THINGS I LOVED:
» Tuk-tuk Rides: Tuk-tuks here are like moped, drawn carriages, whipping the wind through your hair as you drive past stunning sites like Angkor Wat, the Royal Palace or forests. This was my first experience with tuk-tuks and we managed to get what we felt was a fair price each time.
» Noodles: I love these fried noodles with vegetables. Since I’m eating almost completely vegetarian in Asia (making exceptions a meal or two a week and usually only for bacon) I have been enjoying a lot of noodle dishes. The great thing is that no two noodles are alike!
» Friendly People: We only had one experience with rude people on a bus, but hey, there are rude people everywhere. For everyone else the Cambodian people have been helpful, have been sweet and have been eager to speak to us. I truly enjoyed interactions with the people here.
» Experiencing Buddhism: Buddhism is a subject I studied a lot in college. I have had an interest in Eastern religion since I was 16, and although I had visited two Buddhist Temples in St. Louis, Missouri, getting to see these in Cambodia made my heart sing. I loved the beautiful iconography, hearing chanting, smelling incense, watching people leave offerings & sprinkle holy water on their heads. It was just a feast for all the senses. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE:
» People Trying to Sell Me Things: I am not a person that likes to be yelled at on the streets or approached while shopping. I know that this is a cultural thing, and especially in the markets it’s a very, very common thing (as it is anywhere else in the world where there are markets) because it’s competitive when others are selling similar things, but I don’t like making decisions when people are yanking the thing I’m actually looking at out of my hands in order to show me 4 things that are similar.
» Minibus rides: We took a few minibus rides (which are actually minivans) in Cambodia, and let’s just say that we’re no longer going to save the extra dollar or two to do so. While I believe doing things on a budget is amazing, I think that keeping my sanity is the top priority. On minibus rides we were crammed in with at least one more person than seats in each row, often no A/C or windows that rolled down, I rode 4 hours with a 10-gallon jug of oil between my legs and we had a seriously unfortunate incident with with a rooster on & then under my seat which induced a very negative reaction from me.
» Siem Reap Hostel: This was our favorite place to stay in Cambodia, although it was also the most expensive. The rooms were nice, especially the 6-bed dorms, but the things that pushed this accommodation over the edge were the extremely friendly & helpful staff, the social environment of the bar, extremely cheap & delicious breakfasts, the pool and the 50 cent beers during happy hour.
The one major con was the price of the 18-bed room. We had to move to it for two nights after staying in the 6-bed for three nights. For only two dollars less you have 12 more people in your room, lockers that weren’t as easy to open & really loud. I think that room should be only 5 or 6 dollars a night, but that’s the price you pay to stay at the #1 rated hostel in Siem Reap, I suppose.
TOP THREE SITES / EXPERIENCES:
» Angkor Wat: Angkor Wat was one of, if not THE highest thing to do on my list for Southeast Asia. I have always wanted to visit this archaeological site that combines three of my loves: history, culture & eastern religion. Often you visit something you’re so excited about and at the end of the day it wasn’t what you had it built up to be. Angkor Wat was the exact opposite. Each of the three days I spent there I was overjoyed to be seeing and experiencing all of the beautiful temples, grounds and terraces. I met and talked with a group of young Buddhist monks, received blessings & so much more in this truly 10 out of 10 site.
» Waterfalls/Crater Lake Day: I loved this day that we spent exploring the natural beauty of Ban Lung. Seeing these three waterfalls, especially bathing in the powerful Katieing Falls & viewing Kachanh Falls from the swinging bridge, just made me feel like I was getting connected with nature again after a decently long stint away from it. Then to top it all off, we went to this massive lake with warm, sapphire-blue water in the middle of the jungle made from an inactive volcano. Stacey and I jumped in as Cambodian women giggled at our swimsuits, counted down with us for us to jump in and one lady insisted on helping me up the slippery, algae-covered ladder/dock by pulling on my arm even though I was already on the ladder. Ha! It was just a great day all around, filling up my soul and reminding me to “drink the wild air”.
» Irrawaddy River Dolphins: This is a top three experience because of the amazing rare-ness of seeing these dolphins and the journey to get there. Stacey and I biked down Cambodia country roads past the most beautiful homes (beautiful in a simple, but creative way), friendly people & children running onto the streets to shout hello and high-five us as we pedaled past. It ended up being a bit longer than we thought, but I’m so glad that we saved the money and had that experience. Then, as if that experience wasn’t enough, we got to see around 5 Irrawaddy River Dolphins. There are said to be only around 85 of these beautiful animals left between Kratie and the Laos border. I have never seen something so rare in the wild before.
CAMBODIAISMS (“oddities” and culture shock):
» Use of American Dollar: I was confused when I went to the ATM and my only option was to take out American Dollars. I went with it, a little annoyed thinking to myself that I was going to have to take these and exchange them for Riel somewhere. However, when I got to the hostel I discovered, no, this is what they use. I never received a riel bigger than 1,000 because that was the equivalent of 25cents and was used as such. So strange, but it made it quite easy for us to be dealing with our own currency most of the time.
» People Eager to Talk to Us: This was something so fresh and fun! We had people call out to us wanting to take photos with us, especially Stacey who has porcelain-colored skin, but aside from that, and also more often, were something even nicer. People were curious about where we were from and why we were in Cambodia. They were also very eager to tell us about themselves, their country and their family. We had one tuktuk driver that we paid to drive us for the day in Angkor Wat who told us a lot of information about the places we were visiting. He explained that he has been learning English from tourists for only 4 years (he was quite good) and asked us how to say things and to correct the was he pronounced things because he is trying to teach his children English based on what he learns. Another moment that stood out for me was a group of men from Kratie asked us where we were from during their first River Festival. Then they gave us tips on what to see and do, gave us a little history about their city and explained some of the things that were going on and who was speaking.
» Peeing on the Street: Yes, you read that right. When Stacey and I were in Angkor Wat there would be moments while we were walking that an area suddenly reeked of human urine. We thought to ourselves surely people don’t pee in here. Then in Siem Reap we would see small children peeing on the streets. This alone was a culture shock to me, but I thought, hey, they’re kids, I’m sure I really had to go in a decently public place at some point as a child. That was before I got to Phnom Penh. My first night there, I was taking a photo of the sunset that was silhouetting a temple when an adult man, probably close to 40, walks up, no more than three feet away from me, unzips, whips it out and pees right next to me! I was not okay with that. Thanks for ruining my sunset, peeing man. However, this would not be the last time I saw this in Cambodia.
» Don’t assume everyone speaks English: We had had so many amazing experiences with hostel & guesthouse workers, servers and bus drivers, that by the time we were heading to Ban Lung we had ignorantly assumed that we would have no issues with this. When I was near tears explaining to our minibus driver that I could not share a seat with the rooster someone had just bought at a market and he didn’t understand I knew there was going to be some sort of issue. Then, the same man didn’t know the word for bus station, so as I Stacey and I poured through a phrase book trying to find it he was very visibly annoyed with us. When we finally found it, he had finally found out where our guesthouse was (something he didn’t understand before either) and he essentially told us to shut up and very angrily drove us to our Guest House. (This was our one negative experience with a Cambodian person). However, we learned to be prepared for this type of situation and not to be spoiled by those who do speak English.
» Barter Down about 40%- I have a friend from Southeast Asia who told me when and where to barter, and he said that Cambodia is a place to barter. He said to basically cut what they said in half and don’t settle for much more than that. We essentially found this to be true. Without much hassle or anything we almost always very quickly settled on prices for things at a price that was about 40% less than what their original offer was.