When reading about SE Asia on cycling blogs, I noticed some form of competition where people say 'in country A all children say hello, unlike country B'. Personally, I would prefer not having millions of hellos to reply to (some derisory) as I'm at my happiest just seeing people get on with their lives as I get on with mine. However, I understand people say that as a roundabout way of saying country A is friendlier than country B.
It's easy to compare countries when crossing via land borders, there's always a change of vibe, even if it's just in my head. In the example above, Vietnam is my country A, Cambodia is B (though we had endless hellos in both).
Cambodia is at the same time less developed and much more expensive. The lack of development means we had less roads to choose from. Either we stayed in the main roads with all the country's traffic, or we'd be in dirt roads of unpredictable quality, direction and length. If we'd be bike packing with solo bikes, I think Cambodia could offer lots of nice riding, but on the tandem we kept to the main roads and they were mostly flat and boring. Our route was Kep, a quick look at Kampot, then Phnom Penh, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thom, Siem Reap, and Poipet. Headwind all the way.
Kampot looked a bit creepy with retired westerners drinking away their last days by the river, Phnom Penh is pleasant enough but with off-putting levels of inequality (though to be honest we appreciated the comforts of having good restaurants and trendy cafes), Siem Reap is very touristic but again we enjoyed having the chance to have a gelato, and there's not much I'd say about the other towns and roadside markets. People are nice, food is ok, and the best experiences we had were staying in the countryside guesthouses.
Unfortunately, I think what will stay with me the most is a bad taste of officialdom, corruption and sleaziness. It sounds pretty bad when I put it like this, but we didn't have any direct experience apart from being ripped off by cunts at the immigration border. Plus, I know almost all SE Asian countries suffer with similar problems, but in Cambodia I felt it a bit more, like a cloud hanging above everything. It comes with the entitlement of the SUVs on the road, the omnipresence of State and Army licence plates, the billboards of the Cambodian People's Party, the stories we heard from the guesthouse landlord we spoke to. There are places we gave up on seeing (Sihanoukville) because they are reportedly destroyed by corrupt development, which is a shame. Arriving in Phnom Penh was a bit of a shock, with bling Rolls Royces and Range Rovers pushing everyone aside when less than 15km away we saw people living very precariously. There is a lot of 'aid' around, NGOs left and right, which was surprisingly upsetting for me to see (I still didn't process why).
I know most countries have the same issues, to a smaller or larger degree. This is not a Cambodian problem, I'm sure, but in most places I find enough small pleasures to distract me: food, landscapes, weather, culture, and so on. My passage through Cambodia was short of these comforts, so I might have paid too much attention to what was bugging me.
Anyway, we crossed to Thailand, and we'll ride here for the next couple of months. For now we're sitting out a storm battering the trees outside, looks wild!