“Cambodians like to drink beer and wine”, this was one of the first things I heard when entering Cambodia as our driver took us to the Borei Angkor hotel. He was right too, if there’s a country that enjoys cheap drinks and happy hour more than Cambodia, I dare you to find it. It was also my first time in Asia, and we’d just spend a single day in the rather grey metropolis of Bangkok so I was keen to see the Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonder as its known, like we’d be planning for the last five months.
Laura and I travelled from the charming town of Siem Reap where we visited the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Angkor Wat. After a few days of trekking and sweating in the humid temples, then onto the capital Phnom Penh.
There we visited the humbling Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields to learn about the countries harrowing past. After this onwards to the beautiful town of Kep near the Vietnam border to sample their world famous crab and Kampot pepper, before finally heading to the deserted island of Koh Rong Samloem via the party town Sihanoukville.
Cambodia served up the best food I’ve ever eaten in my life. Plain and simple. Treasures such as Fish Amok, Papaya Salad, and Mee Bompong (crunchy noodles tossed with crab) will never leave my memory. Or my home cooking. And with everything freshly prepared, even Laura’s not so traditional Cordon Bleu one evening was one of the best she’d ever tasted. Special mention – although a Thai dish – goes to Pad Thai. We ate this a few times, and for as little as £1 one lunchtime.
Enjoy some photos with scattered commentary.
BangkokJust a flash day in Bangkok took us to Chatuchak Market where we had an hour long foot massage, coconut ice cream and Pad Thai for £1. Later than night, we found the legendary dive bar Cheap Charlies and saw many ladyboys.
Siem ReapA town of many contrasts. On one hand we spent two days running around the Angkor Wat and many other temples, and on the other hand we visited Pub Street (numerous times) and drank a few buckets of gin & tonic. We both favoured the mind blowing Bayon Temple, the huge carvings of faces do have to be seen up close to be believed. The site itself is huge, incomprehensibly huge, so we definitely got it right by hiring a tuktuk for two days. Our driver Mr Phorn (hehe) seemed to know which temples to get to to avoid the crowds in the early morning. I’d recommend a guide for the larger temples, but give yourself so quiet time to just be able to reflect and appreciate the magnitude of the temples in silence.
Phnom PenhIn the capital city we had the itinerary to visit Tuol Sleng Prison, followed by The Killing Fields to learn more about the Cambodia Genocide that send the country back to the dark ages between 1975–1979. This was quite a harrowing day compared the ones before and after it, and I found myself not even wanted to take many pictures.
This is Mr Chum Mey. He is one of two current living survivors of the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison. Fixing a typewriter one day under his capture saved his life. He is 84 years old.
KepWay down near the Vietnam border is the quaint seaside town of Kep. Famous for its crab, especially when cooked with Kampot pepper, this was a holiday highlight, and steep contrast from the dirt and grime of Phnom Penh. Being the off-season we even found getting around on a scooter manageable.
Sihanoukville and Koh Rong SamloemThe last place of of trip before retracing our footsteps backwards. We had a night in Sihanoukville, which was enough to hit the town have drinks out on lounge chairs by the beach. A sad day for myself, as it would have been my Dad's 76th birthday on 31st August, so we lit a lantern for him and set it off into the cloudy skies. A few tears and white russians later, we grabbed about 4 hours sleep before our trip to the island.
Koh Rong Samloem is still largely unspoilt. Only a handful of 'resorts' scatter the few miles of beach, with a few beach bars and restaurants acting as life lines to escape the heat after. There's nothing like a tower of Angkor Beer to quench your thirst. Our charming wooden bungalows were minimal but perfectly thought out. Only a few meters from the beach, it felt truly cut-off from the 21st century.
Although we did suffer bad weather on the island, the sun finally broke through and we treated the locals to what British people do best – show off our newly found sunburn. Its clear this island may well be a firmly established destination in a few years. But with daily trips from the mainland carrying everything from kegs to ice blocks (see below) to light bulbs to sea sick passengers, you can tell your friends you saw it here first.
Oh and one last little tidbit, there's zero internet.
Back to BangkokFinally after a white knuckle mini bus ride back to Phnom Penh where our driver took us round blind corners at 80mph, we flew out to Bangkok to stay in the most exquisite hotel I've ever had to good graces of staying in. The Banyan Tree Resort is in central Bangkok, we stayed up on the 49th floor, and dined at their Vertigo Grill on the 61st floor. Even at this altitude, there was hardly a breeze, and still a stickiness in the air. A special meal to end a special holiday.
A note on these imagesRather than link to my edited pictures, these are images shot with my DSLR and edited on my Samsung S4 using VSCO Cam, a non deconstructive editor for IOS/Android. I was able to do this by purchasing an Eye-fi card which seamlessly transfers JPEGs from my camera to phone. One of two images are from my phone, but you can hardly tell thanks to VSCO.
This meant I had glorious high-res images (a third the file size of what the phone shoots) but seem through my trusty Sigma 30mm f/1.4. These images were all edited on the go and backed up to Google Drive. At no point did I use a computer other than this blog post.