Friday, 3 March 2017

Khmer Kingdom

Depth Travel was thrilled to welcome home Jessica (16) and her family as they returned from their most recent trip to Cambodia. No stranger to South-east Asia, Jessica, shares her thoughts and experiences on her latest trip to the Khmer Kingdom.

                                   ជំរាបសួរ (Hello) 
Having previously travelled to Thailand, Vietnam and many other Asian countries, my mum, brother and I were extremely excited for our trip to Cambodia. We have always been intrigued by the diverse cultures and traditions practiced throughout Asia and wanted to further explore a country less travelled by foreign tourists.

We began our 10 day journey in The Kingdom of Cambodia touching down in Siem Reap. We orientated ourselves in the city by foot stopping for a drink at the luxurious Hotel D’angkor, navigating the bustling old market and going on a night-time street food tour where we tried a range of Cambodian food from fried banana to crickets and tarantulas!

The last two days in Siem Reap were spent on an organised tour with our local guide, Jet. We took a short tour of Artisans D’angkor, a traditional Khmer workshop aimed at creating jobs for young Cambodians who live in rural areas and want to practice their traditional crafts, dined on my favourite Khmer Fish Amok (fish curries) for lunch and even travelled to the floating village of Chong Kneas and were amazed by the houses, suspended high off the ground by hundreds of bamboo poles. To better see the village, we boarded a boat which took us out past the house-lined river to the opening of the Ton le Sap – the biggest freshwater lake in Asia.

We spent most of the second day at Angkor Wat National Park. Beng Mealea, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei and Ta Prohm were just some some of the amazing temples we visited, and of course, Angkor Wat Temple. Quick tip? Catch the amazing sunrise over the temple, by waking at 4:30am and joining the masses driving out to the National Park. It was extremely beautiful and without a doubt one of the highlights of the trip.

Next stop: Battambang; the second largest city in Cambodia, renowned for its historical architecture. Although we only spent one night here, we could’ve easily spent a lot longer. One of the main attractions of this town is the Bamboo Train which, in truth, is a small bamboo platform with a motor that runs on a single track. The ‘train’ is quickly disassembled and pulled off the track when faced with an oncoming train. It was great fun hurtling down the rickety track! We also spent half a day on a bicycle tour exploring village life outside the city.

An impromptu turn of events in Battambang saw us spending one afternoon in the Bat Caves! Every afternoon upon sunset, millions of small bats fly out of the cave to find food during the night. The bats steadily steam out of the cave pouring into the open air, which was absolutely fascinating to witness.

Our next destination was the country’s capital, Phnom Penh (pronounced ‘P’nom Pen’). We had planned to stay in Phnom Penh over New Year’s Eve to experience the city’s festivities. This turned out to be a fantastic decision - we stayed at the historic Foreign Correspondents Club which was right on the riverfront, meaning we had great views of the parade and fireworks on the street below.

We left the next morning for the beachside towns Kep and Kampot. Stopping briefly in Kampot, we visited a Pepper farm before making our way to Kep where we stayed at Verandah Natural Resort. If you are visiting Kep, I would highly recommend this resort as it has an amazing design and a great restaurant and pool.

Another must do? Seeing the sights in the back of a Tuk Tuk! We spent half a day being whizzed around the Kep in the back of a tuk tuk (a flimsy car and motorcycle hybrid) -going past the famous crab markets and then to an astonishing cave temple hidden in the mountains followed by Kep Beach, abandoned French villas and finally the Kep Sailing Club for lunch. The sailing club is in a perfect location on the waterfront and we had one of the best meals we had while in Cambodia. Local crab with Kampot pepper is a must here!

Naturally, we didn’t miss the highlights of Phnom Penh. These included the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, the National Museum of Cambodia, and the very sobering Choeung Ek Killing Fields and S21 Prison. We couldn’t help but be moved by the very tragic and disturbingly recent history, as well as the unimaginable suffering of the country that ensued.

Cambodia is still a developing country and has many of years of conflict to recover from. But everywhere we went we were greeted with a warm and friendly smile. Cambodia is definitely on my list to visit again as there’s so much more to explore yet!

Written by Jessica Jenkinson
Client for Depth Travel