Making a 3 week itinerary for Cambodia was a really hard thing to do. There are just way too many places to visit in Cambodia. There's beaches, the cities, the towns, the temples and more temples and even way more temples. From Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap, from Battambang to Sihanoukville and Kampot you'll just be amazed by the people. They are just way too nice a people. Coming from NYC Ephman was like “hey what's up with all these super nice people?” But he liked it.
Ephman's been to 23 countries and about 153 cities/towns/hamlets/villages or hole in the walls. So it's with some authority that he knows what he's talking about when it comes to traveling. Oh the disclaimer is that he's so over traveling like a backpaker (although he does use a backpack for his stuff). He's paid his dues in that world (remember the time he got deported from Czechoslovakia?)
Phnom Pehn Is Insane
Somehow Phnom Pehn in all it's anarchy it works. That's the best way to describe this city. You'll see why in a moment.
We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel. It's one of the only 2 5 star places in town. But the rates are like $130 a night so how could it be resisted. It's the sort of place that when your car pulls up, 5 people are there to take your bags. Actually the General Secretary of Laos was staying there. Let's just say Choummaly Sayasone does not smile. But the concierge at this hotel is fantastic. They'll totally create an amazing schedule for you while you visit.
There are 2 main markets to buy things. The Central Market which is pretty clean (hygienewise). But if you want to have a little more fun head over to the Russian Market. You can buy everything from the usual ripped off DVDs to Louis Vuitton bags (fake), all the way over to knock off iPhone 4's. Crazy right iPhone 4's. The Russian Market used to be way more fun when you were able to buy loads of grenades and tons of drugs. But that was then and this is now.
The river front is like the main place for tourists to hang out. It's got most of the western restaurants located there. The FCC (aka Foreign Correspondents' Club of Cambodia) is really expensive, and has just alright food. You're way better off heading off to like La Cantina for decent Mexican. But hey you're in Cambodia and Khmer food is awesome. The Sinan Restaurant is a pretty good stop. Also went to Malis, which is supposed to be the finest Khmer food, and it was only mediocre.
Other pitstops to check out are The National Museum which although is sparse is totally worth the entrance fee. You get your own guide to explain everything there. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda (ya it's real silver) are also pretty cool to check out. Ephman learned that the King of Cambodia is gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).
No visit to Phnom Pehn is complete without checking out S-21 Toul Sleng Museum. This has to be one of the saddest places Ephman has ever visited. It used to be a high school before the Khmer Rouge came around. Then it turned into a secret torture center. And the last stop for something like 20,000 people before they were murdered in the killing fields. After that you can go about 30km out of town and see the fields. There's still clothes in the ground. And bones. Pretty rustic stuff, and not really setup for tourism. So it even hits you more. It's like S-21 was just left the way the Khmer Rouge left it. It's just a really tough to see it all. Ephman couldn't find it in himself to take any pictures of the original beds, or the axes, or gas tanks (used as toilets). Just this one photo to remind people that this is not a place to laugh or smile around. Very sad.
Siem Reap Is Wonderful
Was a little surprised to find out the place Ephman stayed at Pavillon d'Orient Boutique-Hotel was not in the main area of the city. But that was a good thing. Wow what a dusty town. Never been to a dustier place in the world. But included was his own tuk-tuk driver. Oh and a free massage, which is so needed after a long day of temple exploring.
There is nothing else really to do in Siem Reap but visit the temples. And this place is the mecca of it all. There are some really cool ones too. The Beng Mealea aka The Jungle Temple is one of the coolest places on earth. It was built by Jayavraman VII one of the finest kings the Khmer people have ever had. And until recently was totally covered with land mines. But it's since been cleared and you see how mother nature has grown all over this place. Huge trees growing out of the roofs of temples are really a thing to see. Tomb Raider was filmed there. Amazing.
Angkor Wat... holy $%#@. That place is so cool. It means City Temple. And ya it's as large as a city. You can spend the whole day just exploring the grounds. It's so peaceful. Even with all the visitors. The place was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. But what's cool was the king who built it Suryavarman II was the man. To build that place way back in the 12th century, was genius. And you really need to get there for the sunrise. Do it wake up early and get there.
The night life in Siem Reap is pretty good. But it's fake. There's a street called Pub Street, and really it looks like any other street with pub after pub after pub. If you're into splurging... and Ephman was. You need to check out the restaurant in the Hotel de la Paix named Meric. Amazing Khmer food. But the cool thing is that you sit on your but on this swinging platform. And you natural movements sway the swing. Ephman drank a ton... not the best idea, he got a little woozy but it was fun.
Not only is Cambodia the land of smiles... it's unfortunately the land of land mines as well. During the Khmer Rouge years it's like the whole country was land mined. These things weren't made to kill they were made to maim. So you see all over the country people missing legs, arms, hands, feet, etc... and outside Siem Reap on the way to the Lady Temple is The Cambodia Land Mine Museum. Ephman's soon to be brother-in-law Daveedo suggested he go. And so he went. Aki Ra the guy that founded it, has demined over 50,000 of those suckers. And there's millions more to go. People really need to ban these things, they keep killing LONG LONG after any war is over.
Battambang Is Not Quite There... Yet.
Stayed at this new place named The Sanctuary. Ephman would totally recommend staying there. It is so beautiful. And the owner is so nice. And you get driven around town in this old Chinese jeep. BUT the AC didn't work great in our room. The back patio lock didn't lock. The front door lock didn't work so we needed to use some key code thing. The electricity kept going out. BUT like Ephman said there is no better place to stay and I would stay there again.
Didn't stay that long in Battambang. It's not really setup for tourists. The main thing are these bamboo strains. Basically it's a bamboo platform with like a lawn mower engine mounted on it. Watch the video you'll get the point. But these trains are soon no longer going to be available. Japan has been helping Cambodia get their railway back up and running. So the use of these abandonded tracks are slowly being reclaimed. But if you get a chance make sure you go close to sunset. You'll see why below.
Just outside of town is Cambodia's only winery. I'd even bet it's probably South East Asia's only vynard. The lady who owns it told a story about how poor they were. So they got this book on how to make wine. They bought some vines from France, United States, and Australia. And with this book and a dictionary translated it word for word. Next thing you know they're making wine and brandy. Ephman actually brought a bottle of brandy back... it was better then the wine.
Food was totally hit and miss. White Rose was awful. The service was the worst in the whole country and food sucked. Ephman had to go someplace else. On the other hand the Smokin' Pot was awesome. One of the best meals he had the whole trip, if not the best. The beef curry with white jasmin rice was amazing. And with his Angkor Beer, life was fantastic. You can't go to Battambang without going to the Smokin' Pot. They also have cooking lessons. The place might not be much to look at, but wow it will blow you away. Just do yourself a favour and stay far away from White Rose.
Sihanoukville Was Made To Chill... Before It's Too Hot!
Beach time baby... and Ephman stayed at a place with a private beach... just cause that's the kind of guy he is. Sokha Beach Club is great. Ephman was probably the youngest person in the place. Most young travelers stay closer to the public beach. Whatever. There's something to be said for the only private beach.
Other then a good few days on the beach Ephman went diving. It's one of his passions. So he found a pretty decent outfit named EcoSea. You get on a boat and travel out for a couple hours to an island name Koh Rong Samlem. Saw tons of schools of fish. The bad thing is that Ephman's not too good with names of fish. But saw yellow ones, and big angel looking ones. Some barracuda, but no sharks. Not seeing sharks were fine. They even gave lunch! Wasn't so good, but hey it was lunch. And the price was right.
Came across one of the best restaurants Ephman has ever eaten in Asia in. Holy Cow and holy cow was it amazing. They have this curry that was so full of so many different flavours. Can't explain it. Simply one of the best places he's ever eaten at. Oh yah if you're traveling with any vegans, this is perfect place for them. There is a ton on the menu for them.
Really only chilled on the beach. And that water is so warm! It's like a bath in that Gulf of Thailand.
Kampot Was A Great Find.... Beautiful City
The Rikitikitavi was the perfect place to spend a couple night. And they mix some really nice drinks up there. Unfortunately on the day Ephman arrived he wasn't feeling so well. So he spent the day in bed. OUCH. What a waste of a day.
The next day he took off on a tuk-tuk and headed out to the famous Kampot pepper plantations. Ok they're really not a plantation. Maybe before the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the pepper plants they were plantations but now they're small farms. Back in the day there was not a proper French restaurant that would not have pepper from this area. It's the champagne of pepper. And wow expensive too. He got a ½ kilo of white kampot pepper for $8. Out in the real world it'd go for over $45. Crazy right? But the pepper is rare. It takes about 8 years for the plant to grow to maturity to yield pepper. And that's just about now.
There's also this totally beautiful river. You should take a boat ride around sunset. Allt he fishermen go out to sea then to fish. And it's fun to watch them head out. So many of them would smile and wave over.
The city is in a state of resurgence. There's a good effort out there to help save the colonial French architecture.
Ephman really learned a lot about the country from an ex-pat named Mark Norris. Ok long story here. Came to Jasmine's Restaurant because he was told there was good food, and Jasmine would help Ephman feel better cause he was sick. The food was really good! And the conversation with Mark was fascinating. He's been living in Cambodia since 1994. He's a photo journalist. And helped restore over 20,000 negatives from S-21. The Khmer Rough photographed all the prisoners before they killed them. Anyways the burning questions Ephman had was “where do all these Lexus jeeps come from?” So Mark said that they come from the States. They're mainly written off by insurance companies after accidents. And since labour is so cheap in Cambodia, they can afford to fix them up here. He also told stories about being here during the anarchy years. Actually it's still pretty crazy because the police really don't do much. His theory is that the country is going to implode. The discrepancy between the rich and the poor are too vast. And it's getting worse.
Bookmark/Search this post with: