Phnom Penh, Koh Rong, & Siem Reap – Cambodia

 

With Calvin in tow, we continued our adventures to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We caught a cheap Air Asia flight which was well worth it because of our limited time with Cal.

We landed bright and early at the airport, got our Cambodian visa on arrival ($30 USD/person) and headed to the first ATM in the airport. We made a rookie mistake and took out Cambodian Riels. Through our travels we’ve used the local currency as much as possible, including for credit card payments, as you usually get a better bang for your buck. But, Cambodia was the exception. We would recommend you use the US dollar. It’s honestly insane how many Riels you have to carry on you to pay for anything, so save yourself the headache. ATM’s carry both currencies.

We grabbed a cab, paid wayyy too much and got dropped off at our first hostel, Top Banana Guest House ($24 CAD/night/3ppl -AC and private bathroom).

Day 1: Phnom Penh – The Cambodian Genocide  

Memorial stupa containing the remains of more than 10,000 people killed at one of many sites in Cambodia. Estimated 1.7 million killed during the genocide.
Memorial stupa containing the remains of more than 10,000 people killed at one of many sites in Cambodia. Estimated 1.5-3 million killed during the genocide.

The Top Banana Guest House was really…ok. Not terrible, like no one got a contagious disease, but the staff weren’t really nice and it was a little grungy. The location was pretty good.

Phnom Penh is an interesting place. We have always agreed to be honest on this blog and although we did love Cambodia, and the locals are some of the nicest people we’ve met so far on this trip, Phnom Penh is possibly one of the dirtier and seedier cities we’ve visited. We’d heard this from other travelers, which was why our plan was to get in and get out.

But first, we had some exploring to do. As we sat over breakfast discussing our plans for the day we were approached by a young woman, Mariska, who was traveling solo. She had hired a tuk tuk driver for the day ($20 USD/4 ppl) to take her out to the infamous Killing Fields ($6 USD/person) and the S21 Prison ($5 USD/person). With a quick vote we decided to hop in the tuk tuk and go.

This is something you have to do if you go to Cambodia. It will help you understand the history of this country. At both locations they provide you with really good audio guides. They are incredibly well done and we recommend you take the time to listen. It is critically important that we remember the depths that humanity can sink to. If you don’t know about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in Cambodia click here.

Day 2-4: Koh Rong – Shots, Shots, shots ♫

The main pier at Koh Rong.
The main pier at Koh Rong.

As mentioned, we had no plans to stay in the big city. The next morning, we hopped on a mini-bus and headed to Sihanoukville on the coast. A lot of people stay in the main town, but we barely had time to book our boat with Buva Sea before we were speed boating away towards Koh Rong Island.

Now, we may have a tainted view of Koh Rong, because several things did in fact go “rong” (see what I did there!?), but first let us say that the island is really pretty, especially if you leave the area near the main pier and walk to 4K beach (about 15-20 mins away).

It sure was a beautiful view from our beach cottage though!
It sure was a beautiful view from our beach cottage though!

Our first mistake was booking at The Reef on the Beach. We were spending these few days with Calvin, so we thought we would splurge and hang out at a more resort like accommodation. This is not resort-like, although it charges resort-like. For $90 CAD/night you get a dilapidated old shack, no beach chairs, no happy hour, and a pretty terrible restaurant. We moved after our second night and paid $35 at Smile Bungalows for the exact same thing except we were in the main town.

On our second night there we found a pub crawl for $10 USD each where you got free shots (Clair – I knew I was getting older when I didn’t want to drink from the same bottle as everyone else) and the mandatory terrible muscle shirt (Kik – Yes…a new shirt!).

The sun was shining and all was well in Koh Rong until…

Day 5-8: Kampot – On The Pot in Kampot

…we left Koh Rong and our bus was arriving at our next destination Kampot. Calvin’s stomach started rumbling. We checked into our room at the Mad Monkey Hostel (27 CAD/night/3 ppl – AC and bathroom), tucked Cal into bed for a what we thought would be a quick power nap and we checked out the town.

Then all of a sudden Kik was done. Clair spent the night checking their temperatures (Clair – which is very difficult without a thermometer). Realizing that they may need antibiotics Clair hailed a tuk tuk and headed into the great unknown. Armed with hydration tablets and some meds she returned and continued to monitor her patients.

The next morning things seemed to be progressing. We took it easy, sat in the room and watched movies, which was sad because this place has a really nice pool. That night, Clair succumbed to the flu/food poisoning too and Kik and Cal seemed to have gotten worse. We decided a visit to the doctor was necessary. He didn’t even look at us before he wrote us a good ol’ prescription for Ciproflaxin and sent us on our way (Clair – which was a good thing because there was no way I was putting that thermometer in my mouth). Slowly but surely we started to feel alive again. We’re not sure what made us sick but in his sick-bed Cal did some research and apparently Koh Rong is notorious for this. We are not saying to not go there but be aware that many many many people get sick. We actually met two other groups of people at our hostel who had been sick after traveling there. Full disclosure, you are most likely going to get sick when you travel. Wherever you go, you are in a completely different country where sanitation standards may be different. That being said, we now know that Koh Rong has a pretty bad rep and if you only have 10 days of vacay you may not want to spend half of it the way we did!

Day 9: RT to Phnom Penh – Just The Two Of Us ♫

All of us feeling slightly better, we returned to Phnom Penh to drop Calvin off. We were really disappointed that we got sick when he was visiting but what can you do? We had a long bus ride to Siem Reap and Cal was catching a plane back to Bangkok to join up with his tour group. We were so sad to see him go:(

That night we stayed at the Ok Guest House ($20 CAD/night/3 ppl/AC and bathroom). It was really ok!

Day 10-13: Siem Reap – Tomb Raider

Overlooking the terrace from atop Baphuon Temple.
Overlooking the terrace from atop Baphuon Temple.

We took the Giant Ibis bus to Siem Reap and it was really good! This company is really well-known for providing the best service so if you want to book with them try to do it at least 24 hours in advance. This was the first time we were able to get a seat on the bus because we always waited for the last minute.

Our first night was at the Bloom Garden Guesthouse ($28 CAD/night/AC and bathroom). They provide a free pick up at the bus station. This place was really cute! They were incredibly helpful and kind. We would have booked more nights here but they were completely full. They did help us organize our Angkor visit and we decided to buy a three-day pass ($62 USD/person), do a tuk tuk tour the first day, a guided tour the second day, and have a third day available just in case.

The most popular Angkor Wat, but certainly not our favourite temple.
The most popular Angkor Wat, but certainly not our favourite temple.

For the next two days we ended up staying at the Angkor Channel Hotel. It was very basic, clean and had a good breakfast but the innkeeper (do we still say that?) wasn’t very nice.

Our favourite temple, Banteay Kdei. The tree reminded us of Game of Thrones.
Our favourite temple, Banteay Kdei. The tree reminded us of Game of Thrones.

But weren’t here to check out hotels, we wanted to see Angkor! There are two “loops” you can do during your visit. One is long loop and one is short. On our first day we did the big loop. On our second day, with a guide we did the small loop. We didn’t do the sunrise or sunset because we are getting lazy. I know, it’s horrible. We also aren’t sure we needed three days to visit the area. It is INCREDIBLE but we can see that on the first day. Also, our guide was pretty mediocre. It may have been better if we had a more knowledgeable guide.

The detail in the stone carvings of each temple is incredible and unique!
The detail in the stone carvings of each temple is incredible and unique!

On our final day we got another tuk tuk for $30 to take us out for one final trip and complete our three-day pass. We went to the Kbal Spean waterfall, Banteay Srei temple and the Cambodian Landmine Museum. The waterfall is not really a waterfall, but there’s some cool engravings in the riverbed and it makes for a nice 1.5km walk. It is quite far from Siem Reap though so be prepared for about an hour-long tuk tuk ride. After that we went to the temple. We hadn’t planned to go to this temple, so Clair wasn’t appropriately dressed (again). The security at the door made a shop keeper lend Clair an outfit even though Clair didn’t even want to go in! Our last stop was the landmine museum. They also have a great audio guide and it was definitely worth a stop.

Long day of temples? Enjoy .50¢ draught beers at the conveniently named Pub Street.
Long day of temples? Enjoy .50¢ draught beers at the conveniently named Pub Street.

Bus to Phnom Penh w connection Ho Chi Minh

We decided to bus to Ho Chi Minh because we’re sadists. Giant Ibis doesn’t provide a direct bus but they do an overnight to Phnom Penh and then a morning bus to Ho Chi Minh. Other bus companies do provide a direct route, but their safety records are shady. We decided to stick with what we liked and booked Giant Ibis. Their overnight bus actually has bunk beds! There we were, tucked into our bunk beds on a bus careening down a dark highway.

P.S., we used a great blog while we traveled called movetocambodia.com  It was so helpful!

 

 

 

One thought on “Phnom Penh, Koh Rong, & Siem Reap – Cambodia

  1. Ha, ha, ha! Fabulous account of your SE Asian adventure. I know all of this is what you signed up for. Love you, be safe and always be aware of your surroundings!

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