Our next stop was the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Pehn which is certainly not my favourite city in the world and I am glad it was just a 1 night stop over. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the 'Gem' of Indochina, however to us we just find it loud, noisy, dirty and with next to no side walks , impossible to walk around peacefully. We are staying in Rachana Hostel and for $17USD a night, we are pleasantly surprised but it is very worn down and looks practically abandoned.
Phnom Pehn is also home to the S21 Prison and the Killing fields home to the absolute horrendous history of the Khmer Rouge. For those who don’t know - The Khmer Rouge was a brutal regime that ruled Cambodia, under the leadership of Marxist dictator Pol Pot, from 1975 to 1979. Pol Pot's attempts to create a Cambodian “master race” through social engineering ultimately led to the deaths of more than 2 million people in the Southeast Asian country. It is one of the most outrageously upsetting places I have visited and would prefer not to write or talk about it.
Things we did enjoy about Phnom Pehn was exploring the board walk down by the river and then enjoying one of the most intense sunsets we have experienced from the picturesque ‘Le Moon’ Skybar. This was the highlight for me. From there we also dined in Kabbas – 10/10, great price, food and service was friendly. Phnom Pehn is drastically more expensive than Siem Reap and the surrounding towns and cities so be prepared.
What an experience – leaving Siem Reap we hopped on the bus for our 5 hour adventure South to the city of Battambang where we would venture to a smaller village to spend the night at a homestay with the locals to see what rural life in farmland Cambodia is like.
Leaving early morning, we stopped along the way at a traditional rate BBQ, yup, that’s right, you read correctly, a fucking rat barbeque!! Apparently, it is only famous in this region, so we had to stop. I will say it was interesting as they had rats, frogs and snakes all charring away getting covered in dirt and sand as the trucks sped past. Safe to say myself and Leo didn’t go near any of the rat meat, but to our surprise the rest of our group did. ‘’Tastes like chicken’’…more like food poisoning, I’ll pass.
From there we then stopped at the fish paste seafood market which was truly terrible. Great experience but imagine thousands of dead fish bits being crushed in 40-degree heat – I was close to spewing numerous times! Next stop was the rice wine brewery, which was more interesting, but by this stage the number of gross things I have seen today was enough and I just wanted to get to the homestay asap.
Arriving at the homestay was excellent, it is much more developed than our last Homestay in Laos and located in the picturesque countryside and we didn’t have to stay in different houses 😊
From there we walked through the village and so many of the local school kids came to see us and were so keen to play and take us to their school, so we did. We walked to view the sunset before spending about 45 minutes being jumped on by all the local children – it was actually magical despite the fact I generally don’t like kids. From there we had a small cooking class with our host family to learn how to make spring rolls- a technique I won’t forget as they were AMAZING!
Bedtime was early as there isn’t a whole heap to do in the evening but after a long day it was welcomed with open arms.
We have spent 4 nights in Siem Reap and it has become one of my favourite cities. Despite being here 6 years ago, it has seriously changed and for the better. Siem Reap has reinvented itself as the epicentre of chic Cambodia for sure. I couldn’t believe how clean it was, filled with amazing restaurants, bars, shops and cute cafes scattered all over this city of temples!
Immersing ourselves in all of these, we would say the best thing we did over the few days here was experiencing Angkor wat for sunrise! Sunrise at Angkor wat is on many peoples bucket lists and we can see why. No words can describe the tranquillity and peacefulness of watching the day begin over the most famous temple in all of Cambodia, if not South East Asia! It was magical and getting up at 4am was worth it!
It costs $37USD pp for a 1 day ticket and there is only 1 ticket office in Siem Reap which opens at 5am. You are given a ‘passport’ with your picture on it and the tickets are checked multiple times through the day. Arriving, we quickly made our way to the best spot we could in the crowds of people and nestled ourselves in with a cup of hot coffee and waited patiently for the rise!
The temples have been described as ‘one of the world’s foremost ancient sites, with the epic proportions of the Great Wall of China, the detail and intricacy of the Taj Mahal, and the symbolism and symmetry of the pyramids, all rolled into one’ and I couldn’t agree more. The sunrise over these was nothing sort of wonderful and from there we explorer for the next 5 hours on foot a few of the other temples before the sun and other tourists got a little too much for us!