Cambodia, specifically Siem Reap, was amazing. Truly, one of the greatest visits for us on this trip. We were only in Cambodia for four days which ended up being far too short.
Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat and a bunch of other temple complexes; it’s the ancient capitol of Cambodia. We aren’t really ‘ruins’ people and don’t much care to see historical buildings so we had pretty low expectations going in to the visit. To help us along, we hired a tuk-tuk driver / guide, Sopheap, to bring us around to the sites because everything is spread pretty far apart. The places we visited were spectacular. So much so, we took about 2,800 photos – a new personal record in photos / day for me.
First thing off the plane we realized most everything is priced in US Dollars. That, in itself, isn’t all that weird and we’ve seen it a lot. The difference was that we could use USD to buy everything and ATMs even dispensed USD! We haven’t seen $5s, $10s, $20s or many $100s since leaving the US so it was pretty weird to see everyone, including Europeans and Cambodians, using USD all over the place. When we used USD to make a purchase we would get Cambodian Riel for anything less than $1 in change. Very quickly I had a huge wad of dollars and Riel. I felt like a high roller with the wad but it really amounted to about $8.77. Not high roller status, not even in a country like Cambodia.
The next really odd thing happened when we went to find dinner the first night. We wandered around the super touristy area called Pub Street and quickly stumbled across multiple, yes multiple, Mexican restaurants and bars. We love Mexican food, we haven’t had Mexican food since we left the US, why not have some food we love? We find a decent table, get some margaritas to wash down our chips & salsa, and ask each other – are we in bizzaro world? Like, is this real life? The food and drinks weren’t exact but they were close enough given Mexico and Cambodia are 9,677 miles apart . We ended up having quite a bit of local, Khmer, food and really loved it. Khmer food was like the food we had in Thailand but deliciously different.
Cambodia had a terrible tragedy with the rise of the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and the subsequent genocide of its populace. I didn’t learn a whole lot about South East Asia in school, especially the history of the area. I knew that the US bombed Cambodia during the Vietnam War but I didn’t know that the carpet bombing of Cambodia by the US during the Vietnam War was the catalyst for Pol Pot and his regime. It was quite surreal to tour the landmine museum and see massive amounts of ordinance from the US that never exploded or was dug up. Even today, many Cambodians are killed or injured from landmines left over during the Vietnam War. Very sad.
Sopheap did a lot for us and we are very thankful. On top of driving us around everywhere, he took us to his friend’s wedding, he brought us out to dinner on our last night, and he shared his stories of growing up and what life is like for the people living in Cambodia. Without him, the experience would not have been nearly as rich. He helped make our visit around Siem Reap the best on our entire trip.
Overall, this visit was a 10/10. We would absolutely go back.
Enjoy the photos!