In my last few blogposts on Cambodia, , I wanted to lay out my two week summary including where to stay and how to get from A to B, often more tricky than it sounds. The main areas of interest are Siem Reap for the temple complex at Angkor Wat, the capital city Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville for some beach action. Kampot, Kep and Battambang can also be thrown into the mix if you want to experience a more authentic Cambodia or have extra time.
Travelling across countries in South East Asia can be a bit of a palaver (ropey overnight bus journey, anyone?) so I decided to fly into Siem Reap and out from Phnom Penh to save time. I wanted to start in Siem Reap for the temples, I wanted to enjoy them at my leisure rather than get caught up en route and only have a day or two to rush through the. Here is my itinerary and suggested timelines for each place:
Three days in Siem Reap
Where to stay: This was my first trip backpacking much to the surprise of my friends, I remember my friend Ophelia saying “don’t book any hotels, that’s not proper backpacking”; no one expected me to rough it. I took her words very literally and arrived with a list of hostels and no idea where I was going to spend the night. I’d advise you to book at least the first night’s accommodation in advance. My first choice was fully booked but luckily my second choice, Cashew Nut Guesthouse, had a room for the night. The hostel was really pretty, very clean and had all the basics for $25 a night for a private room with an en-suite bathroom. They operate quite a few tours of the Angkor area and organised a half day tour from sunrise at Angkor Wat.
For my second night, I stayed at the Parent Villa Angkor Villa which was a couple of minutes’ walk from Cashew Nut Guesthouse. This was more expensive at a whopping $35 a night, but it’s more like a small hotel, with a lovely outdoor pool and amazing breakfast buffet. Location wise, it’s much closer to Pub Street and the Night Market than the Cashew Nut Guesthouse. The staff were really great and helped to organise my boat journey to Battambang.
What to see: Obviously the temples, which I wrote about in this blogpost on the Angkor temple complex. I went to see sunset at Phnom Bakheng on my first day which was stunning, but very crowded – if you can get to the front you can see the sun set over Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat itself is best viewed at sunrise, before heading off to Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.
It can be quite full on to take all of the main temples on in one day, so if you have a couple of days it would be best to split them up and do one of the main ones fairly early while the crowds are still at Angkor Wat and head to one of the lesser known temples in the 400 square kilometre complex in the afternoon.
In the evening, head over to the Night Market or Pub Street, both are neon-signed tourist hubs but pretty fun. My favourite bar was the infamous backpacker spot Angkor What?! Loud music, graffitied walls, $10 buckets of beer and every single backpacker stereotype you could imagine.
Two days in Battambang
Where to stay: As I mentioned in my post on Battambang, since I was going a bit more off the beaten path, I decided to stay in a hotel rather than a hostel as I was backpacking solo. I stayed at Bambu Hotel which was an idyllic paradise; beautiful and airy villa-type rooms with huge marble walk-in showers, a stunning pool area and a delicious breakfast buffet. The owner, Pat, is absolutely lovely and font of all knowledge with regards to Battambang. I could not recommend Bambu any higher, I originally planned to stay for one night but ended up staying for two – I just couldn’t bear to leave.
What to do: Most of this is covered in my Battambang post, but in a nutshell the most famous attraction is the Bamboo Train, which is an absolute must. The Killing Cave and Wat Ek Phnom are hauntingly beautiful, time the visit right and pass by the bat cave at dusk. There are a couple of other temples in the area, but if you’ve come from Siem Reap you may be templed out. Definitely indulge in the emerging food scene; Jaan Bai and Kinyei were two of my favourite places as well as Choco L’art café for dessert.
Two days in Phnom Penh
Where to stay: Mad Monkey. It is the best hostel in town. Having stayed in private rooms and a hotel, I was a little apprehensive at staying in a dorm with a bunch of strangers. I was relieved to find that Mad Monkey had a 6-bed girls-only dorm for just $6 a night. I found the dorm well-appointed and comfortable with oddly wide beds. The food in the restaurant is incredible, I rarely had meals out. The real jewel is the rooftop bar, which has a different event on every night from teapot cocktails (yes please) to the infamous Mad Monkey Pub Crawl. The bar is a hotspot in its own right and is getting extended this year, the plans sound incredible. The hostel staff are super nice and helped me arrange travel arrangements to Sihanoukville.
What to do: Cheong Ek, also known as The Killing Fields. Cheong Ek is located about half an hour out of the city via tuktuk, I visited and did an audio tour with one of the girls from the hostel. The audio tour is a must, it guides you across the site and includes some harrowing survivor stories. I haven’t blogged about Cheong Ek as it was quite an overwhelming experience, but it’s a vital part of Cambodia’s modern history.
I skipped S21 or Tuol Sleng genocide museum as the visit to Cheong Ek had been quite intense, I’d advise visiting these on separate days. Wat Ounalom is in the city and is a beautiful temple and is said to be home to an eyebrow hair from Buddha. I also visited the National Museum and the Royal Palace, both of which I wouldn’t recommend unless you had a burning desire to half-see some things in Phnom Penh – you can’t go inside many buildings in the Royal Palace and there weren’t many exhibits to see at the National Museum. For shopping, head to the Central market or the Russian market. Mekong Island is slightly outside of the city but well worth a visit.
Two days in Sihanoukville
Where to stay: I was in two minds about visiting Sihanoukville. On the one hand there are the pristine beaches but on the other, it has a reputation for being sleazeville. The main beach, Serendipity, has a reputation as party central for backpackers, attracting all sorts of frat boys and lads…I’d also heard stories of girls getting their drinks spiked. I gave Serendipity a wide berth and headed to the quieter Otres beach, which was about half an hour away by tuktuk. As I approached Otres, the concrete road turned into a dirt track and I saw a collection of more rustic beach bars and hostels. I stayed at Wish You Were Here, which had excellent reviews and looked a little Robinson Crusoe.
The options at WYWH are either dorms, private villas with shared bathrooms or a private room with an en-suite. I obviously went for the latter. Rustic is the word I use to describe my digs, I climbed over overgrown shrubs to get to my room door which was padlocked shut. My window was a wooden hatch which was propped open with a stick and there was a distinct gap between the top of the wall and the roof – but this was one of my favourite places in Cambodia. It was genuine. The bar was great too, the food was delicious and the staff were amazing. I’ve forgotten everyone’s names but the Swedish guy and the Australian girl were hilarious, along with the owner and his gorgeous daughter. Oh and did I mention the beach is actually across the road?
What to do: Sit by the beach, get pedicure on the beach and watch the sunset on the beach. In the evening, I ate at WYWH and got chatting to the staff and other people by the bar – it’s a super sociable place and most people seemed to be travelling alone. There are a couple of other bars on the road, one of which enticed me and the girls with free shots and fire jugglers, on the beach of course.