Our visit to Cambodia was a surprising adventure. Not having much knowledge of the country’s history, I learned so much while visiting this amazing place. The country experienced a terrible genocide in the late 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge took control of the Cambodian government. In an attempt to form a communist peasant farming society, they tortured and killed doctors, teachers, and other educated people. As a result, approximately 25% of the Cambodian population lost their lives from starvation, overwork, and executions. The country today is working hard to rebuild and reeducate their people.
We found the Cambodian people friendly, welcoming, and eager to share their hopes and dreams for a better future. Our highlights of Cambodia were spent in the city of Siem Reap which sits just outside of the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat and serves as the gateway to the ruins of Angkor. While it is a small town, it offers plenty to see and do for tourists.
Highlights of Cambodia Must Do’s:
Visit the temples by bicycle with Grasshopper Adventures
If it is not too hot outside, biking the temples is the best way to go. The bike tour allows you to escape the crowds and busy roads while exploring some of the 162 hectares that make up the Angkor complex. We covered over 30km while biking and walking around the many temples. The guides made sure to keep us hydrated and well fed. The temples are amazing up close. We visited the sprawling tree roots of Tha Prom Temple, featured in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, enjoyed intricate elephant carvings at the Terrace of the Elephants, and marveled at the carved faces of Bayon Temple.
Biking Tour Tips:
- Don’t worry about getting too sore or tired, you can always get a cheap massage when you get back to town.
- Don’t feed the monkeys. Everyone always says not to feed the monkeys, but why wouldn’t I want to feed the monkeys? The monkeys will make you their own personal climbing post and come searching for more food. Seriously, don’t feed the monkeys.
- Bring a headband or bandana to cover your nose and mouth on the dusty portions of the ride.
Take an afternoon cooking class with Beyond Unique Escapes
The setting for this tour is special. Once delivered from your hotel by tuk-tuk to a peaceful retreat just outside the city you catch a glimpse into the lives of the locals. After touring a traditional village home kitchen, you prepare your own meal in an outdoor oasis. The food is delicious and they take a lot of care to make sure you know what all of the ingredients are and how to prepare them. Because the groups are small, you get to cook and finally eat your very own meal. Cleanliness was a priority, which made it all the better. Keep an eye out for local amphibians, we saw a cool black spectacled toad perching nearby.
Highlights of Cambodia Tips:
- While Cambodia has their own currency, the Riel, the ATMs, shops, and restaurants all use US Dollars.
- Various pizza shops in Cambodia offer Happy Pizza. This pizza comes with a little sprinkle of green on top, and I’m not talking about basil. Don’t be confused. Marijuana is not legal in Cambodia. Cambodians, however, are allowed to grow a small number of plants for medicinal and cooking purposes. It seems the authorities turn a blind eye when it comes to pizza.
- As with neighboring countries, excellent massages are available at very low prices in Cambodia. So treat yourself to an hour-long massage for the cost of lunch in the USA. Just be careful to select a nice clean place. Keep in mind that the over-aggressive advertisers are often working at the adult spas.
- Siem Reap offers markets galore. From the Old Market to Central Market and the Night Market alike, there are plenty of opportunities to shop. As a tourist-friendly town, many of the markets offer Cambodian crafts of stone carvings, ceramics, and silks. The early morning outdoor markets also have fresh produce and local delicacies to eat. Do your research and prepare to barter on every purchase!
Our stay in Cambodia was a trip to remember. The people, animals, and majestic temples made for an amazing stay. I will forever be impacted by the history I learned; that genocide is not just a tragedy of history books, but occurs in our beautiful world in the present day. I will challenge myself to be grateful for my life, and to spread kindness, love, and positivity every day.