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Beyond Angkor: things to do in Cambodia

Written by
Keith Jarman, Sarah Kounnou, Kit Wong, Riki Ueda, Jess Tang & Rachel O'Leary

Cambodia is poignant history, vibrant culture and undiscovered tropical islands.

It’s often overlooked in favour of its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, but Cambodia is a destination in its own right.

There’s much more to discover than the infamous Angkor temples, so our resident Asia experts have rounded up their favourite things to do in Cambodia.

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Go off grid in rural Cambodia

With the recent opening of the Bensley Collection’s Shinta Mani Wild, it’s a great time to discover rural Cambodia. Nestled in tranquil southwestern Cambodia, this new offering consists of 15 luxury tents positioned along the idyllic Tmor Rung River. Located on the southern border of the Cardamom Mountains, this property is the perfect base for exploring Cambodia’s undiscovered territories. The camp is also doing its bit to protect the local environment – they’ve partnered with the local Wildlife Alliance, whose rangers have a station on-site to help look after the precious wildlife corridor. There’s so much to do during a stay at Shinta Mani Wild, from mountain biking and kayaking to fishing, foraging and cooking classes. 

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If you’re looking to venture even further into the Cambodian countryside, the eco-friendly 4 Rivers Floating Lodge is the perfect option. Hidden deep within the pristine Cardamom Rainforest, the 12 tented villas here sit on a pontoon over the Tatai River. With large balconies looking out over the water and a beautiful al fresco restaurant, guests feel truly immersed in their local surroundings. The lodge’s prime location in the heart of Cambodia’s Koh Kong province is perfect for outdoor lovers, with ample opportunity for hiking through mangroves and swimming in waterfalls. 

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Sample street food in Siem Reap

Along with the rest of Asia, Cambodia is an incredible foodie hotspot. Some of the country’s best dishes can be found in the cultural capital, Siem Reap. For a truly local experience, Siem Reap’s West Baray is the go-to spot for traditional charcoal grilled chicken. Packed full of amazing flavour, this dish is a must-try whilst in Cambodia. Other local delicacies include bahn sung, a rice noodle salad, and freshly pressed sugar cane juice. 

 

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Discover Khmer history in Phnom Penh

With deep roots and a complex history, Cambodia’s past is turbulent at best. In perhaps the most well-known event in recent Cambodian history, the country suffered horrific mass executions between 1975 and 1979 under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Although today Cambodia’s resilience is palpable, the country pays worthy remembrance to the Khmer Rouge’s victims through memorials and museums. 

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Whilst visiting a genocide museum might not be at the top of your list, it’s a great way to be a responsible tourist. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Cheung Ek Killing Fields, both in Phnom Penh, allow visitors to learn about the little known history of this small but mighty country. Hearing from survivors is a great educational experience and offers a valuable form of catharsis for those who lived through the Khmer Rouge’s internationally condemned regime. 

 

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Wildlife watch in Phnom Sampeau

Although Phnom Sampeau is a little known part of Cambodia, this peaceful commune is home to an incredible natural phenomenon. Every evening, at around 5.30pm, the sky is littered with bats emerging in a remarkably uniform fashion from Sampeau mountain. Located around 12 kilometres south of Battambang city, this hidden wonder is easily accessible. As the sun sets over the picturesque mountain, the wonderful display of bats makes its mark across the evening sky for around 30 to 40 minutes. With few people knowing about this incredible spectacle, you’ll be avoiding the crowds while witnessing one of nature’s greatest shows. 

 

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Boat across the Tonle Sap

The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonle Sap is home to many fishermen, most of whom are of ethnic Vietnamese descent. For an authentic view into the way of life here, head to the floating villages near Pursat and Kampong Chhnang. The lake is great for birdwatching enthusiasts too, as the nearby Prek Toal Biosphere Reserve is home to an exciting array of waterbird species. 

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Support local causes in Siem Reap

From local performing arts companies to culinary delights, there’s plenty of worthy local causes to get behind in Siem Reap. One of our favourites is the Phare circus, which sees incredible shows put together by students and graduates from Battambang’s Phare Ponleu Selpak vocational training centre. This centre provides training opportunities for young people living in poverty. 

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At the circus, the performers provide an impressive spectacle of culture and history, as they captivate audiences with impressive acrobatics, music, dance and athleticism. With nightly indoor performances, this choreographed storytelling is now one of the most popular attractions in the city. Any visit to this worthwhile initiative is sure to be an enchanting experience. 

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Relax on the idyllic coast

Cambodia’s coastline is still beautifully untouched. From the colonial seaside resort of Kep to the isolated island of Song Saa, Cambodia’s coastline is sure to make an impression. A quaint seaside town and former French colonial retreat, Kep was known in the 50s as Kep-sur-Mer. During the 70s, much of the city had fallen into disrepair under the Khmer Rouge influence. Today, the town has been through somewhat of a regeneration and people now visit for its laid-back seaside atmosphere. It’s also the centre of the Cambodian crab fishing industry, so it’s great for seafood lovers.

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For an exclusive discovery of Cambodia’s coastline, head to the secluded private island of Song Saa. Situated in the heart of the Koh Rong archipelago, the untouched islands of Song Saa are simply out of this world. The two private islands here are connected by a simple footbridge, and are characterised by pristine virgin rainforest and white sand beaches. A perfect relaxing stop on any holiday to Cambodia, the Song Saa Private Island Resort is also doing its best to look after its local environment. The team behind the resort, the Song Saa Foundation, have done everything they can to protect the habitats of the Koh Rong Archipelago and improve the welfare of its communities. One of the best beach locations in Asia, Song Saa is Cambodia’s hidden gem. 

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Feeling inspired? Our expert travel designers are always on hand to help you plan your next adventure through Cambodia.

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