Vegan in Cambodia
When the winter chill settles into your bones and the call of the tropics beckons, head for sunny Southeast Asia.
From a seat at one of Phnom Penh’s many hip, European-style outdoor cafés overlooking the Mekong river, it’s easy to forget that Cambodia is still dusting itself off from a recent history marked by civil war, foreign invasions and occupation, famine, and a brutal communist dictatorship.
The Khmer Rouge, with the infamous xenophobe Pol Pot at the helm, held the country hostage from 1974 to 1979, arbitrarily killing millions of Cambodians. But with remarkable resilience, the kingdom has emerged from the ashes of war and political instability, and nowhere is this more evident than in the vibrant capital city of Phnom Penh.
To learn more about Khmer history, I hire a motorcycle and driver ($7/day) to shuttle me to important historical landmarks in and around the city. Rambo, my 25-year-old driver and unofficial tour guide, recommends the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
Before entering the museum, I head across the street to The Boddhi Tree, a popular restaurant and guest house jam-packed with tourists, and order the grilled tofu on a baguette off their extensive veg menu. Eating first turns out to be a wise move; a former Khmer Rouge prison, the museum reveals the darkest secrets of Pol Pot’s regime in stomach-churning detail, and doesn’t leave visitors with much of an appetite. Though not for the faint-hearted, both the Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields memorial give visitors an important glimpse of Cambodian history and an appreciation for how far the country and its people have come in the last 30 years.
Meandering on foot through the back streets of Phnom Penh with visions of icy-cold drinks on my mind, I spy a sign advertising “Massage By Blind” on a quiet street a block away from the congested riverfront promenade. Intrigued, I step inside and discover a tiny oasis that promises—and delivers—a never-to-be-forgotten-because-it’s-that-good shiatsu massage ($4/per hour). After changing into fresh cotton pajamas, I’m handed over to Sophan, my amazing masseur, who kneads the knots out of my body while I drift into a blissful state bordering on ecstasy. Next time, I think to myself, I’m staying for three hours.
Cambodia’s best kept secret is, arguably, its sparkling, white-sand coastline. Glistening beneath the blazing sun a four-hour bus ride away from Phnom Penh (on surprisingly well-maintained roads), sits the seaside jewel of Sihanoukville, a laid-back paradise for travelers recovering from temple burnout. With its winning combination of restaurants, guesthouses, bars, and beaches, the little resort rivals those in neighboring Thailand, but without the backpacking hoards and attendant non-stop party atmosphere.
Veg visitors will discover a delicious oasis in Sihanoukville. Whatever your heart—or stomach—fancies, you’ll find here, be it banana pancakes with maple syrup, perfectly cooked French fries, fish-free sushi, or a tall glass of fresh-squeezed pineapple juice. And if it’s not on the menu, it can’t hurt to ask; Cambodians are not only hospitable, but ingenious when it comes to kitchen chemistry. Best of all, there’s no need to leave the beach when hunger hits. Cafés and restaurants line the conifer-hemmed shore, luring the hungry with savory smells, creative menus, and, in the evenings, candle-lit ambiance backed by a reggae soundtrack.
From my comfy lounge chair positioned beneath a rented umbrella ($1/day) at Occheuteal Beach, I survey the blue-green water, taking notice of a small boat as it sets off toward the small islands that dot the horizon. In the foreground, women in wide-brim hats ply the beach offering manicures and pedicures ($2), snacks, hair removal by string (really), and massage. Setting my novel aside, I consider buying a young coconut from a roaming fruit seller, but instead, I heed the call of the sea and dive into the tepid surf.
Helpful Khmer Phrases
Johm Riab Sua: “Hello”
Jaa, Sohm: “Yes, Please”
Aw Kohn: “Thank You”
Knyam ot Nyam Sat: “I don’t eat meat”
10 Reasons to Fall in Love with Santa Barbara
Visit this California seaside town for spectacular views and great vegan food.
Read More »
10 Must-Haves for Healthy Vegan Travel
With this list of essentials, youll be a plant-based traveling pro no matter where the road takes you.
Read More »
How to Eat Vegan on a Budget in London
London-based blogger, Fat Gay Vegan, gives us the inside scoop on eating vegan without breaking the bank in the wildly expensive city.
Read More »
5 Easy Steps to an Awesome Vegan Campout
Round out your summer with vegan camping essentials to get you from set-up to sunset.
Read More »
Vegan Spring Break, Part II: Foodie Destinations
The Healthy Voyager shares her 10 must-visit destinations for vegan foodies.
Read More »
- Vegan Spring Break, Part I: Green Destinations
- 5 Unforgettable Vegan Fall Getaways
- The Ultimate Vegan Getaway: The Stanford Inn
- 12 Dreamy Towns for Vegan Living
- How to Eat Vegan in Turks & Caicos
- 10 More Hot Veg-Friendly Spots in Nashville
- 11 Reasons Why Oakland is the New Brooklyn
- Joseph Connellys 48 Hours in Los Angeles
- All Aboard the 100-Percent Vegan Holistic Holiday at Sea Cruise
- 9 Reasons Why Los Angeles is the Center of the (Vegan) Universe
- Mardi Gras: A Vegans Survival Guide to New Orleans
- 5 Must-Eat Vegan-Friendly Spots in Buenos Aires
- The Top 10 LA and NYC Spots for Vegan Food
- How to Survive a Cross-Country Vegan Road Trip
- The Ultimate Midwest Bucket List
- Vegan Wine and Cheese, Parisian-Style
- The 11 Best Veggie Burgers in the US
- 13 Mind-Blowing Two-Course Meals in Vancouver
- 9 Tasty Vegan Products Made in Canada
- 15 East Coast Vegan Dishes You Must Try