Oh Cambodia…you really surprised me!
Before I decided to travel to Cambodia, I researched all the ‘must see’ places. Viewed countless pages of beautiful, green, heavenly pictures on Google and was eager to spend there as much time as I could, absorbing its freshness and beauty. I was aware that it is a different world. Interestingly, even one of the Jack Reacher's books that we were reading while traveling across Asia mentions a ride from Vietnam through Cambodia to Thailand: 'Thailand was different [to Cambodia]. When he [Victor Hobie, the villain] passed the boarder [with Cambodia], it was like stepping out of the Stone Age. There were roads and vehicles. The people were different.'*
Cambodia is still light years behind Thailand in terms of infrastructure, education, mentality and HYGIENE (this last one requires multiple exclamation marks)! If you cross the boarder on land and won’t travel on organised, pre-paid luxury vacation then what you see is going to be a rough, partly rural, still struggling with its position in the world, Cambodia. Which is unique and worth experiencing. But what surprised me was that weirdly at times it felt very modern and at the same time still stuck in it's old habits and believes, definitely still very Communist country where dollar will even buy you a smile or help with starting a motorbike. Law is constantly manipulated (or bills are passed) to fill up pockets of the Mafia. At times it felt as we were instantly bribing people to do simple, basic things. Sadly, reality hit us very early: it’s all about the $. I think this was the most upsetting part. I have been to many Asian countries but everywhere I have been people were lovely, genuine and helpful. Here none cared unless you paid for it.
We have used this website for traveling information: http://www.seat61.com/Cambodia.htm# .VWBjmGDfZUQ. It's pretty accurate, although I would definitely urge you to go and double check the times as some of them may be a little bit out of date. But everything, including the epic train ride from Bangkok to Poipet for 49 baht (equivalent of a £1) with not only live but also dead stock, are correct. I'm still struggling to clean all the dirt and dust from my bags and clothes. Oh and make sure you bring a bandana, as there are no roads so prepare yourself for being fully covered in red dust.
We basically did the Bangkok to Siem Reap, Siem Reap to Phnom Penh trips according to the website, and then after Phnom Penh we decided to break the pattern and travel south along the coast.
I feel though as I haven't been there long enough to explore the true beauty of this country. All I saw is dust, burnt fields and struggled to experience the green beauty I saw online. One of my adventurous friends did a dirt bike trip around Cambodia and her pictures are just stunning (although they confirm the overwhelming red sand). Cambodia is also home to Cambodian Elephant Park, a place definitely worth visiting!
* Lee Child, Tripwire - Jack Reacher 3, 2011