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Published: December 31st 2012
Phnom Penh – Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) – Kampot – Sihanoukville (Serendipity Beach) – Sihanoukville (Serendipity Beach) – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap
Before we started our adventure we knew every country would be different but also thought South-East Asia would have a similar vibe all over. Going from Vietnam into Cambodia we discovered immediately how wrong this perception was. The Cambodian's are extremely friendly people; to the point where when we turned down a tuk-tuk driver the response was often “Okay, thank you. Have a nice day.”. We were also surprised at how much English there was, more than we have come across anywhere else. There were surprises around every corner (as usual) but here is a breakdown of our time in Cambodia before we get more into the culture.
As soon as we got into Phnom Penh we saw just how different Cambodia was from anywhere we had been before. As far as capital cities go, this was the least populated we had been to. Cambodia has been through a lot in the last few decades (to say the least) and their determination to bounce back and rebuild is evident everywhere. It was in Phnom Penh that Jafar joined us and we had a travel buddy for the first time in 5 months. We visited S-21 and Toel Sleng to learn about the genocide, we walked through a market and enjoyed a lot of street food. From Phnom Penh we headed to island paradise.
Koh Tonsay was basic and beautiful. The thatched bungalows we slept in were paper thin so we could enjoy listening to the small waves sweep the sand as we woke up every morning. We ended up spending 10 days here and they were sooo much fun. We met even more people (Jahan, Matt, Sebastian, Nicky, Dan, Avi Danielle and Hannah), partied with them and moved on with them to Kampot for a night then to Sihanoukville where sh*t got crazy. Paul met up with us in Sihanoukville as well and we partied for three days straight before heading to Otres Beach for a detox with Dan and Avi. The size of our group varied a lot in Cambodia, at any given time we were travelling with at least one person and had a group of about 12 people at one point. The dynamic of our trip changed drastically and our new friends kept us busy and smiling the whole way through. While in Otres, Tyler was reunited with an old friend Joe. We spent a lot of time around his bar or lounging on his beach.
After leaving Otres beach we took a detour back through Phnom Penh in order to make our way to Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a city we would love to go back and explore a bit more. With our limited time we saw Angkor Wat, walked a few beautiful markets and had a night on the town.
The three weeks we spent in Cambodia simply wasn't enough which is why we have decided to end our trip back there. We will return in February to see the North and reunite with our friend Joe and hopefully Jaf, before heading home in early March.
It seems as though we spent the last couple months reliving wars and genocides while going through Vietnam and Cambodia. At times it can be rather depressing. However, we seem to be the only people that look at it from that perspective. Every Cambodian we met was happy, kind, friendly and had a completely positive energy about them regardless of the brutal past that surely affected their family. It was amazing and revived us from any negative state we may have been in. We have said it time and time again that the Cambodian's are strong and proud. We learned a lot from them during our time there and can't wait to go back and see more of the rural areas.
There were a couple of things that we didn't expect in Cambodia. One was that they would speak so much English; two that there would be so many Canadian's there. The majority of the Cambodian's spoke really good English! We did travel through the most touristed areas, but there was definitely more English spoken even by local street vendors than there had been in the other countries we had been to.
Now, Cambodia is known for its “ganja” and the fact that Canada is also a fan of said “ganja” may or may not be the reason we saw more Canadian's here than anywhere else on our trip. The number of times we would be talking to someone and say “I recognize your accent, where are you from?” and the response was “Canada!” is astounding. We were surrounded by canucks and it was totally awesome. We partied with SO many Canadian's on Serendipity Beach it was unreal. It definitely didn't feel like home but it was refreshing to have a conversation with someone who had similar interests and/or common knowledge. The Brit's and Aussies just don't know nearly enough about maple syrup, hockey or snow to have a conversation about it. Talking to other Canadian's about their travels, where their favourite places were and what they do for a living was really fun. It was yet another unexpected surprise provided to us by the beautiful country of Cambodia.
Obviously we have to talk to you about the food because it is such a big part of our blogs. We didn't expect too many great meals in Cambodia, they aren't really known for their cuisine. Fortunately we never had a bad meal. Two of the local dishes we learned to love were Amok and Luk Lak. Amok is similar to a curry but rather than being a sauce or broth, it is more of a coating that sticks to whatever meat you select to eat it with – chicken and fish being the most popular. Luk Lak is usually served with beef and is almost a gravy sauce. One of other highlights to the Cambodian cuisine was the Kampot pepper. Apparently it is world renowned and after having a number of kampot pepper sauces we fell in love with the fresh pepper. We will definitely be bringing some home with us to use in our own cooking. Other than those few local dishes we ate an abundance of fried noodles and Rebecca possibly drank a record breaking number of fresh coconuts.
Angkor Wat needs to be mentioned. After spending one day touring the sites, we can see why so many people spend two or three days doing just that. There is so much more to see, so much more to learn, so much more to reflect on. To think that kings really walked those halls. To think of how beautiful it must have been 800 years ago. It really is a masterpiece and the Cambodian's are right to be so proud of it. The Angkor kingdom took over most of the area (including a lot of Thailand, Laos and Vietnam) during it's prime but this specific temple is the highlight for sure.
Our time flew by in Cambodia, in hindsight it's hard to believe we were actually there for three weeks. We are looking so forward to returning in February and to let you know what other side of the country we get to see.
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