Most travellers come to Cambodia for the incredible temples, in particular the famous Angkor Wat, and rightly so as they are astonishingly beautiful. But that’s not all the country has to offer.
Here are our suggestions to experience Cambodia beyond the temples:
1. Eat crab in the coastal town of Kep
Once a seaside retreat for the French elite and wealthy Cambodians, Kep is now a sleepy coastal town renowned for its seafood. In the evenings head to the crab market, home to restaurants that perch on low rickety stilts in the water. Try the local specialty of fresh crab with Kampot pepper and lime. During the day, walk along the eight-kilometre trail that winds through the butterfly-filled Kep National Park, passing by wats and viewpoints. Back in the town take photos of decaying villas and mansions that were abandoned at the time of the Khmer Rouge.
2. Get away to Koh Rong Samloem
A two-hour ferry ride from Sihanoukville will bring you to the island of Koh Rong Samloem, a semi-untouched paradise just 9km long and 5km wide. With no cars or roads, this is the perfect escape-from-it-all island. Hire a boat to circumnavigate the island and check out the unspoiled beaches, then roll out your towel on the white sand and relax. Feeling energetic? Then trek into the dense jungle bursting with birdlife, take out a kayak or paddle board, or snorkel and dive at the nearby reefs.
3. Meet Mondulkiri’s elderly inhabitants
To see elephants in their natural habitat, head to Mondulkiri and visit an eco-friendly sanctuary for retired elephants. Here, there are no riding or tricks. Instead you can trek through the lush Cambodian jungle with the local mahouts and their elephants. Walking alongside is a much better way to bond with, and understand these gentle giants. Learn how to feed the elephants correctly and then chill out under a forest waterfall.
4. Explore Siem Reap’s extraordinary art scene
Siem Reap is rapidly becoming a hub for emerging artists and designers, both local and international. The town is now home to many art venues, ranging from upmarket galleries to quirky hidden art spaces. Check out the home-atelier of Cambodian artist, Lim Muy Theam. His traditional Khmer home is a thriving art space for skilled artisans who create beautiful paintings, sculptures and other artworks. To experience living art, take in a show of Phare, the Cambodian Circus. In this high energy show, disadvantaged Cambodian artistes blend juggling, acrobatics and aerial arts with theatre, music and modern dance to tell uniquely Cambodian stories.
5. Cycle through Silk Island
Hop onto a bicycle and cycle out to the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Then catch a ferry over to Koh Dach, a picturesque island on the banks of the Mekong River, also known as Silk Island. Pedal along the narrow paths, passing pagodas and fruit plantations for a glimpse into authentic Cambodian life. Pop into the workshops to see the production of silk from start to finish. Watch the village artisans at work on traditional looms using weaving methods that have been handed down through the generations. This is the perfect place to buy intricately patterned silk scarves and other handmade items.
6. Cruise the waterways from Battambang to Siem Reap
Instead of going by road, cruise along the Sangker River in a traditional wooden boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. The journey takes you through lush scenery of protected wetlands. Pass by women washing their clothes in the water, children splashing in their watery playground, and fishermen throwing their nets into the rust brown water. After a while the river opens up into the Tonle Sap Lake, a vast inland sea. Here you will find Prek Toal floating village, the home of a freshwater bird sanctuary. After crossing the great lake arrive at Chong Khneas, another floating village just on the outskirts of Siem Reap.