Read about our latest adventure travelling through Cambodia.
Cambodia is bittersweet. Rugged green landscapes, awe inspiring ancient sites, a brutal history that still affects nearly every single Cambodian alive and some of the friendliest people we have ever met. The genocide by the Kmer Rouge from 1975-1979 killed nearly a quarter of the entire population. Yet today, Cambodia is a testament of hope, how human beings can overcome even the most horrifying atrocities. There is no other country that literally ignites so much emotion in me. I can never forget Cambodia, it has touched my heart, opened my eyes and changed my world.
Angkor Temples – Siem Reap
From the moment we entered Siem Reap I could see instantly why people fall in love with Cambodia. You truly feel like you’re on an adventure here, driving through green villages in a tuk tuk, seeing homes on stilts, people lazing on hammocks under the shade of palm trees, luscious green fields as far as the eye can see. This is where the magic and beauty of Cambodia lies.
We booked a one day tour of the Angkor city which in hindsight was far too short and really exhausting. The Angkor site is huge and there are hundreds of temples to visit, so its best to go at sunrise or do a 2/3 day tour to really spend time appreciating the sites.
We started our tour at Bayon, the temple with the huge smiling stone carved faces. On the lower level there are so many narrow passageways, some filled with huge stone ruins. When you get up the stairs to the upper levels you are surrounded by the mesmerising stone faces.
Our second stop was to Ta Prohm, or maybe better known as the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple where it was filmed, this was by far my favourite. The temple is set in the depths of the jungle and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time by thousands of years. What’s really amazing is seeing the huge roots of trees that have grown out of the ruins, reclaiming the jungle from man.
Our last stop was Angkor Wat, the icon of Cambodia and the largest religious structure in the world. The long walkway just builds the anticipation of seeing the three peaks of the temple and when we walked through the main gate it was everything I imagined. It’s beautiful, grand and just breath-taking. Inside the temple there’s beautiful arched passages with large pillars, its a great place to stop off in the heat and take in the atmosphere.
The Killing fields and S-21 (prison) – Phonm Phenh
The killing fields of Choeung Ek is one of hundreds around the country where victims were taken to be killed; men, women, children and babies. S-21 is the site of a former school turned into a prison by the Kmer Rouge to interrogate and torture prisoners before taking them to the killing fields. Both sites are located in and around Phonm Phenh, the capital of Cambodia.
What I couldn’t get out of my head was the thought that the people who carried out these executions are walking amongst us today, side by the side. Most of the prison officers were young teenagers at the time and now they are in their mid-50’s/60’s, they could be our taxi driver, our waiter, they may be married and have children of their own. I kept thinking, how do they live, every day, with the memory of what happened?
My head has been in a muddle here, on one hand I’m terrified at the thought that man can be so evil and monstrous and on the other, I’m utterly inspired by the resilience of a nation to overcome such tragedy.
If there is anything positive to take away from these horrific moments in recent history, it’s that this is a true testimony to hope, that even the darkest of times there can be change and we should never forget what happened.
Swimming in a glowing ocean at night – Koh Rong Island
From Phonm Phen we headed down to Koh Rong Island, the second largest Island in Cambodia. We stayed at the Palm Beach Bungalows which is a totally secluded resort, there are huts on stilts with a sandy beach on one side and a jungle on the other, the perfect remedy after Phonm Phenh.
On our second day we headed out on a boat trip to snorkel, fish and swim with the sparkling plankton. The boat trip was so much fun, Ava loved fishing with the tin cans and some bait stuck to the end of a string and seeing the fish pop out of the water, wriggling about.
After seeing the most beautiful sunset we headed off to swim with the sparkling plankton. We waited until it got dark, but the moon was quite bright that night so we couldn’t see the plankton until we actually jumped in the ocean and honestly, it was magical. As soon as we jumped in, the ocean came alive with tiny, beaming lights all around us, the more we splashed about the more the water sparkled. Sadly our cameras couldn’t capture it but it’s imprinted in my mind for life.
TOP TIPS FOR CAMBODIA
- TRAVEL – Take Giant Ibis coaches to hop around Cambodia – They have great coaches with air-con, leave on time and you can also book online.
- SIEM REAP – Spend 2/3 days doing the temples at the Angkor site – the heat can be unbearable so going early is best.
- BUDGET – Cambodia is not cheap, everything is in US dollars which drives prices up. If you’re backpacking and staying in hostels it’s cheaper but if you want more comfortable accommodation and good food, expect UK prices at least for food.