Why Cambodia Is a Better Travel Destination Than Thailand
Cambodia vs. Thailand
Both Cambodia and Thailand are Buddhist kingdoms with wonderful histories and lots to see and do. However, there seems to be an increasing number of reasons to visit Cambodia, while reasons to limit your stay in Thailand are growing. The core reasons for keeping your visit to Thailand limited are the country's political upheaval and and its uncertain future. While Thailand may be wealthier, with great shopping and a vibrant city life, Cambodia has risen from the ashes left by the Khmer Rouge and is proving to be a true contender in the Southeast Asia travel arena. This is our objective argument on why Cambodia should be Asia's next tourism hot spot.
First, Thailand's Good Points
To be fair and objective, Thailand's good points will be illustrated here. I didn't live there for eight years because I dislike the place, I just dislike what it's become, and how quickly the people have changed. I didn't add "The Thai People" to this list because, quite frankly, I just rarely see the exuberant warmth that gave this place the nickname "Land of Smiles."
- Great Beaches. Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, and many of them on all coastlines of the country.
- Great Culture. The Thai culture is very similar to that of Laos and Cambodia—mostly because Thailand was part of the ancient Khmer Empire. In all fairness to other cultures, Thailand copied most of it.
- Great Nightlife. Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai and Pattaya all have vibrant night scenes, each city catering to a different style of "fun".
- Thailand is more developed. High-speed internet is everywhere in Thailand, the road and highway system is very modern and safe. There are huge, modern shopping centers in most major urban centers with great movie theatres and department stores.
- Thai Food. Yes, Thai's cook a mean meal—there are so many awesome dishes to be had here, it's always been a top destination for "food tourists".
A Tale of Two Cities: Traffic - Bangkok vs. Phnom Penh
On the left, Bangkok as Rama I Road looks most of the day. On the right, the riverfront of Phnom Penh as it is at peak traffic hours.
How Cambodia Measures Up?
Let's review all of the above Thailand pro's and see how Cambodia measures up.
- Beaches? Yes, Cambodia has great beaches, but it cannot compete with Thailand for no more sound reason than it just lacks the amount of coastline. The coast Cambodia does have, however, beautiful and unspoiled stretches of sandy goodness to enjoy. And since they're much less developed, you're much less likely to see garbage, touts and McDonalds polluting the beachfront.
- Culture? Thai culture is derived from the Khmer culture (no matter how much Thais will argue otherwise). Angkor Wat, the gargantuan temple from over 1200 years ago is still Cambodia's biggest draw.
- Nightlife... for party animals, Thailand is great for nights out on the town. Cambodia, however, has its own flavor of post-dusk options. From the more upscale clubs and casinos in Phnom Penh to the laid-back beach shacks of Sihanoukville, Cambodia does not fall short. It's a different type of scene, yes - and will be much less painful on your wallet. Find a place with a 50-cent happy hour all day.
- Developed? Since when is being less developed a bad point? Development and gentrification lead to price hikes and a less laid-back and chill atmosphere. After all, isn't the point of travel to experience something totally different from where you live?
- Food? Khmer Food? It's awesome, and the curries are much less piquant than in Thailand, but still offer great rewards for your taste buds. Amok, Fried Noodles, Loc Lac with Kampot pepper.... I'm getting hungry just typing this. The western food here on average is much better quality than in Thailand—we can attribute this to the French colonial influence and the fact that foreigners can work and cook in their own eateries without the threat of immigration fines and deportation.
A Very Happy People
Cambodians may not be wealthy, but they're all rich in spirit. They may not have much, but they're never short on smiles.
So Why Is Cambodia Better?
Thailand has become very gentrified in the past decade, and it's not always a good thing. Yes, Thailand has awesome shopping and a very urban feel—which appeals to some. But for budget travelers, Cambodia is a far better option.
- Price. Cambodia is just cheaper. Period. While there are many places that cater to higher budgets, the mainstream tourist and expat crowd goes for the cheaper end of things. Beer is cheaper, food is cheaper (and better), liquor is dirt cheap, as is wine. Hotels and guesthouses are all cheaper than Thailand. The only stuff that costs more are specialty items that tourists won't be buying anyway.
- People. Yes, the people here are much more genuine and friendlier than in Thailand. I like to chalk this up to the colonial French influence that taught the Khmer people that foreigners have good things to offer their society, whereas Thais will do things "their way" even if a foreign method is cheaper and more efficient.
- Traffic. Since Cambodia is a much less developed country, there are far fewer cars on the roads. I've never seen a traffic jam in Sihanoukville. People here drive much more slowly also, I see far fewer accidents on the roads here than in Thailand where road deaths are a daily occurrence.
- English. The level of English in Cambodia is FAR more advanced than Thailand, which makes things much easier between customer and host. I see kids studying English while their parents run their restaurants, which tells me that they take learning English seriously, unlike Thailand where English is a mere required class for which there are ludicrously low standards. There are 13 year-old kids on the beach who speak better English than my Thai lawyer.... and the Thais have the audacity to think that the Khmer people are stupid because they happen to have darker skin?
- Police. Police here just don't target foreigners like they do in Thailand, where it's all about taking as much money from tourists as possible. And they wonder why their tourism is in a constant state of decline? The police generally ignore tourists here, because they seem to know we bring in a LOT of money to the local economy, create jobs and stability.
There's not much more that can be said to hammer the point home. The simple answer is that Thailand, being an economically advanced country, has taken its tourists (and expats) for granted. Each year, more and more people are looking for alternate destinations to drop their hard-earned currency, and Cambodia is now prominently on the Asian travel map. Cambodia is a wonderfully amazing country full of exotic destinations, making it perfect for a unique and memorable holiday. Credit has to also be given to the Cambodian (Khmer) people for their perseverance, having lifted themselves from their tragic history and transforming their kingdom into a destination sought after by millions of people each year.