Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Photographs by Gemma Edwards.
CAMBODIA | Battambang – For the Humanitarians and History Buffs
It’s often said that if Indiana Jones and Lara Croft had a lovechild, it would be Cambodia.
And as you might know, the star of the latter – Angelina Jolie – was so moved by her time spent filming in Cambodia, she dedicated much of her life to charity work in the country. Jolie also adopted her first child (Maddox) from Cambodia, who helped her direct her 2017 Golden Globe nominated film First They Killed My Father, which based on the memoire of Cambodian human rights activist Luong Ung. It’s a heart-wrenching watch, if you’re interested, shedding light on the terror endured during the Khmer Rouge regime. If this human rights and war history is your main interest in travelling Cambodia, consider a hiring a guide in Battambang.
CAMBODIA | Angkor Wat – For the Archaeologists and Adventurers
If the Indiana Jones / Tomb Raider side of things (think jungle treks to ancient temples) is more your speed, then you of course must visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I highly recommend hiring a local guide (mine was amazing – hit up SokSan tours if you go!), who taught all of us on the tour so much more than we could ever have researched or identified ourselves.
She knew and shared knowledge on everything – from where certain shots were filmed (for the cinema buff), to the materials used to build the temple (cutting coral underground then letting it harden with oxygen exposure), to the mythological elements and stories in each of the carvings.
I personally have a deep fascination for world religion, and we chatted the whole tour about the meticulous and brilliant planning that went into the design and build of Angkor Wat – at the Equinox, the sunrise is perfectly symmetrical, and even the 12 steps have astrological associations. Every layer is imbued with symbolism, and you can also receive a blessing from a monk.
We visited four temples on our tour, and all of them remain vivid in my memory today.
CAMBODIA | Floating Village – For the Anthropologists and Cultural Travellers
However, my favourite place in Cambodia was unplanned, unexpected, and both heartbreaking and beautiful.
Our SokSan tour took us to these beautiful picnic gardens in huts floating on lotus flowers, then from there to a village floating on water.
This Floating Village was born out of devastating necessity and genius – due to both poverty and racial violence, immigrants (and those who could not afford land) built a village on the water. This community has all the basics you need to survive – a grocery store and even a school, all floating on Tonle Sap Lake, and travelled between by boat.
There is something bittersweet about this village that I’m entirely unqualified to explain. Despite the tragedy endured; high mortality rate (especially in children due to drownings, malnourishment, and waterborne diseases); and physically demanding and dangerous work that leave many children orphaned; the people are warm, relaxed, kind, and live in harmony with nature. The lifestyle is both difficult and tranquil – and as a foreigner privileged enough to travel here in comfort – it’s difficult to reconcile such conflicting emotions. All I can say is that it’s a place that stirs the heart, so if you get the chance to go, it is well worth the visit. And if you can, support the locals by purchasing their wares, cuisine, etc.
TRAVEL MONEY FOR CAMBODIA
To travel Cambodia, you’ll need to take Cambodian Riel (KHR). There is also an unofficial dual-currency system, and the United States Dollar (USD) is widely accepted. We'd recommend taking USD to make things easier!