Final thoughts on Cambodia (2018)

Well, once again, the title of this post is far too grandiose for the content, as the only town in Cambodia we visited this trip was Siem Reap.  That said, here goes.

  • If you are going to get sick, Siem Reap is not a bad place to do it.  Robert and I spent the last week of our visit sick in bed with the flu (first him, then me).  It might have even been swine flu, as that is apparently going around, but we weren’t tested to find out for sure.  (Please, we didn’t even go to a doctor even though we probably should have given the fevers we were running).  And then, just when we were getting better, Robert somehow hurt his eyeball and couldn’t go out in the sun.  But, it could have been worse.  At least we didn’t have dengue!  And, we had a very nice hotel with plenty of space and one can find chicken noodle soup all over town.  Plus, we found real Florida orange juice to help with our Vitamin C needs.  (We are nearly healed now — just some serious residual tiredness).


  • Pharmaceuticals are very expensive in Siem Reap.  A box of fake Sudafed (with an active ingredient that turns out not to even work according to both my first-hand experience and the internet) was over $8 (note we paid less than $2 for the good stuff in Bali).  Similarly, a small bottle of Visine was over $8.  Absolutely crazy prices given how cheap nearly everything else is in Siem Reap.


  • We were offered street drugs (weed and shrooms) nearly every single day.  Tuk-tuk driver after tuk-tuk driver asked us if wanted something (and the answer was always no, and one night Robert even blurted out “absolutely not,” so I can’t say if they are as expensive as the legitimate pharmaceuticals).  I just can’t understand why anyone would risk it….I don’t even want to think about a prison in SE Asia….


  • We don’t often talk about where we eat and drink because restaurants come and restaurants go.  But, after spending three weeks in Siem Reap, we can safely say there are some fantastic establishments there.  We adored Khmer Grill — amazing garlic fried rice, yummy grilled frogs, and some of the freshest spring rolls.  We also loved Lilypop — a family-run Khmer joint where I don’t think we ever paid more than $20 for a meal and had the best chicken amok ever.  Bang Bang Bakery had a divine Nutella brownie.  And, Balthazar and Jaya House were each fantastic for drinks in their own way.  Balthazar is run by a very nice guy from the UK and has a great little selection of wine, and Jaya House has wonderful views.  (Robert says they both make a mean Negroni).  And, note, not a single one of these establishments is on “pub street” — if you visit Siem Reap do yourself a real favor and get off of pub street at least some of the time.


  • Interestingly, the wine is cheaper and better in Cambodia than in Thailand.  It must be the French influence.  Beer is dirt cheap — Robert regularly found 50 cent glasses at happy hour.


  • Cambodia was flooded with butterflies.  I’m not sure if it was due to us visiting during we season or not, but they were everywhere.  It was lovely.


  • I love that tourists are absolutely encouraged to wear what are effectively pajamas to the temples.  This all has to do with the rule that knees must be covered at the temples.  (Oddly, the rule applies to men but does not seem to be enforced with respect to the men.  Go figure.).  So, every single shop sells light weight pajama pants to the tourists.  (I think technically they are called elephant pants or fisherman’s pants depending on the style, but they will always be pajama pants to me).  I would venture a guess that close to 90% of the female tourists wear these pants in Siem Reap.


  • That said, I truly don’t understand why my knees are so offensive.  One pair of my pajama pants were pretty much see-through (and I was not alone in wearing see-through pants).  The other pair gave everyone a show each time the wind blew (and, again, I was not alone in this regard).  How is that any less offensive than my knees?


  • Cambodian people are some of the most genuinely nice people we have ever met.  Seriously.  Even though their lives are still very difficult.  Many of them are subsistence farmers without the advantages we take for granted.  You know, like running water and indoor toilets (or, in some cases, any toilets at all).  Many of them still live in complete poverty (I read that the average household income in 2016 was about $1200/year).  Many of them live in flood zones.  Many of them spend hours and hours waiting for work and are lucky to get a few dollars a day.  Yet, over and over again, we were greeted with huge smiles.


  • Cambodian food isn’t as recognizable as Thai or Vietnamese, but it is really good.  The two most famous dishes are probably amok and lok lak.  Amok is a curry, typically made with fish (but also chicken) and frequently served in a bowl made of leaves.  Lok lak is grilled meat (typically beef, but sometimes also chicken) served with a salt and lime dipping sauce.  We ate a ton of amok and lok lak.


  • Cambodia is changing so quickly.  The hotel we stayed at in 2007 was in the middle of nowhere back then (or at least it felt like it) and now it is right in town.  There is now even an app to call a tuk-tuk, kind of like Grab or Uber.  (We can’t say how well the app works, as we didn’t use it.  We found there was no need.  There were always tuk-tuks available anywhere we went.  And, I honestly don’t think the drivers can afford to be losing money to an app.).


  • Large tour groups are absolutely ruining the experience of visiting the temples.  They walk along in a herd, blocking anyone else from getting by.  They ignore the signs and climb on the temples.  They are loud.  And, more importantly, from what we have heard, they do not really contribute to the local economy — the large tour groups tend to stay in large hotels, travel everywhere by bus, and eat in large restaurants.  People please!  Independent travel is good.  Exploring independent restaurants is good.  Hiring independent tuk-tuk drivers is good.  I get that group tours can be easy, but independent travel in this part of the world is really easy too.


  • Cambodia makes the heaviest chairs in the world.  I don’t know what wood they use, but I could barely move some of the chairs.
  • Cambodia has stolen our hearts.  We will be back.

About theschneiduks

Lisa has a degree in biology and another in law and has spent the last 20 years working as a patent litigator. She is a voracious reader of young adult dystopian fiction and watches far too much bad tv. She loves pretty much anything to do with zombies, and doesn’t think there is anything weird about setting an alarm at 6 am on a weekend to stumble to a pub to watch her beloved Chelsea boys. Robert has had many professions, including a chef, a salesman, an IT guy and most recently, a stay at home dog dad. He speaks Italian and hopes to learn Spanish on this trip. He loves nothing more than a day spent sailing, hopes to do more scuba diving, and rues the day he introduced Lisa to football (i.e., soccer).
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