Emma works in the Product Content team at Virgin Holidays, specialising in Florida and the Far East. Her last trip was a multi-destination to LA and Palm Springs, but she has recently found a love of backpacking too. She took her first solo trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, with Sri Lanka up next. She loved taking insta-worthy travel pics, but at home she's often found snapping pics of her dog...
Last year, I decided I wanted to do a big trip. I wanted to do something different and go somewhere completely new. After doing lots of research (mostly through #travelinspo on Instagram), I settled on SE Asia — mostly Vietnam but I also wanted to add on neighbouring Cambodia. Both Angkor Wat and the country’s recent history intrigued me.
I loved my trip and recommend a holiday here if you’re looking for a place that’ll give you a bit of adventure. So here are my top tips for adding Cambodia to your stay.
Before you go to Cambodia
Do some prep. An insightful book to get an idea of the history you’ll uncover is First They Killed My Father — a story of a young girl making sense of her changing country and family during the dark ruling of the Khmer Rouge. If you prefer a Hollywood adaption, then Angelina Jolie made her directorial debut by taking the page to screen.
Another must watch is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. You’ll see a root-entangled Ta Prohm temple in the Angkor circuit, the beginning of Jolie’s interest in the country and its people.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious temple in the world. A draw for many tourists from all over the world, it's an incredible piece of 12th century history that cannot be missed. A popular experience is watching the sunrise behind Angkor Wat. Get there early to save your spot, as you can expect it draws a large crowd in high season. If you feel happy to skip an early start, there are plenty of routes and group tours that’ll take you around the most famous temples. You may miss the sunrise, but you’ll avoid some of the crowds and still end up at the main attraction.
I thoroughly recommend renting a tuc tuc and driver for the day and finding a private tour guide. They’ll know when to get everywhere and where you can capture the most insta-worthy snaps! A day of exploring was enough for me, but for a little extra you can get a 3-day ticket to spread it out and take in more temples. My favourite temple was Bayon, with its stone-carved faces.
After a day on your feet you’ll be looking for some good eats and Pub Street does what it says on the tin — a lit up strip that attracts backpackers and more with inexpensive evening entertainment, meals and even massages.
This one’s not for the fainthearted. Visit the harrowing Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields to learn about the dark and all too recent history here.
Previously a high school, Tuol Sleng was taken over and turned into a torture prison for anyone thought to be a threat by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime. I recommend getting the audio tour for a deeper understanding of the atrocities committed with interviews from survivors.
After a heavy day, a trip to the night market with its colourful clothes, people and performances will lift your spirits. Be sure to barter for the best price, but be a responsible tourist and don’t forget these are locals making their living too. There are lots of food options being cooked up too, so grab a bite to eat and have a wander.
The real Cambodia
For pure relaxation, the beaches and resorts of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are pristine. However, if you want to take in the real Cambodia, then a visit to Kep or Kampot can offer a more off-the-beaten-track experience.
Sometimes it’s nice to skip the organised tour and rent a bike to take a ride around yourself. I rented a bike in Siem Reap and cycled along the river to see how the locals live. Everyone was so friendly and all the kids waved and said hello. A local even invited me in for a beer — a fantastic experience and 12km later, I’d had a great little workout too!
Whether you’re looking for history, culture or chilling on holiday, you’ll absolutely be able to find it in Cambodia. I certainly did.