Cambodia: a place I had previously associated with corruption ("Scam-bodia") and foodborne illness. I'd say about 80% of people I'd spoken to about visiting replied with something along the lines of:
"Don't go! You'll be misguided and scammed because you're Western!"
"I was fine in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, then I went to Cambodia and was puking for like 3 MONTHS!"
...So I never really had a desire to go. Teachers here hired on a tourist visa have to make a visa run to Cambodia (you have to leave Vietnam and re-enter to switch to a business visa). I was hired from Barcelona, so I entered already having a work visa, so I never had to deal with this issue.
Well, Reunification Day (or "The Fall of Saigon") was two weekends ago, which meant we got a 4-day weekend, so in the spirit of the holiday celebrating the Americans getting the f@#$ out of Vietnam, I decided to GTFO of Vietnam. Sara, Shannon, and Dave (3 of my housemates) were wanting to go to Rabbit Island (Koh Thonsáy), which is a little island near the city of Kep in the south of Cambodia that a coworker had been raving about. They had worked out how much 4 days of travel, accommodation, food, and drinks would cost and it was very reasonable so I figured, "Why not? I've got antibiotics and street smarts!"
Dannnggggg I'm glad I did. What a little chunk of paradise! We arrived by boat from Kep and were immediately greeted by an enthusiastic local girl shouting "Welcome! Happy hour!" SWEET. Exactly what we wanted to hear.
This is a place you go if you're craving total isolation: No internet, no cell service, and electricity for only 4 hours a day. We stayed in a bungalow on the beach adorned with mosquito nets and a bucket-flush toilet (which isn't actually as bad as it sounds). By day, we sipped $1 cocktails, lied in hammocks, sunbathed on white sand, and swam in the warmest sea water I've ever experienced. By night, we ate $2 crab pulled straight out of the water, gazed at a sky sin light pollution (WHOA), and passed out in our sandy beds, still covered in sea salt from bathing in the ocean in lieu of showering. What a perfect place it was to detox from smoggy Saigon.
I ended up with a positive impression of Cambodia. Now I'd like to head back if I get a chance and check out Phnom Penh and Siem Reap because I'm over my fear of the country. We passed through Phnom Pen and spent one night at a hostel and I'm intrigued enough to want to return.
Sidenote: we stayed at a hostel called The Happy House and it was great -- beds were comfortable and less than $5, and there's $1 breakfast in the morning. They'll also book bus tickets for you!
Travelers: if you're passing through Southeast Asia and need to escape for a sec, stop by this oasis of chillllllll. You will not regret it!
Just to give you an idea of how affordable this place is for a budget traveler: drinks are $1-$2, meals are $2-$4, and our bungalow was $5 per person per night. They take (and prefer) USD.
Info on Rabbit Island and getting there HERE.