Here we go, a place we’d also never been to, and I had planned it several times before.
Cambodia, for us, would end up being three very different places: a bigger city with world class archeological sites (can you guess what are these?), a smaller one that was/is about to change forever, and a postcard-level island.
Let’s start with Angkor Wat, that’s the main reason (or one of the main reasons) to visit the country, according to all guides and blogs.
We flew into Siem Reap, the town that serves as base for the temples exploration.
Luckily we were on the first group to leave the airplane, as Visa lines can get pretty long. A lot of people visit Angkor, even during the low season, and that seems to come as a huge surprise for the immigration officers!
Not having dollars on us was a mistake, as the rate for Euros is just shitty, you end up paying a lot more for that stamp on your passport. With that taken care of, it was just a matter of boarding our waiting tuk-tuk and moving to the hotel. A lovely hotel, far from the craziness of Siem Reap downtown.
On the way to the hotel we would drive through the area, but a visit would have to wait till the next day. The hotel was gorgeous, a huge room was waiting for us, with a rather large swimming pool just under the varanda.
After a good night’s sleep, we took one of the hotel’s tuk tuks and made the way back to town.
The central area is not too big, located around the old market part of town. There’s a ton of restaurants, bars, tourist shops, smaller lovely stores, more bars. They call it Pub St. for a reason! The old market itself is unavoidable, and it's a decent one. Many shops are selling stuff to tourists, of course, but it still manages to keep the local market vibe, with a lot of people coming here to do their shopping. Refreshing.
We would be coming here for food and drinks everyday. You can have all sorts of meals, from traditional Khmer cuisine to a delicious burger, with nice Japanese beer (go, Asahi!!).
We did some shopping, and tried to enjoy the city. We managed to do that, but we were reading Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, and that book does get you down!
When you're ready to visit Angkor, it's time to take care of the tickets. These are bought really (REALLY) early in the morning. We arranged for a tuk-tuk the day before, and he picked us up from the hotel at 4.30AM. That's the only way to get a decent place in the HUGE line that you will find every day at the ticket booth. It feels like a race into the night: everyone making their way to the place, in tuk tuks, vans, buses, private cars, and waiting for those booths to open.
As soon as you have handed the wad of cash (not cheap), you'll be on the second leg of the race, to the archeological zone. Everyone is trying to get there before sunrise, as that is already part of the tour: it's not worth going if you can't get the Sunrise-Over-Angkor photo, is it??
We got that photo, and a couple others right after that one. The place lives up to it's name, it's awesome! And HUGE! Sadly our visit was cut short, movieStar was not feeling well. We had to find a doctor, a nice British gentleman, get another tuk-tuk and guide the driver there, and then get to a pharmacy and get movieStar fixed. She wanted me to go back to Angkor, alone, but that wasn't something I was willing to do. Angkor can wait another decade or so, I'm sure.
After we were done with Siem Reap, and movieStar was feeling better, we decided to leave the amazing hotel we were staying at behind, we take a short flight south, to Sihanoukville. Not a lot to say about this place, except you should visit really soon if you want to come before the construction really screws it up. There are huge buildings going up like crazy, the road from the airport is a building site miles and miles long. Casinos are everywhere and you know who's paying for all that, right?
We spent a day at Otres Beach, taking care of some paperwork for the next country on the menu, and eating Italian at the hotel we picked for the night. Great pizza at this place, a Diavola with Jalapeños is a pizza that I would love to have available everywhere. This was meant as nothing more than a pit stop, we were moving on, again.
Morning came, energy had been restored, it was time for a boat ride. That one would take us to paradise. Sorry, Paradise.
Koh Rong Samloem is what should come to mind when you think Paradise Island. When you see the glossy brochures at the travel agency, or the Instagram shots of white sandy beaches, this is where those shots were probably taken.
Huge beach, white sand, turquoise water. Nothing else. Not even the damn trash we’d seen in countless other beaches. Water temperature is what you can call soup-like, and the pool is about the same. You actually feel hot in the sea. It was voted one of the Top 21 beaches of the world by Nat Geo at some point, it’s easy to understand why.
Hotel wise there’s enough to chose from, we decided to stay at the top end. There were a lot of other choices, maybe not even worth it to pay as much as we did, but hey, YOLO. It wasn't a lot anyway.
Incredible food, the pool by the beach, the nice bungallows, everything was nice.
We walked a bit to the crowded part of the beach, close to Sara Resort, where all the young kids were. Nice food, nice music, and you could almost imagine it was the high-season. We also met a gang from a pharmaceutical company, on some team-building/productivity award, and played drunk-volleyball with them. They were drinking hard, having a blast with a karaoke machine, and were kind enough to invite us to the party. It was glorious. We didn't even stop for the rain.
We did the walk-to-the-other-side-of-the-island thing as well, but this island was considerably larger than the one in Thailand. Thankfully the drinks on the other side were nice too. movieStar thought it a great idea to go barefoot but, in a rather painful way, it was not.
After a few days of this, it was, again, time to move. we got on a boat, and sailed back to Sihanoukville for a night, before heading to the closest airport and fly to Saigon.