I first visited Cambodia last 2012. It was my second international trip outside the Philippines and it was also the trip that made me fall in love with traveling. You can say, Travel Anyway started here. I lost most of my photos from the first trip but click here to see what I have saved!
For this trip, I visited Phnom Penh and did a few new things in Siem Reap. I don’t usually feature hotels/hostels but I’m including one here because I really like the place and the service and it is not sponsored!
Cambodia is a popular backpacker destination in Southeast Asia, right beside Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. It has a rich history, one that is filled with battles of ideologies, religion, and borders. It’s official religion is Buddhism thus explaining the temples and ruins but if you also dig deeper, the temples were also used for other purposes depending on the state of the nation. Angkor Wat is the most popular site but there are a lot of other temples that you should also see. You will also see a bit of cultural French influence since Cambodia was colonized by France around the 1800s.
Cambodia was affected by the bombing of the US during the Vietnam war but this is not the worst that happened. After the 1970 Cambodian Coup, the Khmer Rouge plagued the country and committed the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979. This became an international affair and has put Cambodia in world history. Keep reading to know more!
I only had 3 days to spend so in times like this, I list down all the things I want to do and then prioritize. Always remember to research before going, the more reviews and articles you read the clearer the picture is. It’s tried and tested, most times the real thing is not the same as the photo so don’t be fooled.
Phnom Penh (1day)
Phnom Penh is the capital and most populous city of Cambodia. It was known for French-inspired buildings, gaining attraction compared to its Indochina counterparts.
1st Stop: Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
This is the site of the mass grave of victims (we’re talking about maybe more than a million, but only around 8,000 bodies were found so far) of the Khmer Rouge which happened from 1975 to 1979. Others also call it the Killing Fields. I initially wanted to just walk around and see the place but decided to also rent the audio tour and it was a good decision. The audio tour will take you through the history of the place so the stops make more sense. The final stop is a Buddhist stupa housing the skulls of some of the people who were killed. The most heartbreaking was the tree where they smashed the babies to kill them. It was an awful story, one that can’t be unwritten from history.
2nd Stop: Shooting Range
I wasn’t able to ask where the guns came from but my theory is, most are leftovers from the war that still works (but that’s just my theory). It seems that the guides were knowledgeable and they were wearing some form of military uniforms and looks like from the army. If you want to try shooting guns from M14,M16 to maybe bazooka, you can try this out. There is one that is near the city but you can only do guns and this is where we went. You can ask locals or your hotel. Then there are a few a bit out of the city since it’s outdoor where you can use the bigger guns. It’s a bit costly, it was around 50USD for a few bullets.
Nightlife in Phnom Penh
The Khemarak Phomin area near the Riverside Park, along the Tonle Sap River is a nightlife area filled with restaurants and bars, and open salons. It also seemed like it is a red light district so just be careful.
Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap took around 6 hours. We booked via 12go. You have a few options but I took the Giant Ibis Transport and the experience was not so bad. There were small cockroach at the beginning but we killed. Compared to the review of the local buses, it seemed like this was the best option. There was enough leg space, free water and snack and a nice restaurant as stopover.
Siem Reap (2days)
Siem Reap is the capital of the Siem Reap province and is popular because of Angkor Wat and the temples surrounding it. Compared to Phnom Penh, the French architecture is more noticeable here especially along the old market and pubstreet area.
Apsara Hotel: Where to stay in Siem Reap
I don’t usually recommend hotels but I really loved staying in Apsara Hotel! The service is great, free breakfast was awesome, and the pool and happy hour was perfect after all the temple visits! It’s only 400m away from Pub Street but just across you will find different restaurants already! It’s good for any type of traveler!
You have a few options for the temple tour and the prices are quite standard. Rent a tuktuk and it will take you to the ticket office. You can choose to buy a ticket good for 2-3 days if you want to finish all the temples or you can do 1 day or half day pass. This time I chose a half day pass and decided to see just 4 temples.
Temple 1: Angkor Wat
The first time I visited Angkor Wat was during sunrise, this time it was early morning because weather forecast said it will be cloudy. The bridge going to the center entrance was being renovated so I had to enter the side entrance. This time, I also got a guide to know more about the place. I admit, compared to the first time I was here, it was less touristy and less crowded. Now you can see tourists taking photos and not listening to the guides which is a bit disrespectful for me.
Anyway, Angkor Wat means Capital of Temples. It is considered the largest religious monument in the world originally for Hindus but was later on turned into a Buddhist temple. It has layers of infrastructure housing different parts of the temple. You can still find monks early in the morning praying or just walking around the temple.
Temple 2: Bayon
This is my favorite because of the architecture and is less touristy. It is well decorated temple with many stone faces which makes it its distinguishing feature. It’s a bit of a climb but worth seeing the top layer of the temple.
Temple 3: Ta Phrom
Famous for the Tomb Raider movie. When we went here, most of the parts were being renovated so there were a lot of scaffolds blocking the view. The tall trees with big roots are what I liked in this temple.
Temple 4: Baphuon
This is a less known temple, which is located in Angkor Thom, just after Bayon. It’s a bit of a climb up but it’s worth it. And if you care enough to really explore, there’s an exit that will lead you to the outskirts of the main temple and you will see more ruins and tall trees to admire. Don’t worry it will still lead you to the exit from the side of the main bridge entrance.
Countryside Sunset Quad Drive
Best way to see the countryside of Siem Reap during sunset!
This is a big area. Enter the small streets to find local shops and unique findings or dine in really good restaurants! Across it is the public market where you can buy your souvenirs.
The nightlife area where you can find pubs, bars, and restaurants. There are also small shops offering massages, snacks and sometimes you can see performers in the middle of the road. Beside the pub street is the Art Market where you can find different paintings and local artisan shops.
It was a good visit considering I only had 3 days!
That’s it for this trip. Follow me in IG: @travelanyway for random trips and daily musings. Ciao!