Country #31: Cambodia

The following blog is adapted from the final travel reflection I wrote to my parents in the summer of 2019. Cambodia remains a country I would like to return to 4 years later.

Originally written July 2019 (lightly edited for clarity):

During my first 4 days in Cambodia, I fell ill with the flu. I woke up in Chiang Mai feeling a bit feverish, but I didn’t think it was anything major. By the end of that night, I felt absolutely terrible. We tuk-tuk’d to our hostel in Phnom Penh, and all I could do was lay in bed. I have no idea how I got so sick, but Caroline never caught what I had.

On the second day, we went to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. I took a lot of cold and flu medication that I bought at a local convenience store so that I could get up and go. Questionable? Maybe. It worked like a charm though.

I never learned about the Cambodian genocide in school. I’m not sure if you did either or if you remember it as living history because it’s so recent. The Khmer Rouge (communist party) was horrific for Cambodia in general and caused a lot of war and strife. 

The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died a natural death not that long ago in his 70s, which is just an indication that not that much has changed in Cambodia. They say they’re democratic and have rights, but they’re still technically communist because they have one ruling party. When we were in Siem Reap, we went on a bike tour, and one of the hostel workers (Cambodian) who was leading it expressed that they need help as a country. He said their healthcare and education are meager. They get arrested if they speak out at all about anything, and they don’t have the rights that they’re told they do. 

On the third day, I was still feeling pretty ill, so I decided to lay low. I walked around a little bit, but it was just so hot. Unfortunately, I also picked the worst bed in the girl’s room at the hostel, and there were ants in the cupboard installed next to my bed. This meant that all of my personal belongings and laptop had ants crawling through them.

I spent days killing ants one by one as they crawled out of my laptops. It really added insult to injury as I lay in bed sick. When I told management, they didn’t make me pay for my stay, which was nice.

That evening, we flew to Siem Reap. Our flight was delayed so we ended up arriving pretty late. The next day, we checked out the markets and got the lay of the land. That night, we did a really cool food tour that Jake recommended. He did it when he was in Siem Reap three years ago. 

On our second full day in Siem Reap, we booked a private tour with a friend we met in Phnom Penh (he also traveled to Siem Reap on the same day) for sunrise at Angkor Wat. The temples are the main thing that people go to Siem Reap for. You get a tuk-tuk driver to take you, and you can go with or without a guide. Without a guide is cheaper, but we ended up booking with a guide for this day, so we didn’t have to wait on a bunch of other people at the hostel for a group tour because it was so early. It ended up being a stellar move. We had one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had while traveling, Kim. She had extensive knowledge regarding the temples, and she was a great photographer, which is a must-have skill for guides, in my opinion. Kim was with us from 4:20 AM until around 12:15 PM. We went back, got some food, and then I worked while Caroline and Matt napped.

In the days after, we did the following:

  • Took some additional temple tours
  • Went to a land mine museum (highly recommend it!)
  • Did the bike tour mentioned above
  • Hung out around Siem Reap

We met some memorable people at our hostel which is always nice (shout out to Greg!). Some hostels are social while others have people that just kind of keep to themselves.

On Saturday, we flew to Ho Chi Minh, which is still widely called Saigon by locals. We’ll spend the next 2 weeks in Vietnam. I’ll keep you updated here and there.

(Alas, a travel update was never to come for Vietnam because of the way our trip ended. See “We Just Shouldn’t Go” – Ha Long Bay)