Travelling through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, next to the Angkor temples

I hardly knew anything about this country. Everyone who’d visited Cambodia insisted that I didn’t miss Siem Reap and Angkor. So, without a second thought, I included them on my route through Southeast Asia.

Not so long ago, the country had been involved in continuous wars. The massacre of the Khmer Rouge regime, which took place between 1975 and 1979, was one of the worst ones. To dig deeper into this, you can visit the “S-21”, a torture and execution center built by the regime to eliminate people they considered their enemies; and the killing fields, where thousands were killed and buried, in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

The country is quite poor, but the people are very nice and often speak English. The elder usually also manage French, since Cambodia used to be under the control of France.

Given the amount of North American and foreigners in general, the external aid they received and the UN participation in the country, the prices in Cambodia are displayed in US dollars. However, you may receive your change in “riels”, the national currency, instead of US cents. Out of the four places I visited in Southeast Asia —Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia—, the Khmer country was the most expensive. The “tuk-tuk”, a shared motorcycle that works like a cab, has set fares that are best to share with other tourist when visiting the Angkor temples. Lastly, the visa for my Argentinian passport cost me USD 30, the same for almost any other nationalities.

Phnom Penh, its capital, blends the horrors of war and the modern age of bars, shopping malls, restaurants, pharmacies, supermarkets and hotels. Some refer to it as “the Asian jewel”, but I didn’t think too much of it. Although I must admit that the country has grown in these last few years, opening up to the world and getting visited by thousands of tourists per year.

In Siem Reap, it is a must to visit the aforementioned Angkor temples: the tickets cost USD 20 for a day pass and USD 40 for both a two- and three-day pass, which is the one most people take, usually wounding up visiting for two days only. There are also week-long tickets, in case you’re really interested in the history of the “Khmer Empire”.

It is worth visiting these magnificent temples, its history and architecture, at least once. It’s a nice walk for a fresh season —from November to March—, since during the summer the temperatures are way too high, and the ride includes walking up and down several steps. The most popular tours are at sunrise and sunset. In the former, you are meant to watch the sunrise from Angkor Wat, so you’ll probably be setting off from your hotel at 5 am. Then, you’ll visit Bayon, famous for its smiling stone faces; and lastly Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider, starred by Angelina Jolie, was shot.

During the latter, also called “Big Circuit”, you set off from Preah Khan, then on to Neak Pean and Ta Som, to wind up watching the sunset from Phnom Bakheng.

So now you know what to do when going to Cambodia.