I have a burning desire to go to Cambodia. If I get the chance to go I know exactly what places I would visit.
After studying Genocide at University as part of my degree I felt I needed to delve into Cambodian history and also look at Cambodia in the present day. After doing a lot of research I was thrilled to discover just how far this amazing country has come. It is now a thriving tourist destination with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.
One of the biggest names in pop music, Beyonce recently posted pictures on her Instagram account of her holiday in Cambodia. This humble country attracts two million tourists every year because it offers a truly unforgettable experience. Cambodia will tug at your heartstrings with its tragic history and mesmerise you with its temples and ancient ruins.
One of the first places I would go to in Cambodia is the Angkor Wat Ruins, they are a huge tourist spot and a magnet for backpackers. Millions of tourists visit these temples every year. They show off the traditional and simply stunning Khmer architecture. The Angkor ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a well-deserved title.
The most famous temples here are Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. A lot of history is hidden beneath the walls of these temples. I could easily spend a day wandering round the temples and admiring their beauty. However, the main temples can get extremely busy, so I plan to investigate the smaller ones in the surrounding villages where you can interact with the locals instead of thousands of tourist.
The Killing Fields
One of the places I want to see the most in Cambodia is the "Killing Fields" in Choeung Ek. I feel they put into perspective just how far this resilient country has come. I imagine travelling around Cambodia and the locals greeting me with joy and warmth, which would make me feel the deepest respect for them, especially after getting a glimpse into what their people have been through. The Killing Fields are located 10 miles from Phnom Penh, those who want an authentic experience should get a Tuk Tuk from the centre of Phnom Penh. However, the road can get quite dusty so it's worth wearing a face mask.
The Killing Fields are a real eye opener; they are one of the sites where many Cambodians were killed in the 1970s. They were left there in the hope that people would visit and learn from the unspeakable events that took place. You can also visit S-21 Prison, an old high school that was converted into a prison and execution centre. Here you will get a sobering reminder of what human beings are capable of.
The group behind all these horrendous acts were called The Khmer Rouge. They were a right wing military group lead by Pol Pot, who wanted to follow China's communist regime, forcing everyone to work in the fields. People were forced to carry out hard labour for long hours. They didn't want a professional workforce so they murdered doctors, teachers and lawyers and anybody who didn't follow orders was killed. Religion, music and family relationships were banned. The Khmer Rouge were responsible for 1.7 to 2.5 million deaths.
A visit to the Killing Fields will humble you and stay in your memory forever. I am particularly interested in going there to hear the personal stories from survivors and see the chilling burial grounds. It's important to note how far Cambodia has come; it is an inspiring example of how to recover from such events. You will find the people are some of the friendliest and warmest you have ever met, they are refreshingly optimistic. Travel isn't always about having fun or relaxing, it's about learning and growing as a person and that is exactly what I expect to do here. There are now around 424 hotels throughout Cambodia and it's not a huge country, tourism is flourishing and people are appreciating the country Cambodia has grown to be.
Cities and towns to visit
I have a few specific towns and cities in Cambodia I want to visit after I have immersed myself in the history. Siem Reap is a haven for backpackers as it is filled with delicious and cheap street food, historic ruins and unique souvenirs.
Another big destination I would have to visit is Sihanoukville with its laid back atmosphere, soft sandy beaches and clear waters. It's very different to the busy, overcrowded cities.
Lastly, I couldn't go to Cambodia without visiting the capital, Phnom Penh. There's plenty of nightlife here if you fancy a night out on a budget and there's plenty to do. I would have to check out some of the boutique shops, see the Royal Palace and sample some fresh street food.
Real Cambodian life
When I travel I will always check out the top tourist spots, but the main goal is to find the slightly more unique and underrated places. If you have enough time there's plenty of hidden gems to find in Cambodia. I have heard that Battambang, a farming area is a place where you can immerse yourself in Cambodian culture. The architecture is stunning with some French colonial influences. It's the leading rice producing province in the country, making it a very traditional area, but there's also a growing art scene. Battambang hasn't yet been altered by tourism so it's a very peaceful place.
I have also planned visits to river villages in my itinerary. You can choose from three magical floating villages to visit where houses are raised above the water on bamboo stilts. As I am a keen chef, I would also like to visit the pepper fields just outside of Kampot. You can discover more about the history of pepper, witness how it is grown and purchase some to take home and cook with. It's considered to be some of the best pepper you can get.
Cambodia is a holiday destination like no other. It's got plenty of unspoilt areas, breath-taking ruins and fascinating stories to unravel. Of all the places I have ever been I expect Cambodia to be the most memorable.