Oh Cambodia. Where to start? The mind-bending architecture. The beautiful coastline. The kind, inspiring and welcoming people. The Mekong river sunsets. The tasty food. The rolling countryside and dreamy rice paddies. The busy, bustling capital. This incredible country has so much to offer. Here’s six recommendations to squeeze into your to-do list….
The Temples of Angkor
The guide books are absolutely right – visiting the temples of Angkor is a must. Located in the province of Siam Reap, the temples are the ruins of the ancient Angkorian capital cities of the the Khmer Empire. Angkor used to be the capital city of the Khmer Empire during the 9th-15 centuries. I promise your jaw will drop in amazement exploring this incredible historic site.
Angkor Wat – the Mother of all temples and the largest religious monument in the world. It is enormous, beautiful – a true work of art and well worth the hype.
Bayon – Built just 100 years after Angkor Wat, the Bayon is another must on the list of temples to see. Surrounded by thick jungle, the structure has a mysterious and alluring feel. Over 2000 faces have been carved into the temple – truly mesmerising.
Ta Prohm – Probably the most atmospheric temples in the complex. Knarled trees twist, turn and hug the structure, wrapping tightly around the crumbling ruin. It is quite literally being devoured by the jungle.
Where to stay? Siem Reap is the perfect base. I highly recommend the Seven Candles guesthouse – just a ten minute walk along the river to the Old Market. Rooms go for just £15 (free wifi, air-con, tv, free water). Friendly staff, immaculate rooms, great facilities – you can even hire bicycles here for a dollar a day.
Top Tip – If you plan on visiting during sticky mid-day heat and want to conserve energy – I would recommend travelling via Tuk Tuk. After some online research we decided to go the scenic route and hired bikes… this would have been fine had it not been 40 degrees and disgustingly humid. Felt very zombie-fied on the way home and had to drink galleons of water to avoid heat stroke. Next time, I’ll happily pay a little more for a tuk tuk!
Dolphin watching in Kratie
Kratie is the place to be to see the extremely rare Irawaddy Dolphins. There are about 15-20 of these beautiful animals to spot out on the Mekong river. We booked a day tour from our guesthouse and were lucky enough to spot plenty of the dolphins whilst out on the boat. Just amazing!
The tour also included a stopover at Kampi (a small village just by the river) – here you can lie in hammocks, enjoy a beer or two and have a play in the rapids with the locals. It’s a huge picnic spot – think bamboo structures with straw roofs out of the river. You’ll find local families chilling out and enjoying themselves.
Where to eat in Kratie? We tucked in to some tasty grub at a little restaurant called Red Sun Falling – great food and perfect for those on a budget.
The Elephant Valley Project & Bousra Falls
Mondulkiri Province is not typically a part of the well-trodden tourist trail but it has bags to offer those on the hunt for something a little different. It’s interestingly the most sparsley populated place in Cambodia – full of natural beauty with gushing waterfalls, thick forests and rolling green hills. Sen Monorom is the capital of the province and is the perfect base to visit the main attractions and surrounding area.
It is the home of the Elephant Valley Project – a place for overworked/injured rescue elephants to enjoy life in their 1600-hectare sanctuary. Visitors are not allowed to ride the elephants – the main purpose is to walk around around the forest with them, hear their unique stories from the staff and enjoy watching them in their element. We had an amazing day admiring these beautiful animals. You can visit for a half day, full day or overnight stay, depending on your time and budget.
Other recommendations – we went on a motorbike tour with two lovely local guys and visited Busra Falls (INCREDIBLE ), Doh Kromom and Pulung Village. To book, head to an awesome little place called the Bamboo Cafe. This is still one of my favourite memories of the entire trip. We stayed at a basic but perfectly adeqaute guesthouse called Green House .
You can’t visit Cambodia without stopping by at the capital. Crazy, hectic, sweaty, colourful, noisy- there are all sorts of words to describe this city, some love it – some hate it but it is definitely an important place to spend time.
As a tourist travelling to Cambodia, I think it is crucial to learn the history of the country’s past – the good, bad and the very, very ugly. The Khmer Rouge took the country through the darkest depths of despair between 1975 – 1978 – an estimated two million Cambodians died by forced labour, execution and starvation. Read about it here.
From Phnom Pemh you can visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. As disturbing and upsetting as it may be, Cambodian people want the world to know about their tragic past.
Where to stay? Europe Guest House. A quiet, family run guesthouse near the river. The staff here are lovely and go out of the way to help you.
Other recommendations? Check out Central Market – here you’ll find a bit of everything; food, clothes, souvenirs. If you’re into watching live sport, why not check out a traditional Khmer boxing match? A tuk tuk out to the stadium takes around 25 minutes – it’s an amazing experience (you’ll probably be the only tourists in the room – we felt completely comfortable though).
Chill on Otres Beach
A long stretch of beach situated several miles east of the hectic Sihanoukville, we stayed at Otres Beach 2 to completely get away from it all. Swaying palm trees, white sand, crystal blue sea and cocktails on tap – pure bliss. There is little to do here other than sunbathe, chill out and go on the odd snorkelling boat trip. Sometimes though, after being on the road for months, this is just what you fancy.
Climbing in Kampot
Kampot – A small, sleepy riverside town with charming architecture, friendly locals and luscious countryside. If adrenaline sports are your thing – go climbing! Try rock climbing, via ferrate, abseiling and caving with Climbodia. No previous experience necessary and fantastically run by Belgium climber, David. He employees local Cambodian guides to help train each group. Safety-wise, this company is spot on too. The views are beautiful and you’ll feel a real sense of triumph after a full day towering above the land. Highly recommend!
Other recommendations: Hire a moped and spend the day exploring the tiny villages and the La Plantation. The dusty roads are pretty much empty – the perfect ped training ground for first time riders.