Posted by: The Travelling Mallorys | September 4, 2010


Without wanting to sound too knobby, we feel like we have left our hearts in Cambodia.

I think you sound knobby – but it’s true! We loved it so much!
Look at us all happy!

Look at us all happy!

We arrived in the capital Phnom Penh following a flight from Bangkok. The husband had read lots of horror stories about Phnom Penh before our arrival – about bricks being thrown at tourists, muggings, intimidating hassle….so I had prepared myself for the worst as you can see. How wrong can you be about a place?

We fell in love! First we fell in love with our hotel, the Bright Lotus 1, which in itself is like a microcosm for the country as a whole. If you give a little to Cambodia, it will give a whole lot back. The ladies who work at the hotel, and attached restaurant, work so hard and such long hours and basically live there. Their lovely kids are being brought up in the reception area.

They are the cutest little things, running Eden and Luigi quite close for being the best looking kids on the block.

Cambodia offers up some of the best and worst aspects of humanity. Some people will know about the Khmer Rouge and some people won’t.  I didn’t really but learned all about them when we were there. In 1975 they siezed control of Cambodia and started a social revolution . Everyone was put to work in the fields. The cities were emptied of people and the military was in control so that the country could be independent and not get Americanised.

And anyone who did not fit into the new regime (professionals, academics, people who spoke a foreign language, people who wore glasses….) were put to death. We visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Elk and the S21 facility, through which most of those who died passed. This used to be a high school and it is chilling to think that. You can read that thousands of people were murdered by a regime.  But at the S21 facility they took a picture of everyone who passed through, and these pictures are now on display  there.  It is one of the most emotional and harrowing things we have ever experienced – face after face after face – all killed, for no reason whatsoever. Babies, children, old men and women, pregnant women – just normal people.

Apparently the average age in Cambodia is 21 – because so many of the older people were killed during the time of the Khmer Rouge. And the majority of people are female, for the same reason.

BUT we said you will also see the best of humanity here. Can anything in the world compare to the ancient cities of Angkor Wat and Ankor Thom?

Outside Angkor Wat

Outside Angkor Wat

I will never forget my awe as we approached the gate to Ankor Thom, or the first time I saw saw Bayon. Or as I walked round a corner to see a giant tree wrapped around the ruins in Ta Prohm – a real Indiana Jones adventure! But the whole thing is proper mind-blowing. The Khmer empire built these amazing cities, temples, centres of learning whilst England was in medieval times. They are ancient and amazing.

Tree temple

Tree temple

On our second day of temple viewing we decided to go a little further afield and our tuk tuk driver took us out to Kbal Spean. We climbed a long way, and scrambled some of it, to view the weeniest waterfall we have ever seen….but the real draw were the amazing carvings on the riverbed. Fantastic!

River carvings at the waterfall

River carvings at the waterfall

On our walk we made 2 new friends, Bas and Eline, a lovely Dutch couple who are also on a year travelling. Our jibber jabbering with them all the way up and down took our minds off the long hike! We also went out for dinner with Bas and Eline, who have just been to Vietnam, our next destination and swapped tips. They are on a similar travel route to us so we plan to meet up along the way.

As cities go Phnom Penh is way up there as one of our favourites. Not too big, not too small, lots of culture to soak up, restaurants and bars along the riverfront, fabulous architecture, the friendliest people. We found some wonderful places to eat. There is a place called Daughters of Cambodia, a charity that helps young girls who have been sex trafficked escape. We had great food there, I bought a new bag and the girls were amazing – so sweet and kind and young you cannot believe what they have been through.  We also ate at Friends, a fab tapas restaurant that serves as a training enterprise for former street children.

Ah the food. The food deserves  a HUGE mention. Phnom Penh had some of the best food we have had on our trip. We decided to take a cooking course to learn how they do it! Our Amok was delicious – maybe we can make it for you when we get back? By a happy coincidence the chef who ran the course actually trained at Friends and is now a successful chef as well as studying business management at university.

Cambodia cooking class

Cambodia cooking class

We felt really emotional leaving Cambodia, but we will definitely be back one day. Now we head to Vietnam, and are taking the scenic route with a boat on the Mighty Mekong!

Ciao for now!


  1. Oooo I still would love to travel Cambodia and have also bookmarked your hotel there.

    Enjoy Vietnam! It is a crazy, noisy and facinating country. We loved it and hopefully you will get to see HoiAn – one of the most romantic towns I have ever been too. At night the toen is lit with lanterns – no electrical lights. It is soooo beatuful and there are amazing bars/restaurants. Our pictures on:

    For great eareries see – Mango Rooms as well as Before and Now (probably the coolest bar/eatery in the East!)

  2. […] walk by but the Tasmanians! You might remember that we first met them at our cookery course in Cambodia, then again completely by chance in Laos and now in Melbourne! Insane! Anyway, we went for a beer […]

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