Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The ancient city of Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th century. It covers a huge area over 400 square kilometers and contains the remains of the many temples, including the famous Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, it was originally built as a Hindu temple in the early 12th century but was later converted to a Buddhist temple.

We bought a 3 day pass temple pass which actually allowed us to enter the temples from 5pm the evening before our first official day. We used this time to explore Angkor Wat and watch the sunset. At 6:30pm the guards started kicking everyone out, which turned into a several people (us included) playing a little game of hide and seek. Eventually the guards won.

On the first morning our tuk tuk driver, Mr Rai, picked us up at 5:30am. The main reason for getting up so early was to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. We were accompanied by a few hundred other tourists, but the colours in the sky were spectacular. Well worth the early get up!

As soon as the sun had risen we drove to Ta Prohm which is one of the most popular temples and was used as Tomb Raider’s film set. We were the first people to arrive at the temple and for the first hour of exploring it was only us and a handful of other tourists. Perfect! My favourite thing has to be the large trees which are growing out of the temple. Their huge roots are beautifully intertwined with doorways and walls, the temple wouldn’t quite be the same without them.

There is also an Echo Chamber within Ta Prohm which was used for praying. As you beat your hand against your chest the sound reverberates through the incense infused chamber. As the coach loads of tourists started to filter in, we decided it was time to move on.

We visited Banteay Kdei, Pre Rup and Ta Som, followed by our favourite temple of the day, Preah Khan. This temple is huge and also has some intricate carvings that are still in good condition. We loved exploring this temple, not knowing what would be around the next corner.

On our second day we cycled around the temples of Angkor Thom city. We started at Bayon, one of the most popular temples, which has 54 towers each carved with 4 large faces. That makes a grand total of 216 smiling faces. A very impressive temple, which soon got too busy for our liking. After Bayon we visited Baphuon, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King and Victory Gate. It was a good day, but rather exhausting cycling and climbing around the temples in the 35 degree heat.

On our last day we headed further afield to Beng Mealea which is 40km away from the main Angkor temples. We set off at 5:45am and drove through the countryside as young, often shoe-less, children walked and cycled to school. On arrival at the temple gates we were glad to see only a few other visitors. This temple has a real jungle feel; as we climbed around the temple and over the fallen rocks, we could hear the squawks of parrots and several other exotic birds overhead. Exploring this temple was a real adventure and we found some fantastic vantage points that looked out over the temple walls. This has to be our favourite Angkor temple.

In the afternoon we visited Banteay Srei, a petite temple, which is built out of red sandstone and has some of the most beautiful carvings. We had three very tiring but enjoyable days exploring Angkor’s temples. The size, variety and intricacies of the temples is really impressive. It is certainly one of our highlights of South East Asia.

Next stop: Yangon, Myanmar

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Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are beautiful tropical islands off Cambodia’s coast. They are around a one hour ferry ride from the mainland party town of Sianoukesville. Koh Rong is the more well known of the two islands, it is a popular destination for backpackers and we decided to stay here first.

Initially we stayed on Sok San beach which is on the opposite side of the island to the ‘party beach’ of Koh Tuich. We stayed in a simple bungalow only a few steps away from the stunning 7km long stretch of white sand. The evenings were quiet, possibly even too quiet for us. After a couple of days of peaceful relaxation we moved to Koh Tuich beach, which was much livelier at night with live bands and fire shows.

Koh Rong Samloem

On Koh Rong Samloem we stayed at Mr Kun’s bungalows, one of the few budget accommodation options on Saracen Bay. It certainly seemed a bit more upmarket (and pricier) than Koh Rong. The beach was lovely though and after lunchtime the sea was so calm it felt more like swimming in a lake. We loved our first paddle boarding session in Kampot so decided to give it another go.. this time on the sea!

The following day we took the 1 hour trek, through the jungle, to a lighthouse which sits on the southern most tip of the island. The views from the top of the lighthouse were impressive, looking out over both bays. After a few lazy beach days it was great to go exploring in the jungle, listening to the sounds of the exotic birds and looking out for little critters.

On our last day on Koh Rong Samloem we walked over to Lazy Beach which is on the opposite side of the island. The beach was lovely, with some of the most crystal clear water I have ever seen. We even spotted a few monkeys playing in the trees nearby.

We stayed on the islands for just over a week and they were a perfect place for some relaxation and a little exploring!

Next stop: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot is a charming riverside town which is renowned for its pepper production. We stayed out in the countryside in a basic, yet beautiful yurt at Ganesha Eco Guesthouse. At night the tree next to our yurt was filled with fireflies, twinkling like the lights on a Christmas tree. It was a magical sight.

We hired a scooter and rode through Bokor National Park up to the old French Hill Station. It takes around an hour to get to the top, but the journey itself is all part of the experience. The road was in very good condition (probably one of the best we have seen in Asia), with sweeping turns as we climbed up the hillside. The views over the national park were stunning. As James rightly said the ride was a ‘motorbiker’s dream’.

The abandoned resort town at the top consists of several derelict buildings including Bokor Palace Hotel and an old church. The buildings were built in the 1920s and later abandoned in both the 1940s, during the Indochina War, and 1970s by the Khmer Rouge; they certainly have an eerie feel.

The following day we tried stand up paddleboarding which was really good fun. Once we had mastered the art of balancing and maneuvering the board, we did a 1 hour loop floating through the palm groves. It was so peaceful. We finished the session by watching the sunset and even trying out a few gymnastics moves. We really enjoyed our stay in Kampot and could have happily stayed here a lot longer!

Next stop: Koh Rong, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh has been Cambodia’s capital since the French colonisation in 1866. We only spent one day in the capital, but it certainly had a sleepier, less developed feel than any of the other Asian capitals we have visited.

Cambodia has had a brutal history. They were heavily bombed for 4 years during the Vietnam war in America’s secret bombing campaign. This led to an increase in support for Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for the death of 1-2 million people (around 25% of Cambodia’s population) in the following 5 years.

We visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which is a former school that was turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge. Between 1975 and 1979 the prison was used to hold, interrogate and torture around 20,000 civilians. There are only 12 known survivors from Tuol Sleng.

We then visited Choeung Ek Killing Fields which is the site where many of S-21’s prisoners were led to their death. A Buddhist stupa, containing over 5,000 skulls, has been built as a memorial to those who lost their lives. Despite the day being rather sombre, visiting these sites serves as an important reminder that we should never let atrocities like this ever happen again.

Next stop: Kampot, Cambodia