Cambodia – Siem Reap/Angkor, Phnom Penh – January 2011
We stayed at the Golden Mango hotel, $17 per night and a 5 min tuktuk from the tourist zone. The rooms were very clean and the staff was great. However, it’s wedding season in Asia and across the yard (20 feet away from our room) was a large tent for reception. The music and lights were blaring from 7pm to 4am every evening and it literally felt like we were inside of a disco the whole time. Earplugs helped but it was all we could do to get to sleep! We had prepaid for the hotel on agoda.com and didn’t bother with trying to leave the second night and get our money back.
Angkor itself is awesome and definitely a must-visit. We only spent a day there, touring the sights via a motorcycle tuk-tuk, but evidently some people are fascinated enough for 3-4 day visits. Unfortunately, the sights have some of the worst tourist louts we’ve experienced so far on the trip, and we were constantly heckled but them. Some of the most persistent were also the most disheartening to us as they were usually young (13-16 year old) children, not in school and not out playing with friends.
We bought tickets on the nicest bus that runs between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but the ride was still bumpy as heck and exhausting. The city is definitely large and bustling, but we didn’t find a lot of tourists sites. We dropped off our passports the first day at the Vietnamese embassy and picked them up the next morning, originally hoping for the best process but expecting the worst. The city is a hub for the large amount of international humanitarian aid which flows into the country, and we found it interesting to note the predominance of Lexus and other expensive automobiles driving around the city. After some research on google, we found a number of disturbing articles about the corruption that abounds and diversion of aid money – sent by well-meaning westerners – to line the pockets of government officials. We resolved to make it a point to research a charity as best as possible before giving aid (or giving domestically, where it’s needed as well).
We did make a visit to the killing fields and detention center of the Khmer Rouge while in Phnom Penh, which was a sad reminder of the human capacity for violence and hate. While there I picked up a memoir from one of the local Cambodians who survived the genocide and provided first hand accounts of the atrocities committed in harrowing detail.
All in all, our impressions of Cambodia are definitely mixed: while we loved the affordability and laid back atmosphere of Siem Reap (we imagine the beaches are more of the same), the stress of travel, sad memories of recent wars and constantly being targeted as tourist targets left a bad taste in our mouths.