2 weeks to fall in Love with Cambodia

Clelia Mattana ASIA, BLOG, CAMBODIA 19 Comments



When I booked my ticket to Cambodia months ago, my plan was  to stay just for 4 days, visit the Angkor Wat temples and go back to Thailand to get other 30 days visa. As soon as I landed in Phnom Phen, something happened: I fell madly in love with Cambodia, so much that I decided to prolong my stay for 14 days 🙂





Cambodian Kids Source:

I kept asking myself the same question over and over for the first few days, but I didn’t have a clear answer.

I just felt it.

I felt the place, the people, the smiles, the landscapes. Everything moved me for some reason.When I finally arrived at Siem Reap, the “final destination”, I was so tired that i could barely walk.  That trip was  one of the hardest, yet  most rewarding experiences since I started my adventure.



When I saw the real Cambodia.

We slept at the airport to catch an early flight to Phnom Phen, when we landed I was already destroyed for the lack of sleep.

Little did I know that the worst was yet to come : The bus to Siem Reap, 8 hours in hell! infinite  bumpy streets in the middle of nowhere, damn hot, and only one stop on the way. No wonder that in a bus of 50 people only 3 were western I guess we are just not ready for this…

None the less, I found myself  happy to be with the locals. I could finally have a real taste of what living in Cambodia looked like. And it’s damn hard.

During the journey I was looking outside the windows like a zombie, and maybe the extreme tiredness served me like a tool to receive everything on a deeper level.

What I saw  was something  I wasn’t entirely prepare to face. I knew that Cambodia was an extremely poor country, I’ve seen documentaries, read travel guides and blogs about the genocide and their difficult political past.

But if there is a thing this trip is teaching me is that to fully understand things (being them your own emotions, the culture or people’s behavior) you need to experience it first hand.

It’s been pretty shocking: kilometers of plain fields, with no vegetation whatsoever (dry season doesn’t help much I guess), and an infinite sequel of very poor houses made of old wood and palm tree leaves.


Cambodian Village. Source:


Children searching for food in huge piles of trash, surrounded by stray dogs and chicken. No fresh water available apart for a  big hole in front of each hut. It must have been filled with rainy water during the wet season but now it was reduced to a slough where pigs, chicken and dogs went to refresh themselves from the heat.

The same water that the locals use for their everyday needs.

The more I saw, the more I couldn’t believe how people could survive like that. Don’t they get ill instantly? What about children? I didn’t spot a single school for kilometers. Not a sign of what we call “civilization”.

What was even more astonishing to me was that people kept on smiling at us. Constantly. Despite their condition, despite the hunger and everything they’ve been trough. I found these people just amazing. They have such an inner elegance, kindness and calmness that is disarming.

Di Lukas Bergstrom (Kids) [CC-BY-2.0 (], attraverso Wikimedia Commons

Di Lukas Bergstrom (Kids) [CC-BY-2.0 (], attraverso Wikimedia Commons


Children in particular, they come to you and smile. Everywhere I went, there were children smiling at me, or trying to play with me. One night I was having dinner at a local street food place (where the owner remembered that I am allergic to spicy foods, so nice) and this little kid came to me and asked for my sprite.

Of course I gave it to him. Feeling totally ashamed that the only contribution I could make was a silly sprite. On this first stay I couldn’t do any better than that, but I’d like to come back here to stay longer and try to really do something. Even if it’s a drop in the ocean.
My time here is coming to an end for now. Tomorrow we are catching an early bus to  cross the Cambodian Border and enter Thailand once again for 2 more weeks. And I already feel sad that I’m leaving.  

Not only for the beautiful Angkor Wat temples.




 …or my fight with the monkey over a bottle of water (which I totally won by the way!)


Monkey at Angkor Wat trying to steal my water by Clelia Mattana

Monkey at Angkor Wat. Picture by Clelia Mattana, all rights reserved.

or for being the unofficial photographer at a wedding in the temples….

Bride at Angkor Wat Temples in Cambodia

Bride at Angkor Wat Temples. Picture by Clelia Mattana. All rights reserved.



What I’m going to miss the most is the people and their smiles. Which I’ll take with me for the rest of my journey, waiting to come back in this beautiful, controversial and difficult country.   SEE YOU AGAIN ONE DAY CAMBODIA!

Related Articles: Are you a Real Traveler? How the trip can change your approach to people One year travel anniversary:Reflections and 3 lesson learned

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Ron D

I have been to Cambodia twice and loved it both times. First time I took a 2 day Mekong Delta tour from Vietnam finishing in Cambodia. I spent 1 night in Phnom Phen then took the bus to Siem Reap. The 2nd time I flew to Phnom Phen for a few days then again, took the bus to Siem Reap. I’m surprised you didn’t care for the bus trip to Siem Reap. Both my bus trips were great. I guess I got lucky. First trip I was set next to a guy who had been in the Peace Corps for… Read more »


Same here. Prolonged too even if it was damn expensive. Fell in love with it as well. The land, the food, the smiles, the girls. Definitely will come back.

[…] to his girlfriend on a sunny afternoon in Central Park. Then it was the turn of the Cambodian wedding,  in the suggestive frame of the Angkor Wat temples, and now again, here in a fantastic Hotel […]

[…] an 8 hour bus trip from Phnom Phen to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It’s been one of the most shocking, emotional experiences of my life. What my eyes witnessed is […]

Nice pictures. You had wonderful experiences in Cambodia. Thanks for sharing with us.


How does 4 months on the road feel is it what you expected are you used to it yet, I cannot wait to travel when I am 18

I feel the same for Cambodia. This place is cool but the thing that I enjoyed most during my one week stay, was the friendly nature of people. They always welcomes you with a fresh smile.

We felt the same way when we firstly came to Cambodia. We were planning to stay there for a week or so and ended up living there for 2 months and setting up our business in Siem Reap (web design). People were incredibly hospitable and we felt like home. So glad you enjoyed it as well x


Nice blog! Good luck keeping that hair under control through the rest of Asia 😉

Cambodia is just… genuine. With a long road ahead. But even though they know it, lots of people still seem happier than us… Regardless of its recent history filled with blood and death.
Beautiful country!

I didn’t have the chance to visit Cambodia while traveling across SEA last year, but it’s definitively in the list after reading your post! I might teach there…did you visit Phom Phen as well?