Starting to plan a trip like this is like beginning the Grand National from a standing start and, by all accounts, covering Cambodia in 9 days was always going to be a toughee. However, due to a lull at work meaning I have had ample time to do non-legal research each evening, I think I have now got my itinerary bang on. I have scoured the plethora of blogs on where to go, what to do, what’s a not-to-be-missed, I have spent hours on Lonely Planet’s really difficult to manage website (is it just me?) and I have sought advice from everyone I know who has ever even mentioned Cambodia out loud. So, in a move similar to ‘upside down dinner’ (when you get to have pudding before main course)I am posting the plan before the action. It serves, therefore, as a teaser of posts to come and a guide for those looking to book. Hopefully it will be useful to any of y’all thinking of following me to Cambodia. And, more importantly (and selfishly), I am reaching out to those that have been before to tell me your tips and wisdom of how to nail Cambodia.
1. SIEM REAP
So far I know this: Siem Reap is in the middle of Cambodia, it is home to Angkor Watt and it has a road called Pub Street. Starting by looking at the map, it makes sense for us to fly into Siem Reap because that way we start with a bang of culture, travel down to Phnom Pehn for further culture then move on to the desert and / or party islands of the South before nipping back to PP to jet off home. (FYI, skyscanner multi-destination flights are generally far cheaper, don’t know why). Our preference on backpacker holidays is to front-end them with the cultural must-dos and gradually tail-off and end with the relaxing must-do-nothings on a pretty beach. Obviously if you prefer the other way round, you can read this post backwards and it should work perfectly. Nifty.
Where we are staying: Viroth’s Hotel
After a quick look on booking.com it became clear that Cambodia really is as cheap as we’d been told. ‘Splashing out’ in Cambodia is therefore extremely hard and without even trying, I found myself on the last page of hotels being displayed in price ascending order. #Flash. But still nothing was over £90/ night. Previous attitude of being frugal – out of the window. New attitude where I act like the Queen or (even better), one of the richkidsofinstagram – firmly adopted. Clearly I have changed since my old travelling days, where we would stubbornly go wherever was cheapest and thus end up in a $1/night cardboard hostel on top of a strip club in Bangkok… So maybe all this ‘flash’ chat has gone to my head or, maybe, £40 a night each for a 5 star and beautiful looking, art deco, boutique hotel in the centre of town just shouldn’t be rejected.
The hotel looks lusciously beautiful with palm trees and greenery generously strewn around the turquoise pool. I can imagine it feeling pretty darn dreamy to return from a humid day traipsing around the city and sink into one of the sun loungers with a cocktail after a tranquil dip. To add to the luxury there’s also a spa and gym, though two days in an ancient city may mean I don’t have time to fit in a work out – dammit.
Practically, Viroth’s is based in the centre of Siem Reap in the Wat Bo Village district, 500 yards away from one of the main markets (Old Market) and 600 yards from Pub Street, where the main tourist night-life is. This means it should be close enough to the action to be lots of fun, but quiet enough to get some sleep. Most excitingly, it is just a few miles south of the main attraction in Siem Reap – Angkor Watt. This leads me nicely on…
What we are going to do:
Clearly the reason most tourists visit Siem Reap is the abundance of ancient culture within the city. Before going anywhere always I carry out a simple test: google image search the location to get a very basic and over-simplified idea of what’s on offer. For London you get the Thames, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Shard. For Berlin you get the wall, the Brandeburg Gate and the Reichstag. For New York it’s the Empire State, Statue of Liberty and Time Square. For Siem Reap you get this:
And only this. Photos of the UNESCO heritage site Angkor Watt, at all times of the day. And, frankly, even if it is all that the city has to its name I wouldn’t be disappointed. Of course Siem Reap also has lots of other sights to see, but the suggestion is to try and be at Angkor Watt for sunset and sunrise. Fit everything else around that. By sunrise of our first day in Cambodia therefore, I want to have a camera full of perfectly instagramable #sunrise_sunsets. First world aspirations. Sorry.
Other things on the agenda though:
- Angkor Thom, the slightly older but slightly less beautiful (aint that the way) temple a little further north of Angkor Watt.
- Pub Street for night-life and restaurants.
- Old Market for the buzz and bustle of South-East Asian market atmosphere.
Then we have to get a 4 hour mini-bus down to Phnom Penh via the huge Tonlé Sap lake. We are unfortunately there during the dry low-tide season, otherwise I hear the tours of the floating villages on the lake are really good. Moving on.
2. PHNOM PENH
Phnom Penh is the Cambodian capital. It is massive. It has the royal palaces. It is the place to go to really learn about the horrific regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. (By the way, ‘horrific’ really doesn’t do it justice and I’m semi-dreading learning more about it once there). As a combination therefore, modern PP is supposed to be an amazing cultural hotspot – perfect for a couple of days.
Where we are staying: The Plantation Urban Resort
Apparently when it comes to Cambodian city retreat hotels, I have a type. A courtyard pool, an art deco theme, turquoise tiles, lots of palm trees. Tick, tick, tick, tick. I also seem to like to have a spa that I am unlikely to use. Tick. This hotel is apparently right next to the royal palace and the Mekong river and only a short walk from the main nightlife district of Duan Penh.
What we are going to do:
Phnom Penh doesn’t have the same UNESCO heritage vibe when you hit it on google image. Frankly the city looks like it may be a bit tough: a bit like Krakow, where you appreciate it’s an amazing city, but also can’t help but find it hard work taking in the harrowing recent history. Thus:
- The Killing Fields / Choeung Ek.
- The S-21 prison / Tuol Sleng genocide museum.
In a more light-hearted venture though we will also be going on a Mekong Cruise and drinks at all the pretty looking rooftop bars.
3. KOH RONG
Koh Rong is Cambodia’s Koh Phi Phi and the photos make it look like the desert island retreat we will need after 5 days of moving around and sight-seeing. Here, the main thing to do is take in the beautiful beaches, eat, drink and play with the sparkling plankton in the moonlit sea (definite future highlight!).
Where we are staying: Monkey Island
I struggled choosing this place. The websites for everywhere on Koh Rong are pretty archaic. The beach huts themselves also could do with some general gentrification (i.e hot water, an inside loo?). However they all seem to exude that old-fashioned, rugged charm that you really want when you go to a secluded island, so I’m all in. Apparently getting around the island itself is virtually impossible as it is packed jungle so you need to get a little boat if you want to move anywhere. This means you need to think carefully about which Koh Rong beach you’ll go for. There is one beach, for instance, that only has one ‘hotel’ on it, so I’m guessing you’ll feel secluded there. But we wanted a middle ground as we will probably want to eat at different places and make friends and, you know, listen to the guitar at a bar whilst the sun goes down. Monkey Island is meant to have as many of the ‘mod-cons’ that you can expect and have a fun atmosphere whilst not being in the busiest part of the beach. Sold.
What we are going to do:
Sun bathe. read. swim with plankton.
A last minute change of plan means that we are now swapping Koh Rong for Koh Rong Samloem, Koh Rong’s more petite and overlooked sister. But why?! It was a swift decision based on the latest Trip Advisor comments which have made me think of Koh Rong, and Koh Touch beach in particular, as perhaps more of the party island. Frankly, it was also based on my experience on Ha Long Bay (read here) which, though amazing, crystalised my ineptitude at ‘sleeping rough’ anymore. By ‘rough’ I mean thatched walls, open bathrooms, no aircon, sand everywhere. Our new accommodation though, is one of the few places on either island with aircon and, as I far as I can tell, the only place with a pool. (And it’s an infinity pool, don’t make me contain my excitement). We have therefore flashed up a grade, I’m afraid. But it is still a highly reasonable (relatively to the rest of the world) 80 GBP per night. It just goes so much further in Cambodia.
We will leave Monkey Island to the proper backpackers. They will love it, I’m sure. Instead we will be at The One Resort (see website), in our VIP villa, sipping cocktails on our air-conned terrace and looking out into the pristine ocean.
FINALLY 4. SIHANOUKVILLE
We have to be back in Phnom Penh for our flights back to London / Singapore by 4pm and the consensus is not to attempt getting all the way from Konh Rong to the airport under a tight deadline. Thus, we have a night stop over in the main beachy party town of ‘Snooky’.
Where we are staying: White Boutique Hotel
As we will have had 4 days of no hot water or effective sewage I’ve booked us into a final night of luxury. I figure that my boyfriend, who’s doing long-haul straight back to London, will probably appreciate a shower (or more accurately, whichever unfortunate soul has to sit next to him on the plan, will appreciate it). So it’s back to my traditional Cambodian ‘type’ with the luscious pool and white balconies. But this time we are beachfront with a sea view over the gorgeous, turquoise Gulf of Thailand as well – jackpot.
So there you have it! What do you think?! If you’ve been to any of these cities, resorts, hotels pleeease let me know if you have any advice. If you’re looking to book and want to know how I approached it having never planned any trip with such detail before, holla. And, if you’re interested to see how it pans out? Check back in with the blog in April. I’ll have my own photos, reviews and tales of the flashiest and most frugal spots in the land.
Siem Reap – Viroth’s Hotel
Phnom Penh – Plantation Urban Resort
Koh Rong – Monkey Island
Sihanoukville – White Boutique