This is a long overdue post about a trip I made to South East Asia back in 2015. I had previously visited Thailand back in 2013, and so in 2015 my friend Katie and I just spent a week in Thailand and then two months travelling Cambodia and Vietnam together. I then continued on my own for another six weeks into Laos and Thailand.
Our first step into Cambodia was a small 32 hour bus trip from Koh Phangnan in Thailand, to Siem Reap, which was about as fun as it sounds. On our first night, always excited to sample the food, we chose a local Cambodian restaurant and ordered a combo meal of fresh spring rolls with a peanut sauce, an amok with fish and khmer chicken curry, and all of them were delicious. The following day, we headed for the main attraction of Siem Reap, the famous Angkor Wat temples. You can choose between a one, three or seven day ticket- we bought a three day pass and it was perfect. It was honestly the most incredible experience. On our first day, we visited Preah Khan, Neak Poan, and Ta Sohm. Our favourite was Banteay Srai which was really far away, because the journey out there was through some amazing rural villages, with children and puppies playing outside their houses on stilts. We watched the sunset at Pre Rup, along with a ton of other tourists.
The next morning, we got up before sunrise to head to Angkor Wat. It wasn’t the most impressive sunrise and we were surrounded by people, so we preferred the bit afterwards wandering around the peacefully calm temple and listening to the silence. We headed to Bayon next, a huge temple covered in carvings of faces of a former king, then to Baphuon, and a couple of smaller ones neaby. On our last and final day of temples, we went first to Ta Phrohm (a jungle temple made famous by Tomb Raider), and Ta Keo. We watched our final sunset at Phrom Bakeng which was lovely- it had been the most amazing few days.
Our next stop was Battambang, which we travelled to via a river boat. Our pre-arranged bus was due to pick us up at 06:30am for the boat to leave at 07:30. No sign of anything until 07:15, when a small speedy car raced round. We sped to the boat and raced on, and then proceeded not to leave until 9am. Classic Asia! We found a spot sitting on the flat roof of the long boat, taking in the views of amazing floating villages, clusters of wooden huts on stilts. It was gorgeous, so many children were waving out of doors at us! However, after an entire day in hot sun with suncream running low, we later tried to sit downstairs/ inside, to no avail. To make it worse, the boat kept getting stuck in the narrow waterways which meant it took forever. When we eventually arrived, we found a hostel for $2 and then dinner for another $2 which made up for it!
The following day we took the bamboo train, Battambang’s highlight, which was a sheet of bamboo on four wheels, powered by a lawn mower engine. It was so rickety where you had to brace yourself with every upcoming bump- still a fun experience! That afternoon, with the lack of suncream still we decided to do a cooking class to make some Cambodian food. This was SO GOOD. We first went to the market to buy fresh ingredients and then made spring rolls, fish amok, beef lok lak and then chocolate latin for dessert. Incredible!
After Battambang, we headed down south to Sihanoukville. Battambang’s bus station didn’t feel the safest, and the bus didn’t come until about 11pm. Then around 4am, we were told we had to change bus and wait until 7am, something never explained to us when we bought our ticket. The bus didn’t turn up until 08:30 – all classic Asia. It was a proper local bus, no air con and boiling hot and packed to the rafters, but still locals piled on, and sat down on plastic chairs in the aisle. Finally, (borderline hysterical) we arrived in Sihanoukville and headed straight to the sea to cool off. It was a lovely beach, lined with little wooden bars. That evening we joined some hostel drinking games, won a beer tower through a beer pong tournament, and headed to the beach bars for a fun night. The second day we made a beeline for the beach again and got ourselves a hair braid each. That night we went to a ‘festival in a field’, and the next day we headed to Otres beach, a more secluded and prettier beach for Katie’s birthday and treated ourselves to a nice dinner.
We had bought our ticket to Koh Rong but hadn’t found any accommodation available. We aimed for the early boat with the intention of getting there before the crowds and securing somewhere to sleep. However, once again we had been conned and found ourselves on a touring boat that stopped in various places and was to take six hours to get to Koh Rong instead of two. However we stopped in Koh Rong Samloem, which was actually beautiful. Backpackers don’t generally stay here because its more expensive, but it was beautiful. For lunch we stopped at this tiny little Cambodian fishing village called M’Pay Bay, which was also amazing.
When we finally arrived in Koh Rong, most accommodation had gone (as expected) but we managed to find a little guesthouse. However before we went out for the night for dinner etc, I had left a banana on the side table near my bed. When we came back, it had been attacked by something. I freaked out and did not sleep. The following day we checked out and moved to an actual hostel. We then walked over to 4X Beach through a forest trail. It was such a gorgeous beach and we spent most of the day there until we realised that we were both burnt to a crisp again despite putting on factor 30. We realised it must be our Doxycycline malaria tablets because we have both never had anything like it. Katie felt so ill, probably heatstroke that she went to bed. I stayed out on my own and chatted to lots of people and played some beer pong. The next day was thankfully quite stormy, which was a relief from the heat and we booked our boat back to Sihanoukviulle and on arrival there, booked a bus to Phnom Penh for 2pm.
We arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia in the evening and checked into our 20 bed dorm (lol). The following day we moved to a busier hostel we had been recommended, and then headed out to find a tuk-tuk to visit The Killing Fields and S21. Both were very humbling. On arrival at the Killing Fields which are essentially mass graves, we were given a pair of audio headphones and walked around listening to real stories- it was so interesting but really horrible. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were in power from 1975-9, and in that time 1 in 4 Cambodian people were killed. Crazy to think that it all happened so recently! After that we went to S21, which was originally a school but was converted by the Khmer Rouge into a massive secret prison where horrible tortures took place. The prison cells were crazy small.
The second day there we visited the Russian Market, which had a bit of everything: food, clothes, souvenirs and we found some incredibly cheap noodles. That evening, we drank in our hostel bar and then went out clubbing, which was so much fun. The following afternoon, we began our journey into Vietnam. Until next time lovely Cambodia!