Despite their troublesome past, the people of Cambodia are quite friendly, hospitable and have great pride for their country.
Ly Kim Leng: The 52-year old native Cambodian was diagnosed with polio at age three. He recently learned his artistic skills through his son's friend. He supports himself and his family through his art. He uses watercolor and sketching techniques in his work — some pieces feature a himself wearing a orange sash to demonstrate his Buddhist faith.
Angkor Wat: Largest religious monument in the world and was built in the 12th century in dedication to Vishnu. According to its inscriptions, the construction involved ~300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants, yet it was still not fully completed.
- Breakfast with a sunrise show. Though there were a hundred other tourists in the area doing the same thing, everyone was quiet, calm and simply taking in the beauty of this ~900 year old structure.
- Receiving sacred threads, or “sai sin” as they’re known in Thai, from a Buddhist monk. Sai sin is supposed to provide protection and good health to the person wearing it.
- The macaques. We are suckers for animals of all shapes and sizes. Each one of them had quite the personality and thankfully we didn’t run into any that lived up to the warning signs.
Pub Street: A section of downtown Siem Reap filled with restaurants and bars catered to Western visitors looking for a party scene. Some of the side streets can offer a calmer, less karaoke-esque atmosphere, if that isn’t your thing.
Highlights: Cheap beer! Pub Street is definitely something to experience for at least one night — if not just for the $.50 draft beers.
Royal Angkor Resort: The resort where American Buddha Co. enjoyed the one-week stay in Cambodia.
Highlights: The staff is more than hospitable, rooms are spacious, wonderful experience for the cost and they make a mean bacon cheeseburger for those guilty late night cravings. If you go, ask for Mr. Bov and say American Buddha Co. sent you.
Khmer Cuisine: Kuy teav, a traditional breakfast noodle soup became a morning staple and possibly favored over phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup (To my Nguyen family, don't be mad at that statement! - Ashlee). Amok, is another popular Khmer dish, which wasn't overwhelming with heat like the Thai curries we’re used to, but rich in flavor.
Tuk-Tuk Rides: One of the best ways to soak in all the elements of the town: dust from the roads, unfamiliar odors from the food stands, interactions with the "free range dogs," close ups with locals at traffic lights and of course, wind in your hair!
LOOK OUT FOR:
Cambodian orphanage tourism: Do not volunteer! The number of Cambodian orphans has increase by 75% each year, but statistics show that most of them have at least one living parent. Often times, parents are seeing this as an opportunity to give their children to an orphanage for a better education or upbringing. Typically, most of the donations go back into the pocket of the orphanage owner.
Buying from children on the street: These kids will do practically anything to make money: collecting water bottles for recycling, selling anything from books, magnets, scarves, etc. As much as the sight instantly will pull at your heartstrings, as a tourist, if you buy these items it encourages them to continue selling — meaning these kids will miss out on school as they are kept on the streets, often late into the night, thus the cycle of uneducated Cambodians continues.
If you're looking to find a mix of resort life, historical landmarks, barhopping and warm weather, Siem Reap checks all those boxes. But it's not all glitz and glamor, tourism in Cambodia is fairly young compared to its southeast Asian neighbors. The people in the town have the best intentions in being hospitable, but quality of service can be hit or miss. And remember, be a responsible tourist.