A Change of Guard

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Friday, 31 August 2012

Cambodia: readers' tips, recommendations and travel advice

Visit Ta Prohm, which has been left in an unrestored state.  Ta Prohm [google]
Following a recent article on exploring Cambodia, readers offer their advice on visiting the country.

I agree with Maggie O’Sullivan that the Khmer Kitchen (khmerkitchens.com) is the best budget restaurant in Siem Reap. Go there in a tuk-tuk after you have done “happy hour” at the FCC (fcccambodia.com), which is also great value.
If you want to visit a school and orphanage, go to Savong’s School (savong.com), a genuine success story; even if you don’t go, then at least read about it.
Peter Kitto, online comment
If you’re arriving in Siem Reap by air, make sure you have your camera ready. The small airport affords an excellent photo opportunity on the short walk from the plane to the terminal. Pub Street may sound a bit brash by name but it has several good bars and restaurants.
Michael Johnson, Somerset
Cycling is a great way to feel part of a country – you’re hailed by every child – and being on a bike among locals is great. We cycled to the Landmine Museum on the way to temple visits. Our holiday, courtesy of Exodus (0845 863 9600; exodus.co.uk), was superbly organised and included rural north Thailand as well as Ho Chi Minh City. Highly recommended.
Vic Green, online comment

Our varied itinerary was put together by Cambodia Travel Plan (01273 322042; cambodiatravelplan.co.uk). Though some people will be tempted by big tour operators, we always prefer specialists in a certain country. This company has what it calls a “jigsaw” approach, letting you choose from different components and putting them together to suit your interests.
John Gordon, Edinburgh
In Phnom Penh have a drink at The Foreign Correspondents Club or a meal at Friends (215 Street 13; 00855 12 802072; friends-international.org), where street children are trained to be waiters and chefs.
Derek Walter, online comment
I cannot recommend too highly a book called Killing Fields, Living Fields by Don Cormack. It is a fascinating, beautifully written, well-researched account of Cambodia’s complicated history, including the author’s eyewitness view of the events of 1975 when the Khmer Rouge swept into Phnom Penh.
Yvette Albrecht, online comment
I recommend a visit to the Tuol Sleng Museum (tuolslengmuseum.com), Phnom Penh, to appreciate what Cambodia has gone through and how the Cambodians are now developing their country. The prison was originally a school turned into the country’s most notorious prison by the Khmer Rouge and tells you of the terrible suffering during the occupation of the city.
In Siem Reap visit the market and buy black peppercorns to bring home. Everybody wants to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, but do visit Ta Prohm, which has been left in an unrestored state; you will certainly get the atmosphere, especially if you go late afternoon.
Also visit one of the floating villages on Tonlé Sap – the boat journey is amazing; take pens, pencils and small colour books if possible, and when the children leave school at about 1.30pm, hand them out. Watch the children get into their dugout canoes to go home, all in their school uniform. Alternatively, give your gifts to a local school – your boat man will help with this.
Ann Walker, online comment
CTS Horizons (020 7868 5590; ctshorizons.com) organised a superb, personalised tour of the highlights of Cambodia for us as an add-on to our holiday in Vietnam. Its local agent (Exotissimo Travel) excelled itself with its choice of hotels and service. The guides, with their local knowledge, enabled us to avoid the crowds, yet experience the countryside, friendly people and sights – riding an ox cart through a village and on an elephant to a ruined temple; watching a wonderful sunset; and sitting with the elders of Kompong Khleang stilted village.
Malcolm and Jane Gamble, online comment
We were in Cambodia in March as a port of call on a Fred Olsen cruise (01473 746175; fredolsencruises.com) and though we were only there for a day, what a day it was. The ship docked at Sihanoukville, where we had booked a full-day excursion to Phnom Penh. The journey by road took three hours but gave us an insight into the more rural side of Cambodia, where people, although poor, were unfailingly friendly.
We arrived in Phnom Penh, a very pleasant city with lots of open spaces and well-tended parks, and, after doing a tour of various temples, had lunch at Raffles Hotel Le Royal (23 981888; raffles.com/phnom-penh), an excellent, elegant hotel with a nice ambience and first-class service.
After lunch we were taken on a tour of the infamous S-21 prison, which is very poignant and not for the faint-hearted – our guide told us how his father had been taken away following a night-time visit from followers of Pol Pot and not seen again. Having had a taster, we want to visit Cambodia again.
Clive and Sheila Robinson, Derbyshire
We flew from Singapore to Phnom Penh with Jetstar (jetstar.com) and stayed at the Pavilion Hotel (23 222280; thepavilion.asia), in Phnom Penh, just five minutes by tuk-tuk from the Royal Palace. We walked back from the palace so as to get a feel of the city, and at no time did we feel threatened.
We took a taxi from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which took five hours and only cost $65 (organised by our hotel in Siem Reap). It was well worth it as we got to see the way the Cambodian people live; it also meant we could see some of the things you miss if you fly.
In Siem Reap we stayed at the Pavillon d’Orient (98 655738; pavillon-orient-hotel.com), where the service and facilities were out of this world; the price ($110 per night) included the services of a tuk-tuk from 5am to 10pm, so you could get to the temples for sunrise and get home after sunset.
Chris Perry, online comment
Please, when in Siem Reap, spare an evening to listen to Dr Beat Richner at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital (beat-richner.ch), next door to Le Méridien hotel, playing his cello and telling you about his hospitals (he has four in Cambodia).
He tells you that 80 per cent of drugs in the country are fake, and 20 per cent of them are toxic. So he buys his drugs from Swiss companies and pays his staff Western wages so they aren’t tempted to sell drugs for money. He treats children free (95 per cent of people in the country are too poor to pay) and trains doctors and nurses. Only five per cent of money raised goes on administration.
Jill Sandy, Somerset
In March we embarked on a river cruise along the Mekong Delta, visiting Vietnam and Cambodia. We booked this cruise with Viking (0808 256 1711; vikingrivercruises.co.uk) and their attention to detail was faultless. The guides were so enthusiastic, knowledgable and attentive, the food was fantastic, and ship staff again so welcoming and helpful; also, the cruise was all-inclusive, so no worries about using cash on board, and very little cash was needed at stop-offs as souvenirs were so cheap.
March was a good time to travel as it was the dry season and there were very few bugs or insects about. But for this trip you do need to be fit and healthy: the days are busy as there are visits to do each morning and afternoon, the land is uneven ashore, and getting on to rickshaws, cyclos and ox carts is very exciting, but quite difficult for the unfit.
Jean Curry, Northumberland

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