A glass of cheap local whisky loose in my hand, I am deep in conversation with a group of travellers, bundled up close to a flickering campfire. A mix of nationalities, some of the group I have known for weeks and some only a couple of hours yet our mutual adoration of travel and adventure has bonded us instantly and we are all smiles, the conversation flowing effortlessly. I am 22 years old and two months into an epic 8-month long backpacking trip around Southeast Asia. Life is very good indeed and my new nomadic and unperturbed lifestyle is a welcome change after a difficult past year living in London.
Kampot, a charming riverside town in Southern Cambodia is a spot I wished we had longer to explore. Realising back in Sihanoukville that we would be limited on time for Kampot due to our visa for Vietnam starting imminently, my travel buddies and I decided to make a quick beeline for the quaint little city. We had one full day to make the most of our visit – here’s what we got up to.
Oh Koh Rong, where do I even start? This small Cambodian island is about an hour’s ferry ride away from Sihanoukville on the mainland, and after hearing great things from many other backpackers, me and my travel buddies had been keen to check out the island for a long time. And boy were we impressed!
Back mid-February, as our boat pulled into the docks of Koh Rong, it immediately became blindingly obvious that I’d be enjoying myself there. The water was a dazzling hue of aqua-blue, the sand looked luxuriously soft and white and the teeny-tiny shops and restaurants along the beachfront were buzzing with backpackers. But that was just the beginning.
When I think about my time in Sihanoukville, I struggle to come to a conclusion on how I feel about the place. Described in the lonely planet as the party capital of Cambodia, I didn’t expect too much. Beaches, bars and booze – yup that’s basically what we got. After pretty much travelling mainland throughout our trip, at the sight of seeing a stretch of sand and some sea we were all keen for some sun and swimming. But whether I liked Sihanoukville or not? I’m still not sure. So, here’s what I thought of Sihanoukville; the partying and the beaches, which is, in a nutshell, all there is to do there!
I’m going to put it out there. Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, has been my least favourite place I’ve visited during my Southeast Asia adventures so far. It may be that I’m biased as I am a bit sick of huge cities by now, having spent most my life living in London. Or it may be that we simply overstayed there, visiting for 3 nights (a rookie mistake!). Or maybe Phnom Penh is just a ‘love it or hate it’ type of place, as I have met people who really enjoyed their visit there, happily embracing the hectic madness of the city.
So, to show that travelling isn’t all lounging on white sand beaches and meeting lovely friendly locals wanting to exchange tales about their country, I think it’s also pretty important to highlight some of the places that didn’t feel so amazing. The places that you wouldn’t rush back to visit again in a hurry.
Battambang, a city a couple of hours’ drive away from Siem Reap is a spot that is often left out from a typical traveller’s itinerary of Cambodia, overshadowed by the spotlight of the temples of Angkor and the bustle of Phnom Penh. However, after reading up about it in my trusty lonely planet guide, I was pretty keen to at least spend one full day there to explore the town’s surroundings.
We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day (only $18 between 6 of us!) and we did indeed have a great day out. There was certainly lots to do. We spent the day journeying on a bamboo train, exploring various different temples, wandering through a vineyard and visiting a former interrogation centre and ‘killing caves’. These were used by the Khmer Rouge back in the 70s and although it was sad to see and learn about, it was also very interesting.
But it was something else that really for the first time during our trip honestly left me open-mouthed. Bats leaving their cave for the night. Literally millions and millions of them!
For our first stop in Cambodia, we travelled straight to Siem reap with the remaining members of our Thakhek loop gang we had met in Laos. The predominant reason most people visit Siem Reap is to check out the magnificent ancient temples of Angkor, and many will agree that no trip to Cambodia is complete without a visit.
Warning: This post is very image heavy!