No, this isn’t like the time you tried to set your Ate up on a date with Boboy from the barangay basketball team. Today, I want to introduce my Filipino traveler friends to the wonderful country of Cambodia.
Easily accessible from Manila, inexpensive, safe, and FUN, you'll find the Kingdom of Cambodia to be like your 7,500-island nation in some ways but so different in most. ("Same, same, but different," as they say.) In fact, if you added up landmass of the Visayas and Luzon, it would be about as big as Cambodia. However, there are only 15+ million people in the whole country of Cambodia, while Manila alone has more residents than that! Whoa! You'll also learn that the people and culture are called Khmer, not “Cambodian,” and the country has the longest standing leader in all of Asia, Prime Minister Hun Sen.
I’ll give you 10 reasons why Filipinos will love to visit Cambodia here, but I also encourage you to email me with any questions.
Filipinos will find that it’s easy to get to Cambodia. In fact, CebuPacific offers nonstop flights leaving Manila and touching down in Siem Reap, Cambodia that only take 2 hours and 55 minutes, saving you a whole lot of time and aggravation by avoiding connecting flights and layovers. The best part is that it costs less than 5,000 Pesos each way! That's about the same as Manila to Dumaguete, Coron, or Caticlan - not bad for an international direct flight, Coron, or Caticlan.!
Once you're in Siem Reap, getting around is effortless with charming tuk-tuks you can ride around for 100 Pesos or so, or you can rent a motorbike or bicycle to tour around.
If you have more than a few days, you can easily take the bus or van (5-6 hours/250 Pesos – 500 Pesos) to the dynamic and charming capital city, Phnom Penh. (Yes, they have night buses so you can wake up in your destination and save the cost of a hotel room for one night!)
Since Cambodia is wedged between its Southeast Asian neighbors, you can also take a bus or van to Thailand or Vietnam for intrepid travelers.
Angkor Wat in Siem Reap
The highlight of any trip to Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the largest religious site on earth and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (although not a Wonder of the World – yet!). Construction started on this massive temple complex in the 12th century as a Hindu religious monument, although it later transitioned to Buddhist use. Today, you can witness the sheer magnitude and magnificent splendor of Angkor Wat and nearby temples, including Ta Prohm temple that you might remember from the movie Lara Croft, Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. You can purchase a one-day pass, three-day pass or week-long pass to enter the temple grounds and cruise around as much as you like, so bring comfortable walking shoes, your sunblock, and your selfie stick because you’re in for a crazy adventure!
Cambodia is inexpensive!
Filipinos will be delighted to find that Cambodia is still very affordable (it’s probably cheaper than traveling around the Philippines!). You can still get a great 4-star hotel with a pool and breakfast for around 1,300-1,500 Pesos a night, and there is an abundance of clean and safe hostels, guesthouses, and accommodations for as low as 150 Pesos per night! You can also find delicious food that’s inexpensive everywhere in Cambodia.
The Angkor Wat temple complex – the main attraction in Siem Reap – does cost 1,850 Pesos for a day pass, but you can use that to explore multiple temples in the same area. From dawn until sundown, you'll see some of the most amazingly beautiful temples in the world, taking enough selfies, groupies, and jump shots to last a lifetime!
I know that you love to eat! But since mealtime (otherwise known as "all the time") is about trying new, exciting dishes and making memories with friends and family, you'll love the food in Cambodia. In fact, you'll find the best of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, European, Western, Indian, and, of course, Khmer food. You'll also be blown away by how many funky, creative, and fun cafes, restaurants, bars, and street food choices there are. By the way, you can try spider, snake, or even insects in Cambodia! Who's brave enough to take a bite?
The Kingdom of Cambodia may be right next door to the Philippines, but it looks so different that it might as well be another planet. Mostly landlocked (except for coastal areas in the south), life in Cambodia is centered around the colossal Lake Tonle Sap and the rivers that feed it, like the mighty Mekong.
However, some things will look familiar – regal palm trees, sprawling rice fields, and the endless sun-kissed beauty of “the province.” But you’ll also find floating villages of boat people, tropical jungle, rivers to play in, butterfly farms, pepper plantations, dusty villages with friendly locals, and breathtaking Bokor Mountain and National Park.
If you make it south to Phnom Penh, consider another 3-4 hour bus/van ride (that’s nothing for eager Filipino travelers!) to the charmingly surreal river town of Kampot or the super-chill coastal enclave of Kep, where you can lay in a hammock and eat fresh seafood to your heart's content. I really think you’ll love those places.
One thing I haven't mentioned much is Sihanoukville (the name of their former King) in the south of the country. While it's a hot spot for backpackers and travelers, I don't suggest it for Filipinos. It takes about 6 hours to get there from Phnom Penh (and takes you even further away from your flight out of Siem Reap), and it's attracted a sleazy, unsafe element. While nearby Koh Rong Island is beautiful, you have far more (and better) islands back home. So my recommendation is to come to Cambodia for the culture, temples, and exploring the main city, but skip Sihanoukville.)
Wow, where do I even begin? I can write ten blogs on the history of Cambodia, but suffice to say this – the modern developing nation you see today has one of the richest, most ancient, and interesting histories of any country in Asia. However, Cambodia was also home to one of the worst genocides in human history, with the Khmer Rouge killing almost a quarter of the total population of their own country in the months between 1975 and 1978.
History buffs will experience all of that – pride in their ancient civilization, the surprisingly-European influence in art, architecture, food and culture from French colonialism, scars from the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities, and today’s hopes to heal and build a modern society.
I know the process of applying for a visa can be long, expensive, and frustrating for Filipinos. But here's some amazing news, straight from the TourismCambodia.com website:
The nationals of the Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar do not need a tourist visa and may stay in Cambodia for 21 and 30 days respectively.
While the majority of people in the Philippines are Roman Catholic and Christian, Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist. Filipinos will be delighted to experience such a cultural, historical, and yes, religious contrast. You'll find that Buddhism, its temples (Wats), and its people, very welcoming. From Angkor Wat to the temples and pagodas around the picturesque royal palace in Phnom Penh to gonzo celebrations like the water festivities for Khmer New Year, Filipinos will love being immersed in a Buddhist society.
Plenty of pasalubong to take home
Everywhere you go in Siem Reap or Phnom Penh, you’ll find stalls, stores, and night markets selling t-shirts, wood carvings, handmade jewelry, local art and crafts, designer brand (knock-off) clothes and purses, hats, refrigerator magnets, postcards, silks and other exotic fabrics, spices, and just about every other gift you can imagine. For 1,000 Pesos and some smooth-tongued haggling, you'll return home with a backpack full of pasalubong that will even make your sometimes-complaining (and still single) Ate happy!
My Pinoy friends will have one frustration in Cambodia, as people come up to them on the street and start speaking Khmer all the time, thinking they are from Cambodia. But the good news is that people are generally friendly, happy, and open to foreigners in Cambodia. Of course, English isn't their native tongue, but anyone that works in tourism will speak enough English to get by and interact, and you'd be surprised how fast the younger generation (like kids on the street) are learning it.
Likewise, you'll meet some AMAZING fellow travelers from all over the world while you're in Cambodia, making new friends for life who might even invite you to their home countries.
I’ve found that in some places (like Thailand, etc.) the country is beautiful but I leave feeling like I’ve lacked a meaningful connection to the country and its people. But in Cambodia, there are endless opportunities for an authentic human bond and even friendships, enriching both of your lives.
For these 10 reasons, I promise you that Cambodia will remain in your heart long after the stamp in your passport fades!
Disclaimer: I am not Filipino, but please don’t hold that against me – nobody’s perfect!