Cambodian travel stories
Accommodation standards in Siem Reap have improved beyond recognition in the last few years, across nearly all budgets. The gateway to Angkor now has more than 300 hotels and guesthouses and the chances of a soft landing are high. Here, though, are a few of our favourites that won't break the bank.
It is hard to believe that the village of Anlung Pi is just 25 kilometres from the five-star hotels of Siem Reap and the iconic lotus bud towers of Angkor Wat. Tourists don't come here, and they shouldn't. The village itself is unremarkable, but if you were to walk through the fields, just a few hundred yards from the neat, traditional wooden village houses, you would find yourself in the middle of a vast, stinking, rubbish dump. Sadly this rubbish dump is also home to an entire community.
A few years ago, Koh Rong, Cambodia's second largest island, was a virtual secret. An unspoiled paradise, news about it spread in whispers, not unlike rumours about the fictional island in Alex Garland's novel, The Beach. The difference is that the "whispers" about Koh Rong were spread over the internet and not through the lips of a delusional backpacker in Bangkok. Word spreads fast online.
Of all the mainland Southeast Asian nations, Cambodia is perhaps the most neglected from a tourist's point of view. The country is arguably known worldwide for two things: the magnificent Angkor Wat complex and two of the legacies of the Khmer Rouge -- land mines and security issues.
Do you dream of riding an elephant on your Southeast Asia vacation? Have you always wanted to get close to one of these noble beasts, outside of a zoo setting? Do you just want to see cute baby elephants do tricks? According to some experts, you shouldn't. Especially in Cambodia.
Deep in the southern Cardamom Mountains, beyond Chi Phat village, lies an untamed jungle, traversed by surging rivers and sheltering wildlife that, until recently, was little more than a commodity to locals. The southern Cardamom Mountains were until very recently Cambodia's Wild West, the centre of the country's thriving wildlife trade and the hiding place of a few diehard Khmer Rouge communities, who are reported to have lived there until as late as 2002.
Through the middle of May I took off for a two-week trip through northeast Cambodia. I commenced in the capital, Phnom Penh then headed north through Kratie, Stung Treng and finally Banlung, before turning around and retracing my steps. It was a great trip as it had been quite some time since I'd been in this part of the country but it was also deeply saddening seeing the environmental devastation continuing to be wrought on the country. I snapped a bunch of pics on my iPhone, using the Instagram app, and here are some of my favourites. Enjoy.
A few years ago if you wanted to go to one of the Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand you'd have had to have been willing to settle for one of the few island bungalows that were on offer. In the last year or so though, new accommodation has sprung up on a number of islands off the coast of Sihanoukville and travellers are beginning to be confronted with too many choices.
Sihanoukville is Cambodia's premier beach destination, popular with locals, backpackers and expats alike. But despite massive amounts of recent development, the town can still be disappointing for those who come expecting a Thailand-like beach experience.
Fevers have been running high again along the Thai-Cambodian border, with casualties on both sides and damage to the 11th century Preah Vihear temple grabbing headlines. We give you the run down of the latest developments, how it might affect your trip, and what the background to the whole issue is.
Our first interview of 2011 is with Dougald O'Reilly, an archaeologist and the founder and director of Heritage Watch, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the preservation of Southeast Asia's cultural heritage. We chatted with Dougald by e-mail in a conversation that traversed looting, antiquities trafficking, Cambodia's struggle to preserve its history and, well, he did mention Tomb Raider once.
The multitude of temples at Angkor represent a true challenge to even a dedicated temple fanatic. Hundreds of temples lie in wait, some buried in growing jungle, while others sit conveniently right off the main road. With so much to see, a seven-day pass is clearly the best choice, buying ample adventure for US$60. While a million various routes exist, we took one that balances chronology with grandiosity, postponing the giants until the third day of the tour. After all, once you've seen Angkor Wat and Bayon, it's a little harder to appreciate sites like Bakong and Pre Rup.
Lonely Planet, as the centre of the guide industry, has the ability to make or break hotels and restaurants. Even a somewhat casual mention within its hallowed pages can reap untold profits for a business for at least half a decade or so. Publication is comparable to a name-drop within the Bible, so far as the budget travel industry in concerned. But can the LP also engineer tourist attractions, due to its tremendous sway over its captive audience? Three kilometres south of Battambang, Cambodia, lies a small swathe of railway track that encourages exactly that question.
Chances are, if you've spent much time on Cambodian buses you'll have passed by a bunch of cyclists in bright lycra. Who are these people and why are they cycling across rural Cambodia in the midday heat? It turns out they could well be paying volunteers, taking part in adventure cycle tours run by PEPY Tours. We sat down for an informal chat by email with Daniela Ruby Papi to find out a bit more
The best hoteliers and restaurateurs have reputations that precede them. There's Pennsylvania Joe at Mekong Crossing in Kompong Cham and paratrooper Pierre at Terres Rouge in Ban Lung, Rattanakiri. Newest to form a cult of personality complete with pilgrims is barrister Janet, whose remote ecolodge lures travellers seeking quiet wilderness under the care of a meticulous matriarch.
Phnom Penh's French colonial roots coupled with today's plethora of aid agencies based here have conspired to create a glut of accommodation for such a small capital city. Gated old mansions-turned-hotels with saltwater swimming pools and lush vegetation dot the city, while three backpacker hubs lure the budget-conscious: The riverside has rooms ranging from opulent to gritty, with a multitude of mid-range places between, shoestring travellers head lakeside to snare US$3 rooms and the BoeungKeng Kang 1 (BKK1) area, commonly called "NGO-ville", offers slightly more subdued low- to mid-range accommodation within walking distance to plenty of bars and restaurants.
Inside the area where the Siberian tigers feed, the metallic smell of blood wafted up from gnawed carcasses strewn across the cement floor. I thought about the massive disclaimer I would have to sign back home in the United States in order to stand in a narrow corridor lined with tiger cages, a few iron bars away from turning into one of those lifeless lumps of meat.
If you're planning a holiday in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam and are thinking of flying some of the legs, then the Discovery Airpass -- a flight coupon deal offered by Bangkok Airways, Lao Airlines and Berjaya Air -- can work out to be a slight money saver, delivering on the promise of cheap flights right across Southeast Asia.
With the 2007 opening of the Prek Chak / Xa Xia border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam it's now possible to travel from Ko Chang in Thailand all the way along the Cambodian coastline and into Vietnam. For beach and boat lovers, this is a great trip as from Ko Chang you're able to visit Ko S'dach, Sihanoukville, Ko Russei, Kampot, Kep, Ko Tonsay, Ha Tien and Rach Gia, before finishing off on the glorious Phu Quoc Island. Here's a step by step guide taking you through the entire trip, commencing in Trat and finishing on Phu Quoc.
Cambodia's guesthouse and hotel scene is really developing, with some outstanding places to now stay at across the country. Here are five very special places that caught our eye on a foray through the countryside in 2007. If you'd like to factor in a splurge or two during your trip, these all belong on your short list.
Of all the border crossings in the region, the overland crossing between Cambodia and Laos has been one of the most changeable. In some ways, Dom Kralor has all the ingredients of a pain in the posterior crossing -- corrupt border officials, inconsistent travel advice and of course wildly varying traveller tales. Read on to find out the best way to cross this ever-changing border.
The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat is one of the most talked about routes in the region: scam buses, awful roads, visa rip-offs, over-priced taxis and a whole realm of shysters and con men to boot, but in the end, it's a very straightforward trip, which, with a bit of planning is as easy as pie. Here's a cheat sheet to get you there and back without too much fraying of the nerves.
We're sitting under a great old tree, on plastic chairs by the slick stirring waters of the Mekong. To our right the brilliantly lit Kasuma Bridge spans into the darkness. Beyond, the faint outline of the French-period guard tower is set. Below us a gaggle of sampans bob and bump in the river's current. Above the far bank, the moonrise lights the river in electric ghostly hues. It's midnight in Kompong Cham and we have the entire place to ourselves.
I'd long considered the overland trip from the capital of Mondulkiri, Sen Monorom, to Rattanakiri's capital of Ban Lung, but the combination of my not being a particularly accomplished motorcyclist, and not knowing of any other means to do it, had led me to settle on a trip to Sen Monorom alone. So imagine my surprise when, as I walked into Sen Monorom from Vibol's Guesthouse, two Daelim drivers rode up and asked "Rattanakiri?"
There are many great places to stay in Phnom Penh -- whether your budget is a couple or a couple of hundred dollars a night -- and, with a bit of diligence, you should have no problem finding a place that meets your needs. You can stay on the shores of Boeng Kak Lake, near the river, or in the heart of the city -- each location with its advantages and disadvantages.
Any recent visitor to the famed temple complex of Angkor Wat must find themselves wondering how many eons ago all those wistful pictures of a deserted causeway bar a solitary dashing monk were ever taken. Today the typical sounds of dawn have been replaced by thumping boots, whirring cameras and hawkers flogging film. Entrances are crammed with tripods and their menacing owners who staked out their territory by the western gopura at 04:00am and aren't moving for anyone. Others take in the atmosphere from their plastic chairs at the western edge of the northern pond -- buzz, whirr, click, snap, buzz, whirr, click, snap -- and the sun hasn't even come up yet.
Feature story quicklinks
- Giving back in Southeast Asia (4)
- Burma (3)
- Cambodia (19)
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- A Cambodian Eco-lodge
- Angkorian traffic woes
- Battambang weekend
- Elephant riding in Cambodia: Should you?
- Great places to stay in Siem Reap
- Is Preah Vihear safe to visit?
- Koh Rong: Trouble in paradise?
- Kompong Cham escape
- Northeast Cambodia in photos
- Oh Poipet!
- PEPY:Sustainable Cambodian tourism
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Refuge
- Sihanoukville beaches lure expats
- Spas, shopping & seers in Siem Reap
- The best islands in Cambodia
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- The Death Highway
- Trekking the Cardamoms in Cambodia
- Why you should go to Cambodia
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- Luang Prabang escape
- Muang Ngoi Escape
- Photos of Luang Prabang, Laos
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- A weekend on Ko Samet, Thailand
- Andaman Sea island hopper
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- Bangkok for art lovers
- Bangkok's Thonburi: exploring the west side
- Brilliant Bangkok
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- Corruption in Thailand
- Eating on the edge
- Exploring Lamphun
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- Far southern Thailand: Go or not?
- Highlights of Chanthaburi province
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- Ko Mun Nork: a nearby paradise
- Ko Pha Ngan 7-day detox:Colonic fast
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- Narathiwat: residence of good people
- Navigating Bangkok: The BTS Skytrain
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- Phuket for Kids
- Phuket heritage walk: Car parts to saris
- Phuket's secret beaches
- Planning around Thailand's civil unrest
- Roll your own Kanchanaburi
- Should I book for the full moon party?
- Should I cancel my Thai holiday? No.
- Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
- Sorting out Suvarnabhumi Airport
- Staying at a Thai monastery
- Thai islands for nature lovers
- Thai islands to lose yourself on
- Thai visa FAQ
- Thailand tsunami wrap
- Thailand's Mae Khlong market
- Thailand: Where to from here?
- The best beach on Ko Samui
- The bridge over the River Kwai festival
- Travelling through north-east Thailand
- Trekking in Thailand
- Trisara -- decadent luxury at its best
- What is the best beach on Ko Tao?
- What is the best island in Thailand?
- What's a good beach on Ko Pha Ngan?
- What's a good beach on Ko Samui?
- Where to stay in Sukhothai?
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- A short break in Nha Trang
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- Being fed Fido: Eating dog in Vietnam
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- Doing the DMZ from Hue
- Exploring Kon Tum
- Exploring Vietnam's Mekong Delta
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- Hoi An -- Walking over the dragon
- How to do the Dien Bien Phu loop
- How to enjoy your time in Vietnam
- How to pick a good Ha Long Bay cruise
- Is the Hoi An culture tour worth it?
- Motorbike Vietnam's Central Highlands
- One day in Hanoi
- Responsible shopping and eating in Hoi An
- Saigon's top 10 cafés
- Street food safety
- The DMZ: Traveller tactical briefing
- Travel tips for Tet in Vietnam 2013
- Two Wheels & Ricefields: A review
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- 2005 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
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- 2008 Top Bangkok airport guesthouses
- 2008 Top Luang Prabang guesthouses
- 2008 Top spots on Phu Quoc Island
- 2009 Top guesthouses in Bangkok
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- 2011 Best places to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- 2011 Best places to stay on Ko Phi Phi
- Best places to stay in Hanoi 2012
- Cheap Phuket guesthouses & hotels
- Five special hotels in Cambodia
- Ko Lipe's best budget guesthouses 2012
- The changing face of Khao San Road
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- 10 reasons to do an adventure tour
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- A year's worth of travel for 2013
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- Evil man of Krabi
- Fifteen tips for a great holiday in Asia
- Getting a cheap airfare to Asia
- Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi
- Long distance buses in Southeast Asia
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- Planning a Gap Year? Some advice.
- Ten Southeast Asian trips for 2008
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- Bangkok to Ko Samui, Pha Ngan & Tao
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- Catching a train in Thailand
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- Cheap flights with Discovery Airpass
- Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang
- Crossing the Cambodia Laos border
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- 24 hours in Bangkok
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- An introduction
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- 10 Christmas days in Asia we're yet to have
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- Call me Mr Massage Magic
- Chefs Without Borders
- Flying is fun!
- Mr Golden
- On being a travel writer
- Teaching ESL in Asia
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- The Boxing Day Tsunami: 5 years on.
- To Teach or Not to Teach
- Travel writing scholarship 2012
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- Bangkok by skytrain: Ari
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chid Lom
- Bangkok by skytrain: Chong Nonsi
- Bangkok by skytrain: National Stadium
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phaya Thai
- Bangkok by skytrain: Phloen Chit
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- Bangkok by skytrain: Ratchadamri
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- Bangkok by skytrain: Sala Daeng
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- Bangkok by skytrain: Surasak
- Bangkok by skytrain: Thong Lor
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