Not as remote as Laos and not as modern as Thailand, for me Cambodia is the perfect country. The people are so friendly and any type of food (including spiders as big as your hand) can be found. I tucked into some fried bugs; beetles and crickets. I almost threw up eating the beetles but the spicy crickets went down ok if you ignore their spiny legs… We backpacked Kratie with some friends from Brighton cycling through beautiful villages to seek out the shy irrawaddy river dolphins and we had a days trip to the tiny island 🌴 of Koh Trong. We also had a fun night partying at a Cambodian birthday party, cooking hot pots, watching karaoke and taking part in the traditional Cambodian dancing.
Next it was onto the vibrant city of Phnom Penh which was beautifully lit up for Christmas and New Year, a good thing as we were spending Christmas there! I was so excited about coming to a city to buy some girlie stuff as I hadn’t been in a city for over a month and a half! Aeon Mall had it all, sushi, a cinema, a karaoke bar and an ice-skating rink, and best of all, modern toiletries which I had struggled to get on the road.
On a much darker note while in Phnom Penh we visited the S21 Prison Camp and The Killing Fields. To say I was horrified was an understatement. I’ll not forget seeing torn clothing and human bones arising to the surface amongst the dirt mass graves, ever. No person deserves that death. I still cannot get my head around what the people of Cambodia went through. If you can, read the book, ‘First They Killed My Father’, which provides great imagery for what went on there. This harrowing book was not an easy read.
We finished the last few days of this city in the Eclipse Sky Bar overlooking the lights and spent Christmas Eve in ‘Pontoon’. This nightclub has great cocktails and R&B music blasting out so I danced until my feet hurt. Tim who loves metal music was not impressed… There were all kinds of people in Pontoon, including dressed up prostitutes and western men making a holy show of themselves, (as my mother would say)… Our Christmas dinner was spent in Burger King and nope I’m not ashamed, it was the best damn burger I’d eaten in months. I was really homesick for my childhood home back in Ireland, for my mam’s roast potatoes and her delicious Christmas cake, for my stepfather’s silly Christmas slippers and famous burnt sausages for breakfast and for the yearly squabble with my sister until we both stop laughing when my niece starts singing. But you know, I had chips… so I got through it.
For New Year’s Eve we headed to Kep, a tiny sea side fishing village. The people really went for it partying on the beach and stages were set up with a mixture of karaoke and professional singers. Some families brought everything with them but the kitchen sink, including all kinds of food, pots, pans, chairs, blankets, fireworks, grandmothers and new born babies. We just rocked up with a few beers. The fireworks unfortunately went off earlier than planned and the trees caught on fire so the new year rang in with the fire brigade desperately trying to put out the fire. When in Asia…
Next it was onto the laid back river town of Kampot. We took a night tour on a fun boat searching for fire flies boat and met a young Cambodian couple who insisted on taking us for a market dinner and picking us up at five a.m. to see the sun rise over Bokor National park. Together we explored the old derelict French villas, a church and a casino. For a bit of paradise we took a bus and a boat to Koh Rong Island staying on the quiet side of Long Beach. The powder white sand, peaceful feeling, yummy falafels, and friendliest locals and expats, made me never want to leave. At night we took walks along the pier searching for glowing plankton. We stayed in Sihanoukville for one night to catch a sleeper bus to Battambang. Personally I wasn’t a huge fan of Sihanoukville. It seemed a bit seedy but I was only here for one night so I really can’t judge. What I did see was a nice beach, huge casinos, lots of building work and sex workers.
Battambang was fun as we took a ride on the famous uncovered Bamboo Train and visited a crocodile farm. We decided to take a boat trip to Seam Reap rather than a bus. This was such a good decision as for nine hours we got to see Cambodia river life up close. I noticed some extreme poverty in some parts of the river. The river villages were stunning and the beautiful children seem to drive their own long-tail boats from a young age.
We saved famous Siem Reap for last, filling our time with the incredible temples of Angkor Wat and strolling around the old streets.
I’m not going to lie, I may have shed a little tear on the way to the Thailand border crossing, I really didn’t want to leave the people of Cambodia.