This country is really a tale of two worlds. While you can go to Siem Reap to experience the amazing Angkor temples, you can also go to Phnom Phen and see the sobering killing fields and museums dedicated to the 3 million plus people killed in the mass genocide instituted by the Pol Pot regime. As a country, it really spans the spectrum and should be a must-see for anyone traveling in SE Asia.
We absolutely loved Siem Reap and the three nights we spent there. This was my second time seeing the surrounding Angkor temples including the most famous one, Angkor Wat, but I was stoked to see it again with Katie. These temples are beautifully laid out over miles and miles. The cool thing is you can climb all over them so you really feel like a kid in a giant jungle gym. They are set back into jungles which are working to overtake them so you often see giant trees growing right through the temples and scattering their bricks about. The Angkor Archeological Complex actually consists of over 1,000 temples but that number includes even those that are now a pile of rubble. A fascinating fact is nobody knows anything about the civilization that created them. There are no living ancestors or written record of who they were and why they left. Much can be inferred, but crazy to just find these ancient temples and have no idea why they are even there.
While in Siem Reap we stayed at the Onederz hostel and would highly recommend it for budget travelers ($26/night for private room). They have a great location, rooms with all you need, cheap food and a killer front desk staff which is a huge help when navigating a foreign city. They even have a pool on the roof overlooking the city. While many backpackers swam, we decided we didn’t want to share the same water as it seems like half of the backpackers we meet are covered in some sort of rash or bites. Maybe we’re just divas, but we’re fine with it. Siem Reap has a good restaurant scene for tourists but also has some unique street foods. This is where I ate grilled skewers of snake, scorpion and tarantula. Sorry to those who saw our Instagram stories and were grossed out watching it!
Some version of a “tuk tuk” are in every country in SE Asia. The ones in Cambodia were our favorite because they reminded us of chariots and were really comfy to ride in. Each day we would rent one and have a private driver take us around to temples all day which was nice to be on our own schedule. And of course we had to make it to the temple featured in the movie Tomb Raider. No Angelina sightings though. One of the items on our trip bucket list was to watch the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. I did this 8 years ago and it was pretty incredible. So we woke up crazy early and got dropped off there while it was still pitch black out. We soon realized just how much more popular this is. There were hundreds of people lined up already so it totally ruined the ambience and experience (not to mention the view). You win some, you lose some. On the bright side, while the crowds were still outside snapping sunrise pics, we went ahead to tour the temple and had it nearly to ourselves.
After two days exploring temples we made our way by bus to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Phen. We stayed at the TeaHouse Asian Urban Hotel which we really enjoyed as they had cozy rooms, a great pool we actually swam in and free breakfast with tons of bacon which is always a win. We get excited to stay in a place that’s nice enough to where we would stay there on a real vacation. We spent the majority of our time in the city checking out the war museums. While this was not an upper, it was so eye-opening and absolutely broke our hearts to learn about. The worst part is to think of how many people have no clue this massive genocide took place in their lifetime (1990s). Everyone thinks about the Holocaust, but this happened less than 20 years ago when a crazy, fanatical dictator killed 30+% of Cambodia’s population (3 million people) simply because he wanted to.
He ignited an uprising of uneducated, poor people in rural areas and turned them against people in the cities who were educated. Even though he himself was highly educated and wealthy (sound familiar Americans…cough Trump cough). He basically promised them better lives and told them everyone else was bad, so they singled out anyone who had a good job in the city. People like doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even those who wore glasses because it signified intelligence and education – he had them killed. Anyone who seemed like a threat was killed without question or trail. It makes you sick to see how they tricked everyone into concentration camps and killed them. Everyone always talks about the Holocaust and says we should learn from the past and we shall never forget, but clearly that didn’t happen. This happened right in front of everyone, but other countries failed to act and because of it, mass murders rampaged the country and destroyed countless families. They even murdered children but because the country is poor, they didn’t even do it in “humane” ways but instead would grab kids by the feet and use them as a baseball bat against trees. Reading this stuff and hearing about it left us with a huge pit in our stomachs. It is such an unfathomably thing to learn about. Only reason I am going into details here is I feel anyone reading this should also know just how bad it really was.
In the end, Cambodia was for us a mixed bag of emotions. Amazing to see and experience and a country which should be on everyone’s travel list.