It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Cambodia. She charmed me with her ancient temples, emerald rice paddies, quaint towns and the infectious optimism of the people who have been through hell and captured my heart and imagination.
Why I love Cambodia:
– The People
The Cambodian people have been to hell and back after the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, political instability and poverty but they have bounced back with an infectious optimism. People seem content with simple, peaceful lives and are mostly genuine, open, friendly and charming people. Despite their circumstances and history this really is the land of a thousand smiles but unlike tourist weary Thailand these are genuine smiles.
– The Idyllic Countryside
Fields of rich, luscious emerald green paddy fields. interspersed with palm trees and clusters of wooden houses on stilts accompanied by a few lazy cows, pigs, goats and chickens and children playing around on bicycles or in waterholes creates an idyllic, beautiful, bucolic countryside scene that is perfect for exploring. It feels a long way from the trappings of the modern world and almost makes me want to give it all up and settle for a farmer’s life.
– It’s Unique and Undeveloped
Sleepy, dusty dilapidated towns gracefully bear the scars, trials and tribulations of such a fascinating past with charismatic uniqueness and, due to the tragic history of Cambodia, Khmers have developed ingenious ways of doing things, for example the clever bamboo train near Battambang.
The capital Phnom Penh once the ‘Pearl of Asia’ is making a comeback but is still mercifully low rise and charming with elegant streets, French colonial architecture and a pleasant riverside setting where elaborate golden temple spires and curving Khmer rooftops still dominate the skyline. For now, Cambodia remains undeveloped and untarnished by globalisation and modern global brands that threaten to suck out the character and create identikit cities.
– Amazing Temples
Angkor Wat, the most famous and iconic temple, is just the tip of the iceberg of Cambodia’s amazing temples. No where does ancient temples quite like Cambodia. From mighty Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world and the icon of Cambodia, to the other UNESCO site Preah Vihear and many others, old and new, dotted across the country.
– Fascinating History
Discovering Cambodia’s history will take you on an emotional roller coaster as it ranges from the glorious days of Angkor Wat at the height of the Khmer Empire, the largest city of the pre industrial world, to the days of French colonialism, civil war, independence and then the atrocities of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. This part of the history can feel shocking and depressing but it is essential to learn and the way that the people have come back from those awful times is inspiring.
– The Beaches
The glory days of Thailand’s islands are so 20 years ago! Cambodia has rustic resorts, unspoilt white sand beaches and turquoise seas to rival Thailand and with a fraction of the crowds. Sihanoukville offers up a great beach scene with resorts and lively nightlife while the (so far) undeveloped island of Koh Rong is a rustic backpacker’s paradise.
– The Food
Everyone’s eaten Thai, Indian and Chinese cuisines before but the creamy, coconuty, delicious and delicately flavoured Khmer cuisine is a new treat to discover and you can take a cooking class to learn how to recreate the delicious and delicately balanced flavours yourself.
– It’s Great Value for Money
Traveling in Cambodia can be really cheap. I know cost is not the most important factor but when a country is cheap it’s just easier to have a great time and you can spend longer there. US Dollars are widely used and Cambodia is super cheap, it’s common to buy beer in a bar for 50 cents, a short tuk tuk ride is about a dollar, a few dollars can get you a nice restaurant meal and $6-$8 for a decent double room makes traveling here easy on a budget.
Cambodia is a beautiful country with amazing people and fascinating sights and history. We just loved it! Have you been to Cambodia? Did you love it as much as I do?