It’s an interesting situation – Cambodians want to remember the glory of the Khmer kings from whenever time started until 1970, forget the next ten years, and then start remembering again. Angkor Wat is so prominently featured everywhere you go in Cambodia that you’d be inclined to think it was the only part of their history/past that even mattered. And once you visit the magnificent Angkor complex, every other temple seems … like every other temple.
And yet, the country struggles with commercialization and tourism. English is commonly spoken, though broken and limited. The Cambodian riel currency is used, but the US Dollar is strongly preferred, so much so that signs by all manner of businesses advertise prices in US Dollars. Locally brewed, Cambodia Beer, Angkor Beer and Anchor Beer are heavily advertised (they all taste like generic lite beer and were usually sold as 50 cent drafts). Everywhere you go, in the entire country – wherever you look, you will see at least twenty lighted signs advertising beer.
And … people here smile more than people in any other country we’ve visited. I can’t tell if it’s to hide some sorrow from their past or if they are just a genuinely happy people.
I enjoyed some of our time here, mostly in Kep and Phnom Penh. I think the country has great things to offer, but they’re still working through their history, and with the consequences of tourism.
Cambodia was definitely a different experience from Thailand and Laos. We learned a lot more about the culture and especially the history of Cambodia. Siem Reap is basically a tourist town centered around Angkor Wat and the temple complex. There’s even a “Pub Street” where you’ll find all kinds of bars, pubs and restaurants, all filled with tourists. Which is fine because Angkor Wat is an amazing sight to see, but it just didn’t feel much like Cambodia. I was also amused at the kids in Siem Reap – they would sell stuff at the Angkor Wat complex, but spoke English very well! Probably better than many of the adults do!
Like Samir, I enjoyed Kampot and Kep as well. Phnom Penh was a different kind of enjoyment. I was really fascinated (and saddened) by the history of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and the madness that went on for those three and a half years. But, aside from that, Phnom Penh was fun to walk around in by the river – in the evenings, they have dance classes in the pedestrian walkway by the river that you can hop in on – we didn’t get a chance to do so, but drove by and it looked like fun!
Overall, I’m glad we went to Cambodia, though it’s a different type of sightseeing than we like to do. We both like to ‘do’ stuff rather than ‘see’ stuff – but Cambodia is definitely a place where you soak up the culture by seeing it to understand it, if that makes sense!