A Week In Cambodia
Before The Trip
Before coming to Cambodia Cassi and I read many articles about being able to get everywhere with just a few dollars, but I can tell you that has changed over time. In 2018, tuk-tuks cost more than simply 1 or 2 dollars a ride. Yes, you can travel short distances with 2 dollars, however, the days of hiring a tuk-tuk for the entire day for 7 dollars are way gone. Though it is still cheaper than transportation in the USA (lyft/uber) it does cost more now but expect to pay about $15 for longer round trips to temples.
Useful To Know
Cambodia has their own currency — the Riel, however, every transaction we had was made in US dollars. They even use US dollars on the menus. Bring CASH! I read somewhere online that they accept credit cards everywhere, not true, few places accept credit cards, yet about 90% of places were cash only. Make sure you bring clean straight bills, one of the vendors did not accept one of our bills because it had a tiny tear. Bring lots of one dollar bills. We hardly used a bill larger than 10 dollars. Don't carry power banks on the check-in luggage, they will make you get down from the airplane to grab it. Instead of checking it in, take it with your carry-on only.
Where We Stayed
We landed in Siem Riep, and our amazing hotel host had a driver waiting for us. I cannot explain how stress-relieving it is arriving on a new continent and having someone there to help you. The Cockatoo is truly amazing for making sure we were taken care of. They had a driver waiting for us, breakfast included, a nice (very clean) pool with many trees around — don't be surprised to find fallen coconuts on the ground — and they had their own driver. If you want to go anywhere, simply tell the front desk and they will have their drivers ready for you. The cockatoo is not a big fancy hotel you’d find in big tourist cities, however, that is exactly what we wanted. We wanted to have a true Cambodian experience, while still being comfortable (Air conditioner and hot shower) The beds were great! I read that mattresses were thin and made out of metal springs, but our bed felt like memory foam! We slept so well, seriously. The Cockatoo is a 5-minute walk from the city center, far enough from the craziness but close enough for a short stroll. No one is paying me to advertise them, I am just giving my experience. If I had to book a flight to Cambodia again, I would totally book The Cockatoo again!
To get to the beautiful island of Koh Rong Sanloem (or Samloen, no one really knows) you have to take a ferry boat from Sihanoukville. We took the company Buva Sea Cambodia, I would suggest staying away from them. I needed to get to a specific pier and to sell us the ticket, they told us we would be dropped off there - they lied. They were also incredibly disorganized and late to leave each time.
The Jungle Bay Resort was remarkable! It’s important to know (and we did) that it only gets energy about two hours a day. However, we found that to be more than enough time. Our room was a beautiful bungalow built over the ocean. It was soothing to hear the waves crashing underneath us. We felt very safe. Our only downfall was somehow allowing a mosquito to enter our net sometime before we slept. That mosquito went to town on both of us. Thankfully I was able to kill it in the middle of the night, but it had already done some damage to us both. Our host at the time was Karan and Jordan, who both left their regular work lives to travel and work abroad. They were awesome and took great care of us. We hiked in the deep forest of the island for 6 hours, it was quite the trek to carry 40 pounds of photography gear. We swam in this little beach where we were the only people present. Be careful with the corals, because they have huge sea urchins and they hurt!! Trust me, I got two on my ankle, it did not feel good. The shower in Jungle bay is outdoors, yes, outside. It is a shower head, between a circle of bamboo trees. The water is not heated either, but it really did not matter.
The Places We Visited
Obviously, we went to Angkor Was first for a sunrise first thing, but we hit the South Reflection Pool first because the North pool was a S#@t show by the time we arrived at 5:20 am. In retrospect, the pools were fine, but definitely not great. Beautiful Cambodia was kind enough to take us on a full tour of Koh Ker, which is a loop of many temples, highlighted by the great pyramid temple. You can actually get on top of that temple if you go to the right, follow the path and hike up the wooden staircase. Our next stop was Angkor Thom, where we shot Bayon (The temple of the smiling Buddhas) and also many monkeys! But, my favorite temple was Ta Prohm! This is the temple where the huge trees are growing all over, also where Tomb Raider got its inspiration from.
My favorite moment was renting a moped, and yes - it is illegal to drive mopeds there without a license - but have no fear! The shop owners will gladly tell you which streets to avoid so you don’t get pulled over! Lmao! I couldn’t make this up! We met up with a new friend Ali and drove our mopeds to the top of a hill for sunset. On the way back, we pulled over at a pond/swamp with Lilly pads to shoot, the sky was purple and beautiful. There was a small family eating and drinking, that offered us beers and sodas, so what do we do? We sit down with them and eat fried frog, raw shrimp, and other things I have no idea. We definitely took a gamble with our stomachs but I am so happy that it paid off, that is a memory that I am going to carry with me for the rest of my life.
Best way to summarize it, it was a blast! Cambodia is very smoky as it is, like a lot of south-east Asia, and it's worse during crop burning season. If you have any allergic reaction to smoke, this could not be very fun. However, we had a great time even though there was no sunset or epic sunrise to shoot. The people of Cambodia was my favorite thing, they were seriously the kindest people I have ever met. I was very skeptical at first about their kindness because I am just not used to it, but it was real. In addition, they are HUSTLERS, they work their butts off! And just like you and I, they wanna be paid!
If I went back, I would definitely spend 3 full days exploring all the temples, but with less photography gear on me. I have to add, we felt very safe! We walked all over town at night, with our expensive photography gear, and I never had the feeling that we were not safe. I grew up in Brazil and South Sacramento, so I always have the feeling that I need to watch over my shoulder, but after spending that time there, I realized there was nothing to be worried about, and I am sure Cassi would say the same. I loved visiting Cambodia and I believe I will go back to visit for sure.
Thanks to Beautiful Cambodia for taking care of us while we were there!
Tips & Lessons We Learned
Avoid going during the crop burning season, March-April.
Ladies, most places have shampoo, bring conditioner.
Under-pack instead of over-packing, if you need anything, you can buy it there for cheap on most street stands in Siem Riep.
If you like your tuk-tuk, ask him to continue giving you rides, they would love that.
For cell phones, I bought a SIM card in Siem Riep for $5 and I used it the entire week, totally worth it.
Don’t give money to the kids, everyone will tell you that.
Watch “First they killed my father” and you will understand a big part of their history/culture.
Buy the (bug spray) and spray your clothes before going, there’s no smell and only takes 2 hours to dry and lasts for weeks.
If you want to get a front row seat at the reflection pool in Angkor Wat for sunrise, be there at 4:30. It gets seriously crazy, oh and bring a flashlight.
Skip Angkor your first day, it takes 20 minutes to buy a ticket and that is valuable time if you want to make sunrise! Buy the pass later in the day, or when you arrive, and then once you have a ticket from the previous day, head straight to Angkor Wat.