When I decided that after 2 years of traveling the world I needed to settle down a bit. It was a choice between Cambodia and Goa in India. Goa won but Cambodia still has a special place in my heart and is somewhere that I still dream of returning to. I just loved traveling in Cambodia. She charmed me with ancient temples, emerald rice paddies, quaint towns and the simple way of life.
The low cost of living and easy visa arrangements also help make traveling in Cambodia easy, but mostly it was the infectious optimism of the people who have been through hell but are still smiling that captured my heart and imagination. It really didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cambodia.
This is why I love Cambodia:
Cambodian people have been through more than most due to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, political instability and poverty but they have bounced back with an infectious optimism. People seem content with simple, peaceful lives and are mostly genuine, open, friendly and charming. Despite their circumstances and history this really is the land of a thousand smiles but unlike tourist weary Thailand these are genuine smiles. The Khmer people are the main reason why I loved traveling in Cambodia.
The Idyllic Countryside
Fields of rich, luscious emerald green paddy fields. interspersed with palm trees and clusters of wooden houses on stilts accompanied by a few lazy cows, pigs, goats and chickens and children playing around on bicycles or in waterholes creates an idyllic, beautiful, bucolic countryside scene that is perfect for exploring. It feels a long way from the trappings of the modern world and almost makes me want to give it all up and settle for a farmer’s life.
No where does ancient temples quite like Cambodia. From mighty Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and the icon of Cambodia, to the other barely touristed Banteay Chhmar, UNESCO site Preah Vihear and many others, old and new, dotted across the country.
It’s Unique and Undeveloped
Floating villages and sleepy, dusty, dilapidated towns gracefully bear the scars, trials and tribulations of such a fascinating past with charismatic uniqueness and, due to the tragic history of Cambodia, Khmers have developed ingenious ways of doing things, for example the clever bamboo train near Battambang.
The capital Phnom Penh once the ‘Pearl of Asia’ is making a comeback but is still mercifully low rise and charming with elegant streets, French colonial architecture and a pleasant riverside setting where elaborate golden temple spires and curving Khmer rooftops still dominate the skyline. For now, Cambodia remains undeveloped and untarnished by globalisation and modern global brands that threaten to suck out the character and create identikit cities.
If you want to get a feel for what Thailand’s islands were like 20 years ago go to Cambodia. Think rustic resorts, unspoilt white sand beaches and turquoise seas to rival Thailand and with a fraction of the crowds. Sihanoukville offers up a great beach scene with resorts and lively nightlife while the (so far) undeveloped island of Koh Rong is a rustic backpacker’s paradise.
Discovering Cambodia’s history will take you on an emotional roller coaster as it ranges from the glorious days of Angkor Wat at the height of the Khmer Empire, the largest city of the pre industrial world, to the days of French colonialism, civil war, independence and then the atrocities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. This part of the history can feel shocking and depressing but it is essential to learn and the way that the people have come back from those awful times is inspiring.
Everyone’s eaten Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisines before but the creamy, coconuty, delicious and delicately flavoured Khmer cuisine is a new treat to discover. You can even take a cooking class to learn how to recreate the delicious and delicately balanced flavours yourself.
If your feeling more adventurous you can even try eating crickets, silkworms, spiders, scorpions and other insects commonly snacked on in Cambodia! Read More: Cambodia’s creepy crawly cuisine.
Easy Travel, Visas and Great Value for Money
I know, cost is not the most important factor, but when a country is cheap it’s just easier to have a great time and you can spend longer there. Cambodia is super affordable and US Dollars are widely used. You can buy beer in a bar for 50 cents, a short tuk tuk ride is about a dollar, a few dollars can get you a restaurant meal and $8 for a decent double room makes it easy to travel Cambodia on a budget.
It’s easy to travel around Cambodia and most hotels will help you book buses to other tourist destinations and tuk tuks for shorter journeys. It’s also easy to get a visa for most nationalities, including Indians. You can get a visa on arrival at airport and land borders, for this you’ll need a passport photo and USD$30. You can also now apply beforehand for an evisa and save time and hassle queueing up for your visa when you arrive. It’s also possible to extend your visa later on.