A review of all my posts while in Cambodia can probably give you equally good advice, but I’m well aware that I like to write… and you may not like to read. SO, here is a condensed version of the top things I suggest doing while in the little country of smiles:
- Eat Khmer food: All Cambodian food is delicious, but definitely different than you may have experienced anywhere else. It’s a little spicier than some Asian countries and a little more exotic than others. Cambodians are not afraid to eat what must be eaten, so you will see insects fried on the street and may get more than a healthy dose of MSG and fish sauce in almost everything you eat. Fish amok is one of the most popular dishes, especially in Southern Cambodia, but bunn chjaeul (spelling is negotiable, but they are savory pancakes with vegetables and sometimes shrimp) was also one of my favorites.
- Learn the language: This is a difficult one to knock off your list, but well worth it. Khmer is not easy, but at least an understanding of basic numbers (for bargaining at markets) and greetings such as “sues-day” (hello) and “awkoon” (thank you) will go a long way. English is understood most places you will go, but it is still not as mainstream as it is in Cambodia’s neighboring tourist hot-spot, Thailand. In any city you visit, locals and ex-pats also offer up affordable language classes.
- The Temples & Siem Reap: The obvious choice is Angkor Wat, and as it should be. The entire region of temples up north is more incredible than I can put into words and it is worth your visit. A friend recommends Sun Same as a tour guide, although he was busy the day I arrived so I cannot speak for him firsthand. I do know that he speaks perfect English and offers an array of options from private car to tuk tuk depending on your budget. Find him on Tripadvisor for more information. Personally, I negotiated with drivers based on Sun Same’s advice and got a tuk tuk driver to take me around the temples all day (sunrise is a must, and then stop for breakfast before continuing your trek) for USD$20. After a day at the temples, be sure to wander around Siem Reap’s night markets, get a massage for about USD$15 or even take a yoga class at Peace Café.
- Beaches: Although Thailand may be the more popular beach destination, Cambodia is equally (if not more) striking. The most incredible part of Cambodia is how affordable and quiet it is. Many use Sihanoukville as their landing spot, but from there be sure to branch out to smaller islands off the coast. Word has it that Crusoe Island/Koh Ta Kiev is a hidden gem. Rabbit Island is near Kep and makes a great spot for one or two very quiet relaxing nights in a beachside cabin. Note that on Rabbit, there is not much else to do than have a cocktail and relax but it is worth the trip if you are in the area.
- Learn the history: This is an absolute must for an visitor to Cambodia. You cannot begin to understand the culture without learning about their brutal, recent history. In particular, pay a visit to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng S21 Genocide Museum in the capital of Phnom Penh. Put aside a full day because it will drain you emotionally, and cap the day off with a good coffee (Cambodian coffee is made strong and sweet) or dinner in the city to wind down.