1) You don't have to convert money, ever. The entire economy is based on dollars, oh sure they have reils but at 4,200 reils per dollar, they are used more like pennies and dimes - when you have to return change for less than a dollar. When you get money out of the ATM it automatically gives you dollars. So you don’t have to do that constant calculation/translation of prices in your head which makes bargaining easy peasy. Now naturally this is only great for people from the USA but, after all, this is MY list of reasons I love Cambodia!
2) You don't need a towel, ever. Yes, we are here in the rainy season, and yes this means we get caught in the rain probably once a day. Quite often the rain is so intense umbrellas and rain coats are essentially worthless and we get drenched. But two minutes after the rain stops, we are completely dry. Obviously the same is true for when we are at the beach. Two minutes after we step out of the Bay of Thailand we are dry as toast. No need to shlep along boring, oversized beach towels.
3) Your total shoe wardrobe consists of one pair of flip flops. There is no need for sneakers since apparently the Khmer can do everything from trekking to cave climbing in nothing but plastic flip flops. And no restaurant or hotel, even in the capital Phnom Penh would ever be so fancy that you would feel out of place in $2 sandals.
4) In fact, the most important item in your wardrobe is a sarong. You need this as a beach cover up, towel, pillow, picnic blanket, rain cover, blanket, makeshift skirt or dress, etc, etc. It’s uses are infinite and it is put into use once a day in this country.
5) Beer only costs a dollar here so I don't feel bad when I only finish half a bottle, since I generally don’t drink too much. Personally I love Asian beer - Angor beer, Singha beer, Tiger beer - because they are very light. If you are a fan of dark beer then maybe you won’t be so happy, but in any event you would only be out a dollar.
6) Cambodia coffee is the best in Southeast Asia. Frankly all the coffee in Southeast Asia is better than western coffee. Much smoother and richer than Italian, it has a full body that is perfect on its own. But marry it with condensed milk and pour it over ice and you have something like dessert in a glass, it is so yummy. The bit that makes Khmer coffee better than Balinese or Vietnamese (also strong contenders) is that hint of chocolate swirling through it. I may have to leave behind everything in my suitcase and just fill it up with coffee beans on the way home.
7) The food! This is asian fusion before there was such a name, The Cambodians’ classic dishes are based on recipes that spring from before chili peppers were brought to Asia so they are not as spicy as other countries in this area. They also conquered and were conquered by neighboring Thailand and Vietnam ad nauseum, seamlessly incorporating bits and pieces of those cuisines over the years. I would have to say fish amok and pepper crab are my very favorite dishes in the whole region. This trip I have picked up not one but three different Cambodian cookbooks. It is also the country I have finally discovered how to cook perfect sticky rice.
8) Of course before you can have food you must pick the ingredients and Cambodian markets are some of the best in Asia - full of life (like live chickens), color and commotion. Scooters edge past haggling customers in the cramped aisles; while wandering among the fruit, vegetable and meat or fish option one can also pick up a fresh squeezed juice drink or bowl of noodle soup, a new pair of flip flops or set of PJ’s, or uncut rubies.
9) Then, of course, there are the delicious pastries and breads that beckon from the countless coffeeshops and bakeries on every corner. You can blame the french all you want for colonizing this whole area and getting us (the US) into the bloody Vietnam war but they left behind damn good pastry chefs. The croissants and baguettes here are consistently as light and flakey as any you find in Paris. And the desserts! Traditional asian desserts are normally on the gluey, sticky bland side so this is one area I am glad to find perfect approximations of western eclairs, madeleines and mousse.
10) Finally, (in terms of food), my favorite fruits in the world are available here - mangosteen, rambutan, dragon fruit, jackfruit, passionfruit, coconut, pomelo, longan, and tiny three inch long bananas. Just walking through a market and seeing mounds and mounds of glowingly beautiful fruit in all the colors of the rainbow makes me happy. Moreover they are available everywhere blended into delicious icy shakes. I think the passionfruit/watermelon shake alone is worth the price of an airplane ticket. Personally I am not crazy about durian but I love that the Khmer are so in love with a fruit that smells like a dirty toilet. The sheer weirdness of durian flavored ice cream is simultaneously attractive and atrocious.
11) Cambodia is the most amazing place for motorbikes. They are my favorite mode of transport when on my own and I love that you can hop on the back of one for a dollar to go across town. It may not be the safest mode of family transport but one has to admit their ability to safely maneuver whilst encumbered with babies, groceries and bags of who knows what else is a testament to mom or dad’s skill. Now wondering if scooters serve as form of planned parenthood since, reasonably speaking, you can fit - at most - two parents and three small kids onto a single bike.
12) Of course we have to include the Khmer people themselves in any list of great things about Cambodia. So kind, so generous and so patient, they never at any point failed to deliver service over and above what could be expected. It is one of the reasons it is so easy to travel in this country. As soon as you have a question - how can we get a bus ticket? When does the boat to the island leave? Is there a cooking class we can take? - it is somehow instantly taken care of and you have the ticket in your hand or are being transported to your destination. Besides, there are the monks. I do love the monks.
13) Despite this level of service Cambodia is still cheap as chips. Six dollar dinners, three dollar coconut shakes, ten dollar massages, kayaks renting for $4 an hour; it is a country you can indulge your taste for luxury without much pain.
14) I love traveling by boat and Cambodia is a lovely country for boats. The trip from Seam Reap to Battambang past the floating villages is one of the loveliest ways to get from point A to point B. But the best is taking a boat to cross the border into Vietnam or Laos. This is, needless to say, so much more preferable to flying, driving or even the train. Instead of cramped buses or security lines you are floating down a river with fresh air, comfy seats and flat, calm water. Paradise!
15) Last but not least - tuk tuks. I LOVE tuk tuks. These little scooter taxis just make me happy. So comfy, so small. Just right for two or three passengers but if necessary the driver can cram in six people and all their luggage. I’ve seen entire gamelan orchestras transported via tuk tuk. They have took tuks in other asian countries but Cambodian ones are the best. They are like fine victorian carriages, often with carved black wooden sides and plush red seats. Some are fancy enough for a royal procession. But even the humblest are consistently cool with a breeze blowing your hair back as the side covers snugly protect you from rain. Tuk tuks are reason enough to live here.