Smiles can be found in abundance across Southeast Asia, and there are plenty to be seen in Vietnam. However, nothing beats Cambodian hospitality and you’ll be overwhelmed by the gentle nature and warm welcome people seemingly dish out by the bucket load. From tuk tuk drivers and waiters, to street vendors and school kids, prepare for faces to light up with a grin and a stream of hellos to bellow through the air wherever you are in Cambodia.
Vietnamese food is tough to beat, but Phnom Penh rules when it comes to restaurant diversity. Despite its small size, the Cambodian capital is packed with venues serving up dishes from around the globe. Regardless of your budget or taste, the dining scene takes in neighbouring countries, exquisite French food, Mexican, Nepalese, Russian, German, Nigerian, Jamaican, Korean, Japanese and pretty much every country in between, with fine dining available at surprisingly low prices. Cambodia’s national dish is fish amok – a must-try curry dish, steamed in banana leaves.
It could be argued that Vietnam’s size and sprawl gives it more diversity than Cambodia, and more space to explore. However, Cambodia’s compact size means that getting off the beaten track is easier, and improved infrastructure, which is getting better all the time, makes remote locations more accessible and cheaper to get to. If you want to squeeze capital life, temples, islands and jungle into a short trip on a budget, don’t sweat because it’s easy in Cambodia.
Of course, there’s so much more to Cambodia than its temples but, hello – it’s home to Angkor Wat. Until you’ve watched the sun peek from behind its iconic silhouette, the light revealing its incredible beauty, it’s hard to understand the majestic magnitude of this archaeological feat, which dates back to the early 12th century and was once the centre of the Khmer Empire.
It’s fair to say that Cambodia is a little less developed than its neighbour, but this only adds to the unique experience that the Kingdom of Wonder can offer. Like the gift that keeps on giving, the country, especially rural areas, is full of jaw-dropping sights. A family of six balancing on one motorbike, no problem. Dozens of chickens tied together by their legs being transported on the back of a bike with a few freshly-slaughtered pigs slumped across the driver’s lap, normal. Men napping while precariously balancing on their ‘motos’, standard.
Vietnam has extended its visa exemption scheme for five European countries until July, but for everyone else, it’s about US$60 for a tourist visa, with limited visas on arrival available. Visitors to Cambodia, on the other hand, can turn up at the airport, or another border, and for US$30 get a one-month visa within a few minutes. Those wanting to stay can easily extend without having to leave the country, and Immigration are pretty lax towards those who accidentally overstay, charging US$10 – this recently increased from US$5 – a day.
Tourism has undoubtedly taken off in Cambodia but it still remains relatively off the beaten track, compared to Vietnam. This makes steering clear of crowds – unless you’re at Angkor – much simpler, with many remote spots within easy reach. And let’s not forget the fact that Cambodia still holds a little more edge when name-dropping countries visited among fellow travellers and friends.