When researching what Cambodia is like I found rather often that people either warned against a visit due to the crime here or raved about Angkor Wat. So, what is Cambodia like and is Angkor Wat really worth traveling here to see?
I decided to meet up with a couple fellow travelers I had met back in Tokyo to travel through Cambodia. We all had heard that crime can be rather high in Cambodia, so we figured going through the country as a group would be a good idea. I flew into the Siem Reap airport from Kuala Lumpur and took a taxi to the guesthouse where I would meet up with the other travelers and plan out what to do.
We decided on doing the 3 day tour which; if you want to see all of Angkor Wat, this is the way to do it. It is possible to do everything in 2 days, but it would be a rather tough endurance test. In addition, the temples close at 5:00PM, so trying to do all the locations in 2 days would also limit your time to explore each spot. 3 days gives you enough time to explore each temple and the nice thing is that you don’t need to do all the 3 days in a row. We took a break between the 2nd and 3rd day tours.
I will instantly admit that Angkor Wat is absolutely amazing! Exploring around all the corners and walking through all the random doorways and long corridors gives you a real feeling of adventure. Being able to touch the carvings from hundreds of years ago that the kings of the land also touched is an amazing experience. The views are breath-taking as well and the sense of knowing that you’re in an ancient structure in the middle of a large Cambodian forest! There isn’t another feeling quite like it.
If there’s another thing that Cambodia may be known for aside from Angkor Wat, it’s the prevalent amount of scams. These range in everything from tuk-tuk rides, taxi rentals, hostel prices, meal prices, and more. You’ll also probably be frequently offered drugs; and while the common drugs are illegal it doesn’t stop people from peddling them to tourists. A nice loud reply of “no drugs for me today, thanks” always scared them away from us as we would be drawing unwanted attention to them.
The tuk-tuk drivers will usually charge up to 4 times more than they would a local. One of the regular destinations we would go to would be the market which we found out costed just $1 USD; but when looking for a ride we would sometimes be quoted $4 USD or possibly more. After offering $1 to the driver and walking away to another tuk-tuk driver after the first refused, they would occasionally come after us offering the ride for just $1.
There’s also a phrase that you might hear during your time here; “same same, but different”. After some research, we figured out that this phrase describes a situation where (for example) you want a Rolex, but you don’t want to pay the Rolex price so you buy a knock-off; making it “same same, but different”. It’s the same thing as a Rolex, but it’s different because it’s not actually a Rolex.
It’s also possible that your hostel or guesthouse will attempt to scam you as well; the one we stayed at would change room prices on the same person within a span of 20 minutes. One woman we witnessed who asked to pay for her room which she was quoted at being $8, then went to get the money for it and when she returned they told her the price was now $12. So when booking your room, be cautious, get everything in writing, ask for a detailed receipt, if you pay by card be sure to keep an eye on your transaction activity, and DO NOT give them your passport! I am currently working through a fraud dispute on my card at the moment.
As for the crime in Cambodia, aside from scams and fraudulent charges I have heard reports of petty crime (such as pickpockets) and rape. While I fortunately didn’t encounter any pickpockets or anyone being a victim of rape, I did see a lot of prostitution. Unlike the prostitution I’ve seen in other parts of the world, this was the first time I found it to be very disturbing.
There are 3 types of prostitutes in Cambodia, there’s the typical female Cambodian prostitute, the ladyboy, and then the underage female prostitutes. If you walk down the right (or wrong) street at night in Phnom Penh, you will see 12 year old girls standing in front of a bar next to their adult co-workers offering “services”. You also need to watch out when walking down the street, as sidewalks are hard to find you’ll have to often dodge scooters and cars where there isn’t really much of a “correct side” of the street for them to drive on.
Other Sights And Activities
Aside from Angkor Wat, the other travelers and I went for a tuk-tuk ride out into the country side for a game of putt-putt (aka. crazy golf). One thing I really enjoyed was seeing how the natives lived; small huts and mud homes are seen across the green landscapes and the palm tree jungles of Cambodia. While I thoroughly enjoyed the putt-putt game, I found the real treat to be the views I got to take-in on the ride there.
Another activity we did was taking a tour around the famous Killing Fields which is located outside the capital city of Phnom Penh. While I understand it being an attraction, I didn’t agree with the way it was presented which was basically a glorified money-grabbing tourist attraction which is how I perceived it. Hundreds of skulls are put on display with stickers indicating how perhaps an infant was killed by a sharp object through the eye socket or a pregnant woman was murdered.
We also saw many human bones protruding through the very ground we were walking on. There is also the occasional plexiglass display case showing human remains, weapons, tools, and clothing that has been found after it rains. You’ll also occasionally see clothing starting to surface in the dirt from victims who were brutally murdered here. As disturbing as all this was it just didn’t feel like all this was respectful. There is even a lake you walk around that still has bodies buried beneath its muddy floor.
After consideration I would say that if you can afford the $30 visa fee for entry into the country and have a reliable and trust-worthy place to stay, Angkor Wat is worth the visit alone. I can’t recommend anything else though as I don’t feel it’s worth it. You’ll likely tire quickly having to put up with the many money hungry locals who seem to see foreigners as walking stacks of cash. If paying the $30 visa fee plus $15 a day for the tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat and the $40 3-day ticket sounds reasonable to see one of the most amazing ancient wonders in the world, than you should. But if you’re on the fence, than give it a miss. If you do decide to go, going in a group is a good idea because it’ll make everything cheaper, the $15 tuk-tuk ride will only be $5 per person for example if you have a group of 3 like I did.
Thanks for reading and check back soon for an article on my time in Thailand!