What we loved…
Hidden Gems – It seems that so many tourists head to Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat, but getting off the beaten path has so much to offer. From an abandoned casino in an empty national park and practically uninhabited islands to hidden caves and floating villages, don’t be afraid to explore. Rent a motorbike or hire a local tuk tuk driver to be your guide. Let the journey be part of the adventure when traveling Cambodia.
Tragedy Turned Positive – Cambodia suffered one of the most recent and devastating genocides in history. Both The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (aka S21) are very well done. Yes, they are sad reminders of the horrific crimes the Khmer Rouge committed against their own people, but these memorials are done in such a way that you walk away feeling hopeful for the future, rather than depressed about the past. This was an unthinkable tragedy that the entire country suffered, and to some extent is still suffering. It’s beautiful that they honor those they lost in such an uplifting “we will not let this happen to anyone else” way.
Performances – You can see a different show every night if you want. Rob still talks about the Phare circus – and rightfully so! It was awesome, affordable, and supports a great cause. There are also countless Apsara dance shows – the dancers are great, the costumes are stunning, and the glimpse into their traditional culture is unbeatable. Then there’s the lady boys. There are a number of cabaret shows featuring stunning drag queens – the one we saw had great production value (set, costume, lighting, and sound design). What it lacked in tradition, it more than made up for in sheer entertainment.
What we didn’t love…
Siem Reap – Oh Siem Reap, what have you become? When Rob visited Cambodia in 2010, he spent two days exploring Angkor Wat with Lak, a tuk tuk driver he met on the street. He loved it and remembers only a handful of other tourists and some meandering monks. Now, there are endless busloads and hoards of tourist-toting tuk tuks there on any given day. They should limit how many people can enter each day. Not just to make it more pleasant, and more importantly to preserve these amazing ruins. Machu Picchu in Peru and Half Dome in the US have both found success in this practice.
And Pub Street, ugh! Once upon a time Pub Street was just that – one street with locally owned bars full of character. Now. it’s like going to Downtown Disney with blocks of foreign-owned kit bars with no locals in sight. Siem Reap is the worst example of letting tourism ruin the natural charm of a place.
Unfriendliness – Probably due to what I just stated above, tourism overpowering tradition, there are a lot of unfriendly locals who are clearly sick of foreigners. I’m sure they are wonderful friendly people whom are frustrated with what tourism has done to their home.
Food – It’s not that the food in Cambodia is bad, it’s that it’s not as good as it’s neighbor’s (Thailand and Vietnam). The food is so similar that you can’t help but compare it to Thai and Vietnamese food. Every dish I ate while traveling Cambodia left me wanting more. It is less spicy, less flavorful, and less delicious versions of my favorite Thai and Vietnamese dishes.