Hear about travel to Cambodia as the Amateur Traveler talks to Matt Gibson from XpatMatt.com about a 10-day itinerary in this rapidly changing Asian country.
Why should someone go to Cambodia?
Matt says, “There’s clearly the most obvious reason is to go to Angkor. What and the surrounding temple areas because that’s one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world, it’s one of the most amazing ancient temple projects that I’ve ever seen. And after living there, I learned that exploring it, it gets better the farther out you go into the places that nobody goes. It’s not the same type of temples over and over. There’s a lot of variety. It’s really amazing and mystical and that, and of course, the people are really amazing. They have this new generation coming up that’s post rouge, that’s the sons and daughters who came after that generation that have this bright future ahead. And people are just really happy and positive these days. It’s a really wonderful feeling.”
Matt has been living in Asia for nearly 2 decades and lived in Cambodia for 18 months before and during the Covid pandemic. He lays out an itinerary that starts in the capital of Phnom Penh. He feels that in the capital you should go and see the somber Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It might be hard to understand what the country went through under the Khmer Rouge without visiting.
Matt also recommends the food scene in the capital especially down by the river north of the Royal Palace and south of the bridge. Lots of expats have opened small restaurants in that area. See the Royal Palace, then Matt suggests you head to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
One possible extension to this itinerary would be to head south to the coast to one of the coastal towns like Sihanoukville or Kampot. He does not recommend Sihanoukville anymore unless you are looking for the Chinese gambling crowd. Kampot will take a day to get to and back via a bus as the roads in Cambodia are not great.
To get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap you can fly or take a bus. You can also take a bus/boat combination which lets you explore Tonlé Sap which is a large lake connected to the Mekong River system. This lake has floating villages and interesting houses on the side of the lake on stilts because of the changing levels of the lake. You can also visit Tonlé Sap as a side trip from Seam Reap.
The main draw of Cambodia is the extensive temple of Angkor Wat and the many other temple complexes in the area. It has Hindu temples from the 11th and 12th centuries. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Matt used to get on his mountain bike and bike through the countryside around Siem Reap and confirms that there are temples just everywhere for miles. He recommends visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise. There will be crowds but the views are worth it. Then head north to the walled city and the Bayon Temple with its many gigantic faces.
The Ta Prohm temple is also known as the Tomb Raider Temple because of its use in that film series. It is still overgrown with vines and trees as many of these old temples were before they were restored.
Matt recommends heading out to West Baray where you can rent a hammock and buy 50-cent beers. It is a great place to relax and see the sunset with the locals. In the other direction, he finds the temple of Neak Peon (Neak Pean) has a “weird, crazy haunted feeling”. It is in the middle of another lake with dead trees turned white around it.
You can head north to the popular Banteay Srei temple and then further up to Kbal Spean where there are 1000-year-old sculptures carved into the riverbed. This is up by the Kulen National Park, the wildlife sanctuary, and the Kulen Waterfall.
Cambodia is a country in transition with a younger and more hopeful population. It has a difficult recent history but a rich ancient history and sites like nowhere else in the world.
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Siem Reap province
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Royal Palace of Cambodia
Phare: The Cambodian Circus Show in Siem Reap
West Baray (Siem Reap)
Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary
Be Happy Guesthouse by Baby Elephant
Cambodian Pepper Beef (Lok Lak) | Marion’s Kitchen
A Siem Reap Weekend Trip And Photography Tour
Life And Death And Angkor Wat
Places to Visit in Cambodia
Bamboo Train in Battambang
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