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Siem Reap - Phnom Penh
We loved visiting Cambodia, home of the eighth wonder of the world. It's a mythical country with a harsh and violent history. All the people we met have been affected in one way or another by the Khmer Rouge history.
Of course in Siem Reap it's all about the temples of Angkor. With more than 1000 temples, the complex is one of the most famous sites in the world. I remember walking early in the morning towards the temple of Angkor Wat and feeling so excited and privileged for finally visiting this magnificent site. Filled with such a rich history, I felt small and meaningless at the same time as well. I was very happy to have a nice tour guide at our side, explaining to us and the children all the history and interesting facts of Angkor. I had expected it to be touristy, but I must admit it exceeded my expectations.
We visited Phnom Penh after Siem Reap. The capital of Cambodia is an interesting city. Up coming and more modern than the rest of the country but not at all as spoiled as the cities of neighboring countries such as Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. But despite the bad condition of the roads and buildings the city is very colorful and you can still imagine how beautiful the city must have been before Pol Pot's horrible regime.
What to do
The most important things to see and do in Cambodia are the following. If you can insert these in your itinerary you will have a good impression of the country. Of course there is always more to see but as first time visitors or when visiting with children I would advise the following.
- Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. The obvious of course. Take you time to visit the temples, it's such a huge complex. Of course 1 day is not enough, but for children I suppose 3 days is the max, at least for mine.
- Phnom Penh is definitely worth a visit. The capital is mysterious and colorful. Different than other major Asian cities. The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison cannot be skipped although be careful with kids as the sites are cruel and too intense for young children.
- You could add one of the beautiful islands of the South Coast of Cambodia to your trip to make your Cambodian visit complete.
- Dress appropriately when visiting temples. Take off your shoes and don't go in with shorts or skirts above the knee or bare shoulders.
- Don't take pictures of locals without asking them for permission first. They probably won't mind but my experience is that they don't like being photographed without their consent.
- Do not flaunt your money or luxury items. Most of the people in Cambodia are very poor. It is considered an insult to flaunt with expensive jewels and too much cash.
- That being said, beware of thefts and pick pockets. Don't bring too many valuables with you and leave the valuables you do have in a safe as much as possible. Think of items such as passports, credit cards, too much cash, travel documents etc.
- We visited one (of the many) orphanage schools in Siem Reap. The children were extremely happy with us bringing supplies which we bought at a local store (which in turn made the store owner really happy). Simple things such as pens, paper etc are very much needed. You can also become a school sponsor, most of the schools have a special financial program for people who would like to donate financially.
- Bring mosquito repellent.
- Try to combine your Cambodia visit with a visit to Vietnam. It's easy to incorporate it in your itinerary. If you plan on doing this don't forget to apply for a visa into Vietnam beforehand.
When to go
Most people visit Cambodia between November and March. But expect lots of crowds and higher prices. You can get better deals from May to early October.
Cambodia is warm year round, but some months can be a bit wetter than others. These months are obviously from May to October, the cheaper months. But don't worry, you probably won't be experiencing hours of rain, just a brief down pour in the afternoon will do.
We combined Vietnam with Cambodia. So we flew from Da Nang to Siem Reap. Then to Phnom Penh and then by boat on the Mekong River back to Vietnam. Below you will see our itinerary.
We were planning to drive from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh but locals advised us not to. Roads are in very bad condition and it takes a really long time to travel by car or bus. Moreover, people drive carelessly so it's a dangerous enterprise as well. Domestic tickets are not expensive and the planes of Cambodia Angkor Air are very reliable.
Below depicted is the trip we made combining Vietnam with Cambodia. I can absolutely recommend this trip as it offers many different aspects of both countries. History, city life, beaches and culture and very doable with kids of course.
Hanoi: 2 days -> Ha Long Bay: 3 days -> Da Nang: 3 days -> Siem Reap: 3 days -> Phnom Penh: 2 days -> Can Tho: 2 days -> Phu Quoc: 4 days -> Ho Chi Minh: 2 days.