6 Experiences Not to Miss While Traveling in Cambodia
When I tell people that Cambodia is one of my favorite countries I usually get a very strange look of confusion and bewilderment. A lot of people still view Cambodia as this terrible, violent, land of rubble and danger. But the opposite it true. Cambodia has an amazing, vibrant, unavoidable soul and it rubs off on every person that goes within the border of this beauty filled country. Whether you grew up there as a child or you’re just traveling through, the excitement of everything is overwhelming. It’s a true land of smiles, with a true understanding of life.
The Camair people are one of the most welcoming groups of people I have ever come into contact with. The streets are filled with walkers, tuk-tuks (rickshaws), cars and scooters and children climbing on and playing with every thing, and person, in sight. These kids have no fear. The whole world is their family, their friend, and their home. They were raised with this philosophy despite the horrors the older generations had seen. They have stared evil in the face and still smile.
As a traveler, unless you know the history, you would never expect that these people have had one of the most horrifyingly brutal histories of any race in the world. This is Cambodia. Besides the wonderful people there’s a lot to see and experience. The following list is only the surface, the beginning of the beauties of Asia.
Six Experiences Not to Miss
1. Angkor Wat
Monks in front of Angkor Wat, courtesy of Wikipedia
Angkor Wat is one of the seven wonders of the world. I am not usually one to go to museums, and by the time I had reached Cambodia I was over seeing wat’s (temples), but I had to see the most famous wat of them all. Angkor Wat is described by most as amazing, unbelievable, beautiful and majestic. I would use all these words to describe this place and I would add mysterious. The history and architecture are unbelievable and the energy inside and surrounding these seemingly impossible temples is a wonderful, magical feeling. Take your time seeing the temples. They are very detailed and large and it will take a few days to be satisfied.
2. The Killing Fields
This was the murdering ground of millions of the Camair people. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 -1979. In The Killing Fields you will see bones and clothes of women, children and men peaking out of the earth’s floor from where these families were brutally murdered. Doctors and teachers, along with any other person that was viewed as intelligent, were killed in unspeakable ways because Khmer Rouge did not want anyone intelligent enough to make a difference to live. The families of these people were executed as well, no matter the age. This is the horrifying history, the truth, and a must-see stop during your visit to Cambodia.
3. Monkey Island (Koh-Rong)
DO NOT SKIP THIS ONE. At the southwest point of Cambodia there is an island called Koh-Rong, well known by many travelers as Monkey Island. This island is magical. I went for a few days… and that few days stretched into almost three months. The island is the size of Hong Kong, there are no roads, and only generator power supplies electricity to a few places for a couple hours a day. There are four different places to stay that take up all of three miles of the islands beaches (only three in rainy season because the poisonous snakes are to thick on the far side of the island). There is a small village with the most beautiful and vibrant people on this planet. Since my first visit I’ve told just about every traveler I’ve met about it. Many had been to Cambodia, and when I asked a few what their favorite thing was there, “Koh-Rong” was the answer I got.
In Koh-Rong I would wake up every morning in the jungle, on a beach, or in a hammock on a friend’s bungalow’s porch to see the electric blue ocean. I would wake up and walk into the water and friends would gather somewhere to eat. After breakfast I would grab my spear and pick what spot would have the fish on that particular day. I was consistently wrong. When I wasn’t misjudging fish habits, I would lead a new group of people across the island’s steep slopes and thick jungles to the most beautiful empty beaches I have ever seen. We would ride back on a long boat navigated by the ten-year-old village children. We would watch the sun set and the full moon rise from the ocean off the tip of this island. Every night would be finished off with a few drinks, fire spinning, and a swim in the warm phosphorescent filled water. That reminds me, if you find yourself taking the two hour boat ride to paradise, when you’re walking up to the Monkey Island bar please yell “Fordy” with your voice getting higher pitched at the end and tell them that Vic says hello and that I will be there soon. Also, please do not forget to make “T” and “Chen” spin fire.
4. The Food (Insects, Reptiles, and all)
Chowing down on Cobra Soup on Koh-Rong
While traveling any part of Asia you are going to see and be offered foods and drinks that are quite different than what is at your local food market. Bugs, strange meats, reptiles and horrible whiskeys… Try everything and you will be surprised at how good, and how horrible, some of these foods and drinks can be. Grasshoppers have a crisped smoky taste while hermit crabs are far fishier than anything I have ever eaten (the hermit crabs were eaten out of hunger when no food was around – not a good choice). While on Koh Rong a hunter shot an eighteen-foot King Cobra. With a sling shot. My friend Chen got a buddy and myself a four-inch arm-sized chunk of the snake and Wi, a local friend of ours, cooked it into a soup for us. Everyone gathered and shared the snake soup. The texture was horrible, it looked like death, and it tasted very very… nice. Eat it up travelers, don’t be shy.
5. The Villages
Go to the villages. Be respectful and smile. You may not be able to speak the same language, but the locals will take you in and communicate with you somehow. Though history does not explain it, the Cambodian people are full of love and hospitality. On a dirt bike trip from south Cambodia to a place called Campot (still south but a bit further up) my buddy and I took the return trip on a road that was not any where near being finished. It cut through villages in the middle of nowhere where people were fishing for frogs (to eat) and coming out from every direction to see the two falangs (western people) on loud bikes riding past their homes. They would come out smiling, waving, and showing us the plants they were growing. Visiting and staying at these villages with these people is something that every person should experience in their lifetime. There is a world of knowledge to be learned from this lifestyle and race of people.
6. The Markets
Most towns and cities have markets in Asia. Cambodia is no different. The markets are full of anything you do, or do not need, from fresh fish and fruits to clothes and jewelry to music and drinks. If you see a market, go. If you hear of a weekend market or a night market, go. It will be one of the great experiences to write home about – you’ll enjoy it. The markets have some strange things being sold, hundreds of people, wonderful foods and some of the best people-watching in the world. Go grab a $1.50 bottle of local whiskey, find a good seat (preferably on a four corner stop), sit and enjoy, meet new people, watch the madness and relax.
Go for the sights, the food, the culture and the magic. Make new friends, meet the people, let the children dangle off you and swing them around, show them a magic trick and show them the same love they show you. Go and see this amazing country for yourself. Be sure not to skip Cambodia on your adventure to Asia.
Disclaimer: I know I make the kids of Cambodia seem completely harmless, and the children for the most part are. Like in many countries around the globe people get children to go and sell things or play games for money with the travelers. Often these kids do not get any money for an entire night or day of work. Some choose to work like this but I am sure others would spend their time in other ways. Obey the signs.