Tuesday, 27 September 2011
Cambodia: Do's and Don'ts!
Cambodia was a country that had always fired my imagination, the great temples almost familiar before I'd actually seen them in person, the recent brutal history more sobering. I tried to arrive with as little expectation as possible to avoid any potential disappointment, a feat difficult for such a famous (and infamous) place. Nevertheless, it left a lasting positive impression, and is somewhere I would definitely like to explore further in the future.
- Take your time in Siem Reap. Although Angkor is obviously the main draw, the town itself is friendly, very safe and interesting. Lots of local artisan workshops support Cambodian charities and will help you part with your money, and the huge numbers of cafes and restaurants offering yummy food could keep you full for months. A couple of extra days on top of your temple allowance would provide ample opportunities for enjoying the atmosphere and chatting with locals.
- Plan your time at Angkor carefully. There is so much to see and explore that it would take weeks to do it justice, so having an idea of the main areas you want to hit is useful, particularly the more remote sites that take time to travel between. One day will allow you to see Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Angkor Thom comfortably, but not much else. If you want to get out and do the larger temple circuits, at least three days is ideal.
- Pick your season carefully if you can. We travelled during the wet season, which has benefits and drawbacks. If you like fewer tourists and the dramatic scenery that rain brings out, then the wet season is for you. If, however, you aren't keen on the consistent afternoon downpours, bringing inches of rain and heavy moisture in the air, then maybe the dry season would be better.
- Be disrespectful at the Khmer Rouge memorial sites. It sounds like common sense of course, but when we visited the killing fields and museum there was a group pulling out snacks and basically having a full on picnic during the extremely affecting video, crunching crisps during the sober depictions. Another person was texting constantly on their mobile phone, whilst a nearby group chatted loudly in the 'quiet please' areas.
- Take organised tours if you can avoid it. The large coaches arriving at Angkor hurried guests through sites, and seemed to all follow the same route at the same time, so there were patches with huge numbers of people at once. Better to hire a local tuk tuk driver and determine your own route and pace, whilst also hearing the funny stories and useful advice your driver has to tell.
- Be afraid of Phnom Penh. We'd heard terrible stories of bags being snatched and increasingly muggings at night, yet found the city very friendly. Being vigilant is always important, and we always take care to keep our belongings close to our bodies and hidden out of sight, but preconceptions about a place can really colour your experience. Although not the most aesthetically beautiful place ever, the capital is interesting and well worth a few days of exploration.