Cambodia by bus: Phnom Penh to Bangkok

Exploring the forgotten Empire of South East Asia, from Phnom Penh to Bangkok
Saturday, July 1, 2017 to Thursday, July 13, 2017

Introduction: an empire with a scattering history

Today, Cambodiainfo-icon lies in the shadow of its two neighbours. Vietnaminfo-icon and Thailandinfo-icon receive much more attention and visitors. And that despite its cultural heritages and friendly people. Cambodia had two extraordinary phases in recent history. Between the 8th and 15th century, the Khmer Empire dominated nearly all of the South East Asian mainland with Angkor Wat as its capital. In the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge led a terrible civil war and genocide against their own people. Triggered as a spill over of the Vietnam War, this turned into the worst genocide since World War 2. Within the last 20 years, Cambodia is recovering from its past and growing at a fast pace. On my overland journey, I will see nearly all sides of this. In a small group, I travel from Phnom Penh to Bangkok.

Phnom Penh: building a new future after a dark past

Coming from Vietnam, Phnom Penh was our first stop. Our journey started with a visit to the killing fields and a prison, two silent witnesses of the Genocide. We had an extraordinary guide, who was skilled and passionate. He spoke to our emotions, the deepest human instincts, yet did not leave out any facts. The only sad thing about it, is that he only tours with foreigners. Only a hand full of Cambodians ever visit those places and learn about their history. After the tour, we had time to discover the rest of the city. In a dark street, we ate roasted frogs, chicken feet and balot (a boiled egg with a semi-developed embryo). On the modern rooftops, we then slurped fancy drinks and danced to live music. Phnom Penh is a fast growing city something in between rural and modernity.

Sihanoukville: snorkelling and dancing at the beach

A long bus ride brought us inland to an eco village. We spent one night with a local family without any luxury of the modern world. For one night, we had no internet, no running water and only enough electricity for a light and a fan. A great tour guide lead and translated a question and answer session with our hosts. It was amazing and revealing to learn more about the desires and sorrows of those simple farmers. Our next destination was a place to relax and enjoy. Sihanoukville, named after the former Cambodian King, is a beach resort and party village. Many bars are aligned along the beach, play loud music and sell cheap cocktails. We also enjoyed a boat ride to some quiet islands. A real paradise for snorkelling and relaxing in the sun. My personal highlight was a group of Chinese, who thought I’m a movie star. They insisted on taking pictures with me.

Kampong Cham: with the bicycle along the Mekong

Back in central Cambodia, we followed the trails of the Mekong river. In Kampong Cham, we cycled along the mighty stream. While the bamboo bridge was totally flooded, we crossed the river on a half-finished concrete bridge. The crossing was a real adventure, as the bridge had big holes and no railing. On the island inside the river, we visited a small village. We’ve had some nice and authentic interactions with the villagers, who hardly ever see foreigners. Our next highlight was the long bus ride to the East. About half way between Phnom Penh to Bangkok, we stopped at the so called Spider City. As a reminder of the meagre years of the civil war, they still hunt and eat wild animals. Today, more as a tourist attraction, they serve Scorpions, Tarantulas, Crickets, Giant Water Bugs and other insects. I really enjoyed the fried Tarantulas but despised the though Scorpion.

Angkor Wat: the largest Buddhist temple system

With big excitement, we arrived at Siem Reap. This is a modern town, hosting thousands of tourists who want to visit the Angkor Wat temple system. Angkor Wat and its surrounding was not only the old Cambodian and Khmer Empire’s capital but is also the worlds largest Buddhist Temple structure. There is a series of temples and abandoned ruins to explore and admire. Angkor Wat is the largest and most impressive of all. My favourite temple was Ta Phrom. Not so much because of the Tomb Raider film set, but because nobody ever removed the overgrowing trees. As nature is claiming back its land, the temple slowly disappears into the forest. My last highlight along the path from Phnom Penh to Bangkok was a day-trip to the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake. Those villages were built on poles and are flooded during the raining season. Local guides take you on a small boat through the village and a mangrove forest. Siem Reap is an amazing city and its surrounding offer a big package of experiences.

Bangkok: closing another trip with an epic party

I always tried to avoid visiting Thailand. Mostly because it is such a famous and overcrowded tourist destination. It is surely a beautiful country and offers many extraordinary places to visit. However, I only visited Bangkok to finish my tour and to fly to my next destination. Together with my fellow travellers, we spent one last day together, exploring the big city. We walked the distance of half a marathon and visited some interesting religious and cultural sites. My grand finale, I then had with a new Indonesian friend from CouchSurfing. The two of us enjoyed local street food and wandered through the night markets. We even visited the famous Soi Cowboy bar street and danced through the night. From there, I took a taxi to the airport and jumped on a flight.

Phnom Penh to Bangkok: long history, fast moving

Cambodia surprised me with a rich, diverse and tragic history. This trip took me on a rough journey through time and across a fascinating country. I have learned so much about the human nature, thanks to some great tour guides and amazing fellow travellers. The intense interactions with local people gave me a unique insight into Cambodia. In extended conversations with my group members, I could share and enrich my own thoughts. This was different to my ordinary solo travels and a great success. I am very glad, I did this journey. I would not want to miss it.

Best thanks to all the amazing people who shared one or another adventure with me!

My waypoints on this journey

  • Phnom Penh by night

    sightseeing by night after eating fried frogs and balut (duck embryo)


    Phnom Penh, Cambodia


    Sunday, July 2, 2017

    Personal highlights

    1. Phnom Penh: the city is fairly quiet by night
    2. Sightseeing: visiting all the highlights by night in a tuctuc
    3. Night market: eating all the groce delicacies like frog, balut
    4. Sky bar: having a relaxed drink with my new Intrepid friends
    5. Rooftop: dancing with a group of tourists and locals

    Image sources

    1. Statue of Norodom Sihanouk
    2. Eating frog in Phnom Penh
    3. Eating Cambodian delicacies
    4. High above the streets of Phnom Penh
    5. Night market of Phnom Penh