Cambodia is popular among tourists for its awesome collection of Angkor temples dating from the 12th century. Contrary to popular notion, the country offers more than just temples made famous by Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider.
In recent years, more and more people are discovering and rediscovering Cambodia’s natural wonders such as wildlife, islands, and untamed jungles. Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and for this reason, many non-government organisations are working together to bring in more tourists into the country. Cambodians, despite suffering from the Khmer Rouge, always welcome guests with a warm smile.
Temples of Angkor
Location: Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
The complex of temples dating from the 12th century is what remained of the Khmer empire. Angkor used to be the centre of the empire from the 9th to the 15th century. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains the ruins of the temples. Guests are free to roam around the Angkor Archaeological Park by hiring bicycles or tuk-tuk. Accredited guides are also aplenty around the area. Every year, about two million tourists visit the Angkor Wat, the world’s biggest religious monument.
While in the area, don’t forget to head on to Bayon, a narcissistic temple built by King Jayavarman VII. To celebrate his god-king status, the temple was incorporated with more than 200 huge stone faces. Those who want to see the site of the Tomb Raider should head on to the Ta Promh temple. The distinct feature is how nature is slowly taking over the temples; figs and roots wind over the walls and the scattered rubble around it.
Preah Vihear Temple
Location: Dângrêk Mountains, in the Preah Vihear province, Cambodia; North of Siem Reap, near the Thai border
Get out of the tourist-beaten track and head on this ancient temple. Do not expect to see it with lots of tourists. This remote temple is perched on a cliff at an elevation of 635 metres. From the temple, guests can have a panoramic view of the Cambodian plains that surround it. To enter the temple, guests must pass through five ceremonial entrance gates that span an uphill trek.
Location: Tree Lodge Road, Krong Saen Monourom, Cambodia
Located about five to six hours drive Northeast of Phnom Penh, the Mondulkiri Project is an elephant sanctuary that aims to protect forests and provide a livelihood for the Indigenous Bunong people. These people heavily rely on the forest for their means of living and for the past years, Cambodian forests are at risk of being lost. The Mondulkiri Project gives these indigenous people jobs by teaching them conservation techniques including taking care of rescued elephants.
Tourists can hike through the jungle along five elephants. They are also free to join the elephants for a bath in the waterfalls. Booking a two-day tour will give you the chance to hike with the elephants, a visit to the Bunong farms, and an overnight accommodation at the jungle lodge. Make sure that you only employ the services of an ethical elephant operator.
Phnom Tamao Rescue Centre
Location: National Road No 2, Tro Pang Sap Village, Tro Pang Sap Commune, Ba Ti District, Takeo Province, Cambodia
Only an hour away from the capital, Phnom Penh, this centre is a wildlife haven. The Cambodian black market is teeming with animals for pet trade; some illegal snares sell body parts for use in Asian traditional medicines. The rescue centre cares for the more than 1,000 animals including gibbons, tigers, leopards, and elephants.
Koh Rong Sanloem
Location: Off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia
This laidback island is perfect for tourists with temple fatigue. If you are done visiting temples, head on to Koh Rong Sanloem. Unlike the island of Koh Rong, this island is quieter. Spanning about 9 kms, this island includes Chhak Saracen, Saracen Bay, M-Pai Bay, and Koh Koun. The most popular of these is the Saracen Bay Beach for its white sand and aquamarine waters perfect for diving and snorkelling. Those who want to view the ocean from the lighthouse should head to the island’s northern tip. Make sure to bring water as this can take about two hours. Bring a few dollars to pay the lighthouse entrance.
Cycle around the Temples of Angkor
Siem Reap is most famous for its temples. If you are the adventurous type and want to visit these shrines differently. It is best to do it on a bike. Backpackers often prefer exploring the lush greenery, ancient temples and shrines while cycling. They can ride through the serene trails of the countryside surrounding the temples. There are bike tours that include the temples of Bayon, Elephant Terrace, and Ta Prohm.
Watch the Phare Cambodian Circus
Located along the Intersection, Ring Road, South of the Sok San Rd, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, this circus is a must-see while in Siem Reap.
After appreciating the archaeological and architectural wonders of Angkor, head on to the Phare Cambodian Circus to watch the Cambodian youth performing jaw-dropping cultural presentations. The guests can learn about the country’s folklore stories through theatre, acrobatics, live music, and dance performances. All the show’s performers graduated from the Phare Ponleu Selpak School. These shows are often sold out as they are famous among foreigners who want to support the non-profit association. Funds earned from the show are used to support education and programs for at-risk children.
Take a Hot Air Balloon Flight
Probably not a popular thing to do while visiting Cambodia is appreciating the beauty of the Angkor complex from above. This magical experience will take you on a different adrenaline high. The slow and peaceful pace of the hot air balloon will allow you to take a better aerial view of the famed temples. Make sure you have your trusted camera in tow!
If you are not into bicycles, explore the Cambodian countryside by hopping onto a jeep to visit Kampong Kleang and Beng Melea temple. They can also head on to the see the ruins of the Bantey Srey temple complex. If you are a true-blooded adventurer, ride a motorcycle and discover Siem Reap through its backroads.
Visit a Floating Village
Get out of Siem Reap and explore the floating villages of Kampong Khleang and Kampong Phlouk to get an idea of a Cambodian fisherman’s way of living.
Inside the Angkor Archaeological Park is the Rainforest Zipline Tour that includes a full course of 15 trees. The zipline canopy tour is not far from the majestic temples of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The tour includes round-trip transfers within Siem Reap, one Khmer set meals (lunch or early dinner), zipline adventure, and nature trail walk. Do note that the tour also includes insurance. Do not pass up the chance of zip lining over these temples!
Go on a Full-Day Phnom Kulen National Park Tour
For a relaxing and an adventure-packed afternoon, book a tour of the Phnom Kulen National Park. Here they can explore the natural landscapes that make the park unique. They can appreciate the captivating beauty of the 16th century reclining Buddha statue and hike towards the Kulen Waterfall.
Try Eating a Tarantula
If you are one of the many who are scared of spiders, it might be time to overcome that fear and try eating a tarantula. Tarantulas are considered a delicacy in the country. Many locals believe that these hairy spiders and other bugs have amazing health benefits, especially pertaining to the cardiac system. Some even consider tarantulas as a potent aphrodisiac. Try eating grilled or deep fried tarantulas sold by vendors or served at restaurants.
Hunt Ghosts at the Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station is an abandoned resort area located in the southern area of Phnom Bokor. This spooky place was once a vibrant casino and luxury hotel built by the locals through the orders of the French colonists. Now, the station is open for exploration.
Go on an Ecology tour with Bees Unlimited
Bees Unlimited provides an ecological tour that promotes the use of indigenous bees in making honey. The group also spread awareness about the importance of using sustainable techniques in harvesting honey so bees are not harmed during the process. One of the techniques they will show is rafter beekeeping. Honey hunters put tree poles or rafters that mimic branches of trees that the bees often colonize on a slight angle and close to the ground to allow Giant Honeybees to settle on the rafters. The tour will give guests an idea of how unique Cambodian bees are. Cambodia is a lovely country to visit. There are hundreds of things to do and many more places to explore aside from the famed tourist spots.