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Traveling in Cambodia: Highlights & Itinerary

For the first time on our journey, we dared to cross the border overland – and that even with a night bus! At 1 o’clock in the morning, we started our journey from Bangkok (Thailand) to Siem Reap (Cambodia). The meeting point was the probably most inconvenient road one can choose for a sober venture in Bangkok – the famous party street Kao San Road.

We were picked up more than half an hour later than scheduled. Let’s go to Cambodia!

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From Bangkok to Siem Reap by bus

In the beginning of the trip, all passports were photographed and we were given detailed instructions on how the border crossing was going to happen. Just shortly before the border we were woken up and we had to get off the bus to walk the last hundred meters.

At the border itself there were no problems, but we were glad to have applied for our visa online. Our bus company charged those without a visa almost 10 dollars more than the online price. This doesn’t sound much, but it is annoying for every backpacker on a budget.

Siem Reap

Our hotel in Siem Reap: The Panda Angkor Inn

Our original plan was to visit Angkor Wat by scooter or bicycle.

But the more we read and looked around, the more we deviated from this plan. On the one hand we read about some negative experiences with scooters in Siem Reap and on the other hand we saw almost no other tourists on scooters in the city. Apparently the “Tuk-Tuk-Lobby” has its fingers in the pie here.

tuk tuk, rickshaw, cambodia
Tuktuk driver in Siem Reap

Tuktuk drivers are annoyed by the botched business due to the many scooter rentals, so the tires of the mopeds are now and again prick up. Occasionally the scooters are apparently even stolen from the street by the rental company itself with a duplicate key and billed for it later.

Angkor Wat

After much consideration we decided to visit the most famous attraction in Cambodia with a private tuk-tuk – the most expensive, but probably the most convenient solution. Thus we were able to drive directly to the temple complex before sunrise at 5am in the morning.

Angkor Wat Sightseeing

Equipped with a breakfast package and flashlights, we followed the flow of light that already meandered through the darkness towards the temple complex. Fortunately we found a free spot on a ledge of one of the two libraries. There we made ourselves comfortable until the (unfortunately quite disappointing) sunrise.

Angkor Wat with water reflection during sunset
Angkor Wat at sunset

During the following round trip, we managed to escape halfway the great tourist masses by doing it against the usual direction.

The temples of Angkor Wat

In Angkor Wat, the capital of the former Khmer kingdom, there are countless fascinating temples covering an area of around 400 square kilometers.

Angkor Wat Victory Gate with blue sky
The Victory Gate at Angkor Wat

With our day pass for 37$ each, we could only visit the highlights of the small tour. These are “Banteay Kdei“, “Thommanon“, “Chau Say Tevoda“, “Bayon“, the famous Tomb Raider temple “Ta Prohm” and of course “Angkor Wat” itself.

Big Banyan tree at Banteay Kdei in Cambodia
A Banyan tree at Banteay Kdei in the Angkor Wat temple complex

The temples and their surroundings are so fascinating and overwhelming that we gladly accepted the oppressive heat and the tourist masses. All in all, the decision for a day in “Angkor Wat” with our own tuk-tuk was ideal for us.

2x ANNIKA, 2x TIMO

The second destination in Cambodia should begin with a funny coincidence. On arrival at the bus terminal in Battambang we met a German couple. First of all nothing special, but during the introduction round we had a laugh: our names are exactly the same, Annika and Timo, both couples from Germany and travelling for a few months.

We shared a tuk-tuk to the city center, where we had an interesting conversation and planned to meet again for dinner.

Battambang

Our hostel-tip for Battambang: The Lucky Hostel

In the second-largest city in Cambodia, we found by chance a nice city park where we did some acrobatics in a shady place.

The Bat Cave near Battambang

In the afternoon we went to the nearby Bat-Cave. Shortly before sunset we climbed the mountain and enjoyed the incredible panoramic view of the surrounding country in the beautiful evening light.

Two backpackers on the mountain top with panorama view of the bat cave near Battambang
The view from the top of the Bat Cave near Battambang

Shortly before dusk, we started our descent back to the real attraction: at dusk thousands, if not millions of bats swarmed out of their cave to search for food in the night.

Bats swarming out at the bat cave near Battambang
Swarming bats near Battambang

The natural spectacle is supposed to last around four hours!

By bus From Battambang via Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville

We decided to take a night bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh. For the seven-hour trip, we had a “spacious” 90x130cm bed for two. Actually we had planned to go straight on to Sihanoukville, but the capital was to be the beginning of a whole series of gastrointestinal problems in Cambodia.

But after a few hours, we were able to continue our journey in the afternoon and arrived in Sihanoukville in the dark.

Sihanoukville – The ugliest place in Cambodia

Our advice for overnight stays in Sihanoukville: The region of Otres Beach

Even at night, we could already see that this is probably the ugliest place of our journey so far. There was garbage everywhere and there were countless construction sites for new high-rise buildings.

Nevertheless, we found a nice hostel. Most of the time there was no water running and the electricity went off every few hours. But instead, there was a cozy restaurant with big portions of chips – a real bonus, especially for Timo.

To our surprise, the beach at Otres Beach (near Sihanoukville) was not so bad: white, fine sand with a very calm sea invited us for a swim before we went to our actual destination, Koh Rong Samloem.

From Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem by boat

We went across a littered sea by speedboat for more than half an hour. We had not been on the open ocean yet and one cannot speak of a garbage carpet on the water surface. However, the plastic swimming around caught our eyes every second.

Fortunately, we informed ourselves in advance and booked our accommodation on the wind-remote side to avoid swimming in garbage.

But “no pain, no gain ” or much more “no sweat, no paradise“! About 40 minutes you have to fight your way through the jungle of the island to reach the idyllic and truly heavenly coast. However, there is also a water taxi around the island.

But one day the wind changed and a lot of rubbish washed up on “our” beach. We made the best of it and fished bags of plastic out of the sea.

Koh Rong Samloem

Our accommodation on Koh Rong Samloem: The  Robinson Bungalows

The following four nights we slept in a simple tent directly at the shore. During the next days, we could watch picturesque sunsets from our private hammocks. So we spent our days before Christmas Eve far away from any hustle and bustle. For the first time on our journey, not only our feet but also our souls were dangling – welcome to the paradise of Cambodia!

Christmas on Koh Rong Samloem

At Christmas Eve we took it one step further and allowed ourselves a nice bungalow for one night, also with direct sea view. For dinner we didn’t have mulled wine, cookies and a Christmas goose as usual. Instead, we had mojitos and two red snappers with a mango salad (a festive exception for our vegetarian existence at that time).

From Koh Rong Samloem to Koh Ta Kiev

Due to the booking situation on Koh Rong Samloem, we stayed one more night on the island side where the boats from Sihanoukville arrive.

The side of the island was – as expected – not nearly as beautiful as the Sunset Beach. This is because this side of the island is already littered with bars, restaurants and hotels. As a result, there is not much left of the original beauty of nature.

On Boxing Day we went to the mainland for one night again. However, only to take a boat on Koh Ta Kiev the following morning.

Koh Ta Kiev

Our accommodation on Koh Ta Kiev: The Last Point Hostel

Koh Ta Kiev is even smaller than Koh Rong Samloem and is located a little further east, near the border to Vietnam.

Our accommodation “The Last Point” lives up to its name – it was the only accommodation in the whole bay and on the whole island side.

Tropical beach on Koh Ta Kiev in Cambodia
Beach at “The Last Point” Hostel on Koh Ta Kiev

Nevertheless, one cannot speak of an untouched paradise. Here is the same problem: garbage washed up everywhere! Although it was possible to swim in the clean sea, one could still guess: when the wind direction was different, some garbage would be washed up. We liked Koh Ta Kiev almost better than Koh Rong Samloem.

Koh Ta Kiev: An island paradise becomes a party capital

We already had fantasies about our own accommodation on the island. So we asked our bungalow owner what was planned for the next years on the island.

The answer was terrifying: The small paradise is to be built by French and Chinese investors with huge hotel complexes and transformed into a party and gambling zone. In order to implement this destructive project, even a bridge from the mainland to the island is planned. We had no better choice than to shake our heads over this wastefulness and be glad that we could still experience the island as an almost untouched beauty.

Sunset with fisherboat at Koh Ta Kiev in Cambodia
Sunset at Koh Ta Kiev

The Elephant Rock on Koh Ta Kiev

Just like on Koh Rong Samloem we let the sun shine on our stomachs for several days, enjoyed the good food and had a relaxing time without WLAN or any hustle and bustle.

With a boat taxi, we chugged to the other side of the island one afternoon to see the famous “Elephant Rock“. Unfortunately, we followed a misleading description and so we walked up and down the coast of the island for about two hours without reaching our destination.

During a beautiful sunset, we returned and had dinner in the restaurant of the Kactus Hostel. The minimalist bungalow and restaurant are run by a Frenchman, which is especially noticeable with the incredibly delicious food!

New Year’s Eve on Koh Ta Kiev

On New Year’s Eve we enjoyed a delicious three-course-menu with cocktails at the Kactus and the highlight was a small firework show (that was almost shot into the bar). Late in the night we were lured into the sea where we experienced another small firework in the water: fluorescent plankton made the water glow in sparkling green all around us – Happy New Year!

Kampong Cham

Our accommodation in Kampong Cham: The OBT Homestay Chiro

On the first day of the new year, we went with a hangover and strong swell back to the mainland.

In Phnom Penh we made a stopover for one night. From there we went on to Kampong Cham the next morning.

We unknowingly booked ourselves into a small non-profit organization, the “Organization for Basic Training“, for one night. This organization uses the income from the bungalows to finance schooling for children and several other social projects.

"Living room" of the rural people in Cambodia near Krong Kampong Cham
Locals near Kampong Cham

Fortunately, we liked it there, because we had to stay there for two more nights. This time Timo was allowed to deal with gastrointestinal problems. Unfortunately, this also made the visit to the Old French Tower and the 600 meters long Bamboo Bridge impossible.

Kratie

Our hotel tip for Kratie: Le Tonle Guesthouse

A little later than expected we arrived in the next village, in Kratie.

Sunset with fisherboat at Koh Ta Kiev in Cambodia
Sunflower field in the middle of the country in Cambodia

We consciously decided against a trip to the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. The reason for this was that there would have been either a tour by speedboat (somehow paradoxical to scare such shy animals with motors) or a relatively expensive kayak trip for 37$.

Ban Lung

Our accommodation in Ban Lung: The Treelodge

Our last stop in Cambodia was in the far north-east of the country, in Ban Lung.

There, we actually wanted to go swimming in a volcanic lake. But again, bad gastro-intestinal problems forced us to stay in our comfortable tree lodge. Again, we stayed three nights before we started our way south again to cross the border near Kampong Cham.

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