The Cambodian Shore

March 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Attractions, Exotic South East, Nature

If you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll likely have been to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat complex. But there is more to this Asian country than sun-baked ruins and temples galore. Retreat to the south and experience Cambodia’s shore, full of beaches and off-beat sights to be explored.

Photo credit - A of Doom

Photo credit - A of Doom

Sihanoukville (Kampong Som)

The New York Times called Sihanoukville “Asia’s next trendsetting beach,” and I think after the long, hard history of Sihanoukville it deserves the title. The French helped build this city out of the jungle to serve as a port town, but during the Pol Pot regime the area fell into disrepair. But in the last ten years, the area had blossomed and taken hold a new lease on life. From trendy internet cafes to boutique hotels, Sihanoukville has transformed from a backpacker stop to more mainstream.

The main highlight is the coast, where you’ll find a few beach options. Ochheuteal and Serendipity Beaches are the most popular (and thus the most crowded). Victory Beach is also popular and crowded, but if you’re willing to head out of town a bit, Otres Beach is a nice choice and has similar sand/shore as Serendipity Beach.

You can’t walk around from point to point in Sihanoukville but as elsewhere in Cambodia, there will always be a tuk-tuk waiting to take you. They’ll extraordinarily cheap here to hire for the short distances required.

Photo credit - Phillie Casablanca

Photo credit - Phillie Casablanca

Bokor National Park

By the sounds of it, you’d expect forests and lush green scenery if headed to national park. In this, case, though, you do get a Hollywood-backdrop worthy sight, but just slightly different. The main attraction here is an old French hill station, built during the French occupation in the 1920s and meant as a retreat for soldiers. It’s been abandoned and left in a very unusual state – you have to see it to understand.

Other nearby sights include waterfall hikes, the black palace, and the old casino. All ruins and artefacts in their own right, but from a totally different era than Angkor Wat.

Please note: Construction works on the roads leading to Bokor means travel is limited. Check with your travel agent or a local prior to your journey.

Photo credit - Adam Jones

Photo credit - Adam Jones

Kep

Hard to believe it now, but Kep was the ‘in’ destination on the Cambodian shore in the 60s. Nearly abandoned, it hasn’t recovered as much in recent times as Sihanoukville. It is still a great stop to see some abandoned architecture, like Bokor, but also to experience some essential Kep lifestyle.

Your first stop should be for crabs! You’ll find the freshest crabs in the country here, so you can’t miss out on a meal of it here. If you don’t fancy crab, then any dish in the many seafood restaurants will do. You’ll want to make sure and pair your meal with the famous Kep peppercorns – there’s a pepper plantation in Phnom Voir, just outside the city, that’s worth visiting and all of the restaurants locally use the pepper in sauces and dishes. Absolutely delicious.

For outdoors-y things to do, check out the trail that goes around Kep Mountain. It’s about 5 miles and well signposted. If you’re feeling lazy, though, stick to the beach – Kep Beach is the main strip. From Kep Beach you can also take a boat over to Rabbit Island, a super-quiet destination with wonderful white sandy beaches too.

If You Go

To reach Sihanoukville, a good gateway to the rest of the shore area, you have a couple of options from Phnom Penh:
Bus. It’s a four hour journey but thankfully the road is one of the better ones in Cambodia. Mekong Express and Sorya are two of several operators. Book in advance to ensure a seat. Approx US$4.50.
Taxi. Reduces the trip to three hours but cost can range from US$30-40. There’s also the option to rideshare, which can be a little odd considering in Cambodia this means 6-8 people in one taxi.

Sihanoukville does have an airport, but as far as I know due to a crash in 2007, the only air service was suspended.

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About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

A Guide to Shopping in Phnom Penh

April 6, 2009 by  
Filed under Culture, Exotic South East, Feature Highlights

Believe it or not, the Cambodian Capital of Phnom Penh is a shopper’s paradise. From amazingly good quality housewares to cheap clothing, tourists can get good deals and mingle with the locals at the same time. The markets in the city are slightly less touristic than those in the temple town of Siem Reap, meaning big bargains and a more authentic experience for those travelers willing to brave the aisles.

A Word about Currency

Cambodia uses the US Dollar as its main currency (unofficially), with the local currency Riel used for amounts under one dollar. Most vendors will have change if you need it, although I would suggest not bringing huge bills, especially when some stalls might not have seen many sales that day.

Unique hand-crafted items for your perusal. Photo credit - Jayray24.

Unique hand-crafted items for your perusal. Photo credit - Jayray24.

What to Buy

It will be quickly obvious what items are the hot sellers, but in case you want to do some pre-planning, add these items to your shopping list:

Cambodian Silk.
The scarves, tablecloths, and other silk products you can buy in Cambodia are hand-loomed and of unbeatable quality. With colorful patterns and many shapes/sizes, you will be spoilt for choice and certainly not disappointed with any purchase.

Ceramics.
You can find stalls overflowing with beautiful mugs, tea sets, plates, glasses, and other odds and ends perfect for your Asian-themed dining set.

Silver.
From elephants to roosters, you can find all sorts of silver goods. Be sure to inspect closely for craftsmanship, as the quality can vary.

Art.
Surprisingly, Phnom Penhhas a burgeoning arts scene, with several galleries located throughout town. The markets have a few stalls but it is best to head straight for the studios, such as Two Fish Gallery or any of the boutiques on Street 178, dubbed ‘Art Street’.

Statues and incense holders. Photo credit - Jayray24.

Statues and incense holders. Photo credit - Jayray24.


Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Russian Market

The Russian Market, just outside the center of town, is a tourist hot-spot and even though definitely on the beaten path it is still a must-see. The market is named for the many Russian migrants who live here during the 80s. The market is massive and is the best place in the city for souvenir shopping. It also has the most housewares stalls if that is at the top of your shopping list.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Phnom Penh. Photo credit - Andy Hayes.

Central Market

Closer to Sisowath Quay and the heart of the city, the Central Market is a sprawling complex filled with row after row of merchandise. You’ll feel a bit of sensory overload as you work out where you’ve already been and which direction to go next. This market caters more to locals, as you’ll find kitchen utensils and appliances, lots of clothes, and bathroom products. Underneath the central, domed structure is a bustling jewelry area. Even if you’re not interested in the shopping, go just for the atmosphere.

A Word about Haggling

Just so you know, be prepared to haggle in Phnom Penh – the locals will expect it, and as in places like Hong Kong, they even enjoy it. You might feel a bit foolish – after all the prices here are earth-shatteringly low – but just go with the flow and play along.

Don’t engage in haggling unless you are really interested in the item. Have a final price in mind before you start, and work your way up. Although the Cambodians speak quite good English in most cases, some will haggle via calculator – if you don’t like their price, clear the number and type in a response.

For purchasing items like antiques with higher price tags, you can still expect a pretty big discount. Souvenirs and clothes are “dirt cheap”, as they say, but be sure to get something knocked off – that’s all part of the experience.

If you are visiting, you should also check out this article on where to stay in Phnom Penh.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.