Kampot

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City of durian – and pepper

Two hours from Sihanoukville lies the town of Kampot. It’s known for its French colonialist architecture and relaxed atmosphere, as well as the pepper being produced locally which is world famous. We liked the atmosphere straight away. The town is situated along the river, with a nice big riverfront and big open streets. There’s much less traffic here than in the other Cambodian towns we’ve been to, and there’s much less stress and hassle getting around here. There’s also lots of nice little restaurants and bakeries here serving French food…

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Sunset by the river

We rented a scooter at the hotel, and it was really nice to be able to get around by ourselves – this is the first time we’ve felt comfortable doing that in Cambodia. We drove an hour out of town to Bokor National park, which is situated on a mountain, to check out the so called ‘ghost casino’ and a waterfall. It got quite cold as we drove up the mountain, and we had to drive through a lot of fog to get there.

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The temple on the top of the mountain

As it’s dry season we didn’t see much of the waterfall, but the casino – twice abandoned, once during WW2 and during the Khmer Rouge regime – was pretty spooky in the fog. There was also a whole bunch of other absolutely massive buildings under construction on the mountain top – who knows why as there was almost no people there, and it’s quite far from anywhere. But it was a quite cool, if very Cambodian, experience.

On the way down through the park we spotted a couple of gigantic birds with massive beaks jumping around in the trees. Mike got very exited. We later found out that they’re called Hornbills. They are really enormous birds, and very spectacular to see up close.

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This is what a Hornbill looks like – we didn’t manage to get a picture ourselves

Tonight we had some proper cheese and red wine for the first time in Asia. It was really nice. We both agree that Kampot is our favourite of all the places we’ve been in Cambodia – it’s just really relaxed and pleasant, with a nice atmosphere and pretty architecture.

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Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Samloem & Koh Rong

We arrived in Sihanoukville after 5 hours by minibus, and it was such a relief to be out of the smog and noise of the city and to see the ocean again. We walked down to Serendipity Beach to watch the sunset. The beach is nice but very busy with lots of restaurants and hawkers and beggars. The next day we took a tuk-tuk to Otres Beach which is much more relaxed. Mike took a lesson in kite surfing.

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Mike being a pro

Koh Rong Samloem

We travelled by slow boat out to one of the two main islands on the coast of Cambodia, Koh Rong Samloem. We’d already been warned that the island was very quiet, with not a lot going on, but we thought we’d take a day or two to just relax. Once we got of the boat we realised just how quiet the island really is. There was a strip of about 15 hostels, restaurants and houses, and that was it. There was also a lot of garbage covering the beach, the roads around the houses and in the river. Garbage handling is clearly a massive problem here, and it seems like a lot of it ends up in the ocean and washes up on the local beaches.

We joined a boat tour with the hostel we were staying at, snorkelling in a few different spots, then we fished for a bit and watched the sunset. We didn’t catch any fish, but some of the other people on the boat did.

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Beach and pier at Samloem

The next day, Mike went around and made enquiries about where he could get his Padi divers licence. There’s two companies doing it on the island, and one of them offered accommodation included in the price. The course would take three days.

On day one of his course, Mike started studying and was preparing for a dive in the afternoon. But because it was so windy and the waves were so big, his first dive was cancelled. The same thing happened on day two, and the weather forecast didn’t look promising either. We debated whether to go back to Sihanoukville or on to Koh Rong because we were both really bored on the island. We decided to get on a taxi boat to Koh Rong. Luckily Mike didn’t have to pay for the course he had just started.

Koh Rong

Koh Rong is a lot busier and a lot nicer than Samloem in my opinion. It was nice to actually have a choice of restaurants and hostels to choose from, and the beach and the island was a lot less polluted by garbage.

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View of Koh Rong from the ‘sky bar’

However Koh Rong also has it’s challenges it seems; we met a lot of people who experienced getting really bad food poisoning while on the island, and some people had a theory that it might have been a gastrointestinal bug that was continually being passed around. Poor Mike got struck down on Valentine’s Day, and for two days he was really ill and couldn’t keep anything down. However despite all the delays of bad weather and illness, he managed to complete his Padi – and we were finally free to leave the island.

Phnom Penh

Taking the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was an interesting experience. We had several near accidents when cows suddenly ran into the road, and the traffic definitely feels a lot more unsafe than in Thailand.

The traffic was also the first thing that struck me about Phnom Penh. It was almost at a standstill everywhere, and there was an incredible amount of people on scooters. It was much more chaotic than in Bangkok, where you can walk on the pavement and cross the road in relative safety on the zebra crossings. In Phnom Penh there either was no pavement, or it was blocked by cars, so you have to walk in the road. If you want to cross the road you simply walk slowly out into the middle of the traffic, and hope that everyone slows down enough to drive around you. If Mike wasn’t there I wouldn’t have been able to cross the road once! Overall it was quite difficult to simply walk around and explore the city, which was a shame.

The Killing Fields & S21

On our first full day we rented a tuk-tuk with another girl from our hostel, and drove to The Killing Fields and the genocide museum at S21 to learn more about the genocide and what Cambodia went through during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. It was as expected horrifying and deeply shocking and upsetting, and put all of us in a pretty dark mood.

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Memorial pagoda at The Killing Fields

We had originally planned on staying two days in Phnom Penh, but decided to shorten our stay and book tickets on a bus down to the coast for the following morning. We also checked into a nice hotel to celebrate our two year anniversary.

Siem Reap & the temples of Angkor

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Angkor Wat

Siem Reap is our first stop in Cambodia. My first impression is that Cambodia seems more chaotic than Thailand. On our first day we explored the town centre and the streets around the infamous Pub Street. Then we got a three day pass to explore the temples of Angkor. Apart from a pool crawl on our last afternoon, we spent the majority of our time in Siem Reap visiting the temples.

Like most tourists, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to drive us around to the most famous three temples, Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and the ‘tomb raider temple’ Ta Prohm.

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Thomb Raider

Everything is as impressive as you would expect, but spread over a much larger area than you would imagine. We were originally planning on exploring the area by bicycle, but I am very happy that we didn’t as the distances are pretty long and it is very hot – it would have been exhausting.

Our favourite temple of the ones we saw was probably Ta Prohm – but there was a lot of other people there, which made it harder to take in and really enjoy the scenery.

However the so called ‘big circuit’, which we did the next day, was a lot less busy. The big circuit contains a group of temples that are not as famous as Angkor Wat and the Bayon, but no less impressive in terms of size and architecture.

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Day two
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Templed out
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Angkor Wat

On day three we watched the sunrise over Angkor Wat with what must have been at least 500 other people. The crowd was unsurprising, and I think it illustrates well how popular this tourist hotspot has become.

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Crowd
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Sunrise