Saturday, December 23, 2017

CAMBODIA - a complete travel guide

"...now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you'll kiss ass or crack..."

This is an excerpt from the song "Holiday in Cambodia" by the US band "The Dead Kennedys". Being a punk band, the lyrics are ment to grate on you in their very cynical way; and as a matter of fact, Cambodia has always been synonym of murder and destruction and by no means a holiday destination; apart from Angkor, Asia's most important sanctuary, that has been a World Heritage Cultural site since 1992.

Dancers Angkor Wat
While Angkor Wat was always an admired historical and cultural site, the rest of the country was considered a grave yard filled with the victims of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Four years that pushed the country back into the Stone Age.

Only when my friend Philippe told me about his plans of travelling to Cambodia, I took into consideration that it might be an interesting destination and a country worth exploring. I decided following his example.

Today, Cambodia has a population of about 16 million people and a size of 181.000 sq km (approx. 69,884 sq mi). In general, Cambodia has a Monsoon climate with December being the coolest month (26 C / 79 F).

Until 1953, the country was - together with Laos and Viet Nam - part of the French colony Indochina which certainly triggered the political development in the 20st century and lead to the seizure of power by the 'Khmer Rouge' in 1975:

In 1953, Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk. During the Vietnam war, Sihanouk adopted an official policy of neutrality. However, over the Ho-Chi-Minh-Trail and the eastern support bases, the war finally spread into Cambodia. First only the eastern region was bombed by the US army. Since according to the US government, Sihanouk did not oppose enough to the Việt cộng, in 1970 Cambodia's government was disempowered and replaced by general Lon Nol.

He became president in 1972, supported by South Vietnamese and American troops. This lead to a civil war - comparable to the one in Viet Nam. Therefore the people was initially relieved, believing in a peaceful tomorrow when the Red Khmer conquered Phnom Penh in 1975.
Well this relief didn't last since the Red Khmer under guidance of Pol Pot immediately started their reign of horror: People were chased from the cities to the country side where they had to do forced labour in the fields - with next to nothing to eat since the major part of the crop was shipped to China in exchange for weapons and ammunition.
Everybody who was considered middle or upper class or educated was killed - e. g. for speaking a foreign language or for wearing glasses.

Over the time, Pol Pot became more and more paranoid which more and more people paid with their life. During the four years of the Red Khmer terror, almost one third of Cambodia's population was murdered or starved.

Finally, in 1979, Cambodia was liberated by the Vietnamese army.

Today Cambodia is a Constitutional Monarchy, King is Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen.

People speak Khmer, many a pretty basic English.

Although there is a national currency, the Riel (KHR), mostly prices are quoted in US Dollars. At the ATMs, one can choose between Dollars and Riel, but actually it doesn't make really sense to get Riel since everything is priced in US Dollars - only if you pay let's say 4,50, they give you change for the 50 cents in Riel (2000 KHR).
The current rate is 1 USD = 4,055 KHR, but everybody converts 1:4,000.

I travelled the route Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Koh Rong / Koh Rong Samloem - Sihanoukville - Kep - Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap by bus resp. ferry.

Here are the information on each of my stops:

PHNOM PENH
SIHANOUKVILLE
KOH RONG
KOH RONG SAMLOEM
KEP


KAMPOT
SIEM REAP



RATING








Next time... 


...if I had only three weeks again, I would possible stay only two days in Phnom Penh, spend at least four or five days in Sok San Beach on Koh Rong and skip Koh Rong Samloem, spend at least three to four days in Kampot (and visit Kep on a day trip and possibly Thansur Bokor, too). If I had more time, I'd try to go to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh by ferry which must be very special.


Further questions?


I'm happy to answer all your questions and share further information. To get in touch, please follow my blog (check also facebook and twitter) and send me a message, I'll get back to you as soon as possible.


Cambodian Diary


After all these information, here are the rather entertaining and inspiring stories behind every destination I've visited

1st chapter: Commotion in Phnom Penh

2nd chapter: Confusion in Sihanoukville

3rd chapter: Calmness in Koh Rong

4th chapter: Complete Chaos in Koh Rong Samloem

5th chapter: Connecting in Kep

6th chapter: Charming Kampot

7th chapter: Couth on Thansur Bokor

8th chapter: Conclusion in Siem Reap



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going up!


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44 comments:

  1. I'd love to go to Cambodia some day! I didn't realize they had 16 million people living there. I definitely thought it was smaller than that.

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  2. We just been to Cambodia and have very mixed feelings about it. Some of the things were amazing while others ... I agree with you that 2 days is definitely enough time in Phnom Penh. Kampot was our favourite place and instead of 5 days, we ended up staying 10 days there :D The tip with the USD is a good one. It's not really worth it to get Riel, you get them anyway as change :)

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    1. Yes, my favorite destinations were Kampot and Kep - just the right mix of Cambodia and tourism. Let's see how things go on there....Have a great New Year with lots of inspiring travels, Thomas!

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  3. Cambodia must be amazing! I would love to go there one day - thanks for the inspiration
    Hava a great day
    Martina

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    1. Thank you, Martina, glad you like it! Have a great New Year - and fantastic travels!

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  4. Cambodia has a tragic past. Several sites were forgotten and neglected during this tumultuous past. For the last couple of decades they have opened up, I am so glad about that. I visited Siem Reap and really enjoyed the old temples. Hope I can make it to other cities of Cambodia some day.

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  5. It's been a few years since my trip to Cambodia, and I only visited Siem Reap. I would love to visit their islands too! I'm just curious, why do you recommend skipping Koh Rong Samloem?

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    1. Siem Reap is quite different from the rest of the country since there are sooo many tourists.

      Like I wrote, to my experience it depends rather on which beach you stay on Koh Rong or Samloem than on the island: Koh Rong has fantastic, deserted beaches e. g. on the western shores, the main part is said to be a dirty dump. So is Saracen beach on Samloem. Unfortunately due to terrible weather conditions I didn't have the chance to visit the nice beaches on Samloem (the boats and ferries couldn't go there since it was too dangerous so I got stuck on Saracen beach).
      This is a very personal, individual experience and opinion and I'm sure many people will disagree. The best way to find out is to go there ;-)
      Happy travels, Aleah!

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  6. Cambodia is a country I would love to visit, but yes, it has a very tragic history and a lot of bloodshed in its past. My sister spent 3 months volunteering in an orphanage in Phnom Penh, and visited a lot of the country in her time off. She said it was both a sobering (re the memorials dedicated to war) but exceptional (re the world heritage and the natural wonders) experience.

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    1. I totally agree with your sister. Like Thomas commented above, I think if your not oblivious to human kind, it touches and affects you on various levels.

      Anyway, it's fantastic that your sister did this volunteering job - I imagine it must be heartbreaking and a real challenge for us 'pampered' Westeners!?

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  7. I would really love to visit Cambodia someday. I have to say, I thought that poem was going in a different direction:) Thanks for sharing your itinerary. It makes planning future trips so much easier.

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    1. Well, Jennifer, it's a punk song and from the early 80s when Cambodia was still quite god forsaken, so... Happy travels - and a wonderful year 2018!

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  8. I loved Cambodia! I've been three times. I also love how as an American the dollar was used so much. I would love to go back again and explore more of the country. I've seen a lot but I know there's more to see.

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    1. I've heard from people who were there before that it had changed a lot - particularly the touristy regions, of course. So I hope you won't be disappointed when you go back. However, happy travels, Nathan.

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  9. Ahhh this is so informative!!! I really enjoyed reading it (despite the dark history) and can't wait to visit someday to experience the historic remnants in person. If only I had 3 weeks of vacation though. I only get 10 days of paid vacations a year at work, otherwise I'd for sure take up on your recommendation for the day/destination allocations!

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    1. Well, Jas, I won't tell you how many weeks I have per year, holding a full time job. You might think about relocating to Europe ;-) However, very happy - even short - travels!

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  10. Ever notice that the former French colonies seem to have the worst social issues? From West Africa to Asia, many of their colonies have had major issues. I am fascinated by the history in Cambodia between Pot and the temples. I would love to spend a couple weeks tracing the history and exploring the country.

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    1. Regarding Africa, I'm not sure if the former French colonies are worse than let's say Portuguese and even British. In Asia it's true, they messed up former 'Indochine' big time and let it shattered and vulnerable to civil wars.

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  11. Thank you for the sneak peak into the brutal history of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge. I read several books about this before I went to Cambodia four years ago. Anyway, I love that your posts are based on personal experiences. We need more writing like this - pregnant with storytelling and personal pursuits.

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    1. Thank you so much, Rye, that's a wonderful, very encouraging compliment! It's good to get this sort of feed back from time to time - I often wonder what others really like to read. I wish you a wonderful New Year and many inspiring trips!

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  12. I want to visit Cambodia so bad. I'm so intrigued by the history, would love to spend at least a week exploring. Thanks for all of this information and your personal recommendations!

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  13. Some great advice here for visiting Cambodia! It's interesting to know it used to mean murder and destruction, the history is very interesting indeed. Your trip seems to have been fantastic though, I will certainly save this for when I go to Cambodia!

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    1. Thank you, Kreete, I'm glad you'd liked it! Happy travels!

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  14. Really great informative post, you've included so much information which is so useful, especially as Cambodia isn't a place I know much about. A friend of mine visited Cambodia and it is still one of her favourite places to date! Nikki x

    www.thoselittlemoments.net

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  15. So jealous of your Cambodian travels. It has always been a dream of mine to go there. Perhaps one day!

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    1. Don't be jealous, Komal, just pack your bags and go! Happy travels!!

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  16. Great post! I have never been to Cambodia, but I'm going to add it to my never-ending bucket list.

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    1. Same here. Just because I can cross Cambodia out, doesn't mean my list is getting any shorter...anyway: happy travels, Leelo!

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  17. 'A holiday in Cambodia
    Where you'll kiss ass or crack...' those lyrics did make me laugh but having watched a documentary about Cambodia and its past it saddens me how much of tthe population was killed or starved. I believe there is even a skull cave which shows how they couldn't even bury some of the bodies that is how many people were murdered!

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    1. Being a punk band, the Dead Kennedys used strong, cynical lyrics to describe the horror taking place in Cambodia during the Red Khmer regime. One third of the population was murdered or starved.

      As I wrote in my 'diary entry' on Phnom Penh and then repeated, the memorial sites are still so horrific that I didn't want to describe them as a tourist "attraction" and especially not posting pictures of skulls. There is a Stupa full of skulls and bones, some still have the rags on them which blindfolded the victims, some of the bones have handcuffs. I felt that if I post a picture of it, it will be sort of sensation mongering - like 'wow, look how horrible this is'. I didn't take any pictures of these things since I felt it wouldn't do the victims justice to be presented in a rather touristy article.
      My articles are rather entertaining which makes it difficult to deal with these things in an appropriate fashion.

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  18. Your so brave. My husband jokes that because I am of Mexican descent, I can only travel in groups, but I love traveling with friends and family. I love your photos. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

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    1. Solo travel is not for everybody. Group travel isn't either. It's great that we are all different and enjoy different ways of travelling - and living, for that matter. From time to time I have the pleasure to travel with my (adult) daughter which is nice, too. I like both - it especially depends on the destination and the activities. However, muy feliz viajes, Stephanie, y prospero ano nuevo!

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  19. l would love to explore the whole if Cambodia and that is very cool that you did especially on your own as a female. l definitely want to add Phanom Penh to my bucketlist when l am there and the beach at Koh Rong

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  20. Cambodia looks like such a wonderful destination - I'd love to get there one day!

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  21. Cambodia is such a beautiful place! Would love to visit it in the future. Good to know that they accept USD because here in the PH, you'll have to convert currency if you're coming from abroad.

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  22. I didn't know so much about Cambodia so I found this post very informative and interesting! Would love to visit someday. Thanks for sharing :)

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  23. I've yet to venture to that side of the world, but Cambodia looks and sounds AMAZING! It's also encouraging to see a fellow female solo traveller doing a destination like this :) x

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    1. Until now I didn't have any major trouble being a solo female traveller anywhere in the world. Parts of Malaysia (the East coast) were a bit unpleasant since they are pretty strict muslims and even though I am not walking around half naked I felt 'disregarded' at times, I noticed that people were talking about me - and not in a curious let alone nice way....Other than that - no problem.

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  24. I really love how informative your posts are :) it makes it sound even more enticing! I feel like, thanks to your posts, my bucket list of places to visit is growing drastically! :) xx

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    1. Thank you, Veronica, it makes me very happy that all the work I put into my posts is being appreciated 💗

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  25. I really didn't know what to expect when I traveled through Cambodia, I had fallen in love with Laos, I didn't have the best of times in Vietnam (I know, I seem to be the only one that didn't) so with Cambodia I just didn't know how it would treat me - I loved it! - you can feel the rich history as soon as you cross the border, we actually went to the killing fields and wow I have never been moved so much, and the Cambodian people are so friendly considering what they have been through. This is a great post on educating your readers of it's history, and I think it's important people understand the history of Cambodia before they go. - tweeting this post too :D

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    1. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Well, of course the history is horrible - and I cannot really judge how far it still has an impact on today's Cambodia; mind you, it happend fourty years ago, that's almost two generations; I really don't know in how far the country is still suffering from that rapture. However, Cambodia is one of the poorest countries I've been to - if not the poorest one. Yes, people are very friendly, but nowhere have I been screwed over so often and so ruthlessly. Mixed feelings. Compared to Viet Nam....from my impression, communism in Viet Nam did build up, communism in Cambodia only destroyed.
      I think you and me both are people who observe and think when travelling - I like that a lot!

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