Ask Dave: My Time in Cambodia is Short. What Do You Suggest?

By Dave Fox

Karen in Hawaii writes:

“I’m planning to be in Cambodia five days. Coming from Ho Chi Minh City and thought of flying into Siem Reap, and read about the scenic route to Thai border (to make it to Bangkok) via boat from Battambang. I would appreciate your opinion on this, especially given the time restrictions. Is it a shame to miss Phnom Penh?

Hi Karen!

The cyclo is still a popular form of transportation in Phnom Penh.

Let’s begin with the last of your questions and reverse-engineer things from there. I loved Phnom Penh when I visited a couple of years ago. It’s a vibrant and unpretentious city with a delightful river promenade and one of my favorite outdoor markets in Asia. (It also has some stomach churning sights such as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the infamous Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” outside of town.)  It is a fascinating place, so when time allows, it’s a city I highly recommend.

But… is it a “shame” to miss Phnom Penh? No. What is a shame is when people cram so much into their travels that they turn potentially super-cool adventures into stressed-out checklists of so-called “must-see” sights.

On the outskirts of Siem Reap, the sun rises over Angkor Wat.

With five days in Cambodia, you could hit both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but it would feel rushed, and I think you’d feel like you were short-changing yourself in Siem Reap (where four days is a good length of time). Keep in mind that some of the sights around Siem Reap — particularly Angkor Wat — are spectacular but huge. Exploring them can get exhausting. For that reason, I recommend planning for a little down time in your schedule. (Hotels are cheap there. Find one with a pool where you can cool off!)

So I would choose either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh, you’ll find a more authentic local culture. (The city is bigger and absorbs the tourist crowds better.) In Siem Reap, you will be within easy day-trip reach of some of the world’s most phenomenal ancient ruins and temples. I’d pick one or the other given your fairly short time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how we often get stressed out about choosing between two things, and lose sight of the fact that we can’t make a wrong choice. If you haven’t read that article, check it out here! It will allay any decision-making anxiety you might be feeling.

Regarding the boat from Siem Reap to Battambang: I haven’t made that trip myself. When I traveled from Vietnam to Cambodia, however, I went by boat from Chao Doc, on the Vietnamese side of the border, to Phnom Penh, and I loved the journey. I’ve never had a river trip in Southeast Asia that I didn’t love. These trips often take longer than traveling on land — and they’re worth it for the experience.

(Here’s a good article on the Move to Cambodia website about traveling between Siem Reap and Battambang.)

Thanks for your question, Karen! Have a great trip!

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Published on Saturday, January 10, 2015

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