The Two-Week Diary of a Backpacker in Cambodia

“Living in a big country like Canada for four years where road trips are the best way to discover the country’s beauty is where it started for me. Returning to Lebanon in 2006, I knew this passion for road trips and traveling would stay with me forever.”

 After years of traveling and road tripping in North America & Europe, Rabih Maftoum felt the need for a different cultural experience, a discovery that’s new in every way. Choosing Southeast Asia for such experience comes with no surprise. With a rich history, stunning natural beauty, untouched paradises, friendly people, and an affordable living, the region has become the favorite of thousands of travelers around the world.

Country: Kingdom of Cambodia
Destinations: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Island.
Date: April, 2014.
(Lebanese passport holders have visa free access)

Stop 1: Phnom Penh

Previously a French colony, the capital and the largest city of Cambodia hasn’t lost its French feel to date. Walking its streets will reveal French colonial buildings along its grand boulevards, amidst a preserved monumental Asian architecture. A charming mix unique to the Cambodian capital, which offers interesting touristy sites like the Silver Pagoda, the Royal Palace, the National Museum, and the many bustling markets, including the Central Market, the largest constructed market in 1937 in the shape of a dome. Welcome to Phnom Penh, your gateway to a land of intoxicating history and sublime beauty, the land of adventures and backpackers…

Stayed 1 night in Eighty8 Backpackers.

The streets of Phnom Penh
The streets of Phnom Penh

Stop 2: Siem Reap

Home to Angkor Wat, the largest complex of temples and religious monument in the world, Siem Reap should be on everyone’s to-do list. A journey into Angkor Wat, meaning “City of Temples” in Khmer, takes you back to the thousand year old Khmeir civilization, which remnants constitute today a greatly preserved and mesmerizing UNESCO world heritage site. The prime attraction of tourists, Angkor Wat has become symbol of Cambodia and appears on its national flag. (More on the history of Angkor Wat here)

Angkor Wat, the architectural masterpiece.
Angkor Wat, the architectural masterpiece.
Inside Angkor Wat, a walk into history...
Inside Angkor Wat, a walk into history…
A giant tree in the beautiful temple of Ta Prohm
A giant tree in the beautiful temple of Ta Prohm

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Angkor Wat is not everything Siem Reap has to offer. The city’s downtown is bustling with life, from hotels to resorts, restaurants and pubs where you’ll get the chance to meet tourists from all over the world.

Tip: allocate 5 days at least to explore the beauty of Angkor Wat and take the time to absorb its essence. There is so much beauty to capture that all you’ll want to do is get lost in this other-worldly place – with a camera in your hands. (Don’t forget to dress decently when visiting the temples)
Stayed in: The Mad Monkey (great place for backpackers with a pool and a rooftop bar).
Things to try: the Tuk Tuk ride (we’ve got you covered with a super cool Tuk Tuk service provider in Siem Reap. Check his facebook page here for more info! Mr. Chan Makara: 0885582987)

The Mad Monkey hostel - rooftop pool and bar
The Mad Monkey hostel – rooftop pool and bar
The tuk-tuk ride!
The tuk-tuk ride!

Another great thing to do while in Siem Reap is to check the floating villages around it (30 minutes to the boat dock by TukTuk). The boat ride inside the villages offers a close look at the “floating life” of a community that tries to make a living from the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap – mainly from fishing and agriculture. Apart from the beautiful landscape you get to see, you have to be prepared for a striking face-to-face with the cruel reality and poverty these people suffer – a good reminder of how grateful we should be for the life we live.

The floating village on Tonle Sap lake
The floating village on Tonle Sap lake

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Stop 3: Sihanoukville

Located in the south-west of Cambodia, the province of Sihanoukville is a one-hour flight from Siem Reap, or a 14-hour bus ride. (Although choosing the first option seemed like a wiser and safer choice, it actually turned out to be the most adventurous flight of our life – “survivor mode”!)

Named after former King Norodom Sihanouk, Sihanoukville is mainly known for its laid-back white-sand beaches lined with restaurants and beach houses, and for being home to the first and only deep-water port. For us, it was a quick stop on our way to one of its most beautiful undeveloped islands – and what was the best part of our trip: Koh Rhong island.

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The Cambodian flag featuring Angkor Wat complex during the speedboat ride from Sihanoukville to Koh Rhong island
The Cambodian flag featuring Angkor Wat complex during the speedboat ride from Sihanoukville to Koh Rhong island

 Last and best destination: Koh Rhong, or the paradise island.

Take a 50-min speedboat ride from Sinouhakville to land somewhere you’d never want to leave. The second largest island of Cambodia stretching on an area of 78km², Koh Rhong is a true disconnection from the present-day life and an escape into the untouched beauty of a gorgeous place. Wake up in a beach bungalow to the sight of a pristine-sand beach and turquoise water, read your book lying in a hammock, spend your day walking the island to discover its amazing jungle and endless stretches of sand, meet friendly locals and immerse yourself in their daily life, get to know backpackers from all over the world over a drink at some nearby beach bar, sleep under a starry sky… if that isn’t heaven, then what is?

Things you should know:

  • There are no roads in the island, which means no vehicles and no traffic! The only way to discover it is to walk its beaten paths or take a boat ride.
  • There is no electricity on the island; the generator supplies it with current twice a day, from 8 to 10 in the morning, and 8 to 10 at night.
  • Ferry goes to Koh Rhong from Sinouhakville twice a day only for $20, at 7am and 4pm.

Places to try: The hippie beach / The nude beach / Long beach / Vagabonds beach bar.

Available activities: Snorkeling / Diving / Cycling / Trekking / Fishing / Massage.

the view on Koh Rong beach from our happy bungalow
The view on Koh Rhong beach from our happy bungalow

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Koh Rong, the paradise island.
Koh Rhong, the paradise island.
White sand and turquoise water as far as the eye can see...
White sand and turquoise water as far as the eye can see…
Sunset on Koh Rong.
Sunset on Koh Rhong.
Vagabonds bar in Koh Rong.
Vagabonds bar in Koh Rhong.

Koh Rhong is one of the few undeveloped islands that haven’t been jammed with tourists yet, with a near-deserted feel that you can still enjoy for now. However, some rumors say it will soon become the investment project of a private company and undergo major changes. Better catch its unspoiled beauty while you still can!!

Best months to visit: between October and February.

*Story and pictures were provided by traveler, written and published by Notes of a Traveler with travelers’ permission.