Cambodia has changed a lot since I visited as an energetic backpacker 20 years ago, but what I soon find is that not all change is good
Recently I spent a week in Cambodia where I visited the tropical southern island of Koh Rong, the laid-back town of Kampot, and the vibing capital of Phnom Penh.
It was my first time back in the Kingdom in 20 years.
Naturally, much has changed since I was a 20-something backpacker seeking out the best budget experiences my dollar could buy.
A lot of things have changed since then – some for the better, but sadly, some for the worse
While I’m still a budget-conscious traveller, these days I’m more built for comfort, hence, the decision to fly into Sihanoukville from Ho Chi Minh City at considerable expense compared to other options like “bussing” it via Phnom Penh.
Sihanoukville is the jumping off point to the beautiful islands just a 30-minute speedboat ride offshore in the Gulf of Thailand.
Koh Rong is perhaps the best-known of the islands dotted along the coastline, and this is where my journey really began.
A highlight is the western side of the island where a five kilometre stretch of white sand beach and turquoise waters awaits. In the video below, you’ll get to see just how beautiful it is.
I stayed on the island at Treehouse Bungalows high up in the treetops and not too far from the main ferry terminal, making it a convenient place to stay.
After three sun-kissed days spent getting about by motorbike, swimming and beachcombing along stretches of isolated beach with no one else in sight, I set foot back on the mainland for the two-hour rail journey east to Kampot.
Under French-colonial rule in the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, Kampot was Cambodia’s most important seaport before the establishment of Sihanoukville around the time the French left in the 1950s.
These days it’s well-known for its pepper and French-colonial architecture, which is behind the town’s push for UNESCO World Heritage listing.
I stayed at the relaxing Bamboo Bungalows on the banks of the beautiful Praek Tuek Chhu River just a couple of kilometres outside the town centre not far from the “Old Bridge” constructed by the French and that survived Cambodia’s darkest period under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime.
My final destination before flying home to Ho Chi Minh City was the capital Phnom Penh.
As I mentioned earlier, I’d visited here two decades ago when travel was extremely challenging and the impact of the Khmer Rouge was still raw.
A lot of things have changed since then – some for the better, but sadly, some for the worse. Watch the video below for more details.
One thing that’s a must-visit in Phnom Penh is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the site where close to 20,000 Cambodians were tortured and executed during Pol Pot’s reign of terror that claimed millions of lives.
While profoundly sad, the museum is well-curated and organised in such a way that even if you don’t pay extra for the audio guide (US$5), you don’t miss out on the important aspects of what took place here.
After a morning visit to the museum, the pool at Plantation Urban Resort & Spa was the ideal place for some quiet introspection and reflection on the experience.
The resort is ideally located nearby the Royal Palace making it an excellent base to explore the city on-foot.
For more in-depth detail of my experience travelling in Cambodia in 2023, watch the video below.
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