Backpack Cambodia: Overview
Cambodia in a Nutshell:
- EAT! – Fish Amok: This mouth watering, delicious creamy coconut based curry is a must-eat in Cambodia.
- DRINK! – Sugar Cane Juice: Sweet and refreshing, squeezed right from the sugar cane right there on the street, this drink is the perfect cool-me-down in Cambodia’s sweltering heats.
- WEAR! – Your PJs: All that travelling sure tires you out, so keep your PJs on at all times, just like the savvy women of Cambodia.
- BEWARE! – Monkeys at Angkor Wat: They look so cute… until they’re swinging round your neck trying to swig your can of coke!
Gaze in awe at the temples of Angkor Wat, explore the fascinating, dusty streets of the energetic capital, Phnom Penh, then relax on the golden beaches of the South. Cambodia is a rewarding destination for backpackers in its own right, but what really makes it an enchanting destination to visit are the welcoming, gentle people that live here.
Anyone who visits this beautiful country should be aware that just thirty years ago, Cambodia suffered a devastating horror in which one third of the population were killed. Today the country is still very much recovering from this trauma, and the attitude of ‘live for the moment’ is ever present in its fun-loving population. Poignant reminders of the ordeal can be seen all across the land today, and it is important for backpackers to remember what the people of Cambodia endured just a short time ago.
In Phnom Penh, you can visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum to learn more about the recent history of the country, or delve into the ancient past at the National Museum. For today’s travellers, the city is a clash between old and new Asia; extremes of rich and poor, modern technology and tradition. As the sea of motorbikes and frantic traffic hurtle through the dusty streets past bustling markets, piles of rubbish on the streets, saffron-robed monks and laughing children on their way to school, Phnom Penh will simultaneously astound and unsettle its visitors. Many people who travel here choose to volunteer their time to help the poorest of the poor.
Probably the most visited place in Cambodia, Siem Reap is where people base themselves to visit the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, hailed as one of the most magnificent examples of architecture ever created by man. Built originally for the King Suryavarman II, this awe-inspiring site flourished as the capital of the Khmer Empire from approximately the 9th to the 13th Century. Frequently heralded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, this ancient city is a photographer’s paradise, and offers a staggering 400km² of temple ruins and monuments. You’ll feel like you are in an Indiana Jones movie as you wander around tumbling temples and crumbling ruins, in places overpowered by the force of nature over the years as the roots of trees grow amidst the stone. Siem Reap itself is a lively, fun place to stay. Don’t miss the a street aptly named ‘Pub Street’ - it’s lined with some great restaurants and buzzing bars.
On the coast, you’ll experience a different side of Cambodia and a unique and unspoiled part of South East Asia that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. Visit now before this changes! From Koh Kong, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep, you can explore quaint fishing villages, gorge on delicious seafood barbecues or just laze on deserted beaches. Sihanoukville is the main backpacker magnet, where cheap accommodation and a lively party vibe have drawn travellers who end up chilling here longer than they had planned. And just off shore, you can take a boat ride to any one of the pristine tropical islands sprinkled in the surrounding seas, like Bamboo Island, where you’ll feel like Robinson Crusoe as you grab yourself a dirt-cheap bamboo hut on stilts and escape society while you still can. (Foreign investors are already scrambling for the islands where the potential is massive.)
And, if you’re really looking to get off the beaten track, North Eastern Cambodia, notably Ratanakari Province is one of the least visited, yet most beautiful parts of Cambodia. Rolling hills, mountains, volcanic crater lakes and some great opportunities for trekking to local minority villages; it is slowly becoming an intrepid destination for adventure seeking travellers.
5 Random Facts about Cambodia
- Khmer food can be far removed from what the Western palate is used to. You’ll find Cambodians eating deep fried spiders, crickets, beetles and other creepy crawlies, pregnant duck eggs, fermented fish paste, barbecued rats, bats and snakes.
- Angkor Wat is regarded as one of the world’s most astounding feats of engineering. Built between 9th and 13th centuries, by an estimated 12,000 workers, and what would fill over 200,000 trucks full of sandstone, Angkor Wat is said to have taken just 35 years to build. One contemporary engineer suggested the same construction would take 300 years to complete today.
- The Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia is one of the largest in South East Asia. Every year during rainy season, its waters swell over a period of three months, transforming the lake from 160km long to up to 250km.
- The picturesque, riverside town of Kratie in North Eastern Cambodia is one of the best places in South East Asia to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawadddy dolphin. As highly endangered species, environmentalists believe that there are less than a hundred dolphins left in this part of the Mekong.
- Cambodia is the only country in the world to feature a building on its national flag. Not just any old building though, but the incredible Angkor Wat, regarded as the largest religious structure in the world and a powerful symbol of national heritage and pride for Cambodia.