A taste of Cambodia… our first impressions

angkor wat cambodia

Last Updated on April 12, 2021

We fell head over heels for Cambodia – which caught us completely by surprise. This South East Asian country isn’t perfect, definitely rough around the edges. Here are our first impressions we made – and some fun facts about Cambodia! Enjoy!

Cambodia fun facts and random obsevations

The famous temples of Angkor Wat
These are Cambodia’s greatest pride and an interesting Cambodia fact we noticed within hours upon arriving in the country. The temples of Angkor Wat are resembled everywhere! On the money, on the beer, in hotel names & restaurant names, and it is the national symbol on Cambodia’s flag.

cambodia angkor

Water buffaloes as common in Cambodia as sheep are in Scotland!

water buffalos

Cambodians love to cycle
While it’s all about moto-scooters in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodians cycle everywhere – between villages, in town, to get to school or to work, or to transport goods.

cambodia facts

Old-fashioned cyclos are still used in everyday life of Phnom Penh and other towns.

phnom penh cyclo

While we weren’t the biggest fans of the fruit whose odor is best described as ‘pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock’, Cambodians LOVE durians! The Durian is the national fruit of Cambodia and we even found an entire statue dedicated to this interesting fruit.

cambodians love durians

Monks get up late in Cambodia
We’ve seen monks receiving their alms very early in the morning in neighboring Laos (6.30am), the monks in Cambodia make their way around time much later – we usually saw them around 9.30am!

cambodian buddhist monks

Pigs on motorbikes are a common sight…


…so are cows in the streets. cambodia cows in the streets

Cambodia’s terrible past is still ‘tangible’ everywhere you go.
Almost ¼ of the population was killed during the Khmer Rouge’s regime 1975 -1979 and there is a distinct lack of people between 45 and 65. You can read about our visit to the Killing Fields here.

phom penh killing fields skulls

Buses? Nah…
In the capital, and most other cities, there are no inner city buses. Instead, they have shared pick-ups or trucks.

cambodian taxis

Cambodians love fresh-squeezed lime juice
So did we! A fantastic thirst quencher in the sweltering heat!

kampot lime juices

The beaches in the South and on the islands are stunning!

A surprising Cambodia fact: Who knew that the country had so many gorgeous beaches?!koh rong long beach cambodia

Motorbikes pull anything!

cambodia motorbike loads

The typical Khmer dish ‘Amok’ (similar to a Thai curry, but with egg added in the sauce) is delicious!

phnom penh vegetarian amok

Smoking is ridiculously cheap in Cambodia.

cambodia cigarettes

Sadly, Cambodia is dirty.
We see piles of garbage everywhere. People just don’t seem to realize that throwing their garbage out in front of their house means it will rot there for eternity. This is one of the most frustrating observations of Cambodia, and a fact about Cambodia we did not know before we arrived here.

cambodia garbage

Most of the gas stations still look like this:

cambodian gas stations

Gas at a ‘real’ gas station is expensive!
It costs $1.29 per liter ($4.88 per gallon) in a country where the average GDP is $912 per person per year.

cambodian gas prices

Barbershops are open-air on the side of a road or in the market.

cambodia barber shops

People in Cambodia love to wear pajamas.
Not sure why, but we saw people in PJs everywhere we went! (We are aware that these gowns are not actual PJs worn at night, but the PJs still describes them best.)

cambodian ladies in pajamas

Dirt roads leading to a temple are often marked with detailed gates at the start. The countryside is full of these!

cambodia facts

Ice is usually transported on the back of a tractor, uncovered. The ice transport stops in front of every shop / house and then cuts off as much ice as needed with a rusty old saw. More ‘Western’ places thankfully make their own ice with filtered water in house.

cambodian ice transport

Cambodians love karaoke on public buses. These low-budget videos blare constantly, even on long-distance rides, and while we really, really don’t like Khmer music, we’d sing-a-long if we could…but we can not read Khmer so we are left to observe…

cambodia factsNeed a new external hard-drive? Pick one up for the same price in Cambodia as at home, but these come filled with hundreds of TV shows, movies and music of your choice – a traveler’s dream!

cambodia facts

Tags : cambodia


  1. We only spent a few days in Cambodia (less than a week), but what surprised us most was how unbelievably friendly everyone was! Kids would grin and wave at us as they passed on motorbikes, toddlers would run up and hug our legs, and adults were so friendly and helpful. We felt so welcome there.

    1. Christy – totally agree, the people were incredibly friendly, and we had several memorable experiences with local children who showed us around caves or rice factories or just wanted to say Hi 🙂 We felt very welcome everywhere we went. A shame that you only had such a limited amount of time in Cambodia – even with the month we spent there, we feel we only scratched the surface.

  2. Lovely (except the trash). Looks like an interesting country. The ice, the gas, the food, all looks fascinating. Not sure if fascinating is the correct word but I feel attracted to a lot of the things shown in here.

    1. Thanks Ruth! Cambodia is indeed a fascinating country… we were surprised how much we liked it despite the problems the country has, and its extreme poverty. Glad to hear you’re attracted to many of the things we shared because we truly love Cambodia!!

  3. I’m interested to get your take on Cambodia. I only spent a week there but I was very conflicted with all of it – especially the role of tourism.

    1. Ayngelina – we fell in love with Cambodia totally unexpectedly, a place where we wished we would’ve spent more than the 30 days our visa allowed us to, and we know we’ll be back for sure. Admittedly, we had some serious problems with the sex tourism, especially child sex tourism in Phnom Penh, and the ‘orphanage tourism’. There were a few more things we were conflicted with which we’ll share in one of our next posts.

    1. Thanks for the link to Barbara’s post, Denise! I had actually tried to find some information on that ‘pyjama’ phenomenon, but couldn’t find anything about it online and the articles that I found also referred to them as pyjamas. I also read a book about post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia in which the Cambodian author also refers to the pyjamas as such. Of course we are aware that they are not the same pyjamas that the people wear in bed, but since it was such an usual thing, we wanted to include this fact.

    1. Thanks Tammy 🙂 Yes, we’ve also watched Cambodian comedy, and judging from the Cambodian’s laughter, it must actually be funny… sadly we didn’t understand a word 😀

    1. Oh Andi, you have to go!! Cambodia is beautiful – the same gorgeous beaches that Thailand offers but a totally different vibe, and such a different culture. Can’t wait to go back!!

  4. Ha! Love this post and love Cambodia. The people are so wonderful there. We spent three weeks there and continue to think that the people there are amongst the most amazing in the world. And, the Khmer karaoke! Whew – we were subjected to many, many rounds of Khmer karaoke. Eek!

    1. Thanks Akila 🙂 The people in Cambodia were amazing, you are right – some of the most amazing in the world!! I love places where you still feel like people are genuinely friendly and don’t only turn on their smiles for the tourists. The karaoke was on in every single bus we took (many times even the same tape!) but we’ve never had anyone on the bus sing along 😀

  5. Love the photos here. It looks like you captured so many different aspect of daily Cambodian life. My boyfriend and I are hoping to spend a month there during our backpacking trip so I look forward to seeing all these things with my own two eyes.

    1. Thanks Vicky 🙂 You should definitely plan to spend a month in Cambodia, there’s just so much to see. We felt that the 30 day visa was not nearly enough time to see enough of Cambodia – but this gives us a good excuse to go back 🙂

  6. I’ve never been to Cambodia but have friends who’ve been there saying the people are friendly and hospitable. Love the pics and I’d love to visit Cambodia one day!

  7. Thanks for the morning virtual trip!! I like the pig on the motorcycle the best… and feel chilled when I look at the skulls and know what the Khmer regime did.

    1. You’re welcome, Barbara 🙂 The dark history of Cambodia was hard to take at times, and visiting the Killing Fields was definitely one of the most intense travel experiences. We were impressed though how far the country has come since the days of the Khmer Rouge and how positive people are.

    1. Thanks so much, Steph! We usually enjoy the tourist attractions, but picking up the little quirks of a country and seeing what ‘day-to-day’ life is like is usually what makes the experience 🙂

  8. Wow, I feel like I just took a high-speed trip through Cambodia! I was there a few years ago and so much of what you shared is still so strong in my memory, especially the pigs on bikes.

    1. Lauren – the pigs on bike were just unreal! Sometimes they even had TWO pigs on the back of the bike. Tried to snap it so many times but the pictures never turned out.

    1. Amanda- us too! 🙂 We had seen them already in parts of Thailand, but in Cambodia they were literally everywhere and even if there was a shiny brand new gas station across the road, people would still pull up on these ‘old-fashioned’ gas stations. Love it!

    1. Thanks, Audrey 🙂 You should be scared to try durian.. it’s… erm, an interesting experience. We were pretty scared to try it… and we have to be honest – we don’t plan on trying it again 😀

  9. Everything about Cambodia looks so interesting and lovely (except the trash, of course!).

    Can I ask how you make your lovely photo collages? What software do you use?

    I’d like to make some myself! Thank you!

    1. Thanks Camella. I actually use a free software for it called IrfanView – it’s not really a photo editing software, but a photo viewing software.

  10. Totally loving your blog! Been reading it ever since my wife and I stumbled across it before our recent Portugal trip (which we loved by the way)!

    Cambodia looks wonderful but how is the treatment of animals there? Those cows look mighty malnourished and sadly that transport of pigs must be absolute torture for them.

    I know the Globetrotter Girls are sensitive to animal issues as am I and I was curious to hear about this. In Asia in general there seems to be poor treatment of animals and that really bothers me and is frankly a big reason I’ve been hesitant to visit.

    1. Brian – you are right, we have seen some terrible treatment of the animals in Asia, but we have to say that even though the cows are in Cambodia were pretty skinny, they were treated well, and so were the water buffalos, which are apparently the most important member of the family 🙂 Whenever we saw cows, they were usually constantly eating, and we were actually asking ourselves why they were still so skinny… it might have been because it was the end of dry season and most of the grass & greens was pretty dry? The transport of the pigs – yes, definitely not pretty, but then I think of the cruel animal transports back home where we see pigs literally on top of each other because there is so little room – what do you think? I still feel that over here animals are MOSTLY kept and slaughtered in a more ethical way than the mass meat production in Western countries. However, seeing skinned frogs that were STILL ALIVE in a market in Cambodia made my stomach turn. Dogs and cats are usually fed in Buddhist temples or by Buddhist people who bring them leftovers – much much better than what we’ve seen in Latin America! Oh, and in India, where we are at the moment, cows are treated better than any other animal!

      P.S. Glad to hear you liked Portugal!

  11. The deal on the hard drives seems to be interesting! I just hope that the accompanying media files are not ridden with viruses.

    On another note, I can attest to how delicious the Amok is, much more on Durian.

  12. Thanks Dani for all of the helpful information. Yeah, factory farms are unbelievably cruel and I think that if more Americans knew about the suffering endured by the animals on their plates, they’d be far less inclined to eat meat. My wife and I still eat fish and poultry but completely stopped eating beef, pork, etc. years ago after watching “Fast Food Nation.” We do our best to buy cage free poultry and eggs, and maybe one day we’ll become full fledged vegetarians.

    So I completely agree that everything is relative and it’s not like American animals in factory farms are being treated even remotely well.

    I guess I am just so turned off by seeing animals suffer that I’m afraid it’d ruin my vacation. Skinning a frog alive is so insanely cruel that I don’t think I could stomach it. My wife and I rescue guinea pigs and have adopted many of them over the years, and as much as we want to visit Macchu Pichu, we’re so turned off by the killing and frying of guinea pigs that I don’t think we’ll ever go there.

    1. I know how you feel about the guinea pigs in South America, Brian – I feel the same way, because we always had guinea pigs as pets when we were kids. I am always shocked when I see photos of other bloggers eating them in Peru or Ecuador.. I just couldn’t do it, even if I ate meat. We had a hard time in Thailand reading about the dog transports to Vietnam where they eat them… this just seems so cruel to us.. but then I guess they have been doing this since the beginning of time and don’t understand why us Westerners see anything wrong with it. If you’d like to find out more about the American food industry, we highly recommend the documentaries Food Inc and Food Matters, btw… I think you and your wife would find them very interesting.

  13. Hi ladies! Your pictures capture Cambodia so well and made me long to for it. The trash was so distressing and what is even more distressing is most of that plastic could be recycled and driven down the road to Vietnam where so many plastic products are manufactured. If I had a head for business/logistics and a million dollars I would figure out how to get the plastic bottles in the ditches to a recycling plant and then off to the manufacturers.

    Can’t wait to read about your adventures in India!

    1. Thanks so much, Laura! Plastic bottles & plastic bags are probably the thing that bothers us the most in EVERY country we visit… There are just way too many and people just throw them out anywhere. India, where we are at the moment, is just as dirty as Cambodia and sadly, nobody seems to care about the trash here. I really hope that this will change – we have to say that there actually is some sort of plastic bottle / can recycling in Cambodia, but nobody picks up the plastic bags and other trash.

  14. I’m glad your first impressions included the ubiquitous “peace sign” pose (second photo) that everyone in Southeast Asia seems to do when they see a camera!

  15. This is such a great and thorough round up of the country. I love that you’ve even commented on ice in Cambodia. I didn’t get to spend enough time in the country, but my first impression was the same. I didn’t expect to love traveling the country as much as I did. Hope to go back some day soon and explore the coast. I could do without the durians though.

    1. Thanks, Bobbi Lee – glad to hear you also enjoyed Cambodia much more than you expected… highly recommend going back to explore the coast – the beaches and islands are amazing! We had no idea Cambodia had so many little tropical paradises!

  16. I absolutely love these “first impressions” posts you do… they really capture all the things I noticed about a country as well but didn’t know how to make into a blog post. And you did it so well! And this makes me wish I took more photos of the “little things…”

    This does of course make my heart hurt for a country I hold so dear…

    1. Alex, thanks so much for saying that. We really appreciate that!! It’s really the little things that make travel such an amazing experience, right!

  17. You have wonderful photos here Dani! I was so amazed with the scenery. From stunning beach to garbage. Lol! If ever I have the chance to travel in this place, for sure I will enjoy a lot! I love adventure! Thanks for sharing this with us and i’m looking forward on your next post!

    1. Thanks so much Heidi – Dani takes great pics, right?! That’s what I always tell her too. Let us know if you ever end up going to Cambodia, we’d be happy to help out with some adventurous suggestions!

  18. Very interesting article on daily living in Cambodia, the gasoline for sale in glass bottles is a bit scary to me, but that my American thinking. Good Article

    1. Hey coolmon, thanks! You get used to the whole gas thing – it’s everywhere in Cambodia, also in Laos and in more rural areas in Thailand, too. You have to figure that’s how they’ve been running things over there for a long time, so it must work 🙂

  19. Fantastic round-up!! I’m so glad you like Cambodia! I can’t wait to get back. I was told that the wearing PJ’s thing comes from the fact that PJ’s are cheaper than buying items of clothing. It’s confusing when you first see that!

    Are you still there or have you moved on? Where did you go?

    1. Whatever the reason behind the PJs, it was definitely fun spotting them all – they are all so colorful and fun, really brightens up a market. We have moved on already – we were just in India and now in the US for a month. We’ll be posting on those adventures next!

  20. They really look like PJs 🙂 I think some of the Texan girls on campus here would fit right in with that trend 🙂 Also… I smelled a durian in China – not a fan either. Maybe it’s an acquired taste?!

    1. People saaaaaay that Durian is an acquired taste, but in my opinion that means you would have to eat it more than once and that is definitely NOT happening for me! 🙂

  21. I find it particularly disturbing that people from developed countries are traveling to an impoverished country like Cambodia to prey on children. Cambodians generally look up to foreigners, particularly Westerners, as role models for fairness, benevolence, freedom and justice. The acts of the sex tourists are threatening to undermine the good deeds of those foreigners who are in Cambodia to do good.

    1. Hey there – yes, everything that you are saying is true. We had some really strong feelings about this part of Cambodian life and we are still sort of synthesizing our feelings and how to express it. Thanks for your comment and raising awareness of all the good that foreigners are doing to help Cambodia get on its feet!

  22. I’m a big fan of your first impression posts! Love this one. I was in Cambodia just last month and your memories are making me want to go back.
    The country is developing at a good pace. I like what I saw in the capital. I only hope that with the growth in business, that money trickles down to the children. The saddest things I saw there were the street children being forced to beg every where I went.
    The cigs in Cambodia are so cheap because they are knock offs from China. Not the real deal, so be careful if you’re a cigarette smoker and think you are getting your favorite brand.
    I like durian ice cream. I haven’t taste the actual fruit yet though.
    And yes, the lime juice was my favorite there. They know how to sweeten it just right.
    And this blog is sweet!

    1. Andrew – yes, I did find some rather disgusting ‘foods’ – yes! The skinned frogs grossed me out the most, I have to say. I think I’ll stick to amok instead 😉

  23. We loved Cambodia which we visited 2 months ago & preferred it to Vietnam. We are now in Laos. loveyour photos which bring it all back. Did you visit Kampot & Kep, we loved it there.

    1. Thanks, Dawn! I loved Kampot (wrote this guide about it back in 2012) which i think needs some updating.. heading down there in a couple of days 🙂 Enjoy Laos!!

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