9 Reasons Why You Should Spend Your Gap Year In Cambodia
To quote the Lonely Planet, "There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure."
There's definitely some reason why hundreds of backpackers choose to explore this Southeast Asian Nation, every year!
Well, if you've always thought that Cambodia is just about the ruins of Angkor, then you're totally wrong! Squeezed between Thailand and Vietnam, this country has been laced with rich cultural heritage, lush green rainforests, white sand beaches and a lot more that you can explore during your Gap Year!
In case you are still skeptic and wondering what’s actually there in store for you, then I can give you 9 absolutely brilliant reasons why you should consider spending your gap year in Cambodia:
The Ruins Of Angkor
There's no denying to the fact that the beauty of the Khmer ruins is something worth witnessing at least for once in a lifetime. Whether you are a history buff or not, you'll totally drool over the 12th Century architecture that still holds on to its glory! The grandeur of the temples can only be compared to a few other historical sites, like the Pyramids, Machu Picchu or Petra. The intricate work on stone, the amalgamation of Hinduism & Buddhism with a perfect balance of both, and the royalty the overflows from this place would surely turn your gap year journey into an epic experience. While most of the tourists face a time crunch to explore the huge Angkor Archeological Park, you'll be lucky to have ample time in your hands to walk around the lanes of history, or go cycling at sunset and soak in the beauty, unlike others!
Explore the Floating Villages of Tonlé Sap Lake
Known to be the largest freshwater lake in Asia, the Tonlé Sap joins the Mekong River and is a hotspot for travelers who wish to experience the authentic vibes of a Cambodian floating village. Hop on a long tail boat and spend a day or two, witnessing the slow yet happy life of the villagers. Apart from taking a look at the structures on stilts, avid birdwatchers can also go birding there, as the lake is home to several indigenous species, including the spot-billed pelican, the black-headed ibis, the sarus cranes and more. Witness the beauty of nature during dusk and soak in the freshness, sitting on the deck. You can also join the locals and try your hand in catching some fish for dinner!
Be a Volunteer and Make a Difference
There can be no better way to make your gap year more meaningful, other than volunteering for the underprivileged folks. Being a developing Southeast Asian nation, there are a lot of drawbacks in the Cambodian society which needs to be addressed. No matter how small your step may appear, you can make a big difference in the lives of the little kids by volunteering for a childcare program or be a medical volunteer to work at the rural clinics. You can also opt to join an NGO Support Program and assist people in gaining additional skills like how to communicate in English, how to use the computer etc.
Indulge in Knowing More About the Country's Past
Cambodia has come a long way, leaving behind its dark past. It's not too old an history - when the Khmer Rouge terrified the people with the landmines and genocides, during the 1970s. As you'll walk down the Killing Fields, you'll get to see the skeletons lying scattered here and there, only to give you goosebumps thinking what the people must have faced. It'll be an even better experience if you get a soldier who had fought during the war as your tour guide (don't be surprised!). There are several museums in and around Phnom Penh where you'll get a deeper insight about the ruthless period that the country has been through - and you'll be left in awe thinking how far Cambodia has come from those times.
Join a Khmer Festival, Preferably The Khmer New Year
The world has heard a lot about Mardi Gras in France or the Carnival in Brazil - but the Khmer New Year celebration is something that isn't much talked about. It's only when you're there to be a part of it, you'll know how culturally grand this event is. Celebrated during mid-April when the crops ripe and are ready to be harvested, it's a joyous time for Cambodians when the families all get together, play games and feasts on traditional foods, in particular, ‘Kralan’ which is a cake made from steamed rice, beans, grated coconut and coconut milk roasted in a bamboo stick and roasted. If you are there in the country during this time, you'll surely get an invitation and feel the vibes. In case you are in Siem Reap, you can witness the Elephant Parades and fireworks!
Savor the Taste of the Delicious Khmer Cuisine
Your gap year experience in Cambodia will remain incomplete if you miss out trying the traditional and authentic Khmer cuisine. Whether it's amok (fish steamed in a savory coconut-based curry) or the fried tarantulas (yes! you read that right!) - Cambodian cuisine will never cease to surprise you. Head out to binge at the Pub Street in Siem Reap or visit any authentic Khmer restaurant in Phnom Penh to give your taste buds the happiness dose it's seeking! And of course, you'll always stand a chance of getting invited to a local's place for lunch or dinner - try not to miss that opportunity!
Hike Through The Battambang Bat Caves
Did you ever imagine that you'll get to see thousands of bats in Cambodia? Battambang is one such place where you can get to witness this! Head towards the cave that is located on a mountain, about 11 kilometers from Battambang town center. The best time for you to go to this point is during sunset when you can see the bats flying out from the cave. Make sure to keep your camera handy, because you wouldn't want to miss that perfect shot! Apart from that, the well-known Killing Cave of Phnom Sampeau is also located here. You will be terrified to see various skulls and skeletons inside the cave. They are the remains of those killed by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
Chill At The Beaches of Sihanoukville
How can you miss walking on the white sandy beaches and getting sun-tanned? Cambodia has some gorgeous hidden beaches along the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, and Sihanoukville is definitely one of the best ones. You can also opt to go for snorkeling or scuba diving, or just chill on the beaches, savoring some local beer and delicious seafood platter! Sihanoukville is home to diving sites where divers can see a variety of colorful corals and marine life, including whale sharks, stingrays and different species of fish. And in case you are in no mood for adventure, you can simply enjoy a beautiful golden sunset by resting on the sands of the shore or on the beach beds, relaxing peacefully.
The Optimism & Undying Spirit Of the Locals
It goes without saying that the life of a place depends a lot on its people, who are its real treasure. Although Cambodia houses the 8th Wonder of the World, it's the people of the country and their undying spirit that has helped it in recovering from the dark days. To speak the truth, the Khmers have been to hell, seen terrible wars, political instability, and bloodshed for a considerable period of time and returned back with all their glory. The minute you converse with a native of the land, you'll get a hint of their unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism, spread through a warm smile. And by the time you'll leave the country, you'll hold immense admiration for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.
So what are thinking of? Start chalking out your gap year plans and drop us a mail at [email protected] to know more about our amazing trips and tours across Cambodia.