Top 8 things to do in Cambodia besides Angkor Wat
Published on: August 9th, 2019
Last modified: July 27th, 2023
Often overlooked by travellers in favour of nearby locales like Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia shines as an exceptional destination all on its own.
The capital city of Phnom Penh spoils visitors for choice with cuisine and cultural hot spots, and the major metropolitan jaunt of Siem Reap boasts close proximity to the legendary temple of Angkor Wat.
While a visit to Angkor Wat remains a must for your trip to Cambodia, this diverse country offers travellers so much more to explore.
Whether you’re looking to achieve that perfect state of honeymoon bliss while abroad, or seeking family-friendly excursions for explorers of all ages, activities abound to meet the wants and needs of all travellers in your group while in Cambodia.
1. Kayak on the expansive freshwater Tonle Sap Lake
Kick off your Cambodia adventure with a glide along Tonle Sap Lake near Siem Reap. Considered the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, the Tonle Sap connects travellers with rural daily life, with many local fishermen of Vietnamese descent. Spend time kayaking along the waterways around the margins of the lake.
Local wildlife and floating villages greet you while kayaking, boating and stand-up paddle boarding along the pristine waters. You’ll discover that the communities living around the lake cope with huge seasonal variations in water levels by building their homes on floating bamboo rafts or 10m stilts. Kayaking is the perfect way to take in the scenery and learn about day-to-day life here.
2. Relax on an island paradise at Song Saa
While Asia is known for its luxury hotels, Cambodia certainly doesn’t disappoint. If you’re looking to surround yourself with luxury while taking in the country’s stunning coastline, a visit to the tropical paradise of Song Saa Private Island Resort is a must.
Nestled across the islands of Koh Bong and Koh Oen, the island of Song Saa features its own sewage and irrigation system, making all waste water 100% recyclable.
In its own right, the resort is one of many sustainable hotels making a positive environmental impact while offering a secluded escape for guests.
Built by locals using reclaimed timber and other materials from the mainland, the resort’s two-bedroom Royal Villa features its own pool, kitchen and indoor dining space for up to 12 guests.
3. Taste Cambodian cuisine in Phnom Penh
Foodie-inspired travellers, can indulge all their senses by sampling Cambodian fare in the country’s capital of Phnom Penh.
A real foodie hub with lots of different experiences from high end restaurants to street food tours, many of the country’s best dishes date back to the pre-Khmer Rouge era.
You certainly won’t go hungry while exploring Cambodia, think traditional charcoal grilled chicken, bahn sung (caramelised pork), and rice noodle salad.
For a truly one-of-a-kind experience, indulge in a private dining session at a chef’s home, or take a cooking class to discover how to make some of Cambodia’s most loved dishes.
4. Go birdwatching in Wild Cambodia
With appetites satiated, it’s time to get out and explore the depths of Wild Cambodia. As you move away from the coast and head inland, lush rainforests and pristine pockets of untouched land give way to some of the best nature excursions the country has on offer.
Depending on when you visit Cambodia, you might catch the brief but beautiful butterfly season. Birdwatching is always a must when visiting rural Cambodia, with colourful displays from tropical birds like kingfishers and yellow-bellied warblers.
Consisting of 15 luxury tents situated along the Tmor Rung River, Shita Mani Wild is the brainchild of world-renowned designer, Bill Bensley, and the ideal accommodation for exploring Wild Cambodia. Upon purchasing the land, he set forth with a mission to protect this remote area of the country from poaching, mining, and logging.
Having partnered with Wildlife Alliance, the camp has a rangers station on-site, further enhancing conservation efforts for local wildlife. The secluded nature of the camp also means every guest experiences the best views while ensuring everyone has their own little section of the forest to enjoy.
5. Explore Cambodia’s other temples, starting at Banteay Srei
In addition to Angkor Wat, there are literally thousands of temples dotted around the country for you to explore, especially Banteay Srei. Widely regarded as one of Cambodia’s most significant temples, the structure is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva. Built in the 10th century, its walls are decorated with elaborate carvings.
There are also other lesser known temples still well worth a visit. Ta Prohm was built without any kind of mortar and as a result, once it was abandoned, trees took root in its loosened stones. Another notable site is Angkor Thom which was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII. Siem Reap serves as a good starting point for many cycling tours around forest temples.
6. Delve into Cambodia nightlife in Phnom Penh
A delve into the wonderfully colourful experience of Cambodia nightlife is another must-do while visiting Phnom Penh. Start with a round of cocktails at the Rosewood Phnom Penh, home to its spectacular sky bar perched 188 metres above the city.
For a more grounded jaunt, travelling around the city by tuk tuk not only lets you see the capital city in style, but also discover hidden-gem restaurants preferred by locals. Round off the evening perched for a bevvy among one of the many bars found on the riverfront.
7. Support local causes in Siem Reap at Phare circus
For a night of entertainment that also supports local initiatives, one of our top picks is the Phare circus. Featuring incredible shows put together by students and graduates from Battambang’s Phare Ponleu Selpak vocational training centre, the circus not only delights travellers and locals alike but also provides opportunities for young people living in poverty.
Daring athleticism is combined with stories that speak powerfully to Cambodia’s not-too-distant history. More than simply a circus, Phare is an amazing blend of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling and contortion beautifully choreographed and performed in a story about Cambodian lives and society.
8. Learn about Cambodia’s past in Phnom Penh
Finally, a trip to Cambodia is not complete without experiencing the country’s sombre history, first hand. Understand Cambodia’s turbulent past and the atrocities committed under the rule of the Khmer Rouge with a visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Cheung Ek, or ‘Killing Fields’.
While sensitivity is required around such subjects, these new tourist attractions focus on the strength and courage of the Cambodian people who have rebuilt their beautiful nation.
Our Favourite Cambodia Trips
Our Top Cambodia Accommodation Picks
Song Saa Private Island ResortSong Saa is a beautiful eco-resort that sits across the islands of Koh Bong and Koh Ouen, which are affectionately known as the Sweetheart Islands. Accessible by a 45-minute speedboat journey from the mainland, Song Saa is the perfect place to completely unwind and explore southern Cambodia’s stunning coastline. The resort was built with sustainability in mind, and reclaimed timber and other materials from the mainland were used in its construction. Salvaged wood from old fishing boats and factory yards were turned into decking and beams, oil drums became lamps, and weathered driftwood was crafted into beautiful pieces of furniture. Set in a self-made marine reserve, Song Saa is also home to a team of marine biologists, implements recycling practices, and is involved in the funding and founding of sustainability projects in the area. The 24 luxury pool villas are scatted across the island, some nestled within the rainforest along the shoreline and others perched over the sparkling waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The open-plan design of the villas creates a real sense of space and light and the natural decor and design compliments the surrounding environment. For the ultimate exclusive escape, the two-bedroom Royal Villa is reached by private boat and has its own pool, kitchen and indoor dining space for up to 12 guests. Locally caught seafood and seasonal fruits and vegetables are used to create delicious Khmer cuisine at the overwater Vista Restaurant. Driftwood Bar on the beach is an ideal spot to grab a crisp beer or a mojito, along with a wood-fired pizza or some tapas as the sun goes down. Dotted around the resort are little sanctuaries where you can indulge in a spa treatment surrounded by nature. There’s also a large infinity pool, a fitness centre and yoga sessions for those that like to keep active while away. You’re surrounded by white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, so grab a snorkelling mask, a paddleboard or a kayak and explore. Alternatively, take to the rainforest trails and discover the native plants and wildlife.
Shinta Mani WildIt’s the very definition of experiential travel, from the lodging itself to the activities on offer. Shita Mani Wild is the vision of world-renowned designer, Bill Bensley, who purchased the land and whose mission it is to protect this beautiful part of the country from poaching, mining and logging. The camp has partnered with the Wildlife Alliance, whose rangers have a station on-site, to help conserve this precious wildlife corridor. The camp consists of 15 luxury tents positioned along the Tmor Rung River. Their location ensures guests enjoy the best possible views and the tents are positioned so everyone has their own little part of the forest. The walk from some of the tents to the main camp can be quite long, so there are rangers on hand with lamps to help you back at night. Each tent has a story to tell, from the Botanist’s Tent to the National Geographic Tent and while each one is unique, they are all impeccably styled with gorgeous textiles, artwork, fascinating artefacts and one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. Many have freestanding bath tubs on the decking for the ultimate soak. At the heart of the camp is the Headquarters, where guests enjoy their meals. The team here are passionate about using local, seasonal produce, much of which has been foraged from the surrounding forest. For something really special, there is the option to enjoy a waterfall picnic. The Landing Zone Bar overlooking the Big Raging Sister Waterfall is the place for truly exquisite cocktails. And, if you don’t want to walk there, you can always zip line in! The camp’s pool has been designed to look like a cistern and the lining was painted jet black so the water reflects the details of the forest. The Khmer Tonics is the camp’s spa nestled amongst the rocks, and here you can indulge in a river-stone foot massage while soaking in a waterfall pool. There is so much to do during a stay at Shinta Mani Wild, from mountain biking and kayaking to fishing, foraging and cooking classes. There’s even the option to head out on an anti-poaching patrol to experience the vital work being done by the Wildlife Alliance.
Sala LodgesWith the feel of a rural Khmer village, Sala Lodge’s luxury lies in its calm simplicity and service. The eleven stilted wooden houses were purchased from nearby villages, dismantled, transported and beautifully restored, now providing tremendously comfortable lodgings with their individual character intact. The communal areas provide a contemporary feel to the hotel, the modern lines of the restaurant, bar and swimming pool contrasting and enhancing the traditional architecture of the houses. Though located some 11km (7 miles) away from the hubbub of Siem Reap, residents will have an appointed tuk-tuk with a driver at their disposal to drive them into town. Other personal services, such as in house massages, private dinners and a range of tours can also be arranged.