5 days in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia

2 waterbugs, 4 tarantulas, 6 scorpions, countless fire and red ants, a dozen worms and a couple dozen crickets… This is not my count of bugs spotted in my hotel rooms throughout Cambodia; this is the spread for my Friday night dinner in a street side restaurant cleverly called, Bugs Café.

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Platter of bugs in Siem Reap @ Bugs Cafe

Cambodia has proven to be a special country and a place I will remember forever. I try to keep this blog more objective and travel oriented but I am riding on the overnight sleeper train through Northern Thailand right now. On a second cup of coffee sitting window side and it’s tough not to get a little philosophical.

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As I’m thinking about my time in Cambodia a week ago I can’t help but remember the locals. There was the woman on Pub Street in Siem Reap selling bracelets whose dance moves were an enjoyable combination of Beyoncé and Usher.  I attempted several dance offs and bought an equal number of bracelts from her.  A simple experience like this was truly a highlight.

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best friends

 

Or the bartenders at my hostel who I had a late night YouTube music video session and am now Facebook friends. How could I forget the Tuk Tuk driver who I paid 75 cents to drive his Tuk Tuk down the street?

The list of memorable moments with the Cambodian people could take an entire train ride but I think you get the picture. For now, I’ll stick to sharing some insights on where I went and what I might recommend.

My journey through Cambodia began in Phnom Penh. I highly recommend staying at the Mad Monkey hostels when you are in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

If you do not want to be in a “party hostel” the company has a sister hotel in Siem Reap called Naga Angkor. Low key but same ownership and right around the corner from Mad Monkey, across the street from the Park Hyatt. Back to Phnom Penh. The main museum to see is the Genocide Museum also known as the Killing Fields. This is the location where thousands of Cambodians were brutally murdered during the genocide, beginning 1975. It’s an unsettling experience but similar to Auschwitz, one I think people should pay their respects to and acknowledge the tragedy. The difficult part of this museum is you can still find human bones and clothes in the soil. Every year the museum will collect these remains, as several wash up after a rainstorm, but in the meantime it is on for display. For those looking to read about this history a commonly recommended book from other backpackers was First They Killed My Father.

The other museum worth visiting is the prison where people were held before being killed. There are a lot of exhibits to see so if you can stand the heat allocate at least an hour or two.

Most my other time in Phnom Penh was spent poolside at Mad Monkey. But if you are adventurous many locals offered to take us to the ‘gun range.’ I spoke to a few Brits who went and it does look like a blast but will run you several hundred USD. But if you want to throw a grenade or fire a rocket launcher in the middle of nowhere Cambodia, there are many locals willing to arrange.

After a couple days in Phnom Penh you can take the Giant Ibis bus up to Siem Reap. It’s a 6-hour drive and this is the best company to use. Water, snacks and several pit stops later you’ll be dropped off in the heart of Cambodia.

My travel group agreed Siem Reap was a nicer place than Phnom Penh. The main attraction for tourists here is Angkor Wat and this is a must visit! Take a night off from drinking because you’ll need to be in a Tuk Tuk headed there by 4:30 in the morning to see the sunrise.

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Sunrise @ Angkor Wat… about 4:50AM in this picture
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Inside main temple Angkor Wat
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Tomb Raider Temple (from movie)

The later in the day you are there, the hotter it gets and trust me when I say it gets hot. Traveling in June in Southeast Asia you just accept the fact you will be hot and sweaty anytime outdoors. There are many temples throughout Angkor Wat so arrange for a Tuk Tul to drive you around. You might get ‘templed-out’ after 5 like I did but if not you can spend a whole day wandering around. A buddy of mine visited the National Museum and said that was an ‘OK’ museum so I’d really just recommend spending a day or two wandering Angkor Wat. However, the nighttime also makes Siem Reap worth the visit. You can eat a range of instects if you feel ambitious or just stroll Old Market for more normal street food.  After dinner head to Pub Street for late night street dancing. You can find my new best friend selling bracelets in the street (good luck haggling as she is tough). Tell her I say hello.  ‘Angkor What?’ is the popular bar for backpackers but really any bar on the street is a good time.

If you plan to visit Cambodia please reach out to me with questions on Angkor Wat. It’s a must-see building but requires some planning. Also, no need to convert money upon arrival as everywhere accepts and prefers USD. I hope this wasn’t too long of a post but I think you can tell I truly loved Cambodia. My liver, perhaps, not so much but between the $4 foot massages and the dancing on Pub Street the rest of me is pretty damn happy.

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