Now that I’d experienced Cambodia’s cities and jungles, with just a few days until Songkran – my deadline for getting back to Bangkok – all that was missing was a tropical, white-sanded beach.
Last stop: Sihanoukville.
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For as unique and interesting as Cambodia is – if you want to see it, you’d better go soon. Because the country’s cash-hungry elite, along with its “for-sale” government, seems to have an insatiable appetite for profit. From what I can tell, Cambodia’s new rich is working day and night to gobble up the old – slowly but surely converting the country’s most iconic attractions into big, corporate-backed business.
The mysterious Bokor Hill Station, for instance – once a fascinating off-the-beaten-path destination – is already well on its way to being turned into a five-star casino. Sihanoukville’s pristine beaches are slowly but surely transforming into the kinds of resorts that have already consumed Thailand’s once paradise-like islands. Battambang’s bamboo railway is slated to be shut down any day, and even Angkor Wat itself has been sold to a Vietnamese corporation (which is the reason for its hefty ticket price). It’s therefore little surprise that Phnom Penh’s iconic backpacker haven is already a thing of the past…
Rather than attempting a full day-by-day itinerary, in this post I’ll give a quick one-off look at the week I spent in Phnom Penh.
By arranging to rent a bike for the duration of my stay, I left myself the convenient leeway to pop down the block for a quick bite, or stray as far out of the city as I liked. And while I could’ve easily done with twice as much time, in the end I think I struck a pretty good balance between working, running some much-needed errands, and riding around to gain a decent feel for the city.
Is this really Cambodia? It’s hard to believe how different Phnom Penh feels from the entire rest of the country. Whereas almost everything I’ve seen so far has been well below poverty, here in the capital you’ve got huge palm-lined boulevards, Raffles Hotels, and glistening Mercedes abound.
In many ways, it feels like a completely different country than I’ve been living in for the past 2 months. You can’t help but wonder if the rural Cambodians – living in their thatched bamboo huts and hauling their water up from wells – have any idea how their country’s elite live every day…
One of the most common things I hear from inexperienced travelers – whether they’re college students on a quick backpacking trip or newlyweds on a two-week honeymoon – is the intention of “getting it out of their system.” The trip they’re on, often a first foray overseas, is aimed at crossing that one item off their bucket list – to say “yes, I did it, and now I can move on.”