day, days even. There are so many more temples to explore. I just couldn’t physically do any more than the three, so off I went back to bed. I actually chose to stay in a private room on my final night in Cambodia to try and re-energise after a somewhat traumatic day!! Best decision ever, and sometimes during travelling you just really need your own space, even for a couple of hours. We had dinner at Keo – La Pasta with the girls we had travelled most of Cambodia with, before departing Cambodia for Malaysia the following morning!
My honest opinion – I am so thankful for our time in Cambodia and even more thankful we decided to venture further than the generic path. I not only learnt SO much about the history of this part of the world, but SO much about myself too. I spent two weeks here and I think that was more than enough, for me. I am not saying I will never be back, but I am more than satisfied with my one time here. From Siem Reap, we caught a plane to Kuala Lumpur, to begin exploring Malaysia.