A week in Cambodia

For a change, we had a few days to spare before the arrival of our travel buddies for our Thailand leg. We were hesitating between going to Cambodia or Myanmar, but decided that Myanmar was too big a country to attempt at such short notice and for such a short time. We did not regret choosing to ‘squeeze in’ Cambodia, even though we did very little research for this bonus trip, and rainy season was still very much in progress.

We obviously started with Siem Reap, being so close to the border, by taking a bus from Thailand. This is the location of Cambodia’s giant temple complex which houses, amongst hundreds of others, Angkor Wat, a now very famous Hindu temple built by the Khmer Empire in the 12th century. Even though one could spend a week exploring this huge site, we only stayed 2 days: just enough to be amazed at how these huge structures were built with such precision, and humbled by the great age of this enigmatic location. Just enough not to get sick of the crowds, the hawkers, the prices, and not to get ‘templed-out’ looking at ruin after ruin, statues and carvings that all look alike and come with very little historical context.

And so we moved on, for another 2 days, to the busy capital city, Phnom Penh. Here we did a lot of walking: the city center, all its administrative buildings and markets, the Royal Palace, and along the banks of the Mekong river. We spent a day with other travellers at the Genocide Museum, learning about the recent, heart-wrenching, violent history of this stricken country, caught in the middle of Cold War conflict between its powerful neighbours, and the West. It gave us some perspective into the surprising level of poverty and lack of economic prospects, which are still obvious today. Little to no efforts were made to provide closure or reconciliation for the victims (a 1/4 of the population was decimated), the heads of the Khmer Rouge regime were given royal pardons and never really held accountable for their horrific acts. Still today, the few survivors deny their responsibility: it was always someone else giving the orders.

We needed to get away from the city, and all its reminders of suffering. We headed to one of Cambodia’s many tropical islands, tucked away in the Gulf of Thailand: Koh Rong. We chose a very simple location, our lodging was a tent. We enjoyed our time when the rain held out: swimming, playing and resting. We also visited Koh Rong’s more costly neighbour, Koh Rong Samloem, an endless stretch of unspoilt white sandy beach, and, out of rainy season, crystal clear turquoise blue water. The perfect place to get a bit of downtime before our last 2 intense months of travelling.


A little over a week in Cambodia was enough for us. It’s a small country with few accessible and unspoilt attractions. Its constant reminders of poverty and poor infrastructure make it difficult to travel in, and it’s hard to tell if the locals benefit at all from the mass tourism which has taken over in recent years.

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