My entire trip to Cambodia is pretty short, only 6 days in total. But so far, I like it here a lot. First off, I flew in rather than take the relatively short 6 hour bus ride. It was expensive but it saves me from the hassle of dealing with the notorious scams at the border. It also means I got to start off the right foot, by having my passport stamped at the airport and paying the correct amount of $20 for a 30 day tourist visa.
I took a tuk tuk from the airport and was surprised to see that the tuk tuks here are different than in Thailand. They are more like motorbike-drawn carriages than little tin wagons. Some even have beautiful wood carvings and curtains around them. I was enjoying the ride when when I saw two little girls crossing the street holding hands. I smiled at them and one shouted, “hi sexy lady!” I was a little shocked and wondered where she learned that but I quickly saw that compliments like that are fairly common in greeting tourists but it is usually more toned down. The people are friendly and kind and the culture is known for being extremely polite, which makes it a more comfortable place to travel.
It was really nice because they primarily use the dollar, so for once I wasn’t constantly trying to convert currency.
The strange part is, they don’t use US coins for change, they use the Cambodian Riel. It’s about 4,200 Riel per dollar, and getting change from a dollar tends to biased towards whatever business you are working with. For instance, if something costs $4.50, you pay $4 and 2,100 Riel. If your change is supposed to be $4.50, you get $4 and 2,000 Riel.
Siem Reap is a nice town and fairly touristy because of Angkor Wat. The first differences I noticed after Thailand is that it is much less modern, which isn’t a surprise really considering the history. There are fewer paved roads and the city is quieter. There is also a cow tied to a post outside my hotel and several others roaming the streets, something I didn’t experience in Thailand. There they seemed to have a wealth of chickens.
Siem Reap itself was a fun little town to stay in. It’s touristy and the main attraction is Angkor Wat. This is the temple from Tomb Raider. Some people come and spend days there because there is so much to see. Since I spent so long in Thailand and am running low on time, I only spent a day and that was enough to get a good idea of it, but not to see it all.
From there, I went on an odyssey of a bus ride to Phenom Penh, which is where you go to see the Killing Fields and Genocide museum, along with other, less depressing Cambodian sites. The population of Phnom Penh is around 1.5 million but traffic lights aren’t widely used. A lot of the intersections look like this. Vehicles slow, then weave in and out between other cars, tuk-tuks, dump trucks and motorbikes to get to the other side. It can be a little chaotic.
The struggles are evident in a lot of places. There are scars of genocide and poverty. There is trash everywhere. But Cambodia is an amazing place. The people are absolutely the most friendly I have encountered anywhere. I experienced a lot of genuine kindness. People are so willing to help one another, including the tourists. I met wonderful people. If I smiled at people, they would smile back and would help me when I was lost. There were the little kids across the street from my hostel who would shout, “hello! hello!” every time it left. I think it was the only English word they knew, but they were so excited to use it. Their parents would also smile and wave. My tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Lucky, was always kind. He asked me about the US and was happy to chat about Cambodia and tell me what to avoid and to be careful. He never overcharged me and was often less expensive than I expected.
Over and over I was surprised by Cambodians.