in-(ter)-view TRAVEL CAMBODIA
Name: Caeli Keating
Why did you choose it?
The last few times I’ve been overseas have been to the USA, Europe and the UK. Whilst I loved those trips, I wanted to experience a completely different culture and have always been fascinated with the history of the country and it’s people. Plus, when your other half works FIFO, it’s nice to get away together somewhere that’s only a short flight away!
Season of choice:
May. Cambodian Summer. Think 99 percent humidity and a whole lotta sweating!
What to pack?
Pack light! Leave the hairdryer and ghd at home (this is a developing country and will most likely short out the power!). You’ll be visiting temples so make sure you bring something appropriate with long sleeves and covered knees. They can be really strict with dress requirements and a simple scarf over the top of clothes won’t cut it. I rocked my Beau silk pants and teamed with a cotton/linen tee.
How did you get there?
Flew with Singapore Airlines from Brisbane into Siam Reap. You can get around the country on a bus for next to nothing, private car or fly if you’ve got limited time.
Best moment of the trip?
Watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Sure you might be sharing it with a hundred other tourists, but it’s a truly spectacular, peaceful moment.
What did you learn about the country? Culture? About yourself?
Cambodian people are some of the friendliest, humble people I’ve met. Although it is relatively new to tourism compared to other Asian destinations, they are very willing to share their history and culture with you – even the painful parts of it. I think travelling always makes you appreciate home that much more, I know how lucky I am to grow up in a country that values health, education and multiculturalism, especially after seeing the toll that the Pol Pot regime has taken on the country.
Is there a common stereotype that you would like to break?
There’s a lot of misinformation about voluntourism in countries like Cambodia. By all accounts you’re probably going to do more harm than good by volunteering at an orphanage for a few days then leaving. The best thing to do is try to make an informed choice by researching and choosing reputable organisations for tours, meals, shopping, etc. That way your funds are being used for the right purposes. Responsibletravel.com has a great list of operators from all over the world!
Did you miss anything from your normal routine?
Being able to drink water from the tap!
Tell us about a person you met?
I caught up with an old friend in Phnom Penh who is working with an NGO in Sre Ambel (a remote Cambodian village). She was working with them to build their online presence and use tools like Facebook and websites as a platform for cultural preservation and exchange. Living within the community she had some great stories that she also shares on her blog – http://talesfromthetuktuk.com/.
Anything go wrong (that seems funny – or still not!) now?
May have overindulged on one of our first nights in Siem Reap, on the infamous Pub Street (full of cocktail bars, clubs, etc). Woke up the next day to discover that we had somehow spent AU$400 in one night. Not sure if that would’ve been truly possible given the cost of a great espresso martini isn’t much more than AU$5… All I can say is that one bartender must’ve gotten extremely lucky!
Best place to …
Get a drink? Foreign Correspondents Club, Phnom Penh – looks out over the Mekong!
Breakfast? Breakfast isn’t huge in Cambodia, but they have the most delicious smoothies made up of fresh fruits like dragon fruit, mangos, bananas, etc.
Lunch? Romdeng, Phnom Penh. Try the crispy tarantulas with black pepper and lime sauce! Run by the Friends organization, they provide schooling and chef training to street kids all over the country. Ethical eating!
Dinner? Do the degustation at Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap. The French chef is one of the best in Asia and the food was more than insta-worthy!
Get a touristy snapshot? Angkor Wat or one of the hundreds of other temples!
Stay overnight? Make like Angelina and stay at the FCC Siem Reap.
Stay a week? Verandah Natural Resort in Kep. It’s a 3 hour drive by private car from Phnom Penh but well worth it. Luxury accommodation, amazing scenery and delicious seafood. My tip – try the Kep crab with Kampot pepper.
Story telling …
What would you send a postcard home about?
Exploring all of the Angkor temples. We had a great tour guide who was incredibly knowledgeable on the history of Angkor, making for a great experience and excellent photographs.
Story you would like to share?
If you want something a little more romantic and relaxed, then check out Kep. It’s the perfect mix of beach, jungle and remoteness (without the scores of backpackers found in Sihanoukville). One of my favourite afternoons was spent watching the sunset over the water from the Kep Sailing Club and you can’t go wrong with the happy hour cocktails!
Best shopping purchase?
Food! I am not a fan of market-stall shopping, especially in 40 degree heat so I stick to what I know best.
Crab at Kimly Restaurant in Kep. The town’s signature dish, best eaten in the crab market at the pier in Kep (3hrs from Phnom Penh). There’s a million different ways to eat crab, I’d recommend the Kampot pepper style.
Travel tips …
Solo, plus one, or more? Plus one. Especially after visiting places like the killing fields, when you really need to debrief after.
What can’t you travel without? Sunscreen. Red hair and pale skin isn’t great for exploring the outdoors so I always make sure I’m protected.
Travel rating: 4
(one to five stars. One being meh, 3 being glad I went, 5 being you-betcha-gonna-hear-more-about-it)
Gal Pal tripping Yes
Romance factor Once you get over the sweatiness, definitely!
Expand your mind Yes
Family vay-cay Yes
Who would love it? Someone who wants to learn and experience a different culture to their own. If you want 5 star luxury and no leaving the hotel, look elsewhere.