Only 5 days to do the two things on our priority list for Cambodia. It was jam packed and busy, and we didn’t see some of the major spots like Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh, but with such a short amount of time, I’m happy with what turned out to be a great time in Cambodia.
My parents were with me for Cambodia and I was excited to show them this historic place. However, our first stop was to a place of natural beauty: Sen Monorom. And what was my number one priority for Southeast Asia? Elephants.
Now with tourism involving animals, you have to be very careful when choosing your tour operator. Never ride the elephants, that is rule number one. Riding elephants hurts their backs as they are not built to be ridden. Also try your best to find tour operators whose mahouts (trainers) do not use cruel methods to train theses sensitive and emotional creatures.
I used the Bunong Elephant Project and was very happy with what they had to offer. On our first day, we took a hike down to a river to meet the elephants. There we fed them bananas, spent time with them, and got to know more about the project. They seemed happy to be with us (we were bringing them food after all).
From here, we walked through the jungle with the elephants, giving them enough space to provide them with the comforts of living in their own environment. We came to a river where we were able to swim with them underneath a waterfall. Playful and happy, the elephants seemed to enjoy our swim as much as I did!
Our second and last stop in Cambodia was to Siem Reap, to view the iconic and historic Angkor complex. The complex is absolutely massive; to explore even half of the temples you’ll need at least 4 days. We split it up as such: Day 1 – smaller outlying temples, Day 2 – a floating village and one distant temple, Day 3 – the three main temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Phrom).
Be sure to budget in a decent amount of money for Siem Reap as the ticket into the complex is expensive, as are some of the other tours and accommodations (compared to other parts of Southeast Asia that are less touristy).
The Angkor complex is one of the most well known landmarks in Southeast Asia, making daily visitors extremely high. If you want to visit the temples away from the crowds, you can follow a few simple guidelines. First, Angkor Wat is best viewed at sunrise. Get to the complex around 5 AM and follow the swarm of people doing the same. However, after the sunrise has finished, make your way to the back of the temple immediately and go back to front. You’ll miss the crowds and explore half of the temple completely alone, and the other half less crowded as the others make their way backwards.
Second, you can visit Ta Phrom at the end of the day. It is the most covered temple (as it is overgrown with jungle) so most visitors go midday. If you go near the end of your day, there won’t be quite as many people trying to remake Tomb Raider scenes.
Finally, Bayon is always crowded, but you can visit it midday in order to get away from the crowds, as many of the tourists hit up lunch at this time to escape the heat.