Amy Hall explores the richly diverse cities, towns and countryside of Cambodia…
A tragic history is often the first thing that comes to mind when people mention Cambodia; often remembered for its time under he Khmer Rouge, led by dictator Pol Pot in the 1970s. It is estimated that 1.7million people died during this period through murder, exhaustion from working in labour camps and starvation. But despite its history, Cambodia is now looking to the future, and although there is still widespread poverty the country has enjoyed peace for many years.
We started off our trip in the country’s capital Phnom Penh, a bustling city with an edge of serenity amid the busy markets, motorbikes and tuk tuks. After a few days in the capital we travelled to Banteay Meanchey. It is well worth exploring beyond the typical tourist cities in Cambodia to see the endless rice fields and compact wooden houses, often on stilts, that populate the countryside. Ornate, brightly coloured pagodas and Buddhist temples poke out amongst the greenery and monks in their burnt orange robes are a common sight.
Battambang was our next stop; a bustling town which, although a popular travel destination does not scream ‘tourist central’. Nearby Siem Reap has greater tourist credentials being much the same as any other tourist destination and very different to the rest of Cambodia.
Just outside Battambang in Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s pride and joy. Angkor Wat sits at the centre of a city of temples and ancient buildings called Angkor. Spend at least a day exploring the city’s ancient temples, each with their unique story.
On the way back to Phnom Penh we stopped for a night in the sleepy town of Kampong Cham on the banks of the Mekong River. The influence of the former French colonial rulers is obvious to see in the architecture here. It is also common to see boisterous aerobic classes, led by energetic dance music, taking place along the riverfront.
From Kampong Cham it is easy to stop off in Skuon, or ‘Spiderville’ as it is known. One of Cambodia’s delicacies is deep-fried tarantula ans as soon as you pull in for lunch here, children decorated with spiders, dead and alive, will offer you some to try.
It is important to understand some of the history of Cambodia and during your trip you should certainly pay a visit to a museum such as Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre just outside Phnom Penh, or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the city itself. Both give fascinating insights into Cambodia’s tumultuous history.
Today, Cambodia is a country rich in beauty, character and positivity. Many people with a high school education speak English and a simple conversation or glint in the eye will often demonstrate the mischievous Cambodian humour and generosity demonstrated by so many. Cambodia’s future is looking bright.
Where to Eat
Mith Samlanh is based in Phnom Penh and vocationally trains young people at risk from violence, poverty, drugs and trafficking. Many learn catering in one of their training restaurants. Don’t let the wo
rd training put you off though as the food and service is excellent. Romdeng Restaurant served more traditional Khmer food from the contemporary to ancient recipes.
What To Buy
You won’t be short of souvenirs in Cambodia’s markets and shops. The Russian Market in Phnom Penh is a great place to shop and there are also good markets in Battambang and Siem Reap. Of cour
se there are plenty of Buddha statues in various materials but to go for something truly traditional get a chequered scarf. Make sure you get your bartering hat on though and remember there’s nearly always money off for multi-buys.
Must See Or Do
Although it’s faster to travel by road from Battambang to Siem Reap, a boat ride is by far the most scenic way; passing through floating village life, narrow canals and then opening onto the Tonle Sap L
ake, a great expanse of water and greenery for as far as the eye can see. Try your luck at one of the little shops the boat will stop at selling traditional Khmer (Cambodian) food and various snacks. Including, as I spied at one shop, Cornish pasties!
Fights & Accommodation
The ideal time to go is between late November ad February when the weather is dry and not too hot. You can;t fly directly to Cambodia from Cardiff but you can fly to Bangkok and go from there. Alternatively,
go to London Heathrow where flights to Phnom Penh are £500-£700. The main cities have a range of accommodation to suit all budgets starting from $2 a night but there is less variety in more rural areas and you may have to use a hotel.
Thanks to Hannah Hendersonfor the great photos.