Tag - sihanoukville

An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia

In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.

Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.

Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.

Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.

Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.

Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia
Bokor National Park, Cambodia

One of the most enchanting destinations in the whole of Cambodia, Bokor National Park is a great place to explore. A large number of well-worn trails lead through the jungle here, and those who book a guided tour will have the chance to spy a wide range of wildlife including tigers and elephants, while swimming in the cool, clear water provided by the park’s waterfalls is the perfect way to cool down.
One of the best things about Bokor National Park, which was established in 1993, is that it is possible to travel here on a daytrip from the popular destinations of Kampot and Sihanoukville. The park covers an area of just over 1,500 square kilometres and is officially known as Preah Monivong National Park. This area of protected land is covered with dense forest and is particularly popular with birdwatchers, who come for the chance to spot a wide variety of our fine feathered friends.

In addition to birds such as the green peafowl, hornbills and the rare chestnut-headed partridge, the park is also home to animals such as red muntjac deer, sun bears, leopards and the pretty pileated gibbon. Other highlights of the park include the French hill station, an enchanting jungle church and the simply stunning Popokvil Falls.

As with most areas of Cambodia that are located outside of towns and cities, it is best to hire a guide when exploring Bokor National Park, as there is a chance that unexploded landmines could be hidden beneath the overgrowth. Local guides know the area well as will be able to ensure that their charges stick to areas that have been thoroughly swept for landmines.

Nothing can compete with the magic of spending the night in Bokor National Park and waking at dawn to the sound of the birds in the trees and the call of other animals as they awaken. Located within the park is the Bokor Palace Hotel, which offers clean and comfortable rooms as well as amenities such as a good restaurant and casino. However, rooms here tend to be a little pricy, and those who are on a tight budget may prefer to spend the night in the Ranger’s Station instead.

Ream National Park, Cambodia

Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
Ream National Park, Cambodia
ream_national_park_4

Ream National Park is Cambodia’s most diverse national park. Located about 12 miles from Sihanoukville, the park has been open since 1993. Ream covers 21,000 hectares; 15,000 hectares of land and 6,000 hectares of river and sea. Here you will find secluded beaches, tropical jungles and wide rivers. Over 155 species of bird call Ream home, as well as Sun Bears, the endangered elongated tortoise, eagles and even dolphins.
A boat trip through the national park is the perfect way to see the natural beauty of this charming area. Sail away down the Prek Tuk Sap River in a small motorboat, sheltered from the hot sun by a canvass roof. The scenery is spectacular and the banks of the river are lined with mangrove forests. There is plenty of wildlife to see such as beautiful green kingfishers, monkeys hooting in the trees and purple jellyfish.

As you glide slowly along the river, you will pass people digging in the river bed for shellfish and fishing from small boats. After a couple of hours, you will arrive at Koh Som Poch Beach, where you can swim or sunbathe while lunch is prepared.

Walk for about an hour through tropical jungle rich with plant life and you will come to the Thmor Thom fishing village. The buzz of cicada beetles is loud and exoticly beautiful butterflies flutter through the forest.

Ream’s intense natural beauty leads many people to set up home here and the population has doubled in the last eight years. This means that resources such as wood, herbs, fish and fruit are seriously over-used. There is also the problem of illegal logging and poaching to deal with. Luckily, this situation is slowly but steadily changing thanks to the injection of cash that the tourism industry is providing. Illegal fishing and logging are being stamped out, and the forests of the area are gradually regenerating.

It is possible to book a tour of Ream National Park at a number of places in Sihanoukville. The prices of tours vary according to the company you opt for, but all tours include meals as well as transportation and entrance into the park.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Situated in the south of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is one of Cambodia’s most popular seaside towns. Visitors to this pretty beach area will find plenty of bars, restaurants and cheap guesthouses, while there are plenty of places to stretch out on the pure white powdery sand and work on your tan.
Formerly known as Kompong Som, Sihanoukville takes its name from the famous prince Sihanouk. A great way to reach this resort is by boat from the Koh Kong / Hat Lek border crossing that connects Cambodia with Thailand. This is a good place to relax for a day or two before travelling through the rest of Cambodia.

Sihanoukville’s main attraction is its beautiful sandy beaches, which are some of the best in the whole of Cambodia. While each of the beaches here feature their own distinct charms, the most popular tend to be Sokha Beach, Victory Beach, Ochheuteal Beach, Independence Beach, Otres Beach and Serendipity Beach. Those who are on a tight budget will find plenty of cheap accommodation around Victory Beach, while party people will want to gravitate towards the bars and restaurants that can be found around Ochheuteal Beach.

Water sports are popular in Sihanoukville, and this is a great place to try snorkelling and scuba diving. A large number of islands can be found just off the coast, surrounded by cool, clear waters. A number of local companies offer boast trips to explore the area, which also allow visitors to check out snorkelling and scuba diving around Bamboo Island, which is known locally as Koh Russei. Visitors who are enchanted by the tranquillity and natural beauty of this island also have the chance to spend the night on Bamboo Island.

One of the most popular attractions that can be found in this part of the world is the large and lovely Ream National Park, and a wide range of local companies offer daytrips here. Public transportation in this part of Cambodia can be a little thin on the ground, and those who want to really get to know the area will want to hire a motorbike.

Make sure you surrender a photocopy of your passport rather than the actual document itself in order to secure bike hire. After all the arrangements have been made it is now time to drive to the temples of Wat Krom and Wat Leu before soaking up the scenery at Kampong Pier Nup Lok.

Southern Cambodia

Southern Cambodia
Southern Cambodia

Most travelers head to southern Cambodia to hang out on the beautiful beaches at Sihanoukville. There are a number of picturesque sandy islands to explore such as Bamboo Island, while Ream National Park makes the perfect day trip destination.

Although travelling through this region of Cambodia was once difficult and time consuming due to the poor condition of the roads, it is now a lot easier and getting around is fairly straight forward. There are a number of interesting towns to explore in southern Cambodia such as Kampot and Kep, while the Bokor National Park is an area of intense natural beauty with waterfalls, limestone caves and dense jungle.

Those who travel to Cambodia during the scorchingly hot summer months can retreat from the heat at Bokor Hill Station, which is situated at a high elevation and tends to be cooler than the rest of the country.

Southern Cambodia serves as a great introduction to the country. Spread out for a while and soak up the sun, swim and snorkel in the cool, clear waters and enjoy fresh barbequed fish at sunset. Explore the picturesque national parks and discover the diverse wildlife and unique Khmer style. 

Swimming in Sihanoukville – Have a Weekend Getaway, Cambodian-style

Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia
Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Sihanoukville, also known as “Kampong Som,” is like a Florida resort town dropped oddly on Cambodia’s southern coast, on the Gulf of Thailand. Founded a mere 50 years ago as a deep-water port, Sihanoukville experienced a tourist boom in the 1960s when local and visiting beachgoers headed to the coast, looking for sand and sun without crossing into Thailand. As a result, much of the shorefront property has been scooped up by moderately luxurious resorts. Budget tourists still have plenty of options, however, with a few backpacker hotspots sandwiching the posher hotels.

 
Victory Beach’s charmingly weathered bungalows hearken the area’s heyday as a gathering ground for 70s hippie backpackers. The guesthouses are cosy and the people are some of Cambodia’s friendliest, though the port on the northern end of the beach makes for a mediocre swimming experience. Occheuteal Beach, nicknamed Serendipity Beach, is the newest traveller hangout, with a long stretch of restaurants and bars opening out onto beautiful turquoise waters.
 
There is no shortage of guesthouses on either beach, each with rooms ranging from the basic 3$ fan room to the more luxurious 10$ group-sized suites with A/C. On Occeuteal Beach, GST Guesthouse and Rega Guesthouse are two standout names, located a few paces inland on the road behind the shore. Both have clean rooms and tourist services at the front desk, where adventurous beachgoers can book diving and snorkeling trips to neighbouring islands down the coast. Down on the beach, Sunset Cafe arranges trips to the exquisitely remote Bamboo Island for about 5$.
 
The clean sand, shallow water, and smooth ground on the beaches makes Sihanoukville a popular holiday spot for Cambodian students and young families. Every weekend, the beaches fill up with crowds of people swimming by day and dancing by night. Unlike the party islands in Thailand or the old French resort towns in Vietnam, Sihanoukville is a unique vacation spot where Western and local tourism co-exist along the shore. Chatty restaurant staff practice their English, pick-up games of football are played out on the beach, and children sit beside groups of backpackers to build temples and chedis in the sand. Interactions aren’t all amicable, however.

With tourism as its economic backbone, the beach is a well-trodden path for vendors, encouraging visitors to buy their cold drinks, handmade jewelry, and bright sarongs. The cute-but-aggressive boys who weave bracelets for their customers speak some of the best English in Cambodia, and they’ll use it persistently to make a sale.

  
Pushy merchants aside, Sihanoukville invites a rare social amalgamation of Cambodian and foreign beachgoers. This is the best place to skip the pan-western menu at your guesthouse bar and head to the beach with the Cambodian vacationers for some inexpensive and fantastically fresh barbecued seafood. Tasty prawn, crab, and tuna are par for the course, but daring eaters can sample the more avant-garde local delicacies of fresh-caught shark and jellyfish.
  
The city itself is fairly unexceptional, offering the standard amenities of banks, post offices, and small markets. If the weather takes a turn or travellers get waterlogged from the beach, the town has some standout restaurant/bars that will revive one’s spirits. Angkor Arms is a British pub that fares well with expats. It boasts a comfortable, vibrant patio and all the draught you may be missing from home. Down the street, Dusk til Dawn is a rooftop bar whose liveliness that lives up to its name.
  
Back at the beach, a busy weekend means no shortage of activity along the shores of Occheuteal Beach. It may be difficult to separate the bars from the impromptu dance parties as you walk down the strip, but you will be welcome into either. At the southern end of Serendipity Beach, the Dolphin shack (look for the neon blue dolphin sign) employs some of the nicest Cambodian bartenders you’ll ever meet. Take a seat with the witty owner and let her funny, sentimental stories entertain you all night.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.