Apr 22, 2011

Cambodia--That's a Wrap

We’ve bid adieu to Cambodia after 28 days in the country.  We were a bit hesitant about it at first, but the verdict in case you haven’t noticed, is that we LOVED it!  Here’s our list of what we liked, disliked and were on the fence about:

The Good:

·         The People.  They have endured so much during the Khmer Rouge Regime years of 1975 and 1979 more definitively by 1998 with the death of Pol Pot.  Yet the Khmer people are so accepting of their past, in a strangely open and peaceful manner.  They freely acknowledge the impact that those years had on their country not to mention on their families.  But they are seemingly without bitterness towards the rest of the world that contributed to their suffering.  Many seem to be very hard working people, usually working very long hours.  

Chatting with the locals during lunch at the Crab Market
·         Great destinations.  Quite a compact country to tour—you could see the main sights quite quickly, but with 26 days, we could see it all at a leisurely pace.  Highlights included: Sihanoukville:  We loved this seaside city, as do most Cambodians and to our surprise, a diverse group of overseas tourists.  Beautiful white sand beaches, gentle waters, great bar scene—what a surprise it was here—and a well kept secret it seemed! Siem Reap has the wonderful feel of a small town of yesteryear, yet the liveliness of a great city neighbourhood anywhere in the world.  And let’s not forget Angkor Wat.

·         The food.  Cambodia had a diverse and vast selection of foods to tempt the palate, probably not surprising due to its cultural mix that includes Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, Lao, and even Philippine.  Yummy coconut based curries, Chinese influenced Lok Lak, Amok (coconut curry stew), Vietnamese spring rolls, Chinese fried rice and Thai curry and fried noodles—the best of the best!

Pork Lok Lak
·         Accommodation Standards. As tourism is a fast growing industry in Cambodia, guest houses and hotels are springing up everywhere all the time.  We generally paid about $15 for a double or triple room with A/C, usually a TV and free wifi access.  For around $22 USD you could get the same but with a pool too.  We found the standard very high, with lodging quite clean and usually quite new too (but that will obviously change).   

The bathroom of our $15/nt hotel in Phnom Penh

The So-So:

·         Relatively high cost of food.  Yes, this might sound absurd, but things, especially food, is quite high in Cambodia especially when compared to the low wages that most Khmer people actually make.  The country does not have much of a food manufacturing sector and import most of their dry goods, a lot of which comes from Thailand.  We found biscuits which we purchased in Thailand for 10 B (about .33 cents) on sale for $1.10 US.  Gala and Golden Delicious Apples, imported from the USA, were on sale everywhere at the Psar Char (old Market) in Battambang and Kampot for $3.00 per kilo!  The fact that most of the fruit vendors were selling these leads you to conclude that there was a demand for this, and we did see people buy several kilos at a time of these.  It seems the middle-upper classes definitely aren’t afraid to spend their money, but the poor and lower classes struggle to eat, battle with gambling and alcohol problems and their kids do not go to school and are sent out onto the streets to beg to supplement the family income.  Indeed, eating out was more expensive than in Thailand, but also it was a practice done only by the tourists and the middle+ classes.  

·         High cost of dairy products/Poor availability.  There is a lack of variety of milk available in Cambodia, most of which is imported from Thailand, Singapore and also New Zealand.  Also, ice cream was difficult to find, not to mention it was restively expensive when you did.  A single scoop of ice cream in Siem Reap cost $1.50 at the Blue Pumpkin which seemed to have the monopoly on the local ice cream market there.  Ice cream at the convenience store cost a minimum of $1 too.  We did finally find some ice cream in Phnom Penh and in Sihanoukville for .50 cents per scoop.

The Bad:

·         Volunteer Tourism.  There is a growing segment of the tourism market in Cambodia that is aimed at the would-be volunteers.  Some organisations charge a lot of money for the privilege and sometimes people use the plight of the children in Cambodia for their own gains.  This includes paedophiles who work/direct/volunteer at NGO organisations who are supposedly to help orphaned and under privileged children.   

·         Mosquitoes.  There seems to be a lot more of them here.

Our average daily spend in Cambodia worked out to be about $56 USD per day, and that’s of course including all food and room (which was the chunk of it); transportation costs including motorbike rentals, tuk tuks, and buses; massages and laundry; entry charges to Angkor Wat and other attractions; and the cost of our visas—even the cost of our water expenditure has been factored into this.  While it wasn’t as cheap as we’d expected it would be, the standard was definitely better than a lot of SEA countries that we’d been to so far for accommodation and food and at the end of the day, it’s still cheap and BEST.  It was very travelling with the kids too due to the family-oriented culture.  We’ve had a great 28 days and would recommend visiting Cambodia to anyone.

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