Thailand, Laos and Cambodia
Every time I travel, I always consider going to a country in Southeast Asia. When I was a school teacher I would travel during my six week vacation. Thailand was the first country I visited, where I went alone.
Laos was very touristy, much more than we expected. Many Westerners are flocking there because it inexpensive. The two of us were able to eat out for under five dollars. Alcohol is also very cheap there, so you can imagine the scene.
Angkor Wat didn’t disappoint. We saw the excellent craftsmanship of all the different temples. If you are into religious and historical sites, you would have been impressed. It was all very Indiana Jones. However, the vendors around the different temples kind of ruined the experience. They were always harassing us to buy their “cold drinks” and other random stuff. We can laugh about it now but at the time it became very tiresome.
Then we went to Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach.
This was a nightmare from the onset. Trying to lay down and sunbathe was impossible! Sellers would soon surround us, many of whom included young children. I made the mistake of nodding when one seller told me I should come to him if I wanted a bracelet. Not exactly a promise, just a nod in my frantic attempt to get him to go away.
Then I made the mistake of buying a bracelet from another seller (again to get her to go away). Well, when the guy I nodded at saw me wearing a bracelet, he told me off for buying one from someone else. This was the final straw; we decided we had to get out of that place.
Exhausted from all the outdoor activities; we went to the beach to rest. We wanted the last part of our trip to be more relaxing. It was anything but relaxing!
Even when eating at the restaurant of our beach hut, waiters and waitresses would try to sell us things. These were people who worked there, so there was no escaping them.
Someone told us about a quieter beach called Otres Beach. We went there and stayed at the Mushrooms Point. The food there was brilliant and the owners were super nice! The staff was also very friendly.
This beach was quieter and there were fewer sellers.
Fortunately, they were also much less aggressive in their approach. They would usually leave on the third “no thank you”. Whereas the others on Serendipity Beach never gave up!
One thing I would say about this beach was that the surrounding areas were pretty dirty. When you are driving up to the beach it is quite concerning to see. Anyway, we were able to do some relaxing for the last couple of days and met some cool people.
If you are travelling for a couple of weeks (we had three weeks in total) do not try to cram in three different countries. I would advise you to stick to one. If we had just concentrated on Laos, we could have explored it further and visited more villages. We had planned to go to the North-West regions but we didn’t have enough time.
If we had only concentrated on Cambodia, we would have visited the countryside. Going to the remote areas would not have left such a bad impression.
Southeast Asia is touristy but I still believe you can always find the non touristy parts. For example when I went to Thailand I was there during the peak season. But I avoided the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan (not my thing).
Instead, I went to the Bottled Beach, which I found to be super quiet and serene. It was much further out than the other beaches and you had to take an extra boat or two to get there but it was worth it. The North of Thailand is also beautiful; places like Pai are worth visiting.
When in the touristy parts of Cambodia, do not think that the sellers are genuinely interested in you. They only care about your money, so do not engage in any form of conversation with them or they will not leave you alone.
Just keep saying, no thank you. Whatever they say to you; respond with “no thank you”.
If they say they will come back later, say “no thank you”, or they will take it as a “promise” to buy something from them later.
Bear in mind that any children selling should be in school. Education is free up to high school in Cambodia. So buying from child sellers will encourage them to stay on the beach all day, instead of going to school.
- I would advise you not eat at the stalls set up around Angkor Wat. These outdoor restaurants have no nearby bathrooms or running water. So there is nowhere to wash your hands.
Guess what? The people serving you food do not have access to soap and water either. As we were eating, we noticed that the people preparing the food would go into the nearby forest to pee. Needless to say we didn’t finish our food and politely left. ‘Cringe!’
In Laos we found that the locals are quite reserved. So to interact with them, you have to make an extra effort. They really appreciated this and we found them to be super nice as a result. You just have to start the conversation.
In our opinion Laos had the most beautiful scenery, especially if you like mountains. It would have been better to spend more time there to explore it thoroughly.
Lonely Planet’s; Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is only suitable as a general outline. It highlights the main touristy areas of every country featured in the book. If you want to find out about remote regions, buy the individual guidebook for that country. Also, do your own research on the internet; do not rely on the guidebook alone.