An itinerary for your trip to Cambodia

Your mentor, Marlaina, offers advice for exploring this Southeast Asian country.

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Meet Marlaina, a development economist, and this week’s travel mentor. Think of Marlaina as a consultant for developing countries. She is responsible for finding ways to boost the economic and social conditions in places like Cambodia, where she has lived and worked for more than a year.

That’s the part I really love about my job, working with people to improve their standard of living and economic situation. Having the opportunity to travel into the field and meet them face-to-face is amazing.

Marlaina was exposed to travel as child, when her dad, an international airline pilot, would send her postcards from all over the world. She got her first taste of long-term travel during a semester abroad in Germany. After school, she found a way to couple her love of travel with work, and has spent months in places like China, Indonesia, and Alaska.

This post is overflowing with travel experience. Marlaina’s got you covered.

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Advice from Your Mentor

Most people get a boost of energy from their morning coffee. Marlaina’s energy comes from helping others plan their travel.

I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of travel advice from other people so it’s this pay it forward loop in the community which I appreciate.

Check out Marlaina’s take on some of your most burning travel questions.

Travel is expensive. Do you have any tips on budgeting for my next trip?

Find whatever brings you joy, and dedicate a large portion of your travel budget towards it. Once you find your travel niche, prioritizing it will always feel like money well spent. Marlaina loves to dive, and her travel budget often revolves around that activity.

I went to Honduras when I was a very-poor graduate student, and I spent all my money on a diving course. I stayed in the cheapest hostel. It was actually a greenhouse with no bathroom doors.

My flight is booked, but now I’m stuck. What should my next step be?

Make accommodations your top priority! Marlaina’s advice is steeped in experience, as she’s had to stay in undesirable places more than once. It’s her top priority now when traveling and she asks these questions to narrow down her options.

  1. Does the accommodation have good reviews? With images taken by actual travelers (not just the owners of the place).

  2. Does the accommodation fit my style? And budget. And standards of cleanliness. And size requirements. This one is about finding a place you will feel comfortable sleeping in!

  3. Is it located near other things I want to do? This one is the hardest because it requires a short list of places you want to visit while on your trip. It also requires checking on the safety of the area.

As for where to begin your search, Marlaina always starts with AirBnB. There’s always a human on the other end of the transaction who is often willing to answer your questions.

How can I experience local culture when I travel?

Imagine if someone was visiting your city and asked you “where should I go have dinner tonight?” You’re the expert! You can offer them a recommendation based on years of dining experience in your local area. Remember this when you travel. Everyone you meet has the potential to be a local expert.

People are overwhelmingly open to chat with strangers, friendly, and willing to help you out.

Help me out! Reply to this email and let me know what questions I should ask your next travel mentor.

Destination Spotlight: Cambodia

Famous destinations in the region like Bali and Bangkok get a lot of love from tourists, backpackers, and the media, but Cambodia is slightly off the beaten path. The country provides a more authentic Southeast Asia experience, where you can immerse yourself in local culture away from tourist crowds.

Why Cambodia?

Marlaina first visited Cambodia as a backpacker in 2016 and her work as a development economist brought her back to the country in 2020. Here are some reasons why Cambodia should be on your list.

Explore Angkor Archaeological Park

The park stretches over 150 square miles, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is home to countless temples including the largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat. Hire a tuk-tuk driver and spend a few days exploring the ruins of the temples, some over 1200 years old.

Angkor is one of the most individually breathtaking places and really a must-see if you’re in Cambodia.

Interested in learning more about Angkor? I found this article by Lonely Planet, which goes deep into the history and meaning being Cambodia’s most famous temple.

Visit the Capital City

Phnom Penh is worth more than a quick stopover on the way to the temples at Angkor. Take in the views of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers from Riverside Park or eat and drink your way through local food and coffee in the city. You can also browse the local markets like the Russian Market where Marlaina says “you can buy a cow right next to the lady with the best meals in Cambodia”.

Learn about Cambodian History

From 1975-1979, the Khmer Rouge killed nearly 2 million Cambodians (about a quarter of the country’s population). Much of the world doesn’t know the story behind one of the most horrific events in modern history. Visit the Tuol Sleng Museum in Phnom Pench, a school turned torture and execution center during the genocide which tells the story of 20,000 Cambodians who were imprisoned there. You can also walk the grounds of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, the most well known of all the killing fields, just outside of the capital city. These are tough places to visit, but Cambodians truly appreciate when visitors make an effort to understand and learn from their past.

Hearing people’s emotions and peoples stories, makes you connect with it in a deeper way that is not possible to experience unless you come here. I think it’s necessary to acknowledge that history, and how much Cambodia has transformed in such a short amount of time.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Cambodian Genocide, read or watch First They Killed My Father, the story of a young girl and her experience living through the terrible events of the 1970s.

Travel Tip

Take advantage of the fact that Cambodia is so small and so affordable and how easy it is to travel around the country.

Rent a motorbike or car and start driving. Here are a few stops you can make on your Cambodian road trip.

Kampot to tour pepper farms and eat fresh crab.

Koh Rong and other Cambodian islands for some time on the beach.

Kirirom National Park for nature and hiking.

Ratanakiri and Mondol Kiri to interact with indigenous peoples.

Planning Advice

If you live in the U.S. you are required to obtain a visa before traveling to Cambodia. The paperwork cost $42 and you can complete the entire application online. Your visa is valid for entry up to 3 months from the date you receive it, but once you enter Cambodia, you can only stay for up to 30 days.

You’re in a place where you don’t know the language, you don’t know the culture, and you don’t know where you are. But at the end of the day there will always be a way to figure it out. Trust yourself, because a little bit of uncertainty is ok.

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Discover the outdoors with last week’s mentors, Bri and Danny. They are renovating a school bus into a home on wheels and visiting 52 outdoor areas in 52 weeks.

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