Large groups of tourists typically make my travel destinations feel completely unoriginal. On a recent trip to Cambodia, my husband and I couldn't pass on visiting the striking Angkor Wat temples, even though we had to work to keep the oblivious masses out of our photos. But when it comes to the rest of Cambodia, now just may be the best time to see it before the rest of the world catches on to its charms.
As the country is still licking its wounds from a tough time in recent history—rent the 1984 movie based on a true story, The Killing Fields, to learn more—it is just now opening to the outside world. And tourism will be its next big thing.
The beach town of Sihanoukville is a tourist destination in waiting. It has all the natural elements of the big resorts of Thailand and Malaysia, but lack of development gives it its raw charm. The warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, tropical sun, pearly white beaches, coral reefs, and fresh seafood await.
This underdeveloped and emerging Southeast Asian country doesn't see many Americans. In fact, during our three weeks there we were assumed to be Brits or Aussies. Which was fine with us, as we didn't really want to share a place we like to call "the home of 25-cent beers" (a.k.a. heaven).
Friends of ours (ironically a British and Australian couple) highlighted this beach town and told us of $10-a-night beach bungalows and $3 BBQs boasting outrageous beer specials (thanks in part to the country's national brewery located in town). We too relished in the $5-an-hour body massages and vendors selling fresh fruit for less change than you could find in your car's ashtray.
But you need to get there fast before it all changes. The cherished guesthouse on stilts where our friends stayed not 6 months earlier was flattened. Developers had recently bought the waterfront property and come in with bulldozers and excavators. In its place stood a sign that depicted a new plan, one that involves high-end resorts, parks, and playgrounds. And I'm pretty sure they won't be charging $10 a night.
Lisa Costantini is a writer/editor currently traveling the world with her husband working on a project about sport and culture. More information can be found on their website at www.whysportmatters.com. Lisa will be blogging from the road for us as she and her husband travel through Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe over the next several months.
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