Seven things to see and do in Cambodia
Photo from Flickr by Arian Zwegers
Cambodia is a beautiful country with a uniquely vibrant atmosphere; inspiring when you consider the Khmer Rouge regime almost wiped out the country’s population only 35 years ago. Full of colour and rich culture, the locals are friendly and welcoming towards tourists. From the hustle and bustle of the capital Phnom Penh, to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and infamous killing fields, Cambodia is a real destination of discovery.
Water festival – Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is a fantastic city which comes alive for a three-day water festival in November. The event includes a 400-stong boat race, fireworks, food stalls and a full-moon religious ceremony. The festival celebrates the reversal of the Tonle Sap river current, the only river in the world to flow in opposite directions as a result of monsoon rains. Full moon is a beautiful evening, with candles lit and religious offerings made by the Chief Priest. Make sure you try fish amok, a Cambodian specialty.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Choeung Ek is a short tuk tuk ride through Phnom Penh, and is the most notorious site of the Khmer Rouge genocide regime. The site includes around 9,000 bodies of Cambodians who were executed between 1975 and 1979, one of the worst atrocities in history. An audio service allows you to hear stories from survivors as you walk around the site, creating a real sense of loss and despair. The graves are large open pits; pieces of bone still force their way to the surface in what the commentator describes as the dead’s ‘defiance’ of the regime. A large monument at the centre includes 5,000 skulls of all the deceased. This is an upsetting experience, but vital in understanding Cambodian history.
Siem Reap is a fantastically vibrant town for shopping, eating and drinking. Pop to the night market for handcrafted produce, including beautiful local artwork at knockdown prices. The town is littered with restaurants and cafes, hidden in tight laneways and market streets; these serve a range of international cuisine and local fiery soups and curries. Pub Street is also great for travellers; I loved talking to some of the local vendors here, you can make a lot of friends who will remember you the next evening, just spend a little on whatever they are offering, it’s worthwhile. Make sure you also head to Island Bar for cocktails and some delicious nut snacks.