We planned a short visit to Cambodia in order to see the famous temples of Siem Reap, but to our surprise, we discovered that Cambodia also has stunning beaches.
We entered Cambodia by night bus from Vietnam which left Ho Chi Min City at midnight and arrived in the capital city of Phnom Phen at noon. From the moment one crosses the border, one can feel the drastic drop in the N.G.P. Cambodia is much less developed than Vietnam, and far less than Thailand. The highways cross the countryside with farm lands that cover the majority of the country. The roads are only partially paved and the roadsides are one big dust fest. Thin electricity lines are strung along flimsy tree branches which fill in as electric poles. Most people live in simple houses with the dusty earth as their floor. Only in the capital city does one feel a surprising sense of modernity with shopping malls and one can even see a Lamborghini and Ferrari agency.
As seasoned and rugged travelers, we have already done a 24 hour journey from Ko Phangan to the outskirts of Bangkok, so we decided to extend our journey from Phnom Phen by an additional five hours with a bus to the coastal town of Sihanoukville. 17 hours by bus is not easy, but we survived.
The night bus to Phnom Phen is reasonable, but for people longer than six feet, like myself, it can be quite challenging, especially if you are next to a stranger and must share the double reclining chairs which are like sharing a bed. I had the bad luck of sharing a bed with an oversized tattooed dude. I offered him a banana which he devoured, and when I attempted to pursue a polite conversation with him, he said "no speak", and that was the end of our romance. I lied beside him for 11 hours, attempting to avoid contact. When I heard his snoring concerto, I prayed that I would survive the night without spooning.
)Night bus in Cambodia- not bad if you're next to a family member.)
Survivor on Paradise Beach
We searched all over the world for the "perfect" beach and enjoiued amazing beaches in Costa Rica. Mexico and Thailand, but surprisingly, the nicest beach we've seen was in Cambodia, on the island of Ko Rung. Thanks to a chance encounter with a Falafel restaurant owner by the name of Kobi, we found our little slice of heaven. He is an Israeli entrepeneur who spotted the potential of the seven kilometer strip of snow white beach on Ko Rung island, and he built 4 rooms in a rustic resort in the sand. They can cater up to ten people, supplying them with a relaxing beachside experience, swinging in the hammocks and lounging on the beach chairs just a few footsteps from the turquoise water. Ko Rung has been discovered in recent years and is being developed at a pace that is too quick for the authorities to maintain, so the beaches of the island have much debri which is swept ashore. Kobi makes sure that the area of his resort is tidy, and situated in the middle of the beach stretch, there are no neighbors within a three kilometer radius, which makes this the ideal location for those seeking a peaceful rustic retreat.
Three couples were enjoying the romantic sunset from their hammocks when suddenly, a locomotive sounding diesel engine shattered the silence, announcing the arrival of the Cohen family in a dilapidated taxi boat. The boat dumped the five of us and our huge duffel bags, and we made a not so elegant beach landing, splashing our way into the resort.
We noticed a German speaking couple and assumed from their glances that they will complain to the management about their vacation being ruined by the noisy Israeli family. We learnt an important lesson about assumption making after they turned out to be the nicest tourists that we have met so far. After joining their bonfire we discovered how warm they are and we are already looking forward to hosting them during their future visit to Israel.
The makeshift restaurant met our basic culinary needs, and since the generator supplied us with electricity only at night, we depended on a local boat to bring blocks of ice and food supplies. Unplugging from the net for almost a week did good for all of us, and when the kids say " we don't need internet in a place like this", then you know you've reached the right place. We were informed that after we left, a reality T.V. crew took over the site and filmed "Survivor Cambodia". It will be nice to see the series and reminisce.
We took a hop skip and a jump for 22 hours by taxi boat, ferry and night bus from Ko Rung to Siem Reap, home to the magnificent temple cities of Cambodia. This time we all had family members as bed partners which made the journey more pleasant.
It is worth visiting Cambodia even if you only have time for Angkor Wat and it's neighboring temple cities. While exploring the spooky labyrinths within these well kept ancient temp les the kids were imagining bumping into Indiana Jones in one of the dark alleyways. The monkeys leaping from the temple roofs reminded us of the scene from the Jungle Book with King Louie. One of the temples was host to Hollywood's "Tomb Raider", and while strolling through the abandoned temples one can imagine Angeleena Joulie rappelling down the ancient trees which uprooted the massive buildings.
We watched the sun rise and set on these temples and the ancient Khmer civilization, and Cambodia with a taste of history which sparked our imagination. In our humble opinion, Angkor Wat deserves to be counted in the coveted list of the seven wonders of the new world.
Useful Tips for Cambodia:
*Mosquito warning: Bring a lot of bug spray and wear long, light clothing. The mosquitos in Cambodia are the most vicious that we have encountered so far on our journey, even worse than the Amazon jungle. This is in stark contrast to Vietnam where the mosquitos were pretty much annihilated by the massive use of chemical weapons.
*Prices: Negotiate everything. This is true about South East Asia in general but even more so in Cambodia. Shop around, compare prices, and agree to about half the price that you are offered.
*Visa: The price is $30 per visa and it's easy to get it at the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. When travelling by bus, the bus operator will attempt to take your passport plus $35 and do the process for you, while pocketing $5. There is no reason to agree to this, as you can do the process yourself, save money, and safeguard your passport.
* Bus transportation:
1. From Vietnam- a day or night bus from Ho Chi Min city to Phnom Phen costs about $12.
2. Thailand- From Siem Reap to Bangkok most tourists buy a full ticket in advance for about $28, which includes a bus to the Thai border, and a second one to Bangkok. It's much cheaper if you buy one ticket to the border, and then walk 200 yards to the 7/11 and buy a second ticket for the nearby "Casino Bus" which is meant for Thais who cross the border to legally gamble. This bus is very comfortable and the entire journey should cost you $11 instead of $28.
3. Safety- Night buses in Cambodia are considered dangerous because of the combination of poor roads, and irresponsible drivers. The Sihanoukville- Phnom Phen line is especially dangerous. There are numerous companies, but Giant Ibis is recommended and considered the most safe and professional. Their buses are equipped with GPS trackers which monitor the speed, and the company ensures that there are two drivers on the route who share the long journey.
*Siem Reap: It's worth hiring a guide to see the various temples and provided basic instruction outside the temple. (You must be certified to guide inside). We fekt that together with a guide book that we bought, this was an adequate solution, at a fraction of the cost ($8 per day for his services). Clem is super polite, dependable, with excellent English and very knowledgable. Hide : firstname.lastname@example.org Clem 8557797038+
*Very useful website: Movetocambodia.com
Expats post here very accurate and useful tips regarding all aspects of Cambodia.