After traveling to close to 100 countries we often get asked where our favorite place has been, and the truth is we love them all for different reasons. One of our favorites however, which we both immediately fell in love with was Cambodia. The Cambodian people are so friendly and welcoming. The locals are genuinely interested in the visitors to their country. Practically every day a young Khmer boy or girl came to sell us something, but once afterwards they would ask to sit and talk to us, to practice their English ask about where we were from. We have been twice, the first time we went to the capital Phnom Penh, formerly known as Krong Chaktomuk Serimongkul or shortly known as Krong Chaktomuk, which is the capital and most populous city in Cambodia with 2.1 million people. The second time we went to Siem Reap, this blog will highlight both journeys. Despite their sorrowful history from the genocide, poverty, scars and landmines left behind from the 1970’s which created enormous hardship for these people, they shine through with hope, and kindness.
Food, Alcohol, Accommodations, Markets, Massages and Transportation are all extremely cheap in Cambodia. It makes the rest of south east Asia feel expensive. While in Phom Penh we stayed at the King Grand Boutique Hotel and Restaurant for under $40 a night. You can get around on foot in the towns, but motor bike taxis and our personal favorites Tuk tuks (or an “auto rickshaw” which is a sputtering, three-wheeled motorcycle taxi you can easily find everywhere if you need them). Despite the increasing amount of tourism, and ATM machines which even dispense the American dollar, the best part about Cambodia is that it has not been ruined by visitors or westernization. They have remained pure, and true to their culture and beauty.
The King Grand Boutique Hotel is located perfectly just five minutes walk to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, a short distance to the National Museum, scenic riverside, shops, restaurants, and right across the big park in the center of Phnom Penh.The hotel opened only in July 2011 a few months before we got there and was brand new. The staff was extremely nice, and the food was delicious!
When we first started traveling, I didn’t take many videos unfortunately- but we do have at least one from every country we visited. This is the only video we took in Cambodia, in our first Tuk Tuk ride- we wanted to buy one for home. I guess our golf cart is a close second! 🙂
We were headed to the Central Market, an incredible must see experience. It is an Art Deco landmark of Phnom Penh. The bright yellow building completed in 1937 filled with what we affectionately refer to as “street meat”, goods and a visual sensory overload excellent for people watching and exploration.
Other must see destinations on this side of the country are the Royal Palace, which houses the King of Cambodia and is quite stunning in day and at night all lit up. You should also consider taking a cruise down the Mekong river, a must see as it is the 12th longest river in the world, and runs from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Of course they have lovely temples such as Wat Phnom, a Buddhist Temple built in 1372, it’s the tallest structure in the city and the center point of Phnom Penh. The Silver Pagoda is located on the south side of the Royal Palace in Chey Chumneas, Phnom Penh. The official name is Wat Ubaosoth Ratanaram as known as Wat Preah Keo Morakot “Temple of the Emerald Crystal Buddah” which is commonly shortened to Wat Preah Keo in Khmer.
The National Museum of Cambodia in Chey Chumneas, Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s is a beautiful sandstone building built in the 1920’s, and is the largest museum of cultural history and is the country’s leading historical and archaeological museum.
For a night cap, you must visit the once sleepy residential lane of leafy Tonle Bassac which has been transformed into a wonderfully exciting drinking, dining and retail phenomenon attracting expats, local Khmer and tourists alike every day of the week. No trip to Phnom Penh is complete without at least one visit to the boutiques and one night enjoying the bars and restaurants of Bassac Lane.
Also, if you feel like giving back, you must check out the Daughters of Cambodia which is a social enterprise empowering victims of trafficking ( a cause near and dear to my heart) to leave the sex industry through alternative employment. At the Daughters Visitor Centre, visitors can gain insight into the endemic of trafficking that is ravaging Cambodia (and women, men and children around the world) while learning more about what Daughters is doing to stop it. Moreover, visitors can actually participate in our work by frequenting one of the three social enterprise businesses housed at the Visitor Centre — fair-trade shop, cafe or women’s spa — all of which provide former victims of trafficking with the vital income and skills to build thriving lives for themselves with tourist support.
Almost 8 years later, there was one thing I knew we missed and we HAD to go back and see, the one and only Angkor Wat, housed in the City of the God Kings. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and temple complex in Cambodia which is the largest religious monument in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares. They say Angkor Wat is the eighth wonder of the world, with the intricacy and symbolism of the Taj Mahal and the scale and symmetry of the Egyptian pyramids. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation. The temple is at the top of the high classical style of Khmer architecture. It has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on its national flag, and it is the country’s prime attraction for visitors. I am raised Catholic, but find something so peaceful and soothing being at Buddhist and Hindu Temples. That coupled with the desire to see the world’s largest one in one of our favorite countries was a major draw back. This time, we journeyed back as a family with our two little girls Brooklyn and Cali who were age 5 and 3 at the time.
Check out this video of the McBain Family Adventures as Jay, Michelle, Brooklyn, and Cali explore Siem Reap, Cambodia. Enjoy as we explore the largest Buddhist Temple in the world, Angkor Wat, a gorgeous sunset at the Hindu Temple of Pre Rup, another fun Tuk Tuk Ride, our beautiful hotel at Mane Village Suites, and an incredibly beautiful Aspara cultural dance show at Koulen Restaurant. These are our families’ cherished memories, and we hope you enjoy!
The Apsara Dance is an iconic Khmer cultural performance that you shouldn’t miss on your visit to Cambodia. The dance draws its inspiration from the mythological court of the gods and from its celestial dancers, the Apsaras. Taught and passed down through many generations, the Apsara Dance took on its own unique form adding movements and meaning. I included a few moments to share with you in the video above!
Below is our Hotel the Mane Village Suites which felt like a tropical oasis. Amazing food, accommodations and service!
There are so many memories I will always treasure from both journeys, from the intricately detailed architecture, to the stunning vistas, to the kind hospitality of the locals and the delicious cuisine; but my favorite memory will always be seeing it from my girls eyes. They were filled with as much wonder and delight as we were. The girls explored every corner with delight, and when they reached the highest point they were overjoyed to take off their shoes and splash in a puddle barefoot, to which I and several other tourists joined them as we all embraced our inner child and giggled with delight. Our brave daddy meanwhile scaled to the highest point to look out on the world.
The second day the thought of getting up at 4 am to see the sunrise over the Angkor Wat Temple was not my or Jay’s first choice of morning activity, but I could not come all the way to Cambodia and not do this- so I left him and the kids to get some rest, and went on a solo adventure…and I am certainly glad I did, it was absolutely incredible.
I am always a little scared to travel alone in foreign countries, but I felt completely safe as I embarked on my solo voyage. Without having the family I was able to take my time and slow down and truly breath it all in. The beauty of the sun rising over it was incredible (even if some clouds got in the way). I made friends with a couple from Japan who shared my Tuk Tuk with me, and we offered to take photos for each other to capture some of the memories along the way. We happened to stay at the same beautiful (and shockingly cost feasible) resort. While Angkor Wat is the most “touristy” part of the country it is not overwhelmingly so, even in a large crowd we all walked patiently filled with awe of the beauty and stature.
In addition to Angkor Wat, there are many other temples to explore. Ta Prohm is the modern name of the temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. It was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in amazingly the same condition in which it was found. Known for the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors. Fun fact, The movie, Lara Croft Tomb Raider, was filmed here. Famous for the multiple stone faces built into the temple.
The ideal way to end your day here is at a temple called Pre Rup in Siem Reap (a short distance from the Angkor temple), and this place has been famous for a while now as the spot for sunset watching. The journey starts with an uphill trudge – not too difficult (unless you are terrified of heights like I am). The first glimpse of the temple tells you the climb is worth the effort, and I assure you- you will not be disappointed. Sitting atop of these ancient temples as the sun sets over them as they have for thousands of years makes you realize you are a part of something much larger than yourself, and allows you to pause, take a deep breath, and breathe it all in. Until we meet again Kingdom of Cambodia, you will hold a piece of our heart .