Even for those who have already traveled to other countries in the region, Cambodia can still be a culture shock. It is a very poor country and you can still see the consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime everywhere. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh, the main tourist attractions are the temples of Angkor Wat. There are many islands in the Mekong River that are worth a visit and in the province of Mondol Kiri you can enjoy nature.
Cambodia is a kingdom with its capital Phnom Penh. The official language is Khmer and the vast majority of the population follows Buddhism. Cambodia has a rich history, for about 600 years it was part of a large Khmer empire. The French were in power between 1863 and 1953 and in 1953 Cambodia became an independent state. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was the most heavily bombed country in Southeast Asia after Laos. There were approximately 600,000 civilian casualties. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, took power. Under their reign of terror, between 1.5 and 2.5 million people were murdered, this was approximately 25% of the Cambodian population. After a Vietnamese invasion in 1978 and years of civil war, the Khmer Rouge finally surrendered. Elections were held for the first time in 1993.
Anyone flying to Cambodia will arrive in Phnom Penh. The capital is busy, hectic, incredibly hot and chaotic. But this city also has beautiful spots along the river and beautiful temples. At the central market you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables or a nice souvenir, you can also enjoy a tasty Cambodian meal. Anyone visiting Phnom Penh should visit the Tuol Sleng museum. This is a former school that was used as a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. The horror that took place here can be seen in the hundreds of photos of people who were tortured there, the torture equipment in the garden, the small cells and the barbed wire around the building.
Anyone who wants to learn more about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge should visit The Killing Fields. This is a site about 14 km from Phnom Penh where the prisoners from Tuol Sleng were brought and killed. A good audio tour is provided as you walk around the evidence of this terrible regime. There is the tower full of skulls, mass graves with pieces of teeth and the stories that are told in your ear. There is also a tree that is not special at first glance, but nothing could be further from the truth. To spare bullets, Khmer Rouge soldiers beat children and babies to death against this tree. Although this place is very confrontational, it is also important to reflect on the sad fate of the many innocent people who lost their lives here.
A good way to see the real Cambodia is by doing volunteer work. You can really get to know the people and their culture and you help the local community. In Cambodia and other countries in the region there are many opportunities to volunteer in schools to teach English to children. The children are very enthusiastic about coming to school and learning new things. In most cases you will have to go back to basics, sleeping on a wooden plank and washing without running water are no exception. Volunteers are also often sought in orphanages or animal care centers. You can take a look at the websites www.helpx.net or www.workaway.info.
Siem Reap is a city in the north of the country. It is a tourist spot with a wide range of guesthouses and hotels, food and entertainment. But everyone comes there to visit the nearby temples of Angkor Wat. The temple complex of Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world with its 162,600 m². It was originally built as a Hindu temple during the Khmer Empire, but was converted into a Buddhist temple at the end of the 12th century. It is a beautiful example of Khmer architecture. There are numerous large and smaller temples to visit throughout the extensive domain. Because the temples are sometimes far apart, it is advisable to visit the temple complex by bicycle or tuk tuk. Angkor Wat is very popular with tourists and many of them admire the sunset at this magical place.
Another nice day trip near Siem Reap is the Banteay Srey Butterfly Center, where you can see beautiful butterflies and moths in all colors and sizes. There is also a lot of information about the life cycle from caterpillar to butterfly. It’s a nice place to spend a relaxing afternoon among these beautiful insects and all proceeds go to projects for the local community.
The island in the Mekong
Kratie is a town located on the Mekong River, from here you can go on an adventure by bike. A trip of more than 50 km through the beautiful countryside where the children cheer you on takes you past a temple with 100 columns and via a ferry to the island of Koh Pdao. Koh Pdao is a small island located in the Mekong River where the local population has had little contact with foreigners. You can only stay in a homestay, at a family home, in a small house made of wood. These people are incredibly warm and hospitable, they have nothing but share everything. From Koh Pdao you can take a small boat trip on the Mekong River. The rare Irrawaddy dolphins live there and admiring these remarkable animals at a beautiful sunset from the water is an unforgettable experience.
Mondol Kiri province is the only place in Cambodia where you can admire a mountain landscape. It is the least populated province in the country, the provincial capital is Senmonorom. Here you can take walks in nature, hike with an elephant in the jungle or discover the various waterfalls in the area on a moped.
Cambodia is a beautiful country, with friendly people and good food. The country is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge regime and you can see that there is still a lot of poverty. There is both culture and nature to see and the highlight for every visitor is Angkor Wat.
- Backpacking in Southeast Asia
- A journey through Malaysia
- A journey through Thailand
- Vann Nath: the man who survived the Khmer Rouge
- A journey through Laos