“I never left a country with such a big smile on my face.” About a year ago I was planning my travels which were supposed to happen in late summer. As I had a 2 1/2 week gap I told my cousin she could choose any country in Asia and I would meet her there. She chose Cambodia.
Cambodia; famous for the Angkor Wat temple which is even pictured on the Cambodian flag. I think everybody or nearly everybody did hear about Angkor Wat or did see a picture of it as it is just so well-known. But what I didn’t know is that Angkor Wat is just one temple of 1000!! In the whole Angkor temple area, there are more than 1000 temples and sacred sites. The UNESCO even declared the area a World Heritage Site which I can understand because it is an incredible place and it is kind of magic.
Phnom Penh; On our first day we wandered a bit around the area of our hostel, we stayed in the Share Hostel pretty close to the Royal Palace, Wat Ounalom and the National Museum of Cambodia with its stunning courtyard. At the Royal Palace, we found our Tuk Tuk driver for the next day, he would bring us to a few places to visit, first one the Killing Fields which are located about 17 km outside of the centre of Phnom Penh. Arriving in Cambodia and even at the Killing Fields, I had no idea about the countries history or what happened at the Killing Fields. The name does speak for itself though but what exactly has happened here? In short, after the Communist Party of Kampuchea, later also called Khmer Rouge, rose to power everybody had to leave Phnom Penh followed by other major cities. Their ideologies were that everybody is equal and there is no rich nor poor, which first doesn’t sound bad but it was. In addition, everybody that was considered a traitor got killed including every single one of their family members “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake” (Pol Pot, leader). Well, and the Killing Fields was one of the places where they killed and buried, men, women, children, old people, well entire families. You get an audio guide which includes some stories of the survivors and it is truly heartbreaking. I highly recommend the book First the killed my father or the same called Netflix Original which is based on the book, which is the whole story told by a back then 5-year-old girl. It’s not a pretty story and truly heartbreaking but when is history nice?
Next, we would go back to Phnom Penh and from there with a ferry over the river to a small silk factory, where they showed us how to weave scarfs. Obviously, I had to buy a few scarfs as they were so beautiful and the perfect presents for friends and family.
We drove back over the Mekong River to visit the Monkey Temple where yes, we could as well see some monkeys once back over the bridge we went to visit Wat Phnom (Wat = Buddhist monastery or temple; Phnom = hill). At night we went to the Phnom Penh night market which is located just next to the river. Find out about all the food in The food isn’t that bad here – Cambodia
In the morning we took a bus to Siem Reap where we would stay 4 nights; Thank God my cousin did agree in not rushing through the temples in one day and in taking a 3-day pass for 62 USD. Yes, it is quite expensive but this will also be the only expensive thing in Cambodia and it is not just the Angkor Wat Temple but thousands of temples. We visit so many I won’t even be able to give you a number but I tried in Siem Reap – Angkor Temples, Monks & Pub Street where I also got tattoed One of my addictions.
When we arrived in Cambodia we only knew that we wanna go to Siem Reap and Koh Rong, all the rest we would just decide once there. A friend I met in Siem Reap told me to go to Battambang which is about a 4h bus ride from Siem Reap. So next stop; Krong Battambang (Krong = city/town). Not even out of the bus and we already had our Tuk Tuk driver who drove us to our hostel and who would show us around the next days. Once instaled we headed in direction of the Psar Nat market to get some food and on our way back we ended up in a monsoon. I blame my cousin, she really wanted to see/experience a monsoon. May your wish be granted. With a big bottle of beer, we decided to walk/run back to our hostel, which was apparently really entertaining for the locals. Standing in water nearly ’til our knees, no idea what’s in the water, nearly losing my flip flops and not being able to stop laughing, we finally arrived at our hostel after over an hour because obviously, we got a bit lost as well. Do I even have to mention that we were soaking wet? Like we had a shower; with our clothes on haha.
When we went out the next morning, our driver was already waiting for us. Our first stop was at the Bamboo Train; which used to connect little villages with Krong Battambang. Used to because the government closed the bamboo train as they were building a high way crossing the train. Every day they removed more and more rails, by today’s date it shouldn’t exist anymore. The Bamboo Train was a major tourist attraction, you paid about 5 USD for the ride, locals sold drinks and food, they sold souvenirs from the bamboo train or had little shops with clothes. Like that lovely lady who had her own shop where she sold dresses, scarfs and other things. She had a real talent because she did pick dresses for us that suited us perfectly. It was actually the last day her shop was open, as the Bamboo Train shut down she had to close her shop as well and didn’t really know what to do because she couldn’t afford the rent for a shop in town. We took this opportunity to just buy a looooot of clothes from here, I know this doesn’t help in the long term. If someone has a solution about how to help her or people like her, you are more than welcome to let me know. Meeting people like her, being able to travel makes you realize how blessed you actually are. We earn enough money to make a living, to have food on the table every day, to go out, to travel. The majority of people in this world struggle every single day just to feed their families. Let’s please not forget this! Especially when you travel, which is already a luxury and you want to save money. Don’t save money on the cost of these people! This might be a theme for another post in the future as it does really upset me but for now, it is just a little thing you can think about. Back to our lovely Tuk Tuk driver who then drove us to some temples passing by the Lotus Farm where we tried Lotus seeds, I didn’t even know you could eat them and he also got us some Krolan – Khmer sticky rice in bamboo (more about Cambodian food The food isn’t that bad here). Apparently, we weren’t the only ones into food because the whole day was a lot about food, we couldn’t complain about that though. We got to see how they make rice paper and afterwards ate some spring rolls on the streets. He told us about the saying No Money No Honey, when you see the honey prices at the supermarket you will understand and also to find a wife in Cambodia it is prefered to have a good job in order to gain good money. That saying makes sense now, no? Later that day we went to Phnom Sampeou / Sampov where you will find a temple, loads of monkeys and a breathtaking view on the valley and Phnom Krapau (Crocodile Mountain). All shown to us by a monk who wanted to improve his English as he gave English classes during the weekend to kids. A few minutes walk from the temple you will find the killing caves of Phnom Sampeau. Just on time at dawn, we went back down the hill to see the thousands if not even millions of bats leaving their cave for a night of hunting, they would only return the next morning.
As it was our last night in Battambang we headed down to the Sangker river where loads of stands were because of upcoming festivities including food stands where I got to try Ang Dtrey-Meuk (The food isn’t that bad here). In need of some beers, we went back to the Woodhouse where we had breakfast the other day and which is close to the Psar Nat market. The two girls working there are absolutely lovely, they showed us their kittens and we ended up staying there for a while listening to one of the girls playing the guitar whilst singing to it. During the same night, we had our night bus which was an experience as the ticket price didn’t include your own bed but only half a bed. Thank God I was with my cousin so we could share one bed. After a loooong and tiring ride, a stopover in Phnom Penh and a ferry ride we finally arrived in Koh Rong.
It was already getting dark when we arrived in Koh Rong so we went to a hostel a friend advised me which was thankfully right next to the ferry terminal in Kaoh Touch, the White Rose Guesthouse. Due to low season, it wasn’t that busy, perfect for us to relax a bit. I mean this is my cousins holiday, she shouldn’t go home completely exhausted, right? So we would just enjoy the beach, go to a full moon party at Police Beach, eat way too much, have the Richie Rich Pub Crawl and cuddle a lot of dogs. One day we decided to walk to the bigger beach, the guy at the hotel told us the way which did sound like a lovely walk through the jungle. Well, it really was a walk through the jungle! At some points, we weren’t sure it is the right way but then out of nowhere there was a shoe on a tree, that was our sign that it was the right way. For the last bit, we even found a dog or actually he found us, and he led us the way. We called him George. Back in Kaoh Touch, I decided to get a new tattoo because tattoos are one of my favourite souvenirs as you can find out here One of my addictions and after a while, I even convinced my cousin to finally get her first tattoo. New tattoos, a few good days just chilling at the beach and drinking cocktails it was time to leave this little paradise island ..even though we didn’t really want to go.
But our last stop was calling, which would be Kampot or actually a little hostel in between Kampot and Kep. The Man’Groove is located in Tuek Chhou just next to the street in a little fisher village. From there the Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple was an adventurous and muddy one hour drive away. Seriously those guys there have some skills. Once at the caves we found our guide well she found us, a 14-year-old girl. This was also the perfect occasion to ask her a thousand questions we had about the school system in Cambodia, English classes, how much they have to pay and how they get the money. She was such an impressive person with her 14 years and also impressed us with her knowledge about the caves. From there we kept on going with our Tuk Tuk, passing at the Secret Lake which wasn’t that secret and ending at La Plantation which is a pepper plantation. A guide told us about the plantation, the different peppers and spices, how they are produced and what they are used for, he let us taste the spices and gave us a tour of the plantation. The perfect end was trying Nom Krouk which is sooooo delicious. Back to the hostel where we rented some scooters which was another adventure as we both never drove a scooter but it honestly was the perfect place to try it for the first time as it wasn’t crowded at all. Happy like two little girls, who are old enough to drive scooters btw, we arrived at the crab market in Kep and tried some fresh crabs (again more in The food isn’t that bad here). Once the dish was eaten we just made it back on time to hop on the boat of our hostel owner, who wanted to take us and some other guests down the river to see the sunset. Seeing the sunset that lights up the whole sky pink, isn’t there a better way to end a trip than this? On the way back we even saw loads of glowworms.
For me, this is the country of smiles because even though their really cruel and recent history or the fact that most of them barely make a living. I have never gotten so so many smiles in my whole life and this is the real beauty of the country for me.