Most visitors in Cambodia head straight to the temples around Siem Reap in the northwest, home to the famous Angkor Wat, or to the historical streets of the capital, Phnom Penh, with its Royal Palace and vibrant nightlife. The kingdom, however, has many more things to do than meets the eye.
Head north to the cool climates of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri to explore mountains and waterfalls. Along the way, visit the almost extinct Irrawaddy dolphin and bathe former working elephants at a reservation. Now that the military spat with Thailand has ceased, it is once again possible to check out Preah Vihear temple, the height of Angkorian extravagance. All of Cambodia’s major destinations house a bounty of tour operators able to assist your travels around this colorful country and provide you a diligent history of what you’re seeing.
Whether you plan to visit a handful of temples in one day or spend a leisurely week exploring them all, temple-hopping outside of Siem Reap is a real joy. From the behemoth Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, to the long lost jungle temples made famous by Laura Croft, the area which was once the stronghold of the Khmer Empire has them all. Angkor Tour Guides organizes a number of trips around Angkor temples, varying in length.
Eco-tour operator Mekong Discovery Trail provides one of the best insights in to the Cambodia’s northeastern heartland, where you can discover life on the great river. Whether kayaking through the flooded jungles, trekking to forgotten temples, or coming face to face with the almost extinct Irrawaddy dolphin near Kratie, eco tours offer an unforgettable experience in the real Cambodia.
Jeep tours are a great way to get out of the city and explore the surrounding countryside. Beetlenut Tours, based in Phnom Penh, specifies in trips to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center where you can visit an array of local wildlife, such as elephants, tigers, gibbons, and sun bears, and indulge in a Khmer lunch.
Although recent construction of a new five-star hotel is changing the face of the once abandoned Bokor Mountain, it is still a great experience to trek this eerie ghost town. Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino, once a grand haunt of the local elite is now a deserted monument covered in bullet holes from the Khmer Rouge era, and the King’s former residence. Sok Lim Tours organizes daytrips to Bokor from nearby Kampot.
Cambodia’s bamboo train is perhaps one of the most exhilarating, unconventional train journeys in Asia. Called a norry in Cambodian, this train is constructed completely from bamboo and wood, complete with a gasoline engine, and can carry around 15 passengers. Although the country only has a one-track line, genuine trains are few and far between, and amble along at a snail’s pace, giving you enough time to really get to know your fellow riders. Battambang Tour can arrange these unique trips.
Virachay National Park has an abundance of outstanding scenery and is one of the best trekking destinations in Cambodia. Hikes range in length and are one of the most enticing ways to discover the country’s remote areas. Located in Ratanakiri Province, the 3,325 square meter park is home to an abundance of wildlife, including tigers, leopards, bears, and gibbons, in addition to fantastic jungle and winding rivers. Trips can be arranged through the nearby Terres Rouges and Yaklom Hill Londge.
Diving and snorkeling off the coast of Sihanoukville has become a popular way to pass the time and explore some of the coast’s fantastic corals, sponges, and sea life, such as eels, stingrays, and dolphins. It is also possible to embark on an overnight trip to the islands of Koh Tas and Koh Rung Samloem, where some of the best diving opportunities can be found. Tours can be organized and equipment rented through The Dive Shop Cambodia.