My quick facts about Cambodia
- One of the few countries that have an elective monarchy, meaning they are voted into position. Only those that are part of the Royal bloodline can be voted in.
- Colonized by the French from 1863 – 1953
- English is spoken very well throughout Cambodia
- Though their country has their own currency called Riel, they prefer USD, even the ATM’s give you USD
- Beginning of the era of the Khmer Empire is dated to 802 CE. The empire ended in the 15th century with the fall of Angkor.
- The country suffered a devastating Genocide in 1974, with approximately over 2 -3 million people killed over 4 years.
After our two weeks in Laos we headed over to Siem Reap via air. If you don’t already have a visa then you will have to get a Visa on arrival, make sure to have a passport size photo to go with the application! You will pay a fee of $30.00 USD per person for a 30 day entry visa. The visa process was seamless and from there we headed out to get picked up by a tuk tuk from our hotel (I noticed many hotels offered free pick up, so make sure to coordinate this with your hotel before arrival!).
The city itself is still very much that of a developing country. Later I will get into more of the history of Cambodia. There are many options for cheap and very nice hotels in Siem Reap. We stayed at Dechasey Residence for about $20.00/night USD and it was a really lovely hotel! It’s a small boutique hotel with only a handful of units and the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful!
Siem Reap is an extremely touristy city because of Angkor Wat. With over 2.1 million people visiting Angkor Wat alone in 2016, the whole city seems to be operating just for tourist. The main centre or downtown area is very lively at night, with Pub Street running through the centre. If you like quiet strolls, this would not be the street for you. It’s full of bright neon signage, loud bands and music playing, and every store is either a restaurant or bar/club. It’s definitely a sight to see but depending on your taste of evening activities this may not be the place for you. However around pub street there are also a ton of markets to shop in, restaurants and bars so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find something right for you!
We spent 5 days in Siem Reap, during that time we decided to get a 2 day tour guide to take us around the Angkor area as we heard this is the best way to see and learn about the area. I will likely be writing a separate post about Angkor but just know it is a MUST SEE in Cambodia. Learning about the history and seeing the temples was really a incredible experience. We found the best way to get around Angkor is via tour guide. It is a huge area and would be extremely hard to get around by foot, especially if you don’t know where you’re going. We had a great experience with Thean and would highly recommend him! He was super knowledgeable and fun to be around! You can find more booking information for him here!
is it worth it?
If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia then Siem Reap is a must to see the Angkor City! It’s an incredible sight to see! You will definitely need more than 1 day, so I would recommend getting the 3 day pass (you have up to 7 days to use it, you don’t have to go consecutively). Find a hotel with a pool so you can cool off after your hot days at the temple! I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Siem Reap but I’m really glad I got to see the Angkor City.
By far the best name for a city! However the locals actually pronounce it as Battambong. This was a pretty quiet town. Unfortunately nothing really stood out here for me.
One of the most popular things to do here is going to the bat caves. Since they are nocturnal creatures, they do their hunting at night. Everyday around 6:00 pm a swarm of bats leave the cave, it’s quite the sight to see, it goes on for about 15 to 20 minutes! Also when you go to the bat caves you can take a tour to see the Killing Caves which is during the time of Khmer Rouge. A number of people were killed at the cave site; you can still se some of their remains there.
We rented a scooter here and road around the town and the surrounding areas just to explore the area, however personally I felt there wasn’t all that much to see. At this point we were pretty templed out so we didn’t have much desire to see the other temples.
Probably the most popular thing to do in Battambang other than the Bat Caves, is visiting the Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. This is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of youth, adults and their families by providing access to arts, training, education and social work programs. Due to poor economic conditions for many of these families, these programs provide children with a second chance at education and to help create stability in their lives and for their families. To learn more about this great organization please visit their website. The circus show is really entertaining and extremely impressive! I highly recommend checking it out. You can tell they have trained extremely hard and profits from the show go back into the programs! Tickets are usually sold all over the town, your hotel should be able to get you tickets.
is it worth it?
If you want to be in a more chilled out area then I would recommend stopping here for a few days, especially if you’re doing the bus right to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap. Definitely rent a scooter to ride around the villages and don’t miss out on the bat caves or circus show!
From Battambang to Phnom Penh we took another mini bus for about 5 hours (the key when booking is to book the first row.. if you get car sick these will be the best seats). It is definitely easiest to get around the city via Tuk Tuk or walking, however some areas are pretty spread out. We took a stroll into the city and walked to the Independent Monument area. I like that within the middle of the city centre there is an area that has been created for the people. Where people can come to walk around, exercise, play sports, or just sit and watch others. Having an area like this seems to bring people together, which is a nice feeling when it’s in a big city.
I was pretty ignorant when I got here and I didn’t know anything about Khmer Rouge and the terrible injustice the Cambodian people faced in 1974. This part of history was never taught to me in the Western school system. So it wasn’t until I came to Cambodia that I learned that under the rule of the Purple Regime and it’s leader Pol Pot a genocide occurred which resulted in the death of approximately 2-3 million people. The purple regime was a communist party and they wanted to get rid of anyone that was a threat to their purpose. Majority of the deaths were those of the elite and intellectuals. People in the more rural areas were recruited to be guards and was told by the government that all those that were captured were enemies of the country.
We went to visit one of the prison camps called S21 and the Killing Field. There was a lot of sadness here, however I think it’s important for people to visit. We must honour these people and know that their deaths will not be forgotten. In the S21 camp over 10,000 prisoners were kept in terrible conditions, forced to sleep on the floor, shackled to one another, tortured and eventually killed. Out of the 10,000 at the end of the genocide there were only 7 survivors left from the S21 camps. The Killing Fields is exactly as it sounds, this is where thousands of people died and their bodies were thrown into mass graves.
Unfortunately to this day there hardly has been any justice for the people. Only one high ranking officer has been charged, a few more in prison, and the leader Pol Pot died in his home under house arrest where he got the chance to live out the rest of his life. This is yet another reminder of how much injustice there is in the world.
is it worth it?
The city in itself is like a big city, with many markets, restaurants and bars. I think if you do visit, it’s important to see S21 and the Killing Fields so that you can educate yourself better on this time in history. We cannot continue to let these types of injustices happen in the world, we know better, so we need to do better as the human race.