As you are considering a trip to see spell-binding Angkor Watt in Siem Reap, what should you know before we book your flight and arrange your holiday to Cambodia?
The Scars from the Past
Cambodia has been through ups and downs. It was one of the greatest empires in Southeast Asia centuries ago, massive temple construction projects show just how flourishing it was. But then hard years followed, from which the people are still recovering.
The most definitive and hard to mend scar happened during the last thirty to forty years.
In 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot (Real name Saloth Sar), the communist party Khmer Rouge evacuated people out of the cities to undertake forced agricultural labor. They also destroyed temples, libraries and killed the intellectuals, the educated elite and the professionals like doctors, lawyers and teachers.
Their aim was to eradicate all form of education, destroy anything western and divert to pure agrarian society; so they forced the entire population to work as slaves, 12-15 hours per day. Around 2 million lives were eliminated during its reign; the period is now known as Cambodia’s genocide.
You can learn more deeply about this past horror in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng genocide museum, but be prepared: many visitors experience deep grief after the visit.
The local guides, who are professionals, may be able to share this tragedy from their own point of view, as some of them lost their families and relatives during that time. This is also the reason why you sadly can hardly see older people in the streets; around 63% of the population is under thirty.
Despite their history, Cambodians are now open to tourists and will welcome you with wide arms and warm smile.
Cambodia is a Buddhist Country
Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia, practised by 95 percent of the total population. Key concepts of Cambodian Buddhism include reincarnation, kamm (karma, meaning negative results from past actions) and bonn (merit).
Almost all Cambodian men above 16 years serve some time as a monk, which provides them with many opportunities that they might not have otherwise, because, for example, some schools are free of charge for the monks.
Shaven-headed Buddhist monks in orange robes on their daily dawn/dusk processions are picturesque sights, but you can immerse into their daily life-style by visiting wats, the pagodas where they live.
Find them also in the mornings, when the monks leave the temple and walk to the streets for alms giving; where people sometimes stop them to give them gifts and food, then receive blessings in return.
Visitors are expected to be mindful around monks; bowing before them and the Buddha image is an act of humility and showing respect.
Remnants of a Glorious Past: The Temples
The Angkor temples, home of thousands of temples in various shapes and sizes, earn themselves the title of the world’s largest religious monument. If you want to explore and appreciate every corner of the temples, preparation is the key.
Stay longer and slow down your pace, visit Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm in one day. We will start in the early morning for sunrise or in the afternoon when it’s less hot and less crowded.
Kids Asking for Money
One of the main problems in Cambodia is poverty. Parents often take their children out of school to send them begging or selling books or bracelets in some tourist hotspot such as the Angkor Temples. Do not give or buy from them, as this would hint that begging can earn money, and it would bring an unbalanced relationship between visitors and locals.
If you want to help the locals, donate your money to some public service or non-profit organization. Asia Highlights is committed to responsible travel and we provide Volunteer Building Cambodia programs.
A Boat Trip through the Flooded Forest on The Great Tonle Sap Lake
The locals who live in the flooded mangrove forest area of Tonle Sap lake will show you how to live in this unique ecosystem. In Kampong Phluk village, where the houses are built on stilts, you can see women selling vegetables on the decks and children taking baths in the lake. Their houses are decorated with flowers and painted blue.
A boat trip to the flooded forest is a great chance to explore Cambodia in-depth, drifting trough flooded mangrove forest. Your guide will show you the way around.
Cambodia is Hot - When is the Hottest?
Like the rest of Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia’s climate is dominated by monsoons. Typically it has three distinct seasons: Dry season, hot season, and wet season.
It is warm all year round, with average highs hovering around 30°C. March to May is the hottest time, and temperatures can reach 40°C.
Each season has its own advantages and disadvantages when considering the weather conditions, price of accommodation and flights and crowds at attractions.
Asia Highlights could help you avoid those disadvantages and you should weigh up what means most to you and your time available.
Healthcare or Medical Facilities are Poor
When it comes to healthcare, getting full-cover travel insurance is recommended. Consult your doctor before setting out and prepare your medications in full supply of prescribed medicine.
The quality of medical services in major cities like Phnom Penh are better than in smaller cities, but it still is of lower standard, compared to western medical facilities.
Wake Up Early and Do Not Rush
Catch the breathtaking sunrise at Angkor Temples between 4:30 and 5:30 and immerse yourself in its beauty, while enjoying fresh morning air.
Cambodian people love naps, and you may consider doing so too! As it can be very hot during midday, it’s best to rest and take a short nap after returning from an early morning temple tour, then wake up in the afternoon feeling fresh and full of energy, ready for the next adventure.
Siem Reap is more than the magnificent Angkor Wat temples; extend your stay to visit local villages such as Kompong Phluk village and spend a night to catch an Apsara Dinner Show.
Beware of Scams
Travel in Cambodia is considered safe when practicing common sense and being cautious of your surroundings. Do not accept invitations to strangers’ homes or go for a drink with strangers.
In the middle of a crowded place, or simply when you walk on the street, always carry your backpack in front; beware of some pick-pockets who grab the bag and run away, sometimes by motorbike.
It is safer to leave valuable items in the hotel safe, not carrying large sums of money and not to wear too much jewelry during your travel. Keep scanned copies of your passport and other important documents in a safe place, in case you lose the original.
Visit Cambodia with Asia Highlights
At Asia Highlights we offer tailor-made tours through Asia, where you can enjoy all highlights as well as amazing cultural experiences. To get started, send us an email.