That Cambodia is no country for old men has a double take. The first is dark but necessary. Not even Anton Chigurh, the hired assassin imagined by Cormac McCarthy and played by Javier Bardem on the big screen, could have perpetrated with such coldness the terrible acts led by Pol Pot in the seventies.

The genocide of the Khmer Rouge annihilated a quarter of the country’s population, a generational gap that has made the nation one of the youngest on the planet, and I would say, one of the most admirable. Strolling through the streets of Phnom Penh after the mandatory visit to the Tuol Sleng genocide museum and the extermination camps, known as the Killing Fields, you will feel overwhelmed and educated.

It is a lesson of humanity and vitality, because in a country so poor and with such a recent misfortune in memory, its citizens welcome you with open arms and a big smile. On the banks of the Mekong River, children play football, young people flirt and adults gather their families in impromptu picnics. It’s a visit that, despite barbarism, reconciles you with our species.

Beyond the bustle of the capital, epicenter of the country’s historical memory, Cambodia hides places that don’t know mass tourism yet: getting away on a motorcycle through the mountains of Kampot; finding yourself without WiFi in the idyllic island of Koh Rong and its white sand beaches. These are pleasures that you should try before it’s too late. The problem is that Chinese speculators are swelling to buy land and, no matter how, this is a risk for the essence of the country.

Among the many attractions offered by both places, the mountaineering routes, the pepper farms, the experience of eating fresh crab in the port and the night dives to see the fluorescent plankton after a day of relaxation in the sun are the ones that stand out.

Angkor wat vs. Angkor what?

I was explaining, however, that Cambodia is not a country for old men. The second take that I commented to you refers to the temples of Angkor, the great tourist attraction of the country. Let’s be clear: the temples are not, by far, an archaeological bore only suitable for grandparents.

Siem Reap, the base camp to visit the complex, is a festival of music, food and colours. It looks like a city designed to complement the long days under the sun of Angkor and has attractions for much more than a couple of days of visit.

The most common mistake of the average tourist is to visit the vast complex in a single day. If you do this too, you will end up asking the tuk tuk to accelerate so that you can say that you have seen all the temples. Without being a temple lover, the three-day route is still the most interesting. You can do it in the following order: one day with tuk tuk, another on bicycle and one more on a motorcycle. Rentals abound in the city and like everything else, they are not expensive. In short, you will see everything at your own pace. The entrance to the site will be your biggest investment during the trip, since the three-day access costs 62 USD. It’s well worth it.

Angkor Wat, a wonder despite the overcrowding that its sunrise has suffered, is still gorgeous. But it’s better to change the usual route or do it the other way around, you will avoid the large groups of tourists and discover a small temple that, apparently unexplored, will give you a feeling of being in a Indiana Jones movie. Do not miss, for example, the lesser known Banteai Kdei.

The hidden pleasure of Angkor, I would say, is to return to civilization. An infinity of hostels are piled up in the center of the town. Their pools await you to cool off after the dust. There, backpackers get drunk on half dollar beers that taste like glory. In short, the city gives for much more than spending the night between temple and temple.

First you have to consider your pocket. For less than five dollars you will have a full stomach and a satisfied throat. Even the most austere can sleep for a couple of dollars, the unofficial  but commonly used currency of the country. Also, keep in mind that Siem Reap has nothing to envy when looking at major Southeast Asia destinations such as Bangkok in Thailand or Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Here you will find the same street markets and the same trinkets, even at a better price.

They also have delicatessen like fried ice cream. How? I’ll explain. Although it’s not fried, this is how they call the local version of your favourite summer snack. In order for you to understand me, I would define it as fresh ice cream, freshly made, since they make it at the moment and in front of you. Try it, it costs two dollars, just like a massage of an hour.

Finally, to close the circle, the Pub Street party is an experience in itself. Cambodians have party in their veins and they pile up in the ten little booths that, instead of placing the baffles inside the club, invite you to dance in the middle of the street. The volume of the music is so high that in Europe it would probably mean the closing of the venue.

Although I would never recommend it, there are cases of tourists who only travel to Siem Reap for the party, and some idiots still think that the Angkor What? is simply the most famous bar in the city. This says little in favor of these tourists, but much in favor of a country that even without considering its tourist attractions is, in itself, intense and interesting.

Does all of this sound, in any case, a plan for old men?