Cambodia: Why I cut my trip short

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One of my goals this year was to tick a few more countries off my list so, while I would have loved to stay in Thailand for 6 weeks, I knew it would be a shame to go this far across the world and not experience more countries.

I had originally looked at booking an organised tour online - there are loads out there. I’d actually recommend Buffalo Tours on the basis that they were so quick to get back to me and tailor a package for me. I was about to book a 3 day tour of Siem Reap but then I had a quick look at the prices on booking.com and it was so much cheaper to book online myself.

A few people said that I couldn’t go to Cambodia and not visit Phnom Penh as there was so much history to it.

On that advice I booked two nights in Phnom Pen and three nights in Siem Reap.

There were a few options to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap including an overnight coach. I originally thought this was a great idea as you would save on accommodation for a night but then I had visions of being stuck in one or both cities with my case and nowhere to put it, plus nowhere to sleep if I didn’t get sleep on the overnight bus.

I booked a flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap which is definitely the more expensive option but I thought it would be worth it. However, by the time you factor in the time spent in the airport, it might be more economical to take a coach (which is about 6 hours and much cheaper).

In the run up to my trip , I watched ‘First They Killed My Father’ on Netflix. It is a shocking film about the harrowing events that went on in Phnom Penh under the rule of Pol Pots and the Khmer Rouge. This was only in 1975.

Phnom Penh

Accommodation: River 108 boutique Hotel (This is a referral link from booking.com i.e. you get €10 off and I get a kickback of €15/€20!)

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I would happily recommend this hotel. The location was very central - right beside the night market. The staff were so friendly and helpful with booking my tours and taxis etc. They had a security guy in the door, the room was big and modern enough plus the breakfast was decent.

With only one full day in Phnom Penh , I was keen to book a half day tour of S21 (the school that was turned into a torturous prison) and the killing fields, I booked a tour through the hotel reception costing $13. This included transport between the two sites as well as hotel pick up and drop off. The entrance fees are not included but were between $6 and $8 into both, including an audio tour. I would recommend paying for the audio tour as you can do it at your own pace.

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The tour of S21 was a very harrowing experience. I learnt in detail all about the hell that thousands of people were put through under the instruction of the Khmer Rouge. I won’t go into too much detail but the Killing Fields were equally as disturbing. I was walking on the teeth and bones of unidentified people. It was tragic.

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I was warned by a lot of people to watch myself when I was in Phnom Penh. This had me on edge. On every corner there are people trying to get you into Tuk Tuks so as you walk along you just find yourself saying ‘no thank you’ every few feet. I was careful not to look like I had any money and was hesitant to take my phone out. I looked on Trip Advisor for places to eat. I went to a place called Friends and I was very impressed with the service and quality of food. It was much more expensive than the food you could get at the local restaurants but I just really didn’t want any food poisoning and I felt safe in their terraced garden. I even went back for food the following day.

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I took a sunset river cruise along the Mekong River. It was $15 but a little boring on my own. I met a lovely old couple from Cambodia, but living in Canada. They have returned to Cambodia with no family left, having all been killed under the Khmer Rouge ruling.

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I met an American guy called Brandon on the half-day tour and after I told him how nervous I was, he suggested escorting me around the night markets. I am so glad he was there as it was an experience all the same! We had a few drinks and food and I had an early night.

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I wasn’t flying to Siem Reap until the following afternoon but I would have preferred to get out of there first thing in the morning. I went for a run along the river (as tough as it was to breath with the smell!) and it was another saddening experience, with young families sleeping rough in the heat.

Siem Reap

I was very shook after my visit to Phnom Penh and more than anything I wanted to get back to Thailand but many people told me that Siem Reap was much nicer so I had to give it a shot. But when I landed in, the hotel I booked was horrible and seemed to be a good bit out from the centre of the town. That was the last straw for me and I booked a flight back to Phuket for the following evening. It was either that or book a new hotel for the rest of the trip. I was supposed to stay three nights and leave early Tuesday but I was just keen to get ‘home’ and get back training too.

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But, I have to say, Siem Reap was much nicer. It had much more of a touristy vibe to it and there seemed to be loads of cool modern bars and restaurants. I liked the night market there and picked up a few bits. I met Brandon again and we planned to do the tour of Angkor Wat the following morning. 

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We left at 4.30am to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We paid the Tuk Tuk driver $21 and he took us around 5 or 6 temples. We didn’t have a tour guide thought but I don’t regret that. I liked wandering at our own pace. Each temple had different characteristics and I took so many pictures. It was handy having Brandon there to take all the “insta photos”! It was very hot as we got to the middle of the day. I also had to make sure to cover my shoulders and knees, hence my stylish dress that I got on the market the day before!

Before I left for the airport, I wandered back into Siem Reap and went to a cool cafe called Sisters. I really liked it! They actually forgot my order, but to be fair, they took 50% off my bill.

Conclusion

I don’t regret going to Cambodia. It was a grounding and cultural experience. For anyone else planning on going - I would suggest one day in Phnom Penh, then maybe a day or two in Siem Reap and then heading down south to the coast. I heard great things about Koh Krong beach and surrounding areas!

What do you think? Where you there? Did I miss anything major that you would advise for other travellers?

Siobhan x

This travel blog is sponsored by CultureMee which is an app that was created by an Irish couple to help people adapt to different cultures in different countries. This can help avoid some awkward situations (like when the hotel receptionist had to advise me to go change my clothes!). It will also give some basic information (who knew the widely-used currency in Cambodia is the US Dollar?!) to more advanced topics like how to conduct business. You can find out more on their website culturemee.com or download the app - available on iTunes and Play Store.