first impressions of Cambodia

Our 5 First Impressions of Cambodia

A month and a half into our trip and we’re really starting to feel at home in Southeast Asia. Thailand was beautiful, but we couldn’t shake the feeling of being on the same well-worn path, following every other backpacker. We were hoping in Cambodia we’d be able to ditch the touristy spots and explore by ourselves. After two weeks in this amazing country, we’ve definitely been able to do just that. We can’t wait to continue exploring and creating our own trail, but for now here are our 5 first impressions from Cambodia.

“We felt a sense of adventure, like how travelers might have felt when exploring Thailand 20 years ago or so”

Off The Beaten Track Travel

After spending a month island hopping in the south of Thailand, we were looking forward to getting off the tourist trail for a bit. Our first stop in Cambodia was the town of Siem Reap located next to the ruins of Angkor Wat. With thousands of tourist heading to the famous ruins daily, it’s not surprising this area is packed with travelers.

Even still we were able to get out off the beaten track pretty quickly. Just a few hours east of Siem Reap is the Cambodian countryside. We stayed in the town of Banlung, a small city that is a jumping off point for many outdoor activities in the region. With just a handful of guesthouses, this city is a breath of fresh air away from the tourist trail. When we hopped on a moto to explore the area, we felt a sense of adventure, like how travelers might have felt when exploring Thailand 20 years ago or so. Dusty dirt roads took us out to local villages where no one spoke English and we were the only backpackers for miles.

Car Horn Honking

We knew that the horn was a widely used accessory in Southeast Asia, but the Cambodians take it to a whole new level of craziness. Zipping around the highways in minivans I’d say the driver is on a 50/50 horn to silence ratio. Any and every single time the driver goes to overtake someone, go round a corner or pass through a town they just press down and let it rip.

When we asked our Cambodian friend about this he said it was actually a sign the driver was being responsible. He said that if the driver didn’t send out their endlessly ear piercing horn at every opportunity, that the chances of crashing could be higher. That made us a little more confident in our drivers, but eliminated any chance of getting some sleep.

The Food

Maybe we were spoiled by copious amounts of delicious street food in Thailand, but for some reason we just don’t think the food in Cambodia is as good as it’s neighbor. Particularly as vegetarians, Thailand seems to have had a lot more choices in terms of curries and noodle dishes, and the quality of tofu was definitely a lot better.

Our Cambodian cuisine so far has consisted of a lot of egg baguettes, which in itself is a nice change to eating noodles and rice for three meals, but when it comes to curries and such we haven’t found too many good ones. We tried the traditional dish of fish Amok (a Cambodian curry), but made the mistake of ordering it when we were inland, away from the coast. The curry itself wasn’t bad, but the fish was so chewy it was like biting into a piece of rubber.

One food that Cambodia, or at least Siem Reap, has an abundance of is… marijuana pizza. Wait, what? Yea, we’re not really sure either, but we’ve been warned that the restaurants selling “happy pizzas” are laced with marijuana. We haven’t tried it, but have noticed a lot of spaced out looking travelers wandering around town.

” A whole pitcher of the local beers Cambodia or Angkor will only cost you $2. Not bad when you consider that same pitcher of beer in Australia would cost $20! “

Cheap Draft Beer

Finally, some cheap beer! Surprisingly Thailand was a bit expensive when it came to nights out drinking. In Cambodia we were happy to find that draft beer was readily available and cheap! A glass of beer at most bars and restaurants will only set you back 50c, and a whole pitcher of the local beers Cambodia or Angkor will only cost you $2. Not bad when you consider that same pitcher of beer in Australia would cost $20!

It’s not the best beer you’ve ever tasted, but it gets the job done and you can’t complain too much in this hot and humid dust bowl. We’ve actually come to enjoy it quite a lot over the last two weeks!

The People

In Thailand we were blown away by how friendly the locals were and that hasn’t changed now that we’ve entered Cambodia. From shopkeepers to random people we’ve meet on the bus, the hospitality is incredible. When we were out exploring a waterfall near Banlung, a group of Cambodians having a picnic invited us over to share their warm beer and mango slices. Another time Jules was walking and a group of tuk-tuk drivers called him over to share a beer (this time ice cold). We’re not sure if this generosity is more due to friendliness or the beers are just so cheap they’re giving them away, but we’ve enjoyed the hospitality.

Not only are the adults in Cambodia very friendly, but the kids are as well. In Thailand we got the feeling that the local children were so used to seeing Western travellers, they didn’t have much interest anymore. Here the children are really curious about us. When we were cruising through the rural villages on our moto, almost every child we saw waved after us, shouting “hello!” We love chatting with local kids, especially because many of them know a bit of English, and are happy to see that Cambodia kids want to interact with us as well.

How does our list compare to your thoughts? What were your first impressions of Cambodia? Drop us a comment below or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!

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Julian Hatfield

Jules is an avid traveler, community development worker and a surfing addict. He's spent the past four years working in non-profits throughout Latin America and Southeast Asia, with a lot of island pit-stops and wild adventures along the way. Adventure travel that respects and gives back to local culture and environment is his main priority...and Mexican food. Wanna know more?

12 thoughts on “Our 5 First Impressions of Cambodia”

  1. Cool! That’s surprising about the food. Having visited only Thailand and not Cambodia, I’m surprised that there are significantly more vegetarian options in Cambodia. Looks like a cool place – I’m looking forward to visiting there eventually when we get back to South East Asia.

    1. Opposite way round, definitely better vegetarian options in Thailand, but that’s also because there is a lot more tourism and supports it. You’ll love Cambodia! Like Thailand before alllll the tourists came 🙂

  2. Ah! Cambodia was one of my favorite destinations in SE Asia – the people are incredible. I have never met so many good natured, hospitable people. Even those in the tourist industry – whereas in Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam that random tuk tuk driver or chachka seller might just see you as a source of cash – in Cambodia we found that there was banter, smiles, and no hard feelings if we didn’t buy. You are right on the food though — disappointing. If you have some time check out Remember the Dragons hostel in Battambang and Green House in Kampot — both lovely.

    1. Thanks for commenting Jenia! The people here are so nice! Can’t really speak for the rest of SEA, but Cambodians are so friendly and very helpful. They really go out of their way to help you out, even if they’re not earning a dollar from you! It’s definitely a refreshing feeling. We’re in Kampot now actually, so we’ll go check out Green House! Thanks!

  3. I absolutely love Cambodia! I’ve pretty much only stuck to the tourist trail but I’m dying to go back and get off the beaten track a little bit. I imagine that it’s the perfect place to do that!

  4. Ah yes! I LOVED Cambodia, so much that when I left to do the circle through Vietnam and Laos I came straight back to Siem Reap to work a month later! The country is so cheap, food good and loads of cool hostels! Sis you guys get to Ko Rong? Possibly my favourite Island in the world! I spent NY there 2 years ago 😀

    1. Cambodia is so amazing! You’re right, most places are super cheap. We’ve been enjoying the $5 hostels! We actually just left Ko Rong! What a fun island! Did you get to Ko Rong Samloem? Such a gorgeous beach! We wanted to stay longer but our visa is running out. Just a couple days left in Cambodia 🙁

  5. Great post! Took me right back to my first week in Cambodia too. The people are so amazing! Have you made it to Phnom Penh yet? You’ve got to check out FRIENDS charity restaurant. The kids from the charity are your waiters, chefs and staff and the food is delicious. This place will give Thai food a run for it’s money.
    Look forward to your next posts. Safe travels.

    1. Thank you for your recommendation James! After seeing your comment we did check out FRIENDS restaurant. What a cool spot! Definitely a worthwhile project. We’ll be including it in one of our future posts, for sure. Thanks again for the recommendation!

  6. Got to love the cheap tasty beers in Cambodia! Cambodia has some of the friendliest people, our tuk tuk driver messages us daily after wrote this post about him: apparently he is getting business from the post

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