Cambodia - in the eyes of 16 year old me.
4 min read. Created 2012
I want to preface this, I was only 16, it was my first time out of Australia and I'd never traveled without my parents before. I went for two weeks, although it being on a school trip, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Growing up in Sydney, you can't help it but you grow up privileged, and a lot better off then people in a third world country. I would recommend to anyone who has not been to a third world country to put it at the top of your bucket list. It was the most rewarding and life changing experience of my life.
The trip was very structured which going to any third world country, I 100% recommend. It sounds very petty and closed minded but I wouldn't have it any other way. When the language and the lifestyle is different to what you are used to. When travelling to any country it is very important to adapt to the countries customs and traditions whilst on your stay, and having a guide or group can help you do that.
I can't stress enough the importance of trying not to look like too much of a tourist, anywhere you go. It opens you up to thieves, local racism (over pricing shops, taxis, tourist taxes, and general knowledge of your origin) and above all of that it doesn't give you the full experience of the country, which is why you travelled in the first place right?
The local language is Khmer and the countries currency is riel. Just for an example $1 Australian dollar is ៛3118 Riel. On average a dinner meal will cost you roughly $4 for a main course. I suggest you learn a few phrases in the language, it will go along way in your day to day life while abroad. I recommend always having a currency converter wherever you go to know if it's really worth the price for the product you want to purchase. You're probably thinking $4 for a main meal is still very cheap, yes I agree but the chances of you finding it cheaper means you're helping someone who may be in a worse financial situation. It's places like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia is tends to be very cheap but a good indicator never hurts.
I also recommend anywhere you travel, get a sim card, these will be the best investment of your trip. Make sure to have the local hotel number, the taxi number and the emergency service number on your phone. I also suggest a travel debit card for purchases.
In Asia most places only accept cash but there are cash points / ATM's everywhere and a travel card is the safest way to carry large sums of money when you are traveling. Have a physical map of the intended locations for the day so you can gage an idea of your surroundings and always have something to show a local if you ever get lost. Having google maps if you have a sim card is also ideal!
I also recommend not traveling with expensive items - anywhere you go really. Particularly in Asia you become a larger target for pit pockets and thieves. Leave your jewellery, iPads, and luxury items in the safe at the hotel if you bring them at all.
Our trip was split into two halves, we lived in a closed village for 4 days, 3 days with a family in similar conditions and 4 days in a hotel. Seeing what the Cambodian's have as living conditions is one of the hardest things I've had to see in my life. I would recommend you visit at least one village and one town centre within Cambodia that doesn't have much going for them. If you have anything you can spare for the children and families of the villages - leave a bit of extra room in your luggage, the smiles and excitement of the people will give you the biggest buzz. They will accept anything you offer them.
The shopping in Cambodia is very cheap. Depending on your 'shopping list' I would definitely suggest the local markets, they are filled with knock off clothing, shoes, handbags, sunglasses... Most of which you pay for what you get but happy shopping! T
he street food is something I tend be very cautious about. I would recommend not to eat street food unless your guide or your hotel has given the 'ok'. An equivalent to most street food meals, you can find in restaurants scattered all along the main streets. The food in Cambodia tends to be much similar to asian cuisine containing rices, marinated meats and stir fries. Don't be afraid to try something new.
Take a visit out to some of the tours and not so touristy attractions that the hotel or your guide suggest. Cambodian people are very friendly and they love sharing their culture and heritage. Definitely check out the temples and current residence of the living king and queen. The architecture and detail in these buildings is nothing I've seen before. Just be cautious of the customs when visiting these places.
I recommend visiting Senteurs D'Angkor in Siem Reip. It is a candle and soap factory in which all workers are paid a very good working rate and aren't subjected to abuse or poor working conditions. We were lucky enough to tour the factory and talk to some of the workers. It is very good for gifts and little treats for yourself!
If you are in Siem Reip defiantly visit the famous Ankor Wat - words can't describe how big and architecturally mind blowing the temple is. If you have some spare time, I also suggest visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, the experience is so moving and might be a bit too much for some but I would have regretted not visiting the cemeteries and learning about what happened during that time.
When in Cambodia we visited Siem Reip and Phnom Penh. These are two heavily populated cities in Cambodia and will give you the real Cambodian experience. I can say I never felt unsafe or in any form of danger when I was in Cambodia, we always travelled in a group and had a guide, so I would suggest you do that same, once you know the surroundings then venture out on your own.
Make sure you check out visa options before you travel. You need a visa to get into Cambodia. Check out this website; http://www.cambodia-visa-online.com/.
I also recommend you pack light, Cambodia is very humid all day and night mostly, depending on the time of year. I suggest you pack light long sleeves, and covered/ over the shoulder shirts and long loose pants. As traditions and customs are not to show too much skin make sure you adhere to this. Cambodians can get very uncomfortable and you stick out in a crowd.