There are many conflicting opinions about Vietnam. Some talk about its magnitude and variety of adventures, others say it has already been spoiled by mass tourism. Of course everything is personal, depending on your journey, the type of traveler you are, the places you go and the people you meet. Nevertheless, there any many reasons to pack your bag and go explore Vietnam!
Rice fields in Sapa
1. Breathtaking Landscapes
Being natural or manmade, such as rice fields, Vietnam is filled with beautiful landscapes where you can immerse yourself in contemplation. Also during rainy season, when everything becomes brighter, you will be able to observe tones of green that you never saw before. You can find everything from mountains and valleys in Sapa or Dalat, to deserts in Binh Thuan, from paradise islands with pristine beaches such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao, to the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the mighty Mekong river. Take some time to get out of the main cities and go explore the wonders of this country.
Some random street market with strange food.
2. Colorful markets and delicious food
If there’s a country where your palate will be challenged and enriched, that country is Vietnam. With such an impressive food tradition, you will have so many things to try you’ll wish to just quit your life back home and stay here! The best strategy is to run away from tourist-focused restaurants and the repetition of just eating pho or spring rolls. Meet some local person, and go explore with your new friend the street food since s/he will certainly know the best and more genuine places. And don’t forget to eat some banh cuon, bun cha or some banh xeo for us 🙂
A street shop selling incense sticks.
3. A trip to your senses
Vietnam is magical when it comes to what it can offer to your senses! From the colors around you to the intricate smells that fuse freshly made food and incense.. Focus on the present moment and learn to pay attention to your feelings. For sure you will have a hell of a ride exploring Vietnam!
Which one will you choose, traditional sugar cane juice or some canned soft drink?
4. Mix of old and new
This country is an interesting mixture of old and new, traditions and culture living side by side, with an unstoppable urge of progress and survival. Communism and capitalism holding hands, for bad and for good. This is a country filled with contradictions and opposite polarities merged together. Some interesting cities where you can see this marriage are Hue and Hoi An. They are quite close to each others and filled with ancient history and architecture.
Never too much.
5. Street life and local routines
As any other Southeast Asian country, Vietnam has a dynamic lifestyle emerging from its streets, with a busyness and a desire to strive that is difficult to find elsewhere. From the tireless workers carrying everything in their motorbikes with a balance that provoke envy to many circus artists, to the welcome of the new day with the morning exercises around lakes or public parks. Without forgetting the countless tiny plastic benches placed on the sidewalks in the evening, where people drink draft beer with friends, an iconic image of this country. In Vietnam life happens on the street and not inside the houses. And, of course, the best options to see this energy are the two biggest cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.
An apprentice for monk.
6. Welcoming people
Last but not least, we cannot forget the people. Get out the tourist spots, where people who earn their living with tourists (many of them already fed up with disrespectful young backpackers with too much alcohol in their bodies!) can be less empathetic and smiley. You will find the core of Asian culture: smiles and open arms, willingness to welcome you, show you the culture and make you try the food. Embrace and connect, people are always the most memorable part of your travels.
Hope we gave you some reasons to visit and explore Vietnam! 🙂
Take your ticket to Ho Chi Min, a great place to start your Vietnamese journey, on Camboticket website. Here you ca find the best options!
07.00. Time to start leaving Siem Reap after a great night which included a culinary midnight snack: Tarantula with Garlic. It has been a great pleasure. We booked a ticket to BanLung with Camboticket. With our (way too heavy) backpacks we left our hostel to the bus station. One of their drivers was waiting at the corner to guide us into the small street where the pick-up was located, very handy!
Before we entered the bus, the driver shared his ‘special not bumpy route’ with us and got us a bottle of cold water. What a service. Despite a Chinese woman constantly hugging us, the trip was quite good and to, our surprise, not bumpy at all. We had a great view from the bus, driving past the river and some rice fields was a nice switch from the usual bus ride.
After a cuddly and cosy 8-hour bus drive we arrived in Ban Lung, the capital of Ratanakiri. Our bus dropped everyone at the hostel they were staying, except for us. Trying to get him to bring us to D.T. Guesthouse by pointing out its place on the map, the driver just smiled awkwardly and shoke his head. “No, no”. Aah, No, no? Amazing. Right when the rain caught us. Literally one second of rain was enough to get soaked. First thing we saw was some kind of stairs going down into the bush. Seemed like a great idea to just ran down. And hella sure it was!
The hostel we found at the bottom of the stairs had some super helpful employees who immeadiatley offered to bring us to our hostel with their car (for 1$ of course). However, cheaper than every tuktuk and better than walking for 30 minutes. Actually, there is like one tuktuk in this whole town! Tourist paradise as the only people screaming at you are young children that only want you to wave back. No people trying to get you into their tuktuk or jewelry shop. First impression of BanLung: great people and fairly calm!
First of all, please click here and listen to a song while reading the article 🙂
So, now that we caught your attention (and that you have your ears filled with good music) let’s start!
You may or may not know that this kingdom in the 60s was famous for its music. Local musicians were listening to what was happening in the west and combining it with traditional Khmer sounds.
A unique music style was born. It combined the best of both worlds, a kind of Asian psychedelic garage rock, taking inspiration from the surf rock of bands such as The Beach Boys or the psychedelic tunes of Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. Basically an oriental version of the hippie movement!
A compilation of Khmer rock and roll.
In case you are into this style of music, or just want to dive in Cambodian culture, you can listen to this beautiful compilation of some of the best sounds of the Khmer 60s.
This brings up an interesting story, since an American tourist travelling in Cambodia managed to buy some old cassette tapes and made this album!
We can’t forget that most of these musicians were killed in the late 70s and this music destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. This period has been almost forgotten until recently.
One of the reasons of this revival is the movie ‘Don’t think I’ve forgotten’, by John Pirozzi, about the Cambodia’s lost rock and roll. You can have a look at the trailer here or you can watch it online or download it in the movie’s website here.
Marketing materials for the documentary movie that brought attention to this genre.
If we have to highlight one singer, there is a name from that period who is above all the others. Sometimes called ‘the King of Khmer music’ or ‘The Golden Voice’, Sinn Sisamouth (borned in 1932, executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1976) is unavoidable. He’s a kind of mixture between Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra with, of course, an Asian twist. He was actually a nurse but soon became the most famous Cambodian singer. Both common people and the Royal family loved him and became a protégé, often performing for the Queen Kossomak Nirirath.
His prolific nature as a singer-songwriter can’t be denied, as we can see in this list of 1200 songs in his Wikipedia discography page. He often got inspiration by western songs and created beautiful renditions of classics we may recognize from western musicians but probably looking even better in Khmer!
One of our favourites is definetely ‘Quando quando quando‘ from an old italian singer.
An example of cover for one of the many Sinn Sisamouth’s albums.
The second most famous artist of that period is the singer of the song at the beginning of this article. A performer called Ros Sereysothea was first a poor lady from a rural background and discovered while singing in weddings. She was then able to achieve the status of Queen of Khmer Rock and Roll. Some examples of songs are ‘Jam 10 Kai Theit‘ or ‘Penh Jet Thai Bong Mouy (Ago Go)‘.
Another musician from this period is Yol Aularong (check an example of song here or, our favourite, ‘riding a cyclo‘). The New York Times describes him as “a charismatic proto-punk who mocked conformist society”. What’s better for an iconoclast Cambodian musician from the 60s?
Another good one is Pan Ron with songs such as ‘Rom Ago Ago‘ or ‘Kanha 80 kilo‘ that were typically a mix of rock, twist, mambo, jazz or folk.
Also worth listening is Mao Sareth, a singer from Battambang province (example of song here).
However, as we mentioned above, all of these musicians were killed during the Khmer Rouge. All but one, Sieng Vanthy, who said to the Khmer Rouge she was a banana seller and managed to survive.
A big cultural difference compared to the one of the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk. He was a music lover, played saxophone, was a jazz fan and promoted this new mix of east and west culture, old and new.
Some other album covers from the sixties.
But of course, this is not only an article to look at the past, butalso to remember the present. Noawadays many bands are bringing back this style of music, adapting it to contemporary sounds while mainting the energy this 60’s rock and roll was famous for.
One of the current bands, Cambodian Space Project, have some songs you can listen to online. Check them out here or here.
While in Cambodia, you can also attend one of the very energetic performances of Kampot Playboys or of Bokor Mountain Magic Band. Listen here and here, the latter one performing a very famous song from the sixties.
Based in California, Dengue Fever, a Khmer-American band, is probably the most famous of this rising genre. They are bringing back the Cambodian rock and roll from the 60s and coating it with sonorities of the present.
Have a look on this appearance of them in a famous radio show.
Baksey Cham Krong, a band from that period, sometimes described as the first one to appear.
Cambodia was not the only country where this style of music was rising. Neighbors Thailand and Vietnam also developed their own style of music, mixing it with influences from the west.
Hope this article will make you listen more local music! While travelling, learn something from street musicians and do not be afraid to teach to local kids how to play. So many possibilities of collaboration!
We have to confess, after living some time in Southeast Asia, it is difficult not to developed a soft spot for the Mekong river. Its opaque brown waters, flowing through the mist, its riverbanks filled with dense jungle… You may remember iconic movies such as Apocalypse Now, and the journey into the heart of Indochine looking for Captain Kurtz!
Moreover, being such a long river crossing so many countries, there are countless places to visit, cultures to discover, experiences to have.
This is kind of a homage to the Mekong, its power and influence on the lives of millions of people in Asia.
Mekong while passing on Isaan province, on northeast of Thailand.
A Thai fisherman that lived and worked all his life on the Mekong.
The art of fishing!
It flows through six different countries, for more than 4350 kms. Starting in China, it goes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and ends up in a delta in Vietnam. It has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and, with 800 different native species, the richest biodiversity in the world following the Amazon river.
A country such as Laos, with its untouched nature in so many places, is a great introduction to the river, with many little villages in smaller rivers connecting to the Mekong. There you can observe the traditional lifestyle of people living there for generations and generations, mainly fishing or rice farming with the irrigation water also coming from the river. And in the South of Laos, in a place that is famously called Si Phan Don or 4000 Thousand Islands, you will be able to find really relaxing places to spend some days on a cheap bungalow, reading a book, visiting incredible waterfalls such as Khone Phapheng waterfall, engaging yourself in water sports or simply swimming and watching beautiful sunrises.
Public park on the side of Mekong, in Vientiane, the Laotian capital.
Sunset on South Laos.
A market on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Laos.
In Thailand you can find the river in the north, near Laos border. The main province the river crosses is Isaan, a very beautiful and not very touristy area. It is a rural area, focused on agriculture, with genuine and honest people, little villages, happy lifestyle and a lot of smiles in the faces you will see on the streets. One of the main attractions is Chiang Khan, probably the cutest village in the world! Mainly a couple of streets where cars aren’t allowed, filled on both sides with pretty wooden houses and little coffeeshops. Also do not forget a very relaxing promenade along the Mekong with ridiculously beautiful sunsets on the Laotian side.
Other man fishing on the Mekong during sunset.
Rice fields with irrigation from the Mekong river.
After these two countries the river continues to Cambodia, where interacts closely with the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the most varied ecosystems in the world. Tonlé Sap lake is a biosphere reserve with an ecological status from UNESCO! Three million people live around its banks and depend on it for livelihood: the lake provides more than half of the fish consumed in the entire country. It is also a crucial breeding site for a lot of the species that cross the Mekong river.
Besides the houses on stilts around the lake, a vibrant community lives literally on it, on floating villages. Fishermen catch fishes with cone-shaped nets from their floating houses. This represents such a strong part on the national culture that even the currency is called riel, after a common small carp they usually catch and eat.
The difference in the water level between rainy and dry season on Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia.
And not only its people but also a diverse ecosystem lives on the lake’s basin. Over 300 species of fresh water fishes, reptiles, 100 varieties of water birds and around 200 plants, all depending on the natural cycles of rising and falling waters. A good news is that it is very close to Siem Reap! If you are visiting Angkor Wat, it’s really worth it to spend a couple of days here. You can choose for instance Kampong Khleang, one of the most interesting floating villages in the lake.
A Cambodian local who works in boat tours with tourists.
Besides the functional part of it, this lake and the Mekong are interdependent. In fact, during rainy season, it’s the river’s water that fills the lake to a volume up to 80 km3. On the other side, during dry season, the water flows from the lake on the Mekong, bringing Tonlé Sap close to one km3. There is a difference of 10 meters in the water level between the two seasons!
It’s so important for the culture that there is an old Khmer saying, associating the changes in the water level to the impermanent and interdependent character of everything. “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes the ant eats the fish.”
The Mekong delta on south Vietnam.
Continuing to the south of Cambodia, passing by Phnom Penh, the river finally arrives to its last country, with its delta in the south of Vietnam. In the delta, a vast triangular plain of 55.000 km2, live 18 million people, supported by the river for fish and rice cultivation. The delta is the most productive region in the entire country: 2.6 million for agriculture and rice yield representing around 55% of the national production, besides around 58% of the fishery output. Along with the fishing boats, the scenery is composed by floating houses focused on aquaculture (representing 2/3 of Vietnamese fisheries), crucial for the local population.
And, of course, its natural beauty makes this area one of the most visited of the country by tourists. The town of Bên Tre, with canals and boat tours along the delta’s farms, is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.
The beautiful canals on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Bên Tre, Vietnam.
It’s definetely worth it to take some months and follow the Mekong river along the Southeast Asian countries it crosses. You will be definetely inspired by natural beauty, culture and intense relationship between the locals and its rhythm.
Check Camboticket website for cheap tickets to many of this places! Like Paksé and 4000 Islands in Laos, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Kratie in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.
When traveling there are so many things that come to my mind. Will I enjoy it there? What currency will they accept? How will it be the food? What if I use up all my cash on hand? How will I be able to replenish it? How will I communicate to the locals? Will they understand me?
It’s my first time to travel abroad and already I get the jitters.
Let me bring you to Cambodia, a place where travelers enjoy their vacation with the convenience of home!
Entering Cambodia I was welcomed with this beautiful site. Beautiful!
In the midst of a busy street I already see beauty, I think I am going to like it here!
It was only 7:00 am, while walking from immigration to get to the bus that will take us to Siem Reap, we heard a song, to our surprise, everyone stopped. They were like statue, they all stood still. Even the vehicles on the street halted. Amazing! I have never seen such sight before! I just spent almost an hour in Cambodia and I was already smiling!
We were welcomed by a friendly conductor who made sure that we were comfortable and told us that there will be “Tuktuks” to bring us to our hotel at our drop off.
Tuktuk or “Remork” as what it should be called in Cambodia, is one of the popular means of transportation there. A carriage pulled by a motorcycle and used like a taxi. My daughter rented a Tuktuk service through as online application before we even reached Cambodia.
This was our ride around Cambodia and our Tuktuk driver Kim Phearum. A very respectful and funny young man who provides free water when we get back from our Temple Tour.
We arrived at Lotus Blanc Hotel, which my daughter found and booked online. A cold lemongrass tea and a warm face towel was a welcome treat to refresh us from our trip. My daughter said it wasn’t expensive, but it sure was worth it a million dollar in service and accommodation.
At dinner we met my daughters’ childhood best friend from the Philippines in Pub Street (a nightspot in Siem Reap). You can use your USD to pay and that was very convenient as we weren’t able to have our money changed yet. We bought a sim card for only $5 and it already had free data. Uploading pictures via Facebook was a breeze 🙂
We had our dinner at Sky Lounge. They had great service and great food and even served crocodile. The ambiance was great! Who else can find peace in the midst of a nightlife spot?
The next day we were off to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were supposed to have a free buffet breakfast at the hotel, but since we would have not been able to enjoy that, the Hotel arranged a meal-to-go with coffee, bread, noodles, a yogurt, fruits and juice.
It was tiring, fun and amazing. Amazing not just from the temple view but also the people. The vendors who came to sell souvenirs, from ref magnets to nail cutters to sarong skirts. They recognized our race right away and sold their merchandise in Filipino (our language). They said they learned up to 16 languages mostly taught by the tourists and the guides.
Tired from walking up and down the stairs of the temples, I stayed at the Tuktuk where I enjoyed different refreshments. Fresh sugarcane and coconut juice, pizza like bread and frog barbeque.
Never felt as comfortable before and in one of the most beautiful places in the world!
Cambodia is a profound and mysterious country, attracting a variety of artists and creative people. Many writers chose the kingdom to live and write, influenced by the troplical weather, the different culture and the colorful inspirations of this Southeast Asian country.
This is an article with some suggestions of books about Cambodia in order for you too dive into some readings on the kingdom, learn more of its culture and history, or simply enjoy interesting fiction or poetry.
An interesting non-fiction book is ‘Off the rails in Phnom Penh’, by Amit Gilboa. This journalist lived in the Cambodian capital at the end of nineties, describing both the bohemian life of the expats and the political turmoil of the era. For instance a revolution organized by the present prime-minister to depose the second prime-minister (in a time that the goverment had two, the other one being one of the sons of the previous king).
Another book describing the political situation of that time is ”Hun Sen’s Cambodia by Sebastian Strangio, focusing on the autocratic role of the prime-minister.
The pulitzer prize winner Joel Brinkley wrote ‘Cambodia’s Curse‘ on the hangover of the Khmer Rouge regime and the transition to a goverment managed by the United Nations, with all the troubles and challenges, corruption and waste of resources that the situation brought.
For the ones interested in history, a very complete book is ‘History of Cambodia‘ by David Chandler, from the Angkor period to recent time.
Another important book is ‘When the war was over’ by Elizabeth Warren: a crucial testimony since the author was one of the few western journalists visiting Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.
A beautiful memoir and one of the most famous publications on the period, ‘First they kill my father‘ by Loung Ung was recently adapted to a movie by Angelina Jolie. It’s a first person report of the time during the Khmer Rouge, with a young girl living in the labour camps and telling all about what she had to went throught and everything her family had to overcome.
Of a similar thematic is ‘When broken glass floats grows‘ by Chanrithy Him: a story of a survivor child from the Khmer Rouge and essential to understand the recent past of Cambodia.
For the ones into poetry, some of the poets living in the kingdom and regularly publishing books are Scott Bywater and Nathan Thompson. Bywater, for instance, writes a lot about expat life in Phnom Penh, such as in his book ‘Voluntary exile‘. You can also have a look here on the promo video of his last book, ‘Pepper and silk, honey and lime‘.
On a different note, ‘River of time‘ by John Swain, is a homage to the Mekong and a passionate portrait of Cambodia and Vietnam, focusing on the time when the author lived here during the seventies. This journalist got famous thanks to the hollywood movie ‘The Killing Fields’, about his struggle in Phnom Penh during that time.
Another writer living in Phnom Penh, but in a contemporary setting, is Steven Palmer, who writes crime and suspense novels taking place in the kingdom, such as ‘Angkot Tears‘ or ‘Angkor Away‘.
Also about crime novel, ‘Temple of the leper king‘ is a story of a retired police man living in Cambodia, taking inspiration from the life of its author, Bob Couttie, living in Kampot.
Some other options of fiction are ‘A clash of innocents‘ by Sue Guiney, about an expat woman runnning an orphanage, and ‘The disappeared‘ by Kim Echlin, a love story between a Canadian woman and a Cambodian man.
Hope we gave you some ideas for your reading list inspired by Cambodia – lot of fiction, non-fiction and poetry based here! Enjoy your reading time, and take advantage of peaceful places like the islands or Kampot to sit down on a hammock and dive into a book!
We often forget how much our moms have taken care of us and don’t give them the attention they deserve. What better way to pamper them, than going on a trip together to see the City of temples – Angkor Wat!
Here are 10 things you can do to make the trip even more special!
- Ride a Bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap or vice versa and visit 2 countries at once.
It was my mom’s first time abroad and she was able to see 2 different countries in one go. Passport stamps are always nice! And we saved paying for one night in a hotel by travelling. We went on the bus at 1 am and when we woke up at around 6 am, we were already at the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Cambodia’s immigration was a breeze too.
We travelled for 2-3 more hours after reaching the border. We spent that time talking, sightseeing and taking short naps before we reached the bus station in Siem Reap.
Tuktuk drivers will be waiting there to offer you their services, tours and hotels. I already talked to a tuktuk driver online before we arrived so we just waited for him to take us to our hotel.
- Get a nice hotel with a pool.
Make your mom feel extra special by staying in a nice hotel room with a pool so she can relax there after a tiring tour day. Hotel rooms in Siem Reap are really affordable. You can get rooms for as low as $10 or less, but if you look for deals, you can get really nice ones at the $20 range.
I decided to go the extra mile (and penny) and looked for a 5 star hotel.
I was able to get a room in a 5 star hotel (Lotus Blanc Hotel) for less than $50 with one way airport transfer, a complimentary welcome drink, coffee and tea, and breakfast buffet! The room was HUGE!
My mom was so EXCITED once she saw the room! I promise it was so worth it!
- Ride a Tuktuk to tour you around the temples
Tuktuks are everywhere in Cambodia and it’s something you definitely don’t see everyday, unless you live in Thailand. It’s like a cross between a Chinese Rickshaw and a Motorcycle. My mom and I had fun riding this as we toured around the temples. Our driver was very warm and provided us with cold bottled water everytime we went back from the temples.
- Eat Breakfast at Angkor Wat
One of the most memorable things my mom and I did was to eat in one of the temples while waiting for sunrise at Angkor Wat. The sun didn’t show up, but we enjoyed the food and pictures we took while we were there. So it didn’t matter even if we didn’t see the sun.
There are hotels who offer a Private breakfast service at Angkor Wat for a price. But I just asked our hotel the night before if they could pack us some breakfast from the breakfast buffet so we could take it to the temples, and they agreed. The next day at around 4:30 am, our breakfast was all ready to go with us to the temples. Yogurt, bread, coffee, juice, fruits and stir fried noodles were some of the treats they prepared for us.
- Bargain for Souvenirs with the Locals in different languages and currencies.
We were so amazed by the locals as they always seemed to know what our Nationality was. We were even more amazed when a girl started selling to us in the Filipino language complete with Filipino expressions, they even accepted Philippine Pesos, Baht and US Dollars.
Our own tuktuk driver spoke Chinese too. He said that Cambodians typically aim to speak 15 different languages. And learn it in a Pagoda with monks and sometimes other volunteer travelers. How awesome is that!
- Eat Khmer food.
In our 3 days in Cambodia, my mom and I ate in the 5 star way and the normal way without breaking the bank.
We ate Beef lok lak and Fish Amok in the Hotel Restaurant and were treated like queens. The meal cost around $35.
We also ate in the local restaurants with 5 star ratings on TripAdvisor such us LUV U restaurant and TRY ME restaurant (Both are a ways off of pubstreet) But the food was superb! Here we paid at around $8 for 2 dishes and 2 drinks!
We also tried Barbecued Frog, chicken soup and fish curry while touring around the temples. Yum!
- Explore Pubstreet.
Pubstreet is the loud touristy area where foreigners come to eat, shop and drink. It’s also where you can find edible insects such as scorpions which is a must try, it’s actually yummy.
Souvenir shops, money changers, massage parlors and loads of restaurants and tuktuks everywhere! We ate our first dinner here and took pictures, exchanged money and bought a sim card.
- Do a mini Photoshoot in the Tomb raider temple- Ta Prohm.
We were lucky enough to be approached by a local and he took us around and took pictures for us. He only asked for a tip once I asked him how much he would charge us. I gave him $10, but the pictures he took of us were definitely worth more. We would never have thought of doing it the same way he did.
- Ride or Take Photos with an Elephant in Phnom Bakheng
It was our first time to see Elephants up close and personal and had I just brought more money (Which I didn’t think to bring) I would have rode the Elephant up the hill. It cost $20 per person. So I just took photos beside them. J It was still AWESOME!
- Sunset in Phnom Bakheng
Choose to ride an Elephant up, or just trek up, but be there by 3:30 or 4pm to catch the sunset as they only allow a specific number of people. Earlier would be better as a lot of people go up to catch the sunset. Bring a tripod to take self portraits too, the view is really nice up there.
“There’s something about the sound of a train that’s very romantic and nostalgic and hopeful.”
I have always loved the train journey. The rhythm, the sound, the languor… It’s an ode to laziness. The train is the perfect place to travel outside and inside yourself.
I was feeling stuck in Phnom Penh for a while, therefore I decided to take a break out of the city.
I live in Phnom Penh and I like this energetic city, I like to ride my bicycle in the middle of the traffic jam, to be lost in the market, to drink a banana-coffee shake on riverside and watch people doing exercises, to share a drink with my friends after work. However, I also like the nature and it’s difficult in Phnom Penh to find a green place!
Kampot it’s, for me, the best place to have a break. This town is the perfect balance between the city and the wild. There are very nice places to stay along the river where you can chill the whole weekend with an amazing view on the mountain. You just need to have a good book, friends to play board game and share a good dinner with.
Last weekend was my first train trip to Kampot, but for surely not the last. That was a refreshing experience, something different, another way to travel.
The journey starts a few days ago, when I was purchasing my train ticket. I sometimes passed in front of the train station, but never entered inside the big hall. It’s a huge building in Art Deco style like the central market. It was built in 1932, and the train stopped circulating in 2002. They reopened last year the railroad for passengers, you can now enjoy a trip to Sihanoukville by train every weekend. The central hall is very big and… empty. I choose the train of Saturday morning, leaving at 7am. Rendez-vous with my friends at 6.45am. Outch!
The train was on time, and I discover than you can travel with your bicycle or your motorbike! Very convenient for a future trip.
There are 4 cars very comfy, our car was the second (they give you a seat number with the ticket), the seats are 2 long benches, you turn your back to the windows. There are aircon (don’t forget a scarf, the temperature is very low!), bathroom and you can buy coffee or instant noodle in the first car.
What I love in travelling by train is that you aren’t stuck in the same place. So after the train controller passed, I change my place to stay between 2 cars, close to the door to have a better view. After leaving the city, you can open the door (the train is slow, if you don’t do anything crazy there is no risk) and enjoy your trip!
The first 30 minutes, you cross Phnom Penh. There is a huge community who is leaving on the rail. I had the feeling to be inside the houses and shops. It’s like they open the railroad when the train is coming and continue their lives on the rails after. It’s another view of Phnom Penh with a lot of small lifetime’s pictures. After the city, you cross some nenuphar’s field with their beautiful pink flower. The only town you will cross is Takeo the first and only stop on the railroad to Kampot. There are 10-15 minutes of break, just time to buy some fruits, sweet rice and nenuphar’s seed.
During this journey, most of the landscape is made of rice’s field, buffalos, small farms and coconut trees. The road with this view is perfect to let you dream, imagine a different life, make crazy projects.
After four hours, we arrived in Kampot’s train station. The end of the journey. The small train station with its coconut trees is just the perfect end of this lovely trip.
I recommend to all train’s lovers and dreamer to try the train in Cambodia. That was for me a lovely time!
When we arrived in Cambodia, we were at the end of our fifth month in Asia. We thought we saw it all, in the means of chaotic cities with surprisingly beautiful twists. And we’re coming from Istanbul so tell me about chaos on the street! But Cambodia managed to surprise us once more. It’s safe to say that, it started with our” airport pick-up”. Well, the hostel said they arranged a car to pick us up, an airport shuttle. How naive we were to expect an actual car! OF COURSE it was a tuk-tuk. It was our first of many jolly surprises of the country. Trying to prevent our bags from falling out of the vehicle on the bumpy back roads to our homestay once again we told ourselves, never have assumptions on Asia. And that’s the real beauty of travelling unknown places isn’t it, destroying assumptions!
After a few days in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we had to make our way to the small village of Ream. Because you see, we’re travelling via volunteering. We’re exchanging a few hours of work for accommodation, food, laughter, new friends and a chance to see the country in the most precious way. Sounds neat, right?
So this time our way was to this small fishing village of Sihanouk Ville. But before heading there we had a small problem on our plate in Phnom Penh. We needed to get visa for our next stop, Laos.
You see, Turkey is an amazing country, with weird connections all around the world. And not necessarily good connections. When we read online that Laos, is giving a hard time for Turkish people on visa process, we didn’t want to believe. I mean, what bad history we could possibly have with a country we basically had no interaction with, am I right? But obviously, world politics is more complicated than that.
Anyway, we knew it would be a little tricky on the embassy so we wanted to go there prepared, with our bus tickets and everything. But of course for that, we needed refundable tickets, because we weren’t sure about the visas. That’s where Camboticket gets wonderfully involved in this story.
When we were searching for online tickets to Laos from Phnom Penh, the name Camboticket caught our eyes more than once. And we found stories about how extremely helpful these people are. So we said, let’s go stalk them with our questions!
The stories were true. They were so helpful and friendly that; although it’s actually an online business, customers kept coming to their offices to handle things. They helped us to find the perfect ticket to Laos and told us about the refund options. We left the office so happy and relieved, that we wanted to have excuses to go back! And Laos embassy gladly gave us the excuse we needed! Yes, you guessed it right, no Laos visa for us!
Well, we did the exact thing that experienced travellers do in times like these: changed the plans! We changed our next stop from Laos to Myanmar and Camboticket changed our tickets from Laos to Thailand + Ream. (unfortunately they don’t have direct tickets to Myanmar. We’ll get there they said, and I believe them my eyes wide shut.) Everything solved seamlessly and we were on our way to Ream, peaceful we can ever be!
Sihanouk Ville is a popular summer spot for both locals and foreign tourists who endeavoured Cambodia’s inland treasures. It’s numerous cafes, easily accessible beaches and pier to the near by islands, make it a perfect stop! Whereas Ream is the silent, peaceful small brother of Sihanouk Ville. Right between Ream National Park and Sihanouk Ville airport, it seems almost stuck.
We didn’t prefer to visit the national park. First of all the reviews we read online were not really appealing. And when our host Roy mentioned you needed to pay for a ranger to wander around in the park, our enthusiasm for national parks were gone instantly. But the curious traveller, with a huge apetite for trees, can gladly combine his/her day with a small Ream Village tour.
It has two virgin beaches. So you can make sure no unwanted tourists will be photo-bombing with your sunset capture. Prek Chak Beach, the long one, has smooth white sand and a magnificent forest background thanks to the unvisitable-national-park-by-low-budget-traveller. A perfect mixture of earthly palette, green, yellow and blue.
On your way to the beach, you’ll see the hammock restaurants with wonderful views of Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Sramauch. Nothing’s better than laying down in a hammock, with the sea extending in front of you. Oh and I forgot to mention the fresh coconut juice.
But before finishing up your day, remember to take a look at Wat Ream, up at the hill. Impressing with a breath taking view, this temple also hosts the most unusual Buddhist sculptures, you’ll ever see.
Our host is a little bit out of village, right on Toek Sab river, a perfect spot for kayaking. We definitely recommend renting a kayak and make a peaceful trip on the river with only wild surrounding you. End of the river is Kbal Chhay Waterfall. It’s a nice complex of waterfalls. A must-see, if you’re around the area. If you trust your level of athletism, going there by kayak would be a nice rewarding experience after three hours of rowing. We did trust ourselves but somewhere on the road laziness overcome and we thought that “maybe we can go there with motorbikes later”. We went there with motorbikes the other day.
We’re coming to the end of our days here in Ream, and missing it already. If you prefer the small villages to the big cities like us, then Ream might be your alternative option against Sihanouk Ville. Or with it’s extensive fruit market, hammock restaurants, scenic beaches it might be a nice combination for your trip!
Safe travels everyone!
While traveling there’s always a communication barrier emerging from the language and cultural differences. But even if the culture is something that takes a while to emerge into and fully understand, learning the language is always a great way to get out of our comfort zone and connect with the locals. And at the same time exercise our brain as well! Have a look on this very basic introduction guide to Thai language…
Just a little bit of context: Thai, as any other Asian language, has in its structure the way the social hierarchy and social relationships work. This can be seen in the way people address each other, and even the way they create sentences. You have the street language when people are speaking with friends or for everyday interactions with others, and there is a different more sophisticated one for when they are writing. There is an informal way to speak and a polite one. Talking with family or friends and with a monk are two different things!
Nevertheless, it’s a complex language composed by 44 consonants and 33 vowels, being tonal like Chinese languages or Vietnamese – meaning that when you speak the same word with a different tone it can mean a totally different thing! But don’t be discouraged by this, at least the basic Thai is not so hard to learn, and it’s a great way to put a smile on a local’s face when you are talking to him or her. Thai people always love to hear a foreigner (or how they call us, farang) making an effort to try to speak their language! So here it goes some of the most basic words for you to start practicing for your trip to Thailand:
Hello – Sawadee kap/kaa
Goodbye – lacoon
Thank you – kopun kap/kaa
You’re welcome – Indii
How are you? – sabadee mai?
I’m good! – sabadee
Sorry/excuse me – koh tot
How much is it? – Khii?
It’s expensive! – kot peng!
What? – alainaa?
Toilet – hung naam
What’s your name? – khun chue arai?
My name is… – hom/chan chue…
Nice to meet you – indii ti dai rudza
I don’t understand – mao khao jai
I don’t know – mai saap
Yes – chai
No – mai chai
Just a quick side note: ‘mai’ is the negation that you can put before any word to negate it, but it can also be used in the end of a phrase to make it a question. Example: far is ‘klai’, close (so, same as not far) is ‘mai klai’, and the question ‘is it far?’ can be said as ‘klai mai’.
I – phom/chan (for a man/for a woman)
You – khun
This/that – anii/anaa
Here/there – tinii/tanaa
Okay – do kloung
Good – dimai
Big – iai
A lot – kot/maa
Small/a little bit – nique noi
Beautiful – suai
Interesting – naa son jai
Happy – mii khwaam suk
Delicious – alloy maa
And of course, the fundamental… Cheers – chong kheo
Another expression that’s quite useful is ‘mai pen rai’, which means ‘no problem’ or ‘all is good’.
Or another good one, always nice to say after saying goodbye to someone you like: Good luck to you – chokdee
Also bear in mind that you can always finalize a phrase with ‘kap’ or ‘kaa’ (depending if you are a man or a woman) to show respect to the other person, something highly value in Thai society.
And some random verbs:
Have – mi
Can – dai (you can use it after other verb to say you can do that)
Buy – sou
Go – pai
Speak – phuud
Help – tchuai
Understand – khao jai
And the very cliché thing, learning the numbers!
1 – nueng, 2 – song, 3 – saam, 4 – sii, 5 – haa, 6 – hok, 7 – jet, 8 – paet, 9 – kao, 10 – sip, 100 – nueng roi, 1000 – nueng phan
In terms of grammar, Thai is actually not so difficult. There are no plurals or gender in words, and you don’t need to conjugate verbs. The most common way to create a sentence is subject+verb+object, and then you can add different words before or after specific parts of the sentence to apply past, future, negation, etc. Some example of phrase:
Literally ‘I go market’ – ‘phnom/chan ti talad’ (phnom/chan – I depending if you are a man or woman, ti – verb to go, talad – noun for market)
- Negation (I don’t go to the market): Phnom/chan mai ti talad
- Past Tense (I went to the market): Phnom/chan ti talad laew
- Future Tense (I will go to the market): Phnom/chan ja ti talad
Hence, we hope this introduction guide helped to clarify and push you to learn some words of Thai language before you visit this beautiful country and connect with its smiley local people!