Cambodia. It's not just another poor country. There's certainly something special about it. And, it's not just the special “nice” things. Yes, Angkor Wat and the amazing Buddhist and Hindu cultures at the beginning of the millenium are special to behold and ponder. However, there are many bad, unfortunate things that also make Cambodia special. Perhaps even unique. Cambodia's turbulent political history and unprecedented genocide are complete insanity. Politics are the things of lunacy in Cambodia. There seems to never have been a moment in modern history when Cambodians weren't suffering because of politics. More about that later.
For now, let's focus on something nice—Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is a cute town/city. For tourists, its just about perfect. The touristy area is well maintained. There's a mix of cheap, authentic food, cheap touristy food and a handful of mid-scale restaurants and bars.
As we all know, Angelina put Cambodia in the paparrazi map with Tomb Raider, Maddox and her subsequent visits while saving the world. There are a few spots for 5-star luxury people though their spots are a bit out of the way – e.g., the Raffles hotel. Supposedly there's a restaurant, the Red Piano, in town that Angelina frequented while she was filming. Patty and I thought the food was crap there. :-) However, we liked the Internet bars. Go Cowboys! (yep, that's my awesome 7in laptop. Sorry its not an Apple.)
Folks in Cambodia were quite warm and receptive to tourists. While you might encounter a few more smiles and hellos along the streets in Bali (specially away from the tourist hubs), Cambodia comes close. You can have a very pleasant and hassle free time while touring in Cambodia, specially while in Siem Reap. Smiles-a-plenty despite the poverty and crazy history.
Here's a neat way to get some pork on the dinner table. Scooter it. And that bad boy's alive. And he wasn't enjoying the prep for the ride, based on his squealing. The speckly stuff in the picture is dust. The town's got dust floating around everywhere. Either from burning fields or from the ever-present red dirt (kicked-up by cars and scooters).
Of course, everyone's visiting Siem Reap in order to see Angkor Wat. I'll not write here much about the history and details—wikipedia does a better job than I could ever do. However, I'll add that Angkor Wat is a complex of temples build between the turn of the century and perhaps 1350. There is the proper Angkor Wat itself which is the most famous and offers, perhaps, the most awe-striking visuals. Patty and I enjoyed Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prom (of Tomb Raider fame), among many others. We spent a total of three solid days doing temple hoping in the area. Pictures describe what we saw better than words. We toured in air conditioned luxury for two of the days (with a driver and guide) and then opted for the cheap-skate tuk-tuk approac for day 3. Both approaches very their merrits.
Angkor Wat: front
A few general thoughts: The temples absolutely love cameras. There's a fantastic picture to be had just about in every corner. Macros, wide angles and everything in between. Plus, depending on the time of day, you'll have great lighting to help you play around with shades and brightness.
More images from inside Angkor Wat:
Food's cheap and pretty good (save for the Red Piano). While the central market's meat section might not leave you eager to eat meat (nor chicken, nor anything highly perishable), Patty and I agree that food was of good quality.
Regarding climate and bugs: it was neither as hot nor bug-infested as we had feared. There's a share of mosquitoes and other insects but its far from being terrible. There's really no need for long pants (at least not during our visit in the end of the dry season).
We also visited the floating village in lake Tonle Sap. This is a fishing village of hugely poor Cambodians and Vietnamese who, in order to avoid purchasing land, live on boats on the lake.
We didn't quite understand why the Vietnamese are there as well, but the village is really split into two: the Cambodian section and Vietnamese section. Interestingly, the Vietnamese section seems to be a bit better-off and seem to also be better equipped to host tourists and secure some money from eager tourist pockets.
Considering the temples, city and floating village together, the 5 days in Siem Reap were spectacular.