DAYS 32 – 40: CAMBODIA
HCMC is often a tiring and relentless experience with so much to do and its unremitting pace, so it’s a good thing that next up you have the more laid-back feel of Cambodia. A country with a tragic past, as the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are still within living memory, most visitors are amazed and inspired at the positivity and endeavour of the people who live in this stunning country, which is also home to one of the greatest ancient wonders to be found anywhere in the world: Angkor Wat.
First off though, you will spend three nights in Phnom Penh, a city on the rise. Along with the splendour of Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, there are more sombre reminders of Pol Pot’s brutal regime at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was turned into a prison that has now been preserved and now serves as a chilling monument to a dark period, and also a respectful memorial to those who lost their lives. On the edge of town it is also possible to visit the Killing Fields, a similarly harrowing but valuable experience.
But this is in the past, and the local people in Phnom Penh have put it all behind them and live life at a frantic pace. With neon signs mixed in with many tastefully restored French Colonial buildings, it’s a great city to just wander around and enjoy fine cuisine and buzzing nightlife.
From Phnom Penh you stop for a couple of nights in Battambang, a city on the bank of the Sangkae River. This city has some more great temples and Buddhist shrines to explore, and the (in)famous ‘Bamboo Railway’, a truly unique and hair-raising experience!
Leaving Battambang by boat you will cruise along the Tonle Sap Lake upriver to Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat. This iconic abandoned temple, which adorns the national flag of Cambodia, is said to be the world’s largest religious monument. But there is far more to the whole site, known collectively as the Temples of Angkor, and away from the most famous site there are countless ruins to explore, many of which have been slowly reclaimed by the surrounding jungle and it doesn’t take too much effort to find yourself completely away from the crowds. Entry into the complex for one day is included, which can be explored either by tuk-tuk with a hired driver/guide for the day, or by yourself on bicycle, as it is only a short distance from Siem Reap itself.
The fact that Angkor Wat is so nearby gives Siem Reap the feel of a busy tourist town. This has obvious pitfalls, but also means it is a great place to enjoy a night out and bump into travellers from all over the world going in each and every direction.