South East Asia is a magnet for backpackers and for good reason. It’s very cost effective; your budget doesn’t need to be royal to be treated like royalty. It’s full of fascinating places that can keep you occupied for months. It’s easy to get around with a strong network of buses. And lastly, it’s surprisingly approachable as there is a strongly developed tourism industry that caters to English speakers.
Cambodia is a fantastic country to backpack through. It has wonderful, friendly people, beautiful historical monuments such as the Temples of Angkor and it is very cost effective. We travelled through Cambodia in December 2011, visiting the Temples of Angkor and stopping at the capital before moving onwards to Vietnam. We ate well, often at what we would consider good restaurants, had beer and generally never really restricted ourselves. If you are interested in knowing how much you’ll need to backpack around Cambodia, read on.
Visiting the killing fields and the school turned interrogation compound known as S 21, crosses many lines. It takes you from simple tourist to observer of atrocities. From pleasure seeking to education reaping. From joyful to pensive. A lot of people will opt to avoid such trips and save themselves a day of depressing thoughts. That is a shame as it misses one of the most important recent stories of Cambodia.
Susana and I just came back from the Temple Restaurant. The food was your typical fare – duck curry for me and sweet and sour fish soup for Susana – but a bonus was the free Apsara dance.
There were six dances demonstrated. Half of the dances appeared very similar to the dance we saw in Ubud. The music was no where near as hectic but similar otherwise in nature. The other three dances were combining male and female dancers and tended to have a lot more life to them. One dance – the peacock – involved a male and female dance in peacock costume that was quite fun to watch.
At its peak, the Temples of Angkor supported over a million inhabitants. Today, they are a wealth of marvel that serves as the premier attraction for tourists visiting Cambodia. Spread over a wide range of land near Siem Reap, the temples vary in restoration quality from the exceptional Angkor Wat to the purposefully abandoned Ta Phrom. In all cases, they are a fascinating visit that requires more than a single day to do any justice. We visited for three days and managed to take in only a small part of all that Angkor has to offer.
Susana and I went to a lovely restaurant last night called Friends. For our budget and Cambodia prices, it is a bit pricey. What drew us there is the fact that Friends is really a charity that runs a restaurant. The charity supports street children through, among other activities, training in the hotel and service industry. The restaurant employs the children that have completed preliminary studies and reached the level where they are ready to train in a real restaurant.
On our second day of touring the Temples of Angkor, our Tuk Tuk driver took us to a night market which doubled as a local fare complete with a ferris wheel and bumper cars. We watched the kids ride around in the cars and enjoyed another glass of sugar cane juice with a hint of orange. Oddly, the market is along a main street and is much out of town. I couldn’t figure out why the market would be located as it was except for perhaps the abundance of open space for the rides. Here are some of the pictures we took from the short stop.
The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is a classic backpacker trip full of tribal history and stories that defy belief. The border crossing has long been know as a landmine field of scams and the road from Poipet to Siem Reap is infamous for bus sized pot holes and violently aggressive taxi drivers looking to make a buck at every opportunity, including extorting passengers for gas money, extra fare to go to their original destination and so forth. Today, much of that has improved.