After a quick stopover in Zurich and a transfer through Bangkok, we finally made it to our next destination, Cambodia!
The first stop of our visit to Cambodia was the popular town of Siem Reap, in the country’s north. It’s popularity with tourists has grown considerably over the past 20 years, with more and more people visiting the famous Angkor Wat each year.
We afforded ourselves some luxury in Siem Reap, booking ourselves into the Navutu Resort for 7 nights – the longest we have stayed anywhere for the past 6 months! If you are travelling to Cambodia and are after a peaceful and relaxing experience with daily yoga classes, Navutu is your place!
In order to get the most out of our Angkor Wat experience, we hired a local guide for the day to show us the highlights and provide us with some local knowledge regarding the areas history! Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, and although originally constructed as a Hindu temple, it transitioned to the Buddhist religious around the 12th century. Within the Angkor complex, we also visited the Ta Prohm and Bayon temples – each of which is truly captivating. This is a definite must-see while in Cambodia and you can spend hours and hours admiring the ancient architecture!
Whilst in Siem Reap we also took the chance to visit Kompong Khleang, a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake. The tour was organised by Community First Tours, and all profits from the tours are donated to Bridge of Life School to fund education, clean water, and other projects. Given the level of poverty and living conditions we saw on our trip, the business is doing an important job which will benefit the whole community both now and into the future!
A three hour bus ride took us to our next destination, the old French colonial town of Battambang. After a day relaxing by the hotel pool, we took a tour of the town and its surrounds with our tuk tuk driver, Huot. We started our day by visiting a variety of local houses who produce a range of foods including rice paper, dried banana, bamboo sticky rice, and rice wine! Along the way we were also able to visit a number of Buddhist pagodas and temples. Our last stop was the Phnom Sampeau killing cave which was used during the time of the Khmer Rouge. The history of the cave is contrasted with the beauty of the temple and the fantastic views over the endless rice fields below! If you are visiting the cave be sure to stay until sunset, where you can see millions of bats making their nightly journey out of the cave in search of food!
While in Battambang we also ate at Jaan Bai, a social enterprise restaurant run by the Cambodian Children’s Trust. Jaan Bai has delicious food and provides skills development and employment for Cambodian youth, with a portion of the profits going toward child protection and similar work!
After another long day in the car, we arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh! The city was absolutely packed, as our visit coincided with the annual Water Festival, which sees locals from every province descend on the capital to participate in dragon boat racing!
As we expected, the primary tourist attractions in Phnom Penh are related to the horrific Khmer Rouge reign, and although they didn’t constitute the upbeat experiences, both S-21 and the Killing Fields were deeply moving and tough to get through.
Firstly, we visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also referred to as S-21), a former high school that was converted into a secret prison during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Today you can walk through the four buildings within the complex, with a detailed audio guide providing a gruesome account of what occurred here during the 1970’s. Of the ~17,000 people who were imprisoned in S-21, there were only 7 survivors…
Once the Khmer Rouge regime began to incarcerate more and more of the population, prisoners at S-21 were regularly trucked to the outskirts of Phnom Penh to face execution at a location now referred to as the Choeung Ek Killing Field. This was our next destination, although we visited the sites on separate days as it was a bit difficult to consume all of the history within one day. The Choeung Ek Killing Field also has an informative but deeply disturbing audio guide, which sheds light on the horrific activities undertaken by the Khmer Rouge here. Around 9,000 bodies have been exhumed from the mass graves at this site, and there is a stupa dedicated to the victims, which included a number of women and children.
While in Phnom Penh, we checked out some quality eats, the best of which was the Irrawaddi Burmese restaurant. Shouts to resident local Afnan and the Okra crew for showing us around!
With one last tuk tuk ride, it was off to the airport for the last country of our adventure, Vietnam!
Until next time,
AP & DT