As you may or may not know, I’ve just returned from a short backpacking trip in South East Asia.
I wanted to do a little series of posts so I could share with you all the cool things I did and saw. This post is about the second country I visited, Cambodia. You can find my first post about Vietnam here, and my next post about Thailand, here.
I went through to Cambodia at the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing and it was surprisingly quick and painless. I got an e-visa before I travelled and it turns out if you just buy one at the border it takes about 5 minutes and you get an amazing visa stamp in your passport so I was a bit gutted! That will teach me for being organised. In the evening I took a cyclo tour around Phnom Penh and saw some beautiful sights including Wat Phnom and the Mekong River.
After that I had dinner at a local family’s house. They teach English to local children for free so the money I paid for the meal helped to fund some of the teaching, and I got to meet some of the kids afterwards who were adorable. It was lovely to do something that helps to support the local community – learning English opens up a world of opportunities for people growing up in Cambodia.
The man who’s house I had dinner at was also our guide for our visit to the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison the following day. He was a child during the Khmer Rouge regime and remembered a lot about it. It was an incredible experience getting to visit both of these places and I’m so grateful I got to learn to much about the county, but honestly it was probably one of the most harrowing experiences I’ve ever had.
Walking around the Killing Fields there were still bones and clothes coming up through the ground. I saw two trees, one which they hung a speaker from to play music to drown out the screams of the dying, and the other which was used to hit children against in front of their mothers until they died. It was honestly horrific. There were huge mass graves marked out and there are still so many people missing or unidentified. The most frightening thing is that this is actually only one of many ‘Killing Fields’ that were created during this war. In the middle of the site there was a beautiful building full of skulls. They each had a coloured sticky dot corresponding to a key detailing how they died as judged by injuries to the skull.
I then went on to the prison, where I saw all the cells the prisoners were kept in, and hundreds and hundreds of photos of all the victims and soldiers, many of whom were just children themselves. 4 children were rescued from the prison and one of them now works there as a gardener; he told us his story and it was heart breaking. Our guide told us that they have two mottos in Cambodia since Khmer Rouge: ‘wipe your tears and keep moving forward’, and ‘today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow’. I think they’re both kind of beautiful things for everyone to remember really.
In the afternoon I went to the palace which was quite a contrast. It was amazing though! The buildings were incredibly ornate and the grounds were immaculate – I’d definitely recommend spending a couple of hours here if you visit.
I moved from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap next which was a long bus journey, but I stopped halfway at a little market where they sell loads of different street foods like tarantulas, scorpions and cockroaches. I’ve never been so grateful to be a vegetarian! I did hold a tarantula though and he was surprisingly soft and docile – almost kind of cute!
I visited Tonle Sap in the evening which is a lake with a floating village. On the way we stopped at a tiny little village and had a walk around. As we were walking I got bombarded by around 10 adorable little kids who were fascinated with my hair and tattoos – they were climbing all over me and followed me all around the village holding my hands! They were honestly one of the highlights of my whole trip.
The floating village was really interesting – I went into a school and a crocodile farm which was really sad, they just keep around 20 crocodiles in this tiny space in the middle of a boat until they’re around 6 years old then make bags and belts from them – they don’t even eat the meat! I then reboarded the boat and sat to watch the sunset which was beautiful.
I spent the next two days exploring temples. It started with a 3am wake up to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat! It was beautiful but a bit foggy so it wasn’t quite as clear as I’d have liked it to be. The temples were absolutely stunning and I walked all the way to the top to see the views of Siem Reap. I also visited the Tomb Raider Temple, Ta Prohm and Bayon. They were all really different in their own ways so it was fascinating getting to walk around them all and learn about the history of each one. There were loads of wild monkeys running around too which was so cool to see.
I went to Phare, the Cambodian circus, in the evening, which was absolute worlds apart from the very dramatic and artistic show I saw in Vietnam. It was funny, camp and so entertaining – full of dancing and acrobatics and music. I would highly recommend it, it’s one of the strangest but most entertaining things I’ve ever seen! The production is also great for the community because often the performers come from really underprivileged backgrounds and the proceeds go towards community projects.
On my last night I went quadbiking all through the rice paddies and little villages. I got to see a family of water buffalo having a bath which was adorable, and it was such a fun way to end my time in Cambodia! I visited a couple of night markets afterwards and haggled for some cheap clothes. Siem Reap is such a cool little city, I wish I was there for longer. It’s great for backpackers!
Cambodia was an amazing country to visit, everybody was so friendly and kind. I finished my trip by crossing over into Thailand, which I’ll talk about in part 3!
If you want to see more photos from my adventure, check out my Instagram.