Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest nations and in the past forty years has suffered through some of the worst events in modern history. After becoming a victim in the Vietnam war, then being taken over by the Khmer Rouge, the nation went from up and comer to starting all over again. With a violent past behind it, Cambodia has become one of the most interesting places on the planet to visit. Still suffering from a massive gap in wealth, the country is still figuring out the best way to become a player on the world stage. This shouldn’t deter you from visiting this South East Asian gem and the people alone will make it a favorite on the trip.
1. Kick in for the Future
There is an overwhelming amount of charitable organizations and “orphanages” in Cambodia, some more legitimate than others. In fact, many “orphanages” are front organizations run by corrupt individuals that make the children work the markets, inviting people to dances for donations. Unfortunately, those donations line the pockets of the owners instead of bringing hope and a happier life to the kids at the orphanage. Although this is often the case, there are plenty of organizations that do an incredible job working towards a better future for Cambodia. We ended up with a hookup from a friend in Canada to visit an orphanage that she had worked at. It turned out to be the highlight of our time in Cambodia and one of the best experiences of the entire trip. Sunthan, the operator of CPCSO, is passionate beyond belief and thoroughly believes in helping out the next generation of Khmers. We got to pitch in around the orphanage, teach a little English and hang out with the kids. In the end, we made an incredible connection with Sunthan and will do our best to continually support his organization now that we are back in Canada. In a country that has been through all kinds of hell, bright organizations like CPCSO offer a glimpse into Cambodia’s brighter future.
2. Killing fields and S21
Going to the brutal sites dedicated to the horrors performed by the Khmer Rouge is an eye opener to say the least. For such a recent event, there hasn’t been too much exposure surrounding the events of the Pol Pot regime and only now are the leaders of the so-called revolution being brought to justice. The two sites, Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, give people a glimpse into the horrors people went through during the times when Pol Pot and his regime ruled the nation, and these are only two sites. Not for the faint of heart but a definite necessity to understand the perils of Cambodia and part of the reason for the current state of the nation.
3. Temples of Angkor
Pretty much every person who has gone to Cambodia has done this, but that shouldn’t deter you from heading to one of the most comprehensive sets of ruins on planet earth. Derived from the Khmer empire, over a thousand years ago, the temple complex made for an intricate community where everyone who was someone lived. The architecture is unbelievable and to think you are standing on the grounds that were established over a hundred decades ago make it all the more impressive. Angkor is busy, but most tourists do the loop in the same fashion, thus falling in with a massive crowd. We explored Angkor Wat, the actual temple, right after sunrise while everyone else went to breakfast and basically had free reign of the place. To better understand where to go and when talk to your tuk tuk driver and plan a loop around the temples to avoid the mobs of people. Our favorite temples were hands down Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei, and Ta Som. It helps if you research the temple complex beforehand because there is no way of seeing every single ruin. Mark your favorites and take in the elaborate design and motifs that are slathered on every single wall. In all honesty, the best ruins are the ones that are scattered amongst random piles of rocks and vegetation seemingly left for nature to take its course.
4. Get Out into The Country
City life and country life are always different, no matter where in the world you are. In a place like Cambodia where cities such as Siem Reap have emerged due to the influx of tourism, only spending your time in the polished Disneyland-esque environment will definitely skew your perception on the country. Literally five minutes outside of Siem Reap is an entirely different realm, with people focusing on sustenance farming and other ways to scratch out a living. These people work their asses off just to put a bowl of rice on the table for their families and it really isn’t something that any tourist can grasp, because by nature of being in Cambodia on a holiday you are automatically in a life position that most people there can only dream of. Its eye opening and something that will definitely make you think twice when complaining about your job back home. Sorry to sound so preachy but its true – and thanks to Sunthan at the orphanage we got to witness country life first hand.
5. Joe to Go / Beau Fou
Don’t let the name fool you, this place is awesome. A tiny and hard to find café in Siem Reap plays host to some delicious food and beverages but the real selling point is the boutique store, Beau Fou, upstairs. Joe to Go and Beau Fou support the local population by giving their profits to Global Child that helps educate former street children. The upstairs boutique has some really solid articles of clothing designed by and created by locals, the attire is extremely fashionable and is the perfect mix between traditional and contemporary style. We purchased some beautiful handmade kramas made by locals with incredible craftsmanship and quality materials. It is more expensive than the market no doubt, but the quality and look of the clothing is unbeatable. To top it off the employees in the store are ace, we ended up talking with them for a while about life as young up and comers in Cambodia, most of them are university students that have a passion for giving what they can back to their country. For any type of clothing or keepsake head to Beau Fou , and pick up an iced coffee while you are at it.
Been to Cambodia and think we missed something? Feel free to add it in the comments below.
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