Why Cambodia Was My Backpacking Highlight of Asia
In the last few weeks I’ve given the same advice to every backpacker I met in Asia and anyone on Facebook I know is heading that way soon – make sure you make time for Cambodia.
Cambodia is now without a doubt my favourite country out of all I visited during my time there.
In fact it has made me regret spending so much time in Thailand during my stay.
But Thailand is awesome I hear you say – and you’ve said that heaps yourself.
Very true – Thailand is a great country to visit and the perfect introduction to backpacking in SEAsia.
However Cambodia is the Asia I envisioned when I first thought about travel in this part of the world – and for numerous reasons.
From the moment I stepped foot into Cambodia on the Thai border my pace of life slowed down. The border crossing was pretty relaxed and the walk to the bus station – despite being shattered, sweaty and pretty irritable – was actually pretty pleasant.
People milled around minding their own business and I didn’t find myself being rushed around.
This pace continued throughout my trip. Siem Reap – despite it’s bustling tourism industry was a joy to wander around. It felt peaceful and above all safe.
Alot of countries I’ve visited had me immediately on edge, I felt fine walking around any part of Cambodia with my SLR slung over my shoulder or simply walking back from a bar at night on my own – there’s a heap of places in SEAsia that I would never do either.
Even the capital of Phnom Pehn had this vibe. Yes it was busier (it’s a major city so that’s to be expected) but you weren’t barged down the street along with everyone else.
I guess alot of this is down to the height of the place too – in Siem Reap especially there are very few tall buildings, so there’s heaps of sky and open space the enjoy! You don’t feel cramped and enclosed.
Cambodia also kicked me back into gear photography wise – it’s a photographers dream.
Even the 5 hour bus journey to Siem Reap from the border was a joy as we dove amongst rich green rice paddies and open farmland.
In a weird way it was like an Asian version of the African plains…open, flat and gorgeous.
And the Cambodian Islands – well they oozed the exotic beach vibe I needed. Bamboo bungalows along a perfect stretch of sand, broken up only by palm trees, wooden piers and backpackers chilling out in hammocks – all nestled against a shoreline of clear blue waters.
Angkor Wat needs to be mentioned of course – this huge network of ancient temples is a great place to take your camera and get lost in the history and romance of Asia. If walking amongst the stone ruins slowly being reclaimed by the trees and nature doesn’t inspire you to take some amazing shots then nothing will – here’s some of my top shots from Angkor Wat.
As a backpacker Asia is a joy to explore as you’re money goes heaps further than alot of places in the world.
Cambodia is another ball game though – it’s one of the cheapest places I’ve visited – which made backpacking there alot more stress free and enjoyable.
Even compared to it’s neighbours it’s cheap as!
For example you can easily grab a pint of beer for 50cents US. Vodka redbull? You can get a bucket for about $2!
When it comes to food it depends how flash you want to be. Street food is the cheapest option but even if you want to spoil yourself you can grab an amazing steak dinner for about $5!
And accommodation? I decided to spoil myself a bit and spent most of my stay sharing twin, ensuite, air con rooms with my buddy – for about $6 each per night! Even a twin beach bungalow on Koh Rong with an ocean view only set us back $15 between us for a night!
If you really want to cut costs though one backpacker I met hadn’t spent more than $3 a night on dorm rooms, and was regularly paying $1!
It goes one of two ways though – you can either save some serious cash, or continue spending the same and see your standard of living improve ALOT!
Stuff to Do
As with anywhere you travel too having stuff to see and do can make or break your experience, especially if you’re a backpacking culture vulture! Cambodia has alot on that front so here’s some of my faves;
- Angkor Wat (goes without saying really!)
- Koh Rong and the Cambodian Islands
- S20 and the Killing Fields
- Hippie Living in Kampot
- Yoga/Meditation Retreats in Siem Reap
- The Bamboo Train
- Dolphin Watching
- Night Markets
If you’re stuck for time Siem Reap, Phnom Pen and Koh Rong would be my top spots (and unfortunately that’s all I managed to squeeze in) but many of my travel buddies got off the beaten path a bit more and said it was well worth it.
For me though one of the best parts of Cambodia are the people who call it home.
Cambodians are some of the friendliest people I’ve met on my travels around the world. From my experience they are genuine in this too.
My buddies push bike broke on a cycle ride in the arse end of nowhere. After noticing us walking it and our rubbish attempts to fix it a Cambodian man came out and offered to help us out.
Over the next hour and a half we were joined by various members of his family who wanted to chat with us about our travels, welcoming us to their country and giving us a list of places to visit.
The kids were keen to check out who we were and seemed super excited to be able to practice their English with us.
This vibe extended into day to day life for a backpacker in Cambodia. You can walk through the markets without being hassled constantly. Tuk Tuk drivers actually take no for an answer and if you need help or directions you simply need to ask.
I think this is one of the main reasons I felt so relaxed and safe during my time there.
If you need some more info on Cambodia I suggest checking out the Lonely Planet Cambodia Guide too.
Anyone else agree that Cambodia was their highlight of Asia?!