23rd January – 18th February 2018
Our one month in Cambodia has been clearly split into two parts. For the first two weeks we sampled the life of a cycle tourer. We bought bikes in Kratie and cycled south 435km to Kampot via Phnom Penh. You can read more about this in my blog ‘A budget cycle trip across Cambodia’. The second part followed our more traditional backpacker style. We learnt about Cambodia’s traumatic and yet recent past at the killing fields and S21 genocide museum in Phnom Pehn and explored the ruined temples of Angkor, tomb raider style. I also spent a week volunteering at a craft shop in Siem Reap that sells disabled Cambodian products. Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village supports people with disabilities who are often marginalised in society.
Food and Drink
This is a steamed fish curry often cooked in banana leaves. It uses coconut cream and local spices including lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime zest, garlic, shallots and chillies. It is served with rice and is a very traditional Cambodian dish.
Rich and I are not big coffee drinkers however when a roadside cafe only serves ‘Khmer Coffee’ and your in the middle of nowhere you really can’t say no. And we were so glad we didn’t. This is Cambodia’s version of an iced coffee. It is cold filtered coffee, ice and a very large helping of condensed milk. It is so sweet and a massive energy booster in the middle of the day.
I am not sure what makes this curry very distinctive however ordering a Khmer curry in our opinion is a great option if you are not sure what to order on a menu. They are often slightly different from place to place but always use local fresh spices and its very saucy in comparison to a lot of the often dry fried options on the menu.
Kep has the feel of a quaint seaside town however it is strangely large. It was a town used by the French to retreat from the heat during the period when they colonised Cambodia from 1863 to 1953. The streets are lined with ornate fenced plots of land where hundreds of French villas used to be. Some of these still have the run down buildings showing strangely familiar european architecture overgrown by nature and covered in graffiti. It’s easy to explore on a bike for a morning and the sheer number of them is fascinating. The town also has a small beach and a crab market where you can choose your own crab fresh from the net and have it cooked up in front of you.
The Ruins of Angkor
Angkor, the old capital of the Khmer empire, is a must see destination in Cambodia. We were worried that after being in Southeast Asia for so long we would not find this sight as impressive as we should however it was amazing. The ruins here vary from the 9th to 15th century and are in fantastic condition. The added beauty is that the temples are all different as they were built for different purposes during the reigns of different kings. We spent three days exploring the complex from our base in Siem Reap.
Whilst I did a week of volunteering Rich jumped on a bus down to the city of Battambang. He said the following
“Only 3 hours away from Siem Reap this old colonial city has a nice chilled feel to it and makes for a great change of pace. Days are spent exploring the surroundings including watching six million bats leave a cave at sunset and visiting a crocodile farm where you can hold a baby crocodile.
The town itself has lots of interesting old buildings and looks likely to be soon recognised by UNESCO. If you want to escape from the madness of Siem Reap I couldn’t recommend it more.”
Things we learnt
- Cambodia uses two currencies. The US Dollar and the Cambodian Riel (very confusing). Most large purchases are made in the US Dollar however you are often given small change in Cambodian Riel. The main reason is because they do not use the US coins and so below $1 only the local currency can be used. The important thing to remember is $1 = 4000 riel. It takes a while to get your head round but you eventually work it out.
- Cambodian children must learn basic english. Whilst cycling through rural Cambodia the local children were very very excited to see us. It was obvious that they didn’t see foreigners (or ‘balangs’) very often and they were all very keen to use the only English they knew. This consisted of ‘Hello!’ and ‘What is your name?’.
- Cambodian driving is the worst we have seen. We have now used motorbikes and bicycles in multiple countries and we both agree Cambodia has been the worst yet. This was more noticable I am sure because we did a 9 day cycle tour but it is definitely bad. People under cut, overtake, drive down the wrong side of the road and all drive at different speeds. No one looks to check for traffic ever and so as a cyclist, motorcyclist or pedestrian you learnt to always expect the unexpected. And of course go slowly!
Top two phrases/words
- Thanks – arkoun (អរគុណ)
- Hello – suostei (សួស្តី)
Travel Statistics for Cambodia
Beers drank: 43.5 (each)
Beds slept in: 17 (each)
Bribes paid: 0
- Bus: 6
- Minibus: 1
- Boat: 2
- Car: 1
- Rickshaw: 10
- Bicycle: 9
- Motorbike: 2
Spending in Cambodia
Currency: USD / Cambodian Riel
Currency Conversion: £1 = $1.39 / 5,560 KHR
Number of days in country: 26
Breakdown of spending (together) –
Food & Beverage: £311.78
Total (together): £1088.08
Total (per person): £544.04
Average Daily Spend (together): £41.85
Average Daily Spend (per person): £20.92