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Why Cambodia is My Favorite

People love to ask us what was our favorite part of the whole trip. For me, Cambodia truly caught my heart. 

We spent ten days in Cambodia and it was definitely not enough. We spent 2 nights in Siem Reap and the remainder in the island of Koh Rong Samleon. To me, the perfect trip is a combination of beach and culture and Cambodia did just that. 

We landed in Siem Reap and our hotel tuk-tuk picked us up at arrivals and we headed on our way to our accommodations at Chronivida Residence. This was one of my favorite hotels that we ever stayed in (check out my blog all about our favorite places). We were arriving around golden hour and the colors in the sky were just stunning. Most of the roads are dirt roads covered this beautiful red dust that emits this warm tone. We drove by families on motorbikes with the most beautiful children I have ever seen. They had the most contagious smiles and laughter. In a country that has experienced horrific genocide fairly recently, it’s empowering to feel and see the strength and happiness of its people immediately upon arrival. 

Most people who visit Siem Reap come to visit Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is huge. You need at least two days to cover all of the grounds. Tourism groups have divided the grounds into two parts: the grand circuit and the small circuit. They suggest that you do one circuit a day with the most popular and famous temples in the small circuit. So we decided on picking up our tickets to Angkor Wat the next morning, visit the grand circuit, and then the next day, we will see Angkor Wat at sunrise and end with the small circuit. 

I have never been so tired and so fulfilled in my life. It’s a ton of walking around, avoiding crowds, and dripping sweat - but it is so worth it. In my opinion, I enjoyed the grand circuit more because it was less crowded so you could really soak up the moment. We also were lucky to see the sunset at Phnom Bahkeng Temple. They only allow a certain amount of people up there at a time. It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. 

The next day, we saw the famous sunrise at Angkor Wat - and it’s as dope as people say. It’s probably the most touristy thing I did in the whole trip but it’s something I enjoyed the most. You have to admit, that’s a very rare thing to say. We arrived at Angkor Wat at 5:30AM and there were a ton of people already there. We got a English-speaking guide to tour the inner circuit. To be honest, we didn’t feel like it enhanced our experience. In fact, we would say that it did the opposite. His English was very hard to understand and we often felt like we were held back by him. Looking back, I would have passed on a guide. 

My favorite temple were Banteay Srei from the grand circuit and Ta Prom from the small circuit. The details and structure of Banteay Srei is very different from the rest. I think I could also be biased because it was very empty when we visited. Ta Prom is the famous temple from Tomb Raider. I’m not even a big Tomb Raider fan but I love the intertwining of the trees and the mood in this temple. Banyan, the most famous and one of the largest temples, was SO crowded with tourists that it was almost painful to be in there. Same with Ta Prom. But hey, when you’re visiting a place as famous and beautiful as Angkor Wat, I can understand. 

After all of this, the fun was just starting as we were heading to the beautiful island of Koh Rong Samleon. It’s the smaller island near Koh Rong that is more popular with tourists and partying. They only opened up the island to tourist a few years ago. With that in mind, the hotels and service are still learning. Many of the hotels are only a year old with staff members who are still learning English on the job. It’s important to be patient. You are on an island so enjoy the island way of life!

We stayed at The One Resort, the only hotel that provides 24 hour electricity on the island. We wanted to make sure that we could take a shower at 12AM if we wanted to or have the option to charge our phones overnight. Our bungalow rooms overlooked the beach and it was absolutely stunning. It’s such a dream. The water is SO warm and clear. You can even walk through the jungle to the other side of the island to visit another beach that was just as beautiful.

You don’t really get service or wifi in your room but you can get some service or wifi in the hotel lobby. It’s pretty spotty though so be prepared that you will be slightly disconnected. But in a place like this, you really don’t miss it. 

Aside from the beautiful temples and beaches, we really loved and respected the people of Cambodia. Not many people are familiar or aware of the genocide that their peoples experienced. As a result, the people of Cambodia are very young. With tourism rising in Cambodia, they are all truly making an effort to succeed for themselves and for their families. You will find that they will try to sell you something constantly. Many people get very annoyed by this but honestly, you have to put it into perspective. They are just doing their best to survive and feed their family. They see foreigners who clearly come from better financial backgrounds and they are just making every effort. 

There was a time when we were eating dinner at our hotel and it was packed. Every seat was filled. The hotel is not used to so much business and they were overwhelmed. So many diners were incredibly rude. I mean, you’re right - the service is slow and their English isn’t great. But that doesn’t give you the right to treat people poorly. You have to put it all in context. They are literally just understanding how to run a hotel from scratch. They don’t have the Hilton Hotel Management team training everyone. I just wished that some tourists were a bit more compassionate and patient with the staff. 

We could’ve spent another week on the island. Even though you’re sticky or sandy all the time, it was so blissful. Everyday we did the same thing: breakfast, beach, lunch, beach, dinner, bed, repeat. No complaints here. 

 

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS:

  • Wear and slather sunscreen constantly. The sun is VERY strong. 
  • Bring good shoes for walking around the temples. Don’t be one of those “influencers” wearing heels to the temples. 
  • Bring enough water for visiting the temples. 
  • If you are visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise, arrive before 5:30AM to grab a good seat in front of the lake of Angkor Wat. This way, you can catch the reflection against the still water as the sun rises. 
  • If you are not visiting the sunrise, take advantage and visit Bayon and Ta Prom early in the morning to avoid the crowds. 
  • Make sure you take malaria pills to prepare for your trip to Cambodia. It is the only country we took malaria pills as a precaution.
  • If you are booking a driver or a guide, make sure you have some cash to tip your driver and guide.
  • Ladies: make sure you have something to cover your legs for the temples. I used a little wrap that I could swing around my shorts when I needed it. 
  • For those that have sensitive stomachs, we use Travellan to protect us from some digestion issues. By the time we traveled to Cambodia, we had been in SE Asia for a few weeks so we had adjusted to a lot. Halfway through Koh Rong Samleon, we stopped using the Travellan. But for those who are visiting for a few days, don’t let your stomach ruin your holiday!

 

Catherine JoeiComment