Cambodia: From Ancient Temples to Lazy Beaches
January 1, 1970
by Julian Schönfelder
Long off-limits from the traveler’s map, Cambodia has established itself as a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia. It has become an interesting spot to visit for various kinds of travelers ranging from luxury tourists to independent backpackers and adventure seekers. We lined in between the latter two and commenced on a great journey to explore this country so rich in history and culture. We did a small round-trip and visited the following places:
- Siem Reap and the ancient city of Angkor Wat
- The bustling capital city of Phnom Penh
- The active coastal town of Sihanoukville
- The beautiful island of Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Our journey started in the town of Siem Reap located in the Eastern part of the country and home to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. This place probably is the most touristic part of Cambodia with thousands of people coming in every year to visit. It is a major gateway to enter the country and that is how we found some great flights to come in through the city of Siem Reap. When arriving in the city you will find a great choice of different hostels, hotels and guesthouses to choose from. Siem Reap is absolutely specialized on all sorts of visitors and there is nothing you won’t find here.
When visiting the temples you can pick between different forms of transportation ranging from private tours and cars to rented motorcycles/tuk-tuks or bicycles. Passes to the archeological zone cost $20 for one day ticket, $40 for three days of visits within one week, and $60 for seven days of visits within one month. The area is very large so we decided to buy the three-day pass so that we can have some breaks in between the visits. This is highly recommended as the days can get quite tiring and you should definitely use these days to rest.
The actual site is full of different temples to discover. The temple of Angkor Wat is just a small part of the entire zone but also one of the most impressive ones you will see. It is depicted with many different statues, buildings and wall-carvings and is an absolutely breathtaking site. You will find yourself spending lots of time in this compound as there are just so many things to see.
Apart from Angkor Wat there are also a few other nice temples with Angkor Thom and its majestic Bayon Temples being one of our favorite in the entire place. A bit further out you will find some other nice temples such as the Rolous Group temples or the Preah Khan and Banteay Srei.
Leaving the ancient temples behind we continued our journey further South to reach the largest city and capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The city can be seen as a crossroad of various cultures, peoples and times and shows a contrast of old French and Chinese colonial heritage with a modern flair. It is the heart of the country and it’s political and economic center.
The city is very vibrant and you will find the streets packed with markets, motorcycles and eating stalls along with many bars, cafes and restaurants. You will also find many different temples, museums and palaces to visit. We decided to have a stroll around town during our first day and discovered all the small alleys and older buildings and enjoyed a nice sunset walk along the Mekong river. Great attractions in the city are the Royal Palace as well as the Genocide Museum and Central Market.
We stayed just two days in Phnom Penh and were eager to now continue our trip to the beautiful islands down South.
The main gateway to reach the islands is the coastal town of Sihanoukville. Named after King Sihanouk, this port town is a starting point for exploring the islands but has also developed itself as tourist attraction. There is an active night-life scene, loads of bars and casinos along with some nice beaches.
We arrived in the morning and decided to stay for at least one night to see what this town had to offer. Staying at a smaller hostel in the outskirts of the city on Victory Hill we rented a scooter and discovered the area. The town as such does not have particularly much to offer but we eventually found some nice beaches where we could rest and swim. These were called Independence Beach and Otres Beach – both offered some nice spots to have a drink and eat. We especially enjoyed the sunset views from Otres Beach and would definitely recommend any visitor to drop by there.
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem
Leaving the coastal town of Sihanoukville behind us we moved on to finally see the islands. The two major islands that can be visited and which are the most common ones to see are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Located just around 25 kilometers off the coast you will need to take a ferry boat which brings you directly to the island of your choice. You can visit the ferry website under http://speedferrycambodia.com/ to see their exact departure times.
The majority of people will end up going to Koh Rong as this is more of a hotspot for tourists and travelers. There is a huge choice of accommodation, restaurants and bars and, although slightly more expensive than on the mainland, still cheaper than on its neighboring island of Koh Rong Samloem. Budget backpackers are happy with the value options along the main beach and mostly chose the rustic accommodations along the various bars and restaurants. There has been some development in the last years and more upscale hotels are being built with lots more to come.
Despite the many bars and restaurants, the island still offers a very relaxed vibe. You can either spend your day sipping a drink along the beach and listening to music or discovering the rest of the island. Just around the corner of the main beach, you can find some hidden beaches such as Long Set Beach and Pura Vita. On the other side of the island, you can find the famous, 7-kilometer long Long Beach – perfect for swimming and relaxing.
If you want to leave the party behind and find some even more secluded spots you would have to take the next ferry and go over to Koh Rong Samloem. This is the smaller of the two islands and extremely laid-back. Accommodation and food are more expensive here and the choice of budget places to stay very small. Nevertheless, it is extremely beautiful and you can spend some very relaxing days at the main beach at Saracen Bay or at a smaller beach on the backside of the island named Lazy Beach.
Definitely, both places are very beautiful in their own way and highly recommendable to visit!