Everything we see, taste, touch, smell, and hear has the ability to inspire us. Everything from the walls around us to the clouds in the sky and the new country we chose to visit if we only make an effort to look.
When I told my friends I was traveling to Cambodia their faces changed from interest to a puzzled look of confusion. Most couldn’t see why I wanted to experience this country but soon discovered through conversation that few had little understanding of what Cambodia had to offer and experience. I knew one thing for certain was this, one country so rich in history had to be on my list of great adventures.
Cambodia: A country of mystery, pain and rebirth
After the final decision was made to travel to Cambodia I went online and researched what was required to enter the country and if vaccines were needed. Vaccines: there were no requirements only recommendations. Hepatitis A, Typhoid and Tetanus which I went ahead and got all three. Passport/Visa: Besides the passport (which requires at least 6 months left before expiration) a visa is required to enter the country. The e-visa can be obtained online at Cambodian E-Visa. Make sure you use the official Cambodian website. I’ve been told there are some fake sites out there. Yes the visa can be arranged on arrival at the airport but word to the wise: a lot of people wait and I saw quite a line to get it processed. Save yourself the trouble and do it before you arrive- it’s smooth sailing through immigration with the e-visa in hand. I had mine back via email in less than 2 days. Print off 2 copies because they took one of mine at entry and one at departure. Another good tip is Cambodia will accept US dollars so there is no need to exchange money if you are coming from the US.
I chose to enter through the city of Siem Reap which is the gateway to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. We landed in Cambodia just before the noon hour with sunny skies and very hot and humid weather. Our driver was waiting for us and was prearranged courtesy of the hotel we were staying at. His name is MOM short for his given name I’m sure. He greeted us with ice-cold towels scented with lemon that was so cooling and refreshing. He spoke good English and told us he had learned most of his language skills from the tourist over the years. MOM was very pleasant and eager to learn about us and pleased to answer our questions as we drove to the hotel. He explained some of the sites along the way and was very eager to suggest important areas we may want to see.
Victoria Angkor Hotel was the hotel choice for our stay in Siem Reap and it’s a lovely property. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful but the staff contributed immensely to the experience. They were friendly and I could sense they have a heart to help and see their guest enjoy their stay. By the way, Siem Reap means Siamese defeated which seems weird being so close to Thailand. It refers to the many years of conflict between the Siamese and Khmer people and I’m guessing they don’t want anyone to forget it. Siem Reap is an easy town to get around in and by all means hire a tuk tuk to really get a feel of the city. Pub Street is must see there are restaurants and bars galore with cheap eats and drinks. If you like to people watch you won’t be disappointed. The tuk tuk driver we had choses took us where we wanted to go in town and would wait on us every time. The most I paid was $7 for several hours of rides.
The big reason for visiting Siem Reap was to explore Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple region. It did not disappoint and was more epic than I could imagine. Photos and documentaries are great and will definitely pique the interest within you but seeing this World Heritage site first hand is larger than life. The one thing I would recommend is to hire a licensed guide. They are trained in the architecture and history of the temple region and can capture the full essence of the temples. Also, when questions arise someone is there to answer them. Hiring a guide is not expensive and they will take great care of you. Most will come with a driver and hotel pick up. I did some research on TripAdvisor and found several companies that were highly recommended. My tour was set up before I arrived Cambodia, to me it’s just easier that way.
A little about what happened in Cambodia in the 70’s when The Khmer Rouge came into power and brutally committed genocide against the people of Cambodia. Pol Pot (1925-1998) and his communist Khmer Rouge movement led Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, about 1.5 million Cambodians out of a total population of 7 to 8 million died of starvation, execution, disease or overwork. The people were driven out of the cities and forced to the country side. Pot targeted certain groups for elimination and they were the educated such as the doctors, lawyers and middle class because he said they were tainted by the outside world. Pot wanted a classless society inflicted by nothing or no one and minorities were also targeted. Pot died without ever being brought to justice (History.com). If you haven’t seen the movie, “The Killing Fields” it’s worth viewing and it depicts just what went on during that time of genocide. I had several conversations with people while visiting Cambodia and the horrific terror that happened seemed to come up in our talks. What I took from it was these lovely people want the world to know just what happened and for us to never forget.
Travel Tips: Safety and Insurance
As in any country please practice safety at all times. There are thieves and con men everywhere and it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Leave the jewelry in your hotel room and keep your money and phones on the down low. Most hotels have a safe in the room so use it. As with all travel outside the US please purchase the travel insurance. Most health policies we are insured with here in the US do not cover issues outside of the country. I usually go with CSA Travel Insurance because they cover what I need and they are reasonably priced. There are several options to choose from to meet your needs.
My visit ended much too soon as all great adventures do. I took a lot back with me from this beautiful country filled with people who want to share their part of the world with others. I met some new friends and hope for lasting relationships. Cambodia is rich in history both good and bad. If you are looking for a country out of the ordinary to visit and chock full of interesting places to explore, then Cambodia is a wonderful choice.