Is Cambodia more than a full moon party?
In the heart of South East Asia, Cambodia is a place where hundreds of revellers head to full moon parties. The usually serene beaches of Koh Rong Sanloem are transformed by hundreds of high energy party goers… but does the country bring more than just this to the travel table?
The quick answer is yes, Cambodia has so, so much more to offer, but what?
You can’t truly understand Cambodia until you acknowledge the all too recent horror story. I don’t want to overload you with a history lesson but here’s a quick summary…
The Khmer Rouge was a brutal Marxist regime that held power in Cambodia from 1975-1979 and claimed the lives of over 2 million people. Pol Pot, the leader of the regime, aimed to take Cambodia back to the middle ages. Millions of people were forced out of the cities to work on communal farms. Whole families died from starvation and disease, anyone thought to be an intellectual of any form was executed. As little as wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language brought people this fate.
Pol Pot was finally overthrown by the Vietnamese army in 1979. Since then Cambodia has been trying to heal its scars and re-establishing ties with the world community.
There are museums and memorials across Cambodia to the millions of people that lost their lives. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, just southwest of Phnom Penh are a good place to start. Not learning about the Khmer Rouge when in Cambodia is a bit like not learning about the Nazis when in Germany, it’s essential.
Cambodia is home to the largest religious monument in the world – Angkor Wat. A UNESCO World Heritage site that stretches over 400 km2. Although originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat was gradually transformed into a Buddhist site by the end of the 12th century. Angkor Wat includes the famous Ta Prohm temple which remains in the same condition as when it was found, with trees growing up, through and around the stone structures. You need to allow a couple of days to really explore everything that Angkor Wat has to offer.
Oh and Tomb Raider was filmed here so prepare to channel your inner Lara Croft…
One of the first things you will notice about Cambodia is how friendly the people are. You’ll be met with Sampeah greetings, gorgeous smiling faces which, when you take into account their recent horror story is something of a miracle. Spend as much time as you can with the locals, help out with the rice harvest or learn local handicrafts. This includes taking the time to visit Buddhist temples and chat with monks. You’ll learn about their customs and way of life and receive a blessing of health, happiness and safe travels.
You may not of heard of the Irrawaddy dolphin but it is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. Cambodia is home to the Mekong River sub-population which are critically endangered. There are thought to be less than 70 individuals and the population is still in decline. There are specialised tour companies that will take you in search of these wonderful creatures. A must find whilst you still have the chance.
Cambodia also houses the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor which stretches from Koh Kong over to the coast near Sihanoukville. This in an area of outstanding beauty that encompasses the Cardamom Mountains, jungle-flanked rivers and amazing biodiversity – over 60 threatened species. A wonderful place to explore and lose yourself in for a couple of days.
And of course…Elephants. Mondulkiri province is home to the Pnong people, an indigenous tribe who hold elephants at the very heart of their culture. Projects such as Elephant Valley Project work here to improve the welfare of the elephants and promote education, employment and sustainable practices among the mahouts and extended community.
Tonle Sap is South East Asia’s largest freshwater lake. More than 3-million people call this place home and live off what the lake provides. You can take trips through the lake where you’ll come across floating villages with floating houses… fisheries… clinics… schools… basketball courts and even the occasional floating pigsty.
Thailand might have beautiful beaches but they are packed with tourists. Head out to some of Cambodia’s beaches – just not during a full moon party – and you will find a slice of paradise. Don’t miss islands such as Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem and Bamboo Island.
Food and Markets
Khmer cuisine, as it is known, is much less recognised than its Thai or Vietnamese relations but is just as delicious. With each meal, you’ll get an array of dishes that have the perfect combination of herbs, spices and pickles. Rice is a staple with every meal, Cambodian’s even have the greeting “Myam bai Howie nov?” which means “Have you eaten rice yet?”. Make sure you try lots of street food whilst you are here, for those adventurous travellers try eating some of the insects the vendors have to offer. They are fried and seasoned and surprisingly delicious…
Cambodia’s markets are an array of colour, sound and smells, a treat for the senses. Try out all the delicious foods they have to offer whilst picking up some souvenirs to take home.
Add Cambodia to your list…
Cambodia is so much more than just a full moon destination. The rich culture, heritage and history is enough of a reason alone to visit, but then you add in the people, places, wildlife and food and Cambodia jumps right to the top of the travel bucket list. There’s no better way to truly see a country than to volunteer and immerse yourself in daily life. Our Cambodia program will enable you to experience everything the country has to offer whilst giving something back to the communities who really need it.