(Feature image: Stunning Cambodian sunset, Siem Reap)
You’ll be happy to know this is my last post from my South East Asia trip. Now we can move on to other things, like my Uganda trip, and of course, fun restaurant vlogs. 🙂
Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, with a population of about 16 million. The official language is Khmer and the official religion is Theravada Buddhism. The capital city is Phnom Penh. Cambodia has a history with France (it was a French protectorate) and a French influence is the baguette, commonly enjoyed with curry. The official local currency is called the Cambodian Riel, but the US Dollar is in circulation and used as its ‘unofficial’ currency. ATM machines dispense both USD and Riel. Tuktuks and motor cycles (called ‘moto’) are common, as in Thailand and Vietnam.
Cambodians are charming people; with their soft facial features, warm smiles and gentle souls. Quite different from their Thai and Vietnamese neighbours, even their food is less spicy. What can I say about Cambodia? It most reminded me of Africa, and I mean this in the least offensive way. The chaos, the less than perfect roads, the poverty, the agriculture-based economy, were all reminiscent of Kenya, and Africa, in general.
I visited three major cities: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville (I blogged and vlogged Sihanoukville here). I enjoyed a village visit in Siem Reap. I got to walk around rice paddies and learn about spirit houses. These are little altars outside every homestead where owners leave food for good spirits believed to protect them. I savoured a feast prepared by the locals. It included Amok chicken, rice, noodles and mushrooms. I also visited a night market and sampled some local foods and bought a few trinkets.
In Phnom Penh, I shopped in the city markets and visited the S21 museum that was a high school that Pol Pot converted to a prison during his deadly Khmer Rouge regime. That part of Cambodia’s history is absolutely chilling! Seeing the portraits of victims, hearing the stories of survivors, seeing skulls of victims, mass graves and bones coming out of the ground, completely horrifying. If you don’t know about the Cambodian Genocide, I recommend you read up on it.
Probably the highlight of my visit to Cambodia was getting to visit Laura. She is the author of the blog lorabylora.com and lives in Phnom Penh with her son and hubby. Laura and I connected on the internet, through blogging, and when I told her I would be in Cambodia, she invited me into her home, made me cocktails, cooked up a mean meal, took me to lunch at a nice terrace restaurant overlooking the Mekong river, took me shopping in the Central market and Russian market and did the bargaining for me. It’s honestly so beautiful how you can make a friend over the internet. We both joked that it felt like a blind date, but it turned out so great and we got along like a dream. Thanks girl!
No country is perfect; some negative things I experienced.…The drugs and sex tourism I mentioned in this post. Also, at the Thai-Cambodian border, I was profiled because of either: 1. Being black, or 2. Being on a Kenyan (African) passport. Maybe both. While all the other (white) people in my travel group had a breezy time at the immigration desk and got their stamps nice and easy, I had several questions hurled my way. It felt like an interrogation. They asked me to step aside and the immigration officer who I handed my passport called two of his colleagues and they discussed my passport in Khmer. Eventually our tour guide stepped in and spoke to them and I got my stamp. I understand that they don’t see many African passports, but I do not see why I would be a cause for concern, suspicion and caucus. I had a valid visa for the country and all my supporting documents such as a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate but still got hassled. What annoyed me most was that Cambodia is roughly in the same economic position as Kenya. I’m not dealing with a G8 member here. They need to relax.
Cambodia was enchanting. It is underrated and deserves more exposure than it gets. Everyone seems to be obsessed with Thailand and Vietnam, forgetting other equally beautiful neighbouring destinations like Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
Thanks for reading! Lots of love.