Editor’s note: Travel is restricted due to COVID-19. Keep this in mind before booking your trip. This is a place to explore after the outbreak.
Straddled by Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, Cambodia has a long, tumultuous history through the centuries, particularly the era of the Khmer Rouge. In the recent development of the country, it has become a mecca for backpackers and tourists alike.
Return flights are currently available from Guangzhou and Shenzhen to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh for around 2,000 RMB taking approximately three hours. A Cambodian visa on arrival is available for most countries costing about 210 RMB. The U.S. dollar is the most convenient currency to use throughout the country, with the local currency, Rial, being used for lesser payments and generally given in small change.
The capital city is located on a section of the Mekong River and is a city in a modernist transition period. The sheer contrast between the impoverished locals and the new luxury SUVs is ever apparent. The main tourist features of Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields and Khmer Rouge Prison Museum. Both places are humbling, detailing the legacy of former leader Pol Pot and the mass genocide that ensued during his tenure. Whilst morbid, it is a fascinating insight into what the Phnom Penh people endured through the late 1970s.
There are countless places to stay at budget prices, particularly on the riverside west bank backpacker’s district; however, the area does have a vast number of loose bars that will not suit everyone’s taste.
Roughly 350 kilometers north of Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s most renowned national icon, the majestic Angkor Wat temple, in the city of Siem Reap. A minivan from the capital takes around five hours and costs 140 RMB per person. An all-day pass for Angkor Wat and numerous other impressive sites around it is 280 RMB and needs to be purchased a day in advance. Get up as early as possible to make the most of the day. Arrange a scooter or a tuk-tuk driver to traverse the distances between sites. Take note to not wear shorts on the trip as some temples will deny access.
If looking for a little something different, head south 15 kilometers to Tonle Sap Lake and take a boat cruise through the floating villages.
Khmer cuisine is standardized throughout the country and is essentially a medley of Thai, Vietnamese and Indian flavors, with subtle hints of French and even Chinese influences. Staples include amok trey, fish with coconut milk steamed in a banana leaf, and kuyteav, a rice noodle pork soup similar to Vietnamese pho. Prahok is a type of pungent fermented fish paste used in most dishes as a base, whilst common vegetables vary from bitter melon to water spinach.
All the dishes are unusual yet enjoyable.
If you learn arkoun (Khmer for thanks) you are greeted by a courteous bow and a beaming smile wherever you go.