Cambodia is the unique little cousin of Thailand and Vietnam. With a rich and sordid history of its own, the small nation is full of amazing places, beautiful people and some truly delicious food. With so many things to do and places to see, how does one choose? Here’s a look at some of the things I did and loved:
1. Take a Food Tour
Arriving in a city mid day, with at least 24 hours of travel behind you means you are tired, hungry, and totally out of sorts. So, what does one do?? Join a street food tour of course !!
Now, street food in any country that is not your own should be done with care and caution. No one wants to start a 2 week trip with a potential stomach illness and problematic need for a bathroom more often than not. DO YOUR RESEARCH.
From somewhat endless searching for street food in Cambodia, I came across a few blogs that noted Urban Forage and its Phnom Phen street food tour as being pretty awesome. With a scan of its numerous reviews on Trip Advisor, and here is my review as well, I decided to take the plunge and try this out on my first day.
As my review stated, and even though I was exhausted and not myself, that lemongrass rice noodle soup is still the one meal I remember. But every stop was filled with the amazing culinary delights, creepy crawlies included, that Cambodia street food had to offer. (Rice, Noodles, Ribs, Chicken, Sweets and more).
2. Take A Tuk-Tuk Tour to Oudong Mountain
I had my first full day free before I needed to meet up with my tour group, so I made a plan to get out of the city and see some things not included on the tour. Narrowing my choices of sites to see, I ended up choosing a tuk-tuk tour to Oudong Mountain. This beautiful mountain is the ancient capital of Cambodia and now the site of a Buddhist Monastery. About 40 kms north of Phnom Phen, my trek here by tuk-tuk with my guide Sophoarn, was a pleasure from start to finish (read here for my review for Sophoarn)
While I had booked a solo day, my guide asked my permission to join a few of us together beforehand (for a reduced fee) and I gladly accepted because it’s always nice to share experiences with others!!
While the trip by tuk-tuk is a bit more onerous than a car, it’s an experience in itself.
You can tour the beautiful grounds and buildings of the monastery at the bottom of the mountain first as the monks and students living there go about their day.
The walk up Oudong Mountain is not easy, but accessible for most. Remember that Cambodia is hot and humid even in the dry season, so take caution and stay hydrated. The view from the top is more than worth it.
At the top you can walk around the newer silver pagoda and marvel at the 360 degree views of the valley floor below. As you walk down past the old temples, you learn the history and the beauty of this mountain. Don’t mind the monkeys !!
Back at the bottom you can wander the food and merchandise stalls of the locals.
Take your time, enjoy the views, and the magic of the site.
3. Tour the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields
No country can exist without the horrors of its past. Cambodia, in many ways, is still recovering from its own horror in the late 1970’s, the Khmer Rouge . This was a country-wide genocide mission that saw a large percentage of its older population murdered, for no real reason outside of the need for power and control.
The genocide museum is in Phnom Phen, the site of what was a jail location for many of the VIP prisoners of the genocide. A tour of this facility will show you quite plainly the horror of prisoner life for many of the “high profile” men and women that were prisoners and ultimately victims of the Khmer Rouge. Two of the remaining survivors of this prison still work there, selling their books and telling the story of their experience.
The second part of this tour includes the Killing Fields. The one I visited is one of the many mass burial sites where people were killed and literally dropped in holes. Wood bridges tour you around this site, where bones and teeth still litter the ground and the near two story tall glass house in the center displays the skulls of some of the victims of this massacre.
Be warned, while this history is hard to learn and to see, the in your face display is an effective way to explain its story.
4. Take a City Tour by Bike (Cyclo Tour)
Take an hour or so off your feet, and explore Phnom Phen in a unique way, being driven by bike.
Sit back and relax and see some of the small parks, temples and boardwalks that can be found throughout the city. The men with Cambodia Cyclo Association were awesome, and it’s a unique way to get out and explore.
5. See the Killing Caves and The Bat Cave at Battambang
Outside of Battambang, sits a limestone “mountain” housing a golden temple.
On one side of the mountain sits the Killing Cave. This beautiful natural cave down into the mountain became one of the many killing sites of the Khmer Rouge.
The temples on Phnom Sampeau offer amazing views of the countryside while teaching of the sobering brutality of Cambodian history.
The other side of the mountain, where the village itself sits, there is another amazing natural cave wonder.
Each day as the sun begins to set, the Bat Cave starts to hum. As the sun goes down, millions of bats exit the cave in a unique show of nature, ready for their nightly food hunt. Quite a sound and sight to see.
6. Ride the Bamboo train
Have a sit on a bamboo platform, thrown over a couple sets of wheels and strapped to a small boat motor and take a tour up the railway.
This fun little adventure is great for people of all ages as you sit back or even lie down and watch the countryside pass by. While not a long trip along the railway, this unique tourist attraction makes use of a surviving section of the Cambodian rail network.
7. See Angkor Wat at Sunrise
Tourist traps aside, nothing quite compares to watching the sky turn from black, to purple, to pink, to blue, as the sun rises behind the stuccos at its center of the truly impressive Angkor Wat. It’s like watching the temple come to life before your eyes.
This 12th century Khmer temple, with Hindu and Buddhist histories, is one of the largest in the world. Uniquely it faces west, when all of the other temples of the region face east. This awe inspiring temple even beautifully depicts the elements of nature (earth, air, fire and water) within its walls.
Yes you get up way too early, yes you stumble to the entrance in the dark, and sure you are surrounded by hundreds of people, but some things are just meant to be seen in person and in living color. Angkor Wat is one of those places.
8. Take a walk through Ta Prohm (ie the Tomb Raider Temple)
Arguably, this temple, part of the wide reaching Angkor Wat complex, is more fascinating than the main Angkor Wat temple.
Set a bit into the jungle, and known as the jungle temple, this complex is slowly being returned to nature.
With its awe inspiring tree and root system visible throughout, and crumbling temple stupas and buildings of this temple complex are truly a sight to see. One can certainly feel the magnetic energy that seeps out of every crumbling wall.
9. Take a Floating Village tour
Nothing says unique like sitting on a boat, slowly floating down main street, surrounded by a river, and seeing people living their lives on stilted houses. The Floating Villages on Tonle Sap River are a sight to see. Far removed from the concrete jungle that is known to many in the world, the people of Tonle Sap live their lives on the water on the Tonle Sap River and Lake.
Located about 30 minutes from Siem Reap, you can book a tour for a small price and take a boat up the river to the Lake and marvel at the unique beauty of the region and the stilted homes that house all the villages there.
10. Visit The Islands
Sometimes you just need a couple days away from the constant movement of life in the big city. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are two of the better known “tropical islands” of Cambodia. Quiet, simple, and as rustic as you choose it to be, these small tropical islands give you all the quiet enjoyment you can handle. Beaches, palm trees, ocean and solitude.
The islands off the Southern, western shores of Cambodia are easily accessed by slow or fast ferries from Sihanoukville.
Numerous tours and guides can get you to any of these “attractions”. Check out Viator and find your dream tour today. (yes, this is an affiliate link, which means it may induce commission for me)
Don’t miss out on Cambodia. Beyond the obvious Angkor Wat, there is so much to see. Take your time. Stare out the window. Learn about a different way of life. Enrich yourself in something different.