Looking for ideas for your next trip to Cambodia? Getting recommendations based on the real experiences of other travellers is always a good way to work out what will suit your interests. Here are some insights from Expat Living staff and readers.
Visiting Siem Reap
“We visited Angkor Wat two years ago with our three little ones in tow. We chose to stay at Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort. We arrived to a sold-out hotel and a missed request for connecting rooms so we were upgraded to the two-bedroom Presidential Suite – a fabulous mistake! The cast of Tomb Raider even stayed in this hotel during filming in 2000; since this is the best room in the hotel, I went to bed every night knowing that Angelina Jolie and I shared the very same pillow.
Obviously, the temple complex is the main draw for tourists – Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon are popular for good reasons. To escape the crowds, take a 50-minute drive to see the intricate stone carvings of Banteay Srei (pictured). Siem Reap’s food scene has undergone a bit of a renaissance as of late; try Chanrey Tree for excellent Khmer food, Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor for afternoon tea, Malis for a special night out and Haven to support a worthy cause. The latter is owned by a Swiss couple who house and help teens transit from orphanages to adult life. And while we’re on the subject, don’t visit an orphanage in Cambodia; google it if you don’t know why. We also enjoyed serving breakfast to students at a school opened by Caring for Cambodia.
We have been to Cambodia a few times before, but this was the first time with our kids – ages four, two and one at the time. The kids loved the tuk-tuks! We took turns exploring the steeper temples while the kids played in the grass. Caution, however, should be taken when travelling on major holidays; you’d want to avoid New Year in Siem Reap.”
– Monica Pitrelli, American
“I’ve been to Siem Reap five times and would love to go back – there’s always something different to see and do. I’ve stayed in US$20-a-night rooms at The Villa Siem Reap that is close to town; simple but fine. I’ve also stayed in top-end hotels including Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Jaya House Riverpark is probably my favourite!
While there, I have done ATV trips, spa sessions, shopping and, of course, a couple of different temple tours. The ATVs would be okay with smaller kids, although you’ll drive through some city traffic which can be a little scary. I also visited the Angkor National Museum which was interesting, as well as Phare, The Cambodian Circus – amazing! The Angkor Wat runs and cycles (Angkor Wat International Half Marathon and Angkor Wat Bike4Kids) are definitely worth doing once, even if it’s just a short one.
A round trip of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is usually good value if you have time to do both at once, but I’d recommend at least three full days in Siem Reap. The food and drinks are good and cheap – who doesn’t like $2 beers!”
– Rebecca Bisset, British
Visiting Phnom Penh
“We normally stay at The Quay Boutique Hotel on Sisowath Quay along the Tonle Sap river where it meets and flows into the Mekong. The hotel has a nice rooftop bar to watch the river traffic while sipping a cocktail. Alternatively, we walk to the Foreign Correspondents Club down the road for sundowners. On the way back, there are a host of Asian restaurants to choose from for dinner. We also like the Riverside Bistro for after-dinner nightcaps to experience the feel and buzz of the foreign community living there.
The Quay Boutique Hotel provides an excellent breakfast and selection of coffees. An early morning walk downriver provides a true picture of Phnom Penh. After breakfast, we also like to walk inland towards the Central Market through the small back streets, stopping at all the various boutiques, cafés and art galleries as we go by. This normally takes a full morning, with refreshments. After exhausting our cheap shopping at the Central Market, we head back to The Quay, partaking in street food along the way.
My (Deborah’s) favourite thing to do is head towards 240 Street, which is full of boutiques, cafés and bakeries, and wander up one side and back the other. My favourite boutiques are Jasmine and Bliss (search them online!). Bliss also has an amazing spa upstairs, set in an old wooden conservation style house. I get the best massage there every time.”
– Ian and Deborah Law, British
“After a few days in Siem Reap, where I competed in the Angkor Wat run, I took a five-hour bus south to Phnom Penh to catch a connecting flight. With only a few hours in the capital, I got straight in a tuk-tuk and headed across town to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
I know that “dark tourism” – travelling to places associated with death and suffering – is increasingly becoming a “thing”, but I’m not naturally drawn to it. In this instance, though, I felt compelled to learn more about Cambodia’s bleak past. And I put it down to the race I’d just entered at Angkor Wat. For the final few kilometres, I had found myself running step for step with a local competitor; our rhythms were so similar that we developed a kind of silent contract: we would run together, helping each other to the finish line in the best time possible. Crossing the tape, he grabbed my fist and raised it in the air; a nice moment. Only then did I notice that his other arm was missing. He was one of many local amputees who compete in the event to raise awareness of the country’s issue with landmines and other UXO (unexploded ordinance).
So, my visit to Tuol Sleng, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison, was to get a better understanding of this modern-day problem and its historical origins. It’s an astonishing place: a small high school converted to an execution centre from 1975 to 1979. It was almost empty on the day of my visit – you could hear a pin drop – and it was entirely raw and shocking. I didn’t feel better for going, but I’m glad I went.”
– Shamus Sillar, Australian
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This article first appeared in the October 2018 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy or subscribe so you never miss an issue!