Cambodia


Backpacking in Cambodia

About karaoke videos, scary scams and chicken liver

Traveling around Cambodia on a budget:  Cambodia is a great and easy country for backpacking. Public transport, hostels and hotels are waiting for travelers almost everywhere in Cambodia. Still, it is possible to make authentic experiences and to meet welcoming people while backpacking Cambodia.  On my four weeks backpacking trip, I took buses and public transport to travel around Cambodia. That is easy as long as you don’t mind karaoke videos and watching other people getting sick next to you. While backpacking in Cambodia, my budget for a month was around 20 Euros per day. That is more than enough, if you are on a backpacking trip, eat with the locals, sleep like the locals and use locals buses. Dorm beds in hostels start at 3 to 4 Euros. Meals in cheap restaurants are available for around 2 Euros. Snacks are even cheaper.

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is one of the major attractions for tourists. Visiting the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh helps to understand Cambodia’s sad history caused by the Pol Pot regime. While backpacking Cambodia, you just need to open your eyes to understand, that Cambodia is still one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. While backpacking around Cambodia, I saw a lot of people injured and by unexploded ordinances (UXO), amputees begging in the streets.

But there is more to Cambodia than old templesand a sad history. The colors are amazing. The nature is breathtaking. And there are surprises waiting every day. Good and bad ones. On my backpacking trip around Cambodia, I got scammed in Phnom Penh, bitten by mosquitos in Ban Lung, saw a lot of plastic rubbish at the beach of Sihanoukville and freshwater dolphins swimming in the Mekong river, got asked for sex by Indian tourists and became part of a promotional film of the Cambodian Department of Tourism in Kratie. I got a lot of smiles from the people. Being back in Europa, I think back of this backpacking trip around Cambodia as one of the most impressing experiences in my life. But I am also happy, that I got out of a lot of trouble without any harm. Believe me: You don’t want to be part of the casino scam as I was in Phnom Penh

Cambodia

On the way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodian Tourist visa available online and at the border

I got my Cambodian Visa at the border from Thailand. If you apply for a tourist visa online, the evisa costs 30 US-Dollars plus 7 US-Dollars processing fee. If you want to get it directly at the border, border officials will probably try to get some extra cash. Try not to pay too much. You need two passport pictures. The visa is valid for 30 days.

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    Border crossing in Poipet: Dealing with greedy officials

    Better get the evisa in advance!

    After the overland border crossing from Thailand to Cambodi, I walked around Poipet in Cambodia. It was hot. I didn’t like the place. It’s a typical border town – not made to stay there longer than necessary. The border crossing from Thailand to Cambodia had been horrible. I had to find my way through a big market first and to pay some greedy border officials money for a stamp in my passport. I have been traveling around Asia a lot and was already used to leave some Dollar notes here and there. Nonetheless, it always pisses me off, that the governments of certain countries seem to tolerate that. The border officials are certainly not the people, who are really in need of money.

    • Maybe, it is a better option to get an evisa online before entering the country.

    Cramped in a shared taxi on the way to Siem Reap

    It was already afternoon, when I arrived in Poipet to start my backpacking trip around Cambodia. I didn’t want to waste my time. My intention was to get to Siem Reap as soon as possible. But at the bus station, there was no bus going to Siam Reap anymore that day. It sounds impossible, but was true. I had two options: Spending the night in Poipet or taking a taxi. Men were asking around to get passengers for a share taxi. Going in a share taxi to Siem Reap was the only real option, that I had.

    After hard bargaining, I had my seat squeezed between two Cambodians on the back seat. One lady was taking basically all the space by sitting cross-legged on the seat. The lady in the front was wearing a chique dress, high heels and a lot of necklaces. I wasn’t able to see her eyes behind her dark sun glasses, but she was continuously singing for her child on her lap. The ride to Siem Reap took two nerve wrecking hours.

    Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Sweet dreams in the Garden Hostel in Siem Reap

    I finally arrived at the Garden Hostel in Siem Reap. In my dorm bed, I slept like a stone, although it was really busy in the hostel and there were quite a few young travelers around, who were really keen on having parties. Anyway, the bar and restaurant of the hostel were great places to meet other travelers. The hostel also offered yoga lessons. The Garden Hostel was a good spot to start discovering Cambodia.

    I had a tricky start in Cambodia, but it became one of my favorite travel destinations during the following weeks. I loved the colors of Cambodia. I loved the light, when the sun touched the dirt roads. And there were quite a few dirt roads in Siem Reap. I just had to make a few steps away from the touristy town center full of shops, restaurants, tuk-tuks and motorbikes to see the basic living conditions of many Cambodians. But I haven’t seen any sad faces in the streets.

    Siem Reap Cambodia

    Siem Reap: Lively markets and desperate saleswomen

    Siem Reap was more than just a base to see Angkor Wat. To get a feeling for how the people live in Cambodia, I rented a bicycle to cruise around Siem Reap. I saw pagodas just next to the road. I watched children jumping from a bridge into the river to cool down. Some kids were greeting me, saying “hello” in English.

    And I visited the markets, where salesmen and saleswomen were begging me to buy something. They offered summer dresses for as little as three US-Dollars. They seemed to be a bit desperate. And there are lot’s of opportunities to buy something. Definitely worth a visit is also the lively and brightly illuminated night market.

    Food market, Siem Reap, Cambodia

    Siem Reap Cambodia

    Garden Hostel, Siem Reap 2012

    By tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat – 37 US-Dollars for a day ticket

    The tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat was already waiting for me in front of the hostel before sunrise. The hostel had organized the transport for me and an American traveler. We had met the evening before and decided to share the costs.  Angkor Wat was seven kilometers away from Siem Reap.

    We could have also visited Angkor Wat by bicycle, but it was really hot. I had problems to breathe. That is why we chose the more comfortable ride by tuk-tuk. We had to pay a fixed price to the driver, who was driving us around the different temples for hours. Nonetheless, I saw a lot of travelers discovering Angkor Wat by bicycle.

    At the gates of Angkor Wat, they took a picture of me, took my entrance fee and handed a day pass over to me with my own picture printed on it. No way to fake the ticket.

    From February 2017 on, the entrance prices for Angkor Wat have risen. Visitors now pay almost twice as much as before: The price of a single-day ticket is 37 US-Dollars now, the three-day pass 62 US-Dollars and the seven day ticket 72 US-Dollars.

    Cambodia7

    Cambodia8

    Angkor Wat: Coming early to avoid tour buses

    I was a little disappointed, that it was cloudy. We didn’t see a proper sunrise at Angkor Wat. Still, it was a good idea to be there early to have a unique time at the temple without the masses of tourists, who arrived in big tour buses a bit later in the morning.

    I was wearing a t-shirt, that covered my shoulders and a long cotton pants to cover my knees. This way, I was able to visit the highest level of Angkor Wat. It is a good idea for travelers to stick to the dress code and keep shoulders and knees covered.

    At first sight, I wasn’t as impressed as I had imagined. But after I had gotten an overview of the really big site with a lot of different temples, that we were allowed to discover by ourselves, I changed my mind.

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    Angkor Wat: Amazing Tomb Raider temple

    Especially the Tomb Raider temple was amazing. Massive old trees had captured back their territory. Their roots were growing everywhere. It looked like a set up for a movie. And yes the ruins had been the setting for the film „Lara Croft: Tomb Raider“.

    Angkor Wat entrance fees

    It is definitely worth visiting Angkor Wat on a backpacking trip around Cambodia. I wouldn’t think twice about paying the quite expensive entrance fee.

    Tomb Raider Temple, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

    In 2015, the government published a youtoube video to inform visitors about the right dress and behavior codes:

    Problems in Cambodia:

    Child labor and people with disabilities begging

    A visit in Angkor Wat already reveals some of the problems of Cambodia. There was a big number of children, who were trying to sell souvenirs to the tourists on the site next to a lot of overpriced restaurants. The children were aggressively begging, not getting tired of trying. Moreover, you saw a lot of locals begging or singing for money, whose arms or legs had been amputated.

    20.000 Cambodians killed by unexploded shells

    The news agency Reuters informed, that unexploded devices, including mines and unexploded shells, have killed nearly 20.000 Cambodians and wounded about 44.000 since 1979, according to the Cambodian government.

    The center for Southeast Asian Studies of the Northern Illinois University informs on its homepage about Cambodia being one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. “Some estimates run as high as ten million mines (in a country of 11.5 million people), though the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) estimates 4 to 6 million mines. There are many different kinds of bombs and mines: US material from the Vietnam war era, and Chinese, Soviet and eastern block made materials left from the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s and a decade of civil war that followed in the 1980s. This legacy of three decades of war had taken a severe toll on the Cambodia people; some 40,000 people live as amputees, one of the highest rates in the world. But at least that number again must have died in remote areas before they could be transported to medical facilities, before they were discovered, or because of infections.”

    On the way to Siem Reap CambodiaPhnom Penh, Cambodia

    The casino scam in Phnom Penh: A horrible experience

    In the capital of Cambodia Phnom Penh, I had one of the most horrible experiences of my backpacking trip around Cambodia. I got nearly scammed. Well, I got scammend, but was able to get out of the situation without any harm. You can read a lot about the legendary Phnom Penh casino scam online, but I haven’t heart of it until I experienced it myself. On my third day in the city, I wanted to go on a little sightseeing trip by myself.

    When I was close to the main square to ask for bus ticket prices, a women came over to me with a friendly smile. First, she just asked a few silly questions about directions. She introduced herself as a tourist from Malaysia visiting her cousin in Cambodia. After I had told her a little bit about me and that I had been to Australia on a working holiday visa before, she said, that she would like to work abroad in Australia or New Zealand as a chef. She invited me to have lunch with her at her cousin’s house “around the corner” to hear more about my experiences.

    Fake hospitaliy: I seriously wasn’t really sure, if I should accept the invitation. I just had wanted to do a little sightseeing tour by myself. But I had heart about the hospitality of Cambodians and was a little curious. It would be just a quick lunch and a little chat, I thought. I was irritated, when she offered me the seat at the back of her motorbike. “It’s not far”, she assured me. But when we were suddenly driving out of the city center to the outskirts of Phnom Penh, I got a little nervous. While we were driving, she phoned her cousin saying in English “We have a visitor”.

    When I sat down in the living room of their very nice house, I understood, that it had been very stupid to go with some strangers to a random house in a city, that I didn’t know. I didn’t even know, where I was. I hadn’t told anyone, where I was going. I would have told every child not to go with strangers. And now, I was exactly doing that.

    Interrogation by a Black Jack Dealer: I started to be alarmed, when her “cousin” Alex started to talk to me. I guess, it was not his real name. And probably, the woman was not from Malaysia either. Suddenly the women was not interested anymore to hear more about my work in Australia. She was cleaning some furniture in the already very clean house. Alex was leading the conversation.

    Relatively quickly, he started to talk about the casino, where he has been working for 15 years as a Black Jack dealer. He was speaking about the gamblers, that he pitied, about the desperate. About the big money, that was made and lost there every night. It was a bizarre situation and I wasn’t really sure, how to get out of it.

    Afraid of getting drugged: Then, we had lunch. Suddenly, I was getting afraid. Why hadn’t I listened before to my own feelings? Why didn’t I just leave? I was probably still too polite. They were very friendly. Smiling. In spite of that, I took care, that I just drank from sealed water bottles and just ate from the plates, that they had been eating from. I suddenly thought, that they could easily try to drug me.

    In my head were thoughts about human traffic, organ trade and the movie “hostel”. I didn’t want to make them angry anyhow. I pretended to be in a very good mood and to be very thankful for the lunch, that wasn’t even especially good. After lunch, I said, that I needed to go.

    The scary plan: But Alex insisted to show me some card tricks first. Okay. I agreed. Just a few seconds later, he told me about his plan to cheat in the casino with my help. He would do his regular job as a back jack dealer giving me signs, so that I knew the other players cards. It would have just needed a few hours of training. He said, that he had done that with a lot of travelers from different countries before. And yes, you really read a lot of stories about this scam in all kind of travel forums. It has happened to a lot of backpackers in South East Asia.

    I actually met a traveler just a few days later, who had lost all his money because of a scam like this. A traveler with Dollar signs in his eyes, who had been keen to get a lot of money within no time. But the only one wining is always them. The whole scam works that way, that they make you lose. Probably not even in a casino, but in a private gambling room. You might also get drugged, before they make you use your bank card to pay off your very high gambling debts.

    I tried to appear “naive”: For me, it all ended relatively harmless. I convinced Alex, that I am not the right person for casino cheating. I told him, that I would be a very bad actor, that I am far too nervous and unable to lie. Than I told them, that I wanna leave. My heart was beating as fast as never before in my life, when I stood up from the table, still pretending to be a naive happy hippie traveler, who wants to get back to the market to buy some souvenirs for my family before sunset.

    Afterwards: Shock and tears: I secretly checked for my valuables, my money, my phone and my passport in my bag and left the house in a friendly way just to hop as fast as possible on the next motorbike, whose driver wanted to give me a ride. I told the driver to speed up. I looked back and saw Alex standing at the street, laughing. When I arrived at the city center, I just started to cry. I sat down next to the street, smoked three cigarettes to calm down and thanked god, that I survived the day in spite of my naivety.

    Getting paranoid the following days: The whole experience made something with me. Days after that incident, I still felt insecure and always double checked, if my room door was locked and if no one was following me in the streets.

    I even thought about going to the police. But what should I have told Cambodian policemen? That I went voluntarily with a nice lady to a nice clean house where I got invited for lunch? There was no evidence for what had happened.

    City center Pjnom Penh, Cambodia

    City center Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh riverside, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh: Meeting travelers in the Tat Guesthouse

    In Phnom Penh, I stayed in the Tat Guesthouse. Although it sometimes doesn’t get the best reviews for example on Tripadvisor,  it was a great choice for me to get a budget room for myself and to meet different travelers from around the world. I realized quickly, that Cambodia is not a major travel destination for teenagers or gab year students on a party tour. You will meet a lot of experienced travelers of all ages.

    Phnom Penh: Visiting the Killing Fields

    Together with an English traveler I went to the legendary Killing Fields. In a tuk tuk. That’s the way to get around in the city – by tuk tuk or on the back of a motorbike. All Cambodians seem to be motorbike taxi drivers. And I hardly ever had to pay more than one US-Dollar for a ride.

    Three million Cambodians have died

    Whoever travels Cambodia will get confronted with the horrible history of that country. Between 1975 and 1979, the attempt by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork, executions and non-existent medical treatment. An estimated number of three million out of eight million Cambodians died.

    Impressive book “First they killed my father”

    I was reading the autobiographical book “First they killed my father” written by Loung Ung while traveling around Cambodia. I had been on many bus rides, where I had to stop reading, because I didn’t want to cry in front of the other passengers. Reading that made it a lot easier for me to understand what Cambodians have gone through – not long ago. It was a horrible thought, that almost ever Cambodian, who is just a bit older than me, had experienced hell.

    Between skulls, bones and rags of clothes of the victims

    The feeling visiting the Killing Fields  in Phnom Penh was intense. I saw skulls and bones, rags of clothes, that had been found in the mass graves. These things were presented in show cases. On the killing fields itself, audio guides made me start my imagination. The contrast of green grass, the seemingly peaceful surrounding and the words, that I heard through my headphones made me shiver.

    On the way to the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: Torture and despair

    Next stop after the Killing Fields was the Prison 21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where Cambodians got tortured and murdered during the era of Pol Pot. I walked through the old wooden and stone cells. There was not much in there, but in my imagination, I was able to see torture and despair.

    Prison 21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cabodia

    Freshwater dolphin watching in Kratie

    After I had eaten my lunch on a market consisting of a lot of chicken bones and liver, that I had not ordered that way, I caught the bus to Kratie. A chilled out place next to the Mekong River. Apart from that, there was not much going on. Around 8.30 pm, the town goes to sleep. Just to wake up again with the sun at 5 am. I quickly noticed one thing: In small Cambodian towns, women seem to love walking around in pyjama style suits all day long.

    Kratie is the base for freshwater dolphin watching tours by boat. I had rented a bicycle to get on a little road trip along the Mekong. A few kilometers out of town, small wooden boats were waiting for guests to do a one-hour-dolphin-cruise. Ask for directions in Kratie and bring a little cash. It is not super cheap to do the boat ride. It should be around 9 US-Dollars per person.

    Me and some other travelers were sharing a boat. There were not many people around. The silent trip was a really good experience. And I definitely saw dolphins jumping out of the water a few times. Read more opinions about the Mekong River dolphins on Tripadvisor.

    Mekong Freshwater dolphin watching in Kratie, Cambodia

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    Mekong River: Becoming a movie star

    I had never wanted to become a film star, but on the little Mekong river Island of Ko Trong, the department of Tourism of Cambodia gave me a little chance to show my talent. They were looking for tourists, who had a few spare hours to take part in a promotional video about Cambodia.

    It was fun. Faster than I could think, they were filming me riding my bicycle and checking in into a random homestay. Together with other travelers from England, Spain, Italy, Vietnam and Cambodia, we got invited for lunch in that homestay, while the cameras were watching us. Well, it was food for free, which makes travelers always happy.

    The film crew was trying to make us smile all the time, while scenes had to be repeated again and again. They really tried to create a relaxed atmosphere, while we finally had to plant some trees. I didn’t really understand why and what for, but planting trees cannot be bad for mankind. After all the Cambodian movies, that I had watched in buses in between the karaoke videos, I didn’t expect much of the whole filming action. And it was fun to discover the video afterwards on youtube. Well, I was right with my expectations.

    Me in the tourist video, Ko Trong, Cambodia

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    You can watch the promotional video on youtube:

    Seeing the Vietnamese floating villages

    I also visited the Vietnamese floating villages, that Ko Trong is popular for, giving the inhabitants probably a little bit of a zoo-feeling while taking pictures from a nearby hill. But yes, in total, it was a wonderful experience being on Ko Trong. The ferry ride had just taken around ten minutes. And I had landed in a different world, where life goes in a slow pace and there are enough palm trees between the bamboo houses to spent shade to everyone.

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    Ko Trong Island, Mekong, Cambodia

    Ban Lung: Selling meat out of a hammock

    With 27 passengers, I was sitting in a minibus, that just had 16 seats. Two were constantly going sick during the ride. That is how I spent the way from Kratie to Ban Lung. It was raining, when I arrived. Together with a Polish and a Mexican traveler, We stood helplessly at a dirt road in the middle of town. No one around us spoke great English. So we just told the next tuk tuk driver to bring us to the Tribal Hotel. A name, that we had picked from our guidebook.

    After the check in, I started to discover the town center together with the two other travelers. It basically seemed like a massive market square, where salesmen and saleswomen were hanging in their hammocks above the meat, fruits and clothes, that they were selling. Very chilled out people. When I was riding trough the town a little later on a bicycle, I noticed a lot of smiling faces. Many Cambodians waved to greet me. Children in their school uniforms on their way home asked me about my name, my age and about how many brothers and sister I had. They had just learned their first English sentences. And they were cool enough to practice with me.

    Ban Lung Cambodia

    Ban Lung Cambodia

    Kachanh Waterfall, Ban Lung, Cambodia

    When a stranger wants to pay you for sex…

    In ban Lung, it was almost all the time terribly hot, the air sticky. In my hotel room, I watched some Cambodian movies on TV before going to sleep with my travel mosquito net spread across my body. In that room, I haven’t found a way to hang it up. It was already dark, when someone knocked at my door. It was the Indian looking guy from the room next door asking for a cigarette. Five minutes later, he knocked again. This time, he wanted to exchange 50 US-Dollars for sex.

    I wasn’t too sure, if I should laugh or cry, but he was honest about it, telling me, how much time, he had needed to save the money. He said something about, that he had always wanted to sleep with an English girl. I said something like “Sorry, I’m not English and not interested” and closed the door with power. He didn’t have wanted to leave. It shocked me a bit, how sure he must have been about the fact, that he was able to buy a woman with that money as if every “English” girl would be a prostitute. I was far too confused to tell him off. And luckily, he didn’t knock again.

    Ban Lung, Cambodia

    Swimming in Yeak Loom Lake in Ban Lung:

    Foreigners pay more

    It had been raining a few days in Ban Lung. After the rain stopped,  I went for a swim in the Yeak Loom Lake, a crater lake. Of course, foreigners pay much more than locals. It is the same procedure everywhere in Cambodia. At least, you feel, that it is normal and that you don’t get ripped off more than other foreigners. There are signs everywhere pointing out the prices. Same at the Kachanh Waterfall, where I went by bicycle afterwards. And yes, the different prices are a bit strange. But in the end, it is probably true, that most foreign tourists are not completely broke. Even if you are a poor traveler, you can usually still afford some priviliges like restaurant meals and cheap guesthouses, that many Cambodians are not able to pay for.

     Yeak Loom Lake, Ban Lung, Cambodia

     

     

    By motorbike to Vaen Sai: UXO warning signs

    On the way to Vaen Sai, I met an English traveler. We got along really well immediately. Well, probably, you get along with almost everyone, who speaks the same language, when you travel alone around Cambodia.  At least, we had something to talk about. We decided to rent a motorbike the following day to go on a trip to Vaen Sai. That is a small village around 40 kilometers away from Ban Lung. I wanted to discover as much as possible of Cambodia. Even the most hidden parts. We went on one of the streets, which you better don’t leave. There were warning signs of UXO everywhere along the road.

    I would have never gone there by myself. But this way, it was a great opportunity to discover more of the rural Cambodia. It was fun swimming in the river, where the locals took their baths. It was fun watching the pigs playing and eating between the wooden houses. It was interesting to the the very basic conditions of living there. You quickly realize: It’s true, in reality, you don’t need a lot.

    People in villages like Vaen Sai are very free. They don’t carry 20 heavy cartons plus furniture around, when they move houses. I was slightly jealous about the fact, that they don’t feel too need much more. When we wanted to drive back, it started to rain again. The monsoon season was about to start. On most days, it was raining at least once.

    Vaen Sai, Cambodia

    Vaen Sai, Cambodia

    Vaen Sai, Cambodia

    Vaen Sai, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville: Beaches, prostitutes, plastic rubbish

    The dorms were smelling a bit like pee. But it was cheap. Sometimes, I hated it being a backpacker on a low budget. But the atmosphere in the Big Easy Hostel in Sihanoukville was nice, the people sitting at the bar very welcoming and the price unbeatable. The hostel reviews were really good and probably, I just had been a little unlucky with my roommates. I had traveled from Ban Lung back to Phnom Penh and further to Sihanoukville. It was raining, when I arrived. And somehow, the rain didn’t stop during the following three days.

    Sihanoukville is probably not the prettiest place on earth, but the beaches draw a lot of backpackers, that are able to drink and party in the several beach hut bars right at the ocean. In between, some amputees were begging and some prostitutes offered their service pretty obviously. I went to the beach for a few drinks with some people from the hostel. But I hated the atmosphere. I don’t mind parties, but I hated sitting there among party tourists on their route through South East Asia. Many of them don’t even care about history or the actual situation of the country. It was not my setting. After a few drinks with other hostel guests in one of the beach front bars, I went home early. Just to get woken up a bit later by my drunk teenage roommates having sex in the neighboring room.

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville, Cambodia

    Sihanoukville: Go on trips to Ko Rong or Kep

    The trick in Sihanoukville is to move away from the main town beach, where artists would be able to collect whole bags of plastic rubbish to create some sculptures. There are quieter parts a few hundred meters away. And going to the island of Ko Rong just off the coast of Sihanoukville is one of the highlights for many travelers. Without the rain, I would have probably done that and gotten a much better impression of Sihanoukville.

    One of the good experiences was my day trip by public bus to Kep. It was more of a premium beach town with a lot more expensive, but much nicer hotels. Probably not the low-budget backpacking destination, but still nice to see.

    Kep, Cambodia

    Kep, Cambodia

    Kep, Cambodia

    Kampot to Bokor National Park: A ridiculous trip

    I enjoyed being in Kampot. For many backpackers, it is a perfect destination to chill a few days in some hostels at the river front. I enjoyed the vibe, the walks through the city.

    And it was the base for a relatively ridiculous day trip to the Bokor National Park. It was probably the worst day trip, that I had ever made. First of all, we went in a little tour group to see the new 5-star-casino-hotel, for which the jungle had been cleared. The tour guide was very proud to show the casino. I would have preferred some jungle. Later, we went to a few landmarks like a viewpoint with a little temple on top and amazing views into a valley. The views were great. The small monkey enclosure full of rubbish next to the viewpoint on the other side was really a reason to get angry.

    The most interesting thing about the day trip to Bokor National Park was the tour group. There were a Cambodian girl, whose parents had fled to France to escape the Pol Pot regime. She was really searching for her own identity. It was very interesting to speak with her about her feeling traveling Cambodia. Same with an American Cambodian in our tour group. He was so American. It felt as if he was more of a tourist than I was. He looked Cambodian, but didn’t seem to know anything about his country.

     

    Kampot, Cambodia

    Kampot, Cambodia

    Kampot, Cambodia

    Kampot, Cambodia

    Bokor National Park, Cambodia

    Bokor National Park, Cambodia

    Bokor National Park, Cambodia

    Bokor National Park, Cambodia

    Crossing the border from Cambodia to Vietnam:

    Scammed and ripped off

    I had gotten my Vietnam visa valid for a month in the embassy of Sihanoukville and had waited just a couple of days for it. When I had bought my bus ticket to the Vietnamese town of Hat Tien in Kampot, I had expected to get there by the bus, that we had paid for. But no. When me and the other bus passengers had passed immigration and given a few extra bills to the greedy border officials for stamping the passport, there was no bus on the Vietnamese side waiting for us. The bus driver was still there with us and explained, that he would not go anywhere in Vietnam.

    Fake ticket: No bus waiting after the border crossing: This is one of the legendary Cambodian border scams. You pay for a bus to a Vietnamese city, but you just get driven to the border. After you have passed immigration, there is no more bus waiting for you. Just a casino in the middle of nowhere and the Vietnamese taxi mafia. I had heart about it before. And yes, it had happened to me. I was pissed off. It really got on my nerves. I was happy not to be alone. But we were not able to do anything. Some of the other passengers started to become aggressive. They were useless.

    Fighting for my right: I finally called the agency, that had sold me the bus ticket and asked them politely to find a solution to avoid explaining themselves to the police. First, I was begging, talking, then shouting. The agency finally ordered the bus driver to pay a motorbike taxi for me to the next bus station in Vietnam. I was surprised. It had worked. Unfortunately, I was not able to do anything for the other travelers, who had bought their tickets elsewhere. But I had made it. And some more interesting scams were waiting for me in Vietnam.

    Border to Vietnam

    Border to Vietnam

    Read more about my backpacking trip around Vietnam here

    Janina

    Janina

    Travel writer at Travel Steps
    Traveling around the world is my passion. On www.travel-steps.com, I'm writing about my backpacking trips with all ups and downs.
    Janina

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