After returning from a recent visit to the Kingdom, Mark Bibby Jackson explains why you really should visit Cambodia now.
Cambodia is a country that I love. I first came here in 2005, and subsequently lived in the country for the best part of a decade, launching AsiaLIFE Cambodia magazine, travelling and writing about each province in the country. It is where I became a full-time writer. I know Cambodia and I owe Cambodia.
Due to Covid I had not visited the country since 2019, so I was keen to visit the country for the recent Asean Tourism Forum (ATF) held in January, taking an opportunity to go on a trip to the Cardamom Mountains organised by my good friend Nick Ray, Lonely Planet writer and passionate campaigner for the country’s tourism industry. After 18 days I left convinced there will never be a better time to visit the Kingdom of Wonder. These are five reasons why?
1 Cambodia is Open
Something we never thought we would need to say pre-Covid. But Cambodia is open to all vaccinated tourists. So long as you have a negative PCR test 72 hours prior to your departure all you have to do is have a lateral flow test in the airport – I received my result in 30 minutes – and then you are free to roam the country as you wish. Even if your arrival test is positive you can stay at a hotel until you prove negative. There is no testing regime prior to departure although you might be required to show your Covid pass intermittently.
Tip: Do check the arrangement for tests especially for transit. I had to have a lateral flow (ART) test 48 hours prior to departure for my four-hour transit in Singapore Airport.
2 Angkor Is Deserted (apart from Chinese New Year)
Unless you, like me, time your visit for Chinese New Year (rookie error), you will discover the amazing temples of Angkor deserted. Ta Prohm is just like Angelina Jolie discovered it in Tomb Raider. Even on Chinese New Year I found most of the temples devoid of fellow tourists, and the occasional Khmer couple having their wedding photos taken.
Tip: Make sure you top up your water bottle at Sala Kdei to minimise your plastic footprint.
If you want to visit Cambodia, read more about how you can discover Angkor Wat Away from the Crowds.
3 Cambodia Has So Much Space
There are still large swathes of the country that are untouched. Largely due to the work of Wildlife Alliance the Cardamom Mountains has been kept as one of the best-preserved areas of rainforest in Southeast Asia. Now you can stay in true eco-style either in a $4 homestay as part of the Community-based Ecotourism projects there, or in the upmarket Shinta Mani Wild (from $1.9k++ per night per tent for an all-inclusive stay). The islands are equally pristine. When I first visited nobody lived on them. Now you can stay as a beachcomber on Koh Rong or live the Life of Reilly on Song Saa private island.
Tip: Stay at Cardamom Tented Camp; the most remarkable project with solar panels, filtered water, local food and absolutely no noise pollution – apart from the jungle.
Read Mark’s Eco-adventures in Cambodia when he went Wild in the Cardamoms.
4 There is a Buzz
There is a reason why so many expats choose to live in Phnom Penh, and tourists love Siem Reap. Both cities have a buzz, laid back lifestyle and welcoming people. Having been cooped up for so long die to Covid, it is a breath of fresh air to stand at a bar in Bassac Lane (in Phnom Penh) or have a drink at Madame Wong’s, Laundry Bar or Pomme in Siem Reap and forget about all the worries going on elsewhere in the world. Cambodia is not only open, but it is also great fun. Let your hair down.
5 The People Need You
It’s a cliché within the Cambodian tourism industry, but people come for the temples but leave remembering the people. We might think that we’ve had it bad during Covid, but many in the tourism industry in Cambodia have had no income for two years. Places like the excellent Jaya House in Siem Reap have tried their hardest to keep their staff on through the rough times. But people everywhere are suffering from my tuk tuk driver Samoueng to Svay Ran who let’s rooms in her homestay in Chambok. They desperately need your money.
Tip: Spend time getting to know the locals your Cambodian holiday will be much more enriched as a consequence.
Visit Cambodia Now
Cambodia is now no longer a two-day add on to a trip to Thai beaches. It is a destination in its own right. Take your time. Keep your travel slow and low impact, and enjoy. After what all of us – partying politicians excepted – have endured over the past two years we really do deserve it. Visit Cambodia before everyone else does.
When is the Best Time to Visit Cambodia?
When to visit Cambodia? Apart from now, really I would say it’s best to visit during the wet season, especially towards the end of it – say October or November – when the fields are green and there is so much colour in the country. A tropical storm is a wonderful and unforgettable experience. Also, as people tent to visit in the dry season (November to March) there tends to be less tourists during the ‘green’ season, even when people did travel.
All photos unless stated by Mark Bibby Jackson. Article amended 10 February 2022.