Welcome to Cambodia, a dichotomy worth dissecting; a binary land where diametrically opposed limits of human achievement and human devastation come together. In one minute you’re captivated by the stunningly glorious Khmer civilization both ancient (Angkor Wat) and modern (the Cambodian Royal Palace), while the next you’re sickened by the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison.
There seems to be no middle ground in Cambodia until you get to know the people: the unceasing smiles in their generous and hospitable good natures belie the suffering their parents and neighbors had experienced only a generation before at the hands of Pol Pot. When you meet anyone over the age of 30 in Cambodia, most likely you’re staring into the eyes of a survivor. This is a land not to merely pass through; this is a place to learn about the opposing pinnacles of the human condition.
Khmer Saravan – Phnom Penh, Cambodia
You’ll first notice the walls covered from floor to ceiling with crayola markered white sheets of papers, scrawled in different languages from tourists and travelers who’ve been to the restaurant and lauded it with arts and crafts. My review? The food was good enough for my own review up on their walls, but the real delight was their drinks. The mango shake was the best one I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot, all over the world), with the right amount of sweet that boasted a great texture. The food that followed couldn’t match up: I ordered a garlic frog and minced pork; both portions were dismally too small and the garlic overpowered the taste of the frog. My verdict: just go for the shakes.
Food Stalls by Phnom Bakheng; Angkor Wat complex, Cambodia
Ask your tuk-tuk driver to take you to a reputable food stall within the Angkor Wat complex by Phnom Bakheng and treat yourself to either the Chicken Soup or the Cambodian Noodles: out of this world. So flavorful, so rich, so in-your-face. And a day later my stomach still feels fine. A meal for 2 + drinks with no complications = $5 USD = Perfect meal.
Khmer Kitchen – Old Market; Siem Reap, Cambodia
Your tuk-tuk driver will know where it is; it’s a famous restaurant known for its authentic Khmer-style cooking. True to its reputation, the Chicken Amok and the Oven Pumpkin-Tofu were fantastic dishes. The coconut in the amok was just right, and complemented my mountain of rice perfectly while the oven baked pumpkin with tofu inside was unlike anything I’ve had before. Unfortunately the Khmer style soup with fish was made to be a little too sour that the broth overpowered the fish’s flavor (it tasted like eating solid cubes of the sour broth), while the drinks (cashew nut shake and mango shake) were good, but not as good as Khmer Saravan.
No bug bites in Phnom Penh, but a few in Siem Reap. I’ve started taking my malarial pills 2 days before arriving in Cambodia, so I don’t feel sick or anything. Food is getting a little more risky, as we’ve been more exposed to food stalls and “street”/”local” food lately. I also ended my trip in Siem Reap with a slight fever, not sure from where.
Health Rating of Cambodia after 7 days…
- # of bug bites: 3
- # of Immodium used: 1
- # of Pepto used: 0
- # of Advil used: 1
- # of antibiotics used: 0
- # of total medication used: 2
- Creams used: Lots of DEET
Quality of healthcare: In Phnom Penh, clinics are set up like Starbucks; there’s 1 or 2 on every block with a big blue cross sign advertising services. But the quality is questionable: hotel staff and friends would advise us not to go to those places if anything happened but rather to the hospitals, which there are a very few of: Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh and Royal Angkor International Hospital in Siem Reap. It is actually strongly advised to be airlifted out to be treated at better quality health care facilities in neighboring Thailand (Bangkok) if you’re afflicted with anything serious.
Sanitary Conditions: It’s one of the poorest countries in the world, so it’s not unusual to see kids running around barefoot on sidewalks that look less than tolerably clean, food stalls for tourists that our own tuk-tuk driver would warn us away from, and biting insects more apparent than in other countries. It was also not unusual to see rows of ants crawling up walls even in nice restaurants or our reputable guest house…sure it always can be better, but this is jungle land so learn to love nature or travel somewhere else.
Since the places we visited in Cambodia was largely meccas for tourists and travelers, I expected prices to be a little higher due to admission fees and inflated lodging costs ($40 tickets for Angkor Wat!!!). So including lodging, food, transportation, nightlife, admission fees, and all other costs in Cambodia, I spent approximately $245 USD in 6 days, which approximates to $40 USD/day. The goal was to spend no more than $40 USD/day.
Breakdown for 7 days: $60 spending + $40 Angkor Wat tickets + $80 for lodging + $20 for tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh + $45 for 3 day tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap
Goal: $40 USD/day
Spent: $40 USD/day for 6 days
Result: SUCCESS/FAIL (depending if your glass is half full or half empty)
Cara Hotel – On the corner of 47th and 84th streets; Phnom Penh
It’s a classy place for only $15 USD a person. Comes with free breakfast (a really nice continental breakfast with full buffet!) and internet, along with a super professional service. The staff was SO nice that they took care of flight tickets to Siem Reap, a tuk-tuk driver, taxi to the airport, laundry, and massage services free of charge and with many smiles. Highly recommended.
Price: $15 USD/night per person
Internet: Free! Not as fast, but good enough.
Other Amenities: A lobby restaurant, free breakfast, AMAZING staff, professional service and quality for cheap price.
Ta Som Guesthouse – Siem Reap
Affordable guesthouse that is pretty much you pay for what you get: A/C room with decent beds, a TV, and free internet. The staff is a nice family, and they’ll provide you with an awesome tuk-tuk driver for average prices ($15 a day). Unfortunately, there’s no free breakfast, but they do provide you a plate of fresh fruit everyday.
Price: $15 USD/night per person
Other Amenities: Free plate of fresh fruit everyday, awesome tuk-tuk driver.
Cambodia is an intense place. You can learn a lot from it, so go in with your eyes open and you’ll leave with your heart full. I don’t expect sleepy Laos to top Cambodia in terms of excitement, but that’s not what we go to Laos for, right?
Angkor Wat schedule: Seeing almost everything in 3 days.
Day 1 – The Heavy Hitters
- Angkor Wat
- Angkor Thom
- Terrace of the Elephants
- Terrace of the Leper King
- Ta Nei
- Ta Keo
- Ta Prohm
- Phnom Bakheng (for the sunset)
Day 2 – The Grand Circuit
- Preah Khan
- Preah Neak Pean
- Ta Som
- Eastern Mebon
- Pre Rup
- Sra Srang
- Bateay Kdei
Day 3 – The Far Away Group
- Angkor Wat at Sunrise
- Banteay Samre
- Banteay Srei
- Roulos Group
- Preah Ko
- Beng Mealea
Things We’ve Learned:
- If you want to buy any Cambodian handicrafts (scarves, necklaces, souvenirs), buy them at the lesser visited temples like Bakong or Beng Mealea; so few tourists visit there that the touts give you a much cheaper starting price for them (instead of 1 scarf for $3, they offer 2 scarves for $1)
- Out of everything we’ve eaten around Angkor Thom, the best is the food stall next to Phnom Bakheng
- Unless massages is just as important to you as a bar or a club, the nightlife is pretty dismal, even 0n a Saturday night. The only place we found where we could dance is Temple Club, which features crowds of rich 17 year olds on summer vacation.