If you are looking for a full Cambodia travel blog, this is it! Today I share it all – the tuk-tuks, the temples and the fire ant bites!
In all honesty, I was naive to think that Cambodia was going to be a breeze. I think in my mind I had it down as a better version of Thailand with more ancient temples. The fact is that Cambodia is a lot more ‘rough around the edges’. Being a developing country just 40 years since genocide and Pol Pot’s communist regime, that is to be expected I guess. It’s just that the reality of this truly hit me when I was actually there.
Oh and one more thing about my trip to Cambodia – I took Mommy! Oooops – it may have been a little too hardcore!
Three weeks of tuk-tuks and temples was plenty of time to see a great deal of Cambodia.
You might like to read – Planning the perfect Cambodia Itinerary
Flying to Cambodia from the UK
I flew to Cambodia with Air China via Beijing and the flight was ok, although not the greatest amount of leg room. The thing was that I had been spoilt by a direct flight to Bangkok the last time I was in South East Asia. Doing an indirect flight straight to Phnom Penh was NOT a good idea and we arrived knackered. I would totally recommend flying direct from London to Bangkok and then taking a flight to Cambodia the next day after some well earned rest. You can then enjoy the delights of the Bangkok temples including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Falling in love with Phnom Penh
Wow – Phnom Penh wasn’t half an eye-opener! Forget health and safety standards, they don’t exist! We quickly learnt that when we saw a guy working on a construction site bare footed – the construction site was our hotel!!!
Then there was the shock of having to work in two currencies. Cambodia has the Cambodian Rials which is the official currency of Cambodia and then the unoffical dollar. And of course, everyone wants the latter. But your change from dollars may come back in Rials! Wow….I’d never experienced anything like this before! It is 4000 Rials to the dollar and so expect 2000 in change instead of 50c!
But despite all this, there was something particularly appealing about Phnom Penh. But what was most impressive was how the city has developed from being a ghost-town in the 1970’s to being a well planned out and thriving modern capital. The riverside, parks and Buddha roundabouts demonstrate how far this city has come in the last 30 years.
The food was divine, the people were so friendly and I was quickly falling in love with Phnom Penh.
Visiting the Killing Fields and S21 Prison
On the very first morning I woke up and decided to get this tour out of the way. There was no way I wanted to leave the Killing fields tour until last and have it hanging over me for the majority of the trip. I also felt the need to have the historical context in my head before exploring this wonderful country with a turbulent past.
It was shocking to S21 prison – a school converted to a torture chamber with solitary confinement cells. We met a survivor of the regime who was our guide – just 14 years old at the time and experienced working the land under the Khmer Rouge.
Even more brutal was the killing fields. The tour includes an audio guide so that you can do this at your own pace. The harshest part of the killing fields is probably the killing tray. Who can even conceive of people throwing children and babies off a tree to smash their skulls? List dad was probably the most difficult and depressing day of my whole trip. However, Cambodians deem this a necessary visit for tourists. They appreciate that you understand their history and pay respects.
Phnom Penh Royal Palace
When I visited the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh I made sure to call my shoulders with a scarf. I had previously spent a great deal of time in Thailand and understood the need to dress conservatively at a religious and important places. However, for the royal palace, this was not enough! I was called scarf lady and send home! Thankfully, there was a guy selling Phnom Penh royal palace T-shirt for $3 which I quickly invested in. We could then go ahead and visit the palace. And well it was worth it.
Imagine a palace as spectacular as Bangkok Grande Palace, but with way less tourists. The highlight was the silver pagoda. This temple is lined with real silver tiles, and although most of these have been covered up you can get a glimpse of them peeping out from under the rugs.
Koh Dach Silk Island
On our third day in Phnom Penh, we took the boat to the silk weaving island of Koh Dach. It was fantastic to say women weaving in their local communities. This is a tradition passed down through generations and one which is likely to die out within 10 years due to mechanisation.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Travelling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on the Mekong Express
It was then time to travel from the Cambodian capital to Siem Reap. We Took and Mekong express bus which was around a five hour journey. The scenery was beautiful at the start of the journey, but as the Journey progressed, it became more and more difficult to breathe! As there is no rubbish collections in real Cambodia, many people burn rubbish on the side of the street. This is mainly happens after the sun goes down and so the air quality can be extremely poor. When we finally reached our destination, we booked a taxi through the grab app. I recommend that you download this if you are travelling to Cambodia.
Staying at Be Happy Guest House
We finally arrived at our destination – Be Happy guesthouse next to baby elephant. It was a mix of retro style and eco ethos! The eggs benedict breakfast was divine and I felt totally spoilt!
Preah Vihear Day Trip from Siem Reap
On the first day I had a fantastic adventure to Preah Vihear temple. This temple sits in the very north of Cambodia on the Thai border. It’s a quieter and more peaceful alternative to Angkor Wat.
However, a shocking part to this trip was taking a motorbike up the mountain without a helmet! On the way back from my Preah Vihear tour, I stopped at Koh Ker for some more remote temple ruins.
My Mom Got Bitten By Fire Ants!
Our time in Siem Reap was one of highs and lows. Prepare yourself for the most disgusting bit of my Cambodia travel blog. On the second day in Siem Reap, my mom got bitten very badly by fire ants and had an allergic reaction. It got so bad that she needed hospital treatment and I can’t thank Sarah at baby elephant enough for getting her to the best hospital swiftly.. The treatment itself was good – she had antibiotics and drip. however, they held my mom to ransom until the bill had been paid!
It took longer and longer to sort out paperwork and insurance. During this time, she had been brought nothing to eat or drink, despite it being admitted for dehydration as well as the allergic reaction. Finally, we got her out of the hospital, by giving passport ID… which the hospital then retained! We actually spent a good few days in scenery going backwards and forwards to the hospital and negotiating with the British consulate on how to proceed. It’s clearly put a negative spin on our time in Siem Reap, but the main thing was that my mum was healing.
The Amazing Temples of Angkor Archaeological Park
When my mum started healing, we were able to truly appreciate the amazing ancient temples of Angkor archaeological Park. Being at Angkor Wat for my mums 60th birthday was truly amazing.
We then had the thrill of exploring some amazing temples including Ta Prohm which was used to fill the tomb Raider movie.
Visiting the APOPO Centre
As well as experiencing phenomenal temples, we also got to make a fantastic friends. On our last day in Siem Reap we visited the APOPO Centre where hero rats sniff and landmines saving lives and limbs. This was followed by a spot of temple golf at Angkor Wat Put – but only after we nearly got thrown out of a tuk-tuk!. It was such a fun day to end on.
I visited Battambang just two days and it really was one of the most amazing places in Cambodia. I stayed overnight at the place which is a great location next to the Mekong Express bus station.
The Bamboo Train and Wat Sampeau
On my first day in Battambang I took the tour to Phnom Sampeau with some younger backpackers. We were able to take a ride on the Battambang bamboo train which was a totally fun experience. This train used to take supplies to and from the capital. However, it only has one track and so when two trains meet in the middle, the lightest loaded has to come off the track – wheels too!
We then headed to Phnom Sampeau to visit the killing cave, Wat Sampeau and the Batcave. There were stunning views from the top of the mountain. This was followed by an amazing experience – seeing the bats flight out of the Battambang bat cave at dawn ready for their hunting frenzy.
The return to Phnom Penh
On the way back to Phnom Penh we decided to treat ourselves to a flight rather than the bus, and four star hotel. We totally deserved it after all of the challenges and temple trekking. However, I could not resist one last Cambodian adventure. On my last day I travelled to see the stupas of Oudong and prayed in the hall of 1000 Buddhas. I also got to visit the Oudong Vipassana Buddhist Centre.
Cambodia Travel Blog – My Overall Thoughts
Overall, I totally loved Cambodia. As templeseeker, I really don’t think that there is another country in the world with the ancient temples as amazing as this. It was a challenge for sure. There were certainly some unexpected stresses and travel difficulties. Yes despite all of this I would still totally recommend a visit to Cambodia.
Cambodia is not actually as cheap as you might think but this is due to the imposition of the dollar . However, you can still stay in Cambodia extremely cheaply as a backpacker and it’s possible to find accommodation for less than $10 if you really look. For me, Cambodia is a little too around the edges for full time hostelling. In conclusion to my Cambodia travel blog – treat yourself to a nice hotel once in awhile!
What to Pack for Cambodia
Take light cotton tops, long comfortable trousers and maxi dresses that cover your shoulders. Thailand is a conservative Buddhist county and you are likely to be refused entry to top sites like the Phnom Penh Royal Palace and Angkor Wat with shoulders showing and shorts or short skirts. You can pack shorts and vest tops for hanging around your hotel or the pool.
Pack a water bottle because many guest houses are eco friendly and have a refill and reuse policy to cut down on plastic waste. The drinking water is fine and many hotels supply cold purified drinking water.
Bugs bite particularly in the evenings in Cambodia and so a bug repellant is essential. Also the sun can get hot – this Christmas and New Year temperatures were exceeding 32 degrees and so sun screen is another essential.
Cambodia Travel Blog – Further Reading
I hope that you enjoyed my Cambodia Travel blog. If you would like to read more on Cambodia, you can read more of my Cambodia travel guides. If you are in the capital, read about what to do in Phnom Penh and taking the killing fields tour.
If you are heading to Siem Reap, my ultimate Angkor Wat Guide will help you with temple tickets and tours.