Tripping in Cambodia
I remembered the Cambodia exactly how I found it the first time. Green, rural and authentic. Wooden stakes along the way, naked children running and motorbikes that run with at least more than 3 people. In short, something that deviates from our everyday life. An impact a bit strong for those who come from the ordered and luxury resorts of Thailand, but in my opinion very interesting as well. A trip to Cambodia is a journey on unpaved roads, a journey into the Khmer Rouge past and the green rice fields in rural areas so far from Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat (picture on top) is impossible not to remember it. It is so magnificent, fascinating and impressive that it remains in your mind and heart forever. Indeed it cannot be explained, but should be seen at least once in life because, for many words that can be spent to describe it, you will never be able to convey that feeling of infinity, mixed with amazement that you feel in crossing his temples swallowed up from the forest and inserted in a luxuriant nature.
Another thing I will never forget about my first trip to Cambodia is undoubtedly Battambang. its inhabitants proudly assert that the province of Battambang produces the most delicate rice, the sweetest coconuts, the juiciest oranges and the most tasty mangoes. Certainly the area is a very fertile area and the province is often nicknamed the rice bowl of Cambodia. Different legends about the origin of the city, the most famous is that which says that the name of Battambang derives from bat, “lose”, and dambang, “stick”. According to a legend an ancient Khmer king threw his stick from the city of Angkor to Sangker, in the area of today’s Battambang, where the stick has been lost. In fact, just when you enter Battambang you will see in the main round a statue that recalls the mythical foundation of the city. However the visit of this city was stunning not only for the architecture of its houses and its rich history but also for the visit to the Emergency hospital that welcomed the victims of mines that are still present in many fields of the country.
If you are looking for a real adventure, go to Siem Riep by taking the riverboat that crosses streams and marshes. I remember a snake that appeared between people’s legs all of a sudden in general dismay, a stunted communication to gestures with some of the local people who were traveling with us and a shower that brought some fresh air halfway through the journey.
In Sihanoukville I arrived in the evening just in time to appreciate Serendipity Beach, the backpaker beach where cocktails cost almost like in Europe and the shows joking with fire, but too late to admire what they say is the most beautiful beach in the city: Otres Beach. It always needs a good reason to come back to a place and this is one of the reasons why I will return one day to Cambodia.
Koh Rong Samloem
The next morning I left for paradise. The archipelago in front of the most famous place in Cambodia boasts thirty-two islets in 167.5 kilometers. One of these is the beautiful Koh Rong Samloem: white beach, transparent green water, no hotel but only solar powered beach bungalows and a forest in the middle of the island.
The pier at Koh Rong Samloem where the boats dock is surrounded by a wonderful white beach where the Sun Island Eco village is located. With a forty minute walk in the forest you can get to the wild Lazy Beach where the second of the three eco-resorts of the Island is located. To reach the island from Sihanoukville take a boat from the Russian Pier, there are several that also organize a party with alcohol on the way back.
Markets, National Park and more
If there’s one thing I love to do when I travel to Asia and Latin America, in addition to crossing borders on foot, it’s visiting local markets. In the south of Cambodia I am madly in love with Kep’s “crab market” (Phsar Kdam) for its timeless atmosphere, the bright colors of people’s clothes and the cloudy sky that went to the beach with the sea. The fishermen fish the crabs and the fish directly on small boats off the coast that are then brought by the women to the shore in large baskets and sold fresh to the restaurants of the city.
Wat Sampov Pram
Kep was once the first sea destination in Cambodia, it can be reached by taxi in thirty minutes from Kampot or two hours by bike. Leaving Kep, I went at the Bokor Mountains National Park. The bus road is long and my back has suffered. But it was worth it. It’s always worth it when it comes to traveling. In Bokor there is a Buddhist temple, the Wat Sampov Pram, that almost touches the sky overlooking the sea where it is noted that what matters is the substance. Do not expect order and composure. You will find yourself facing a still-born child monk to give peace to passing people, some advanced bricks and stillness at the top of the mountain. Personally it is a place that I loved because it seemed very real and not very touristy.
Bokor Hill Station Casino
On the way to Phnom Penh, there’s the Bokor Hill Station Casino that once was a Khmer refuge and today is an abandoned building frequented by local families at the weekend. It is ghostly and at first sight perhaps not too pleasant but emanates the charm that the places of the important past have.
The capital of Cambodia undoubtedly deserves a stop, just to visit, as I did the first time, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, which stands in the high school where the maximum security prison of the Khmer Rouge was built in 1975. Later it became the torture center of the country, where more than 17.000 people lost their lives. The visit to this museum was one of the most upsetting experiences I have made on the road. The pictures hung on the walls of the tortured and killed people speak for themselves and force them to meet the darker side of the human mind that reaches this mass extermination.
The Royal Palace, on the other hand, impressed me with the architecture and an Asian belief that every day of the week corresponds to a color (Monday: orange, Tuesday: purple, Wednesday: gray, Thursday: green, Friday: blue, Saturday: purple; Sunday: red). This custom derives from Feng Shui and wearing these colors brings good luck and fertility.
I say goodbye Cambodia after I saw a traditional Cambodian dance. I strongly suggest it, there are different types of this kind of art which has been part of the Kmer culture for more than a millennium, but please do not miss the opportunity to visit a pepper plantation, one of Cambodia’s most exported products. In the end I came back to Cambodia the second time and I found it as I had left it and I came home with the desire to see it again and again.