In June 2015 I visited Cambodia for the first time. I stayed in Siem Reap for my whole visit. This time in 2019 Chris and I only visited the capital, Phnom Penh, where I finally visited the Genocide Museum. Not an enjoyable activity, but an important one to gain a better understanding of Cambodia’s dark recent history (1975 – 1979). Nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population got killed.
Siem Reap is a small city in the north of Cambodia. Twenty minutes by tuk tuk is the largest religious temple complex in the world located: Angkor Wat. It is so big that one day may not be enough. So go as early as possible in the morning and enjoy the magical sunrise. Take a towel with you to cover your shoulders and knees if you want to enter some of the temples. Entry is around 18 USD. It is definitely worth visiting it.
In 2015 people told me the capital is not worth to visit. Our host told us it changed a lot in the past three years. There are now many apartment towers and it actually looks quiet modern in some areas. I was positive surprised. Preah Sisowath Quay is a nice walk along the Tonle Sap River.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Visiting this museum was a very moving and informative experience. The site is a former school which was used as Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime. This prison was just one of at least 150 torture and execution centers. The goal of the Khmer Rouge regime was to remove class distinctions. Money and education was abolished and religion was prohibited. 1.5 to 2 million people got killed during that time in Cambodia. Most of them were intellectuals, foreigners, Buddhists, and Catholics. The children were snatched from the mothers and killed. Some of the people got tortured three times a day. After they admitted the alleged crimes, they were painfully killed. The fabricated confessions sufficed as evidence. They did not want to use weapons to save bullets and avoid noise. After all, these centres were secret. Since the Khmer Rouge didn’t want them to die before they signed the confession, they used syringes with flour, sugar, vinegar as vitamin C. I really liked how they preserved and presented it to the world. History is a great teacher, only if we learn. The audio guide is excellent and a must. 8 USD entry fee includes the audio guide. It takes around 1.5 hours to complete the tour.
Forty minutes by bus outside of the city Phnom Penh is one of the 343 killing fields located. It is called Choeung Ek Genocidal Center and worth to visit if you would like to learn more about the Khmer Rouge regime.
Amok is a coconut milk curry dish usually with fish and one of their traditional meals. If you are vegetarian and you find a restaurant that prepares it without meat definitely give it a go. It is so delicious.
A meal in a vegetarian restaurant can be as cheap as 1.5 USD. A meal in a healthier vegetarian / vegan restaurants costs between 3 and 5 USD.
Masala Dosa Street Kitchen, Phnom Penh (100 % plant-based)
Before visiting this restaurant I never heard about Dosa which is a fermented crepe originally from India made from rice and black lentils. It is gluten-free, high in protein and calcium. We ordered the Tom Yum Dosa since I am very curious about fusions and I am a big fan of the spices and herbs often used in the Thai cuisine like lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, ginger, and coriander. It came with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion and mushrooms. Dharma, the owner, even let me prepare my own Dosa. Definitely a skill that takes some time to master. The Bhindi (Okra) Masla was our favourite. When I discovered fenugreek leaves a few years ago my meals finally tasted like the Indian food prepared by my Indian friends. The spicy and sweet turmeric chai with almond milk was delicious too. This restaurant is one of the healthiest restaurants we have been in Cambodia. They only use palm sugar. And as oil they use coconut, sesame and sunflower oil.
Coriander Indian Restaurant was located very close from where we stayed and because of the great quality and price we even returned there for lunch. From 11am to 4pm they have a promotion for only 3.50 USD for e generous portion of delicious food. The mix veg with Nan was our favourite.
The tap water is not safe to drink. I recommend to carry a bottle that you can fill up from the filtered water at your accommodation, using a steripen or a water bottle that has an in-built filter.
A fresh coconut on the street costs 3’000 KHR.
- It is getting easier to find a host on Couchsurfing in the touristic areas like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
- Backpacker hostels start at 3.50 USD per night (sometimes included pool).
- The app Grab works well and has a very reasonable price. We were surprised that you could even choose between Tuk Tuk and Motorrikschas.
- Close to the Phnom Penh Post Office are different bus companies selling tickets to the rest of Cambodia, Thailand or Vietnam.
- Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 10 USD (6 hours).
- Bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam: 10 USD (7 hours).
Our host warned us to be extra careful when walking around with our phone since petty theft is common in Phnom Penh. One evening on a tuk tuk three guys on a motorbike approached us by surprise from the side and grabbed Chris phone. Luckily he held it tight and they drove away empty handed. There are reports of valuables that got stolen on buses (especially night buses). Simply keep them close to you. Besides it is a safe country to travel.
Official currency: Cambodian riel (KHR).
But there is no need to exchange money. The USD is Cambodia’s unofficial second currency. Some places even have the price only in UDS. And when I took out money from the ATM I got USD.
ATM fee: None when I took out money at the Exchange Square in Phnom Penh. I read some ATMs charge 4 USD.
Most visitors (unless you are from South East Asia) need a Visa on Arrival to enter Cambodia. The official price for a tourist visa is 35 USD and is valid for a single entry of up to 30 days. Both times I bought it at the border (cash only!)