Cambodia

Places to visit in Cambodia

The main reason that people visit Cambodia is to see the world-renowned Angkor Temples. These are justifiably famous and clambering around the ruins will be a highlight of your trip for both children and adults alike.

However, there is so much more to the country than Angkor Wat and we would love to share some of our favourite places to visit in Cambodia. From boat rides on the Mekong to look for endangered dolphins to remote jungle lodges perched on a hillside in the Cardamom Mountains and from idyllic beaches to bustling markets, there is something here for everyone.

Places to Visit  - Bamboo train Battambang 700x430

Bamboo train, Battambang

Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples

Angkor Wat is the largest and most well-known of the Angkor Temples but it is just one of hundreds that are dotted around the lush fertile plains of central Cambodia. Only a handful of these are visited in large numbers, which means that it is very easy to escape the crowds and find yourselves exploring crumbling ruins that are still emerging from the jungle.

There are so many stunning temples to visit but our favourites are Bayon, where the walls are carved into giant faces that stare out impassively over the surrounding area, and Ta Prohm, which still has huge tree roots growing through its walls.

The temples are spread out over quite a large area, connected by flat roads that are perfect for cycling. Older children will therefore enjoy exploring the ruins by bike, the temple visits interspersed with a spot of cycling and a few soft drink stops. Younger children will enjoy exploring by tuk tuk.

Also well worth a visit in this area in Beng Melea, another vast temple located perhaps 90 minutes away. This is real Indiana Jones stuff, the temple still completely immersed in the jungle with huge lianas you can swing on and crumbling walls that you can clamber over. You can also spend a wonderful afternoon on the calm waters of Tonle Sap, taking a boat amongst the floating villages and flooded mangrove forest.

Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh is a very attractive riverside city and a great place for a couple of nights at the start or end of a tour. There is a beautiful royal palace with gilded temples and immaculate grounds (and a great ice-cream shop!) and a very lively central market where you can hone your haggling skills. Older children will be fascinated (if horrified) by a visit to Tuol Sleng, a former high school that was used as a torture centre by the Khmer Rouge, and the Killing Fields just outside the city. Visits to both of these are quite harrowing so careful consideration needs to be given as to whether this is appropriate for your children.

In the evening you could head to the banks of the Mekong for dinner in one of the many restaurants that line its banks, or perhaps take a sunset cruise on the river.

Battambang

Cambodia’s second city, Battambang, is a far cry from Phnom Penh. It is a sleepy riverside place with attractive if somewhat crumbling colonial architecture. There is a vibrant cafe scene here and the French colonial influence can be clearly seen in the cups of steaming fresh coffee and baguettes that are served up for breakfast.

Our favourite activity in Battambang is riding the Bamboo Train. This is not a train at all but a bamboo platform that is supported on wheels and powered along a disused single gauge railway by a motorbike engine. You can sit on the platform and chug along at surprising speed until you meet a ‘train’ coming the other way. At this point the train with the smallest load (probably you) will be dismantled, and carried to the far side of the other train, to be put back together again and continue on its way.

Also in Battambang is a crocodile farm that will thrill the children and a lovely 11th century hilltop temple where you can see millions of bats fly out of a crevice in the hillside at dusk. There is also a very picturesque bike ride along the edge of the Sangker River that runs through the town, an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Sambor Prei Kuk

The atmospheric ruins at Sambor Prei Kuk pre-date Angkor Wat by at least 350 years and are well worth a stop en route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Set in the middle of the forest, the temples are spread over a wide area connected by peaceful wooded paths. Few tourists come out here so you will often have the site pretty much to yourselves and can spend a happy couple of hours scrambling around the ruins and exploring all of the different areas.

Cardamom Mountains

The lush mist-cloaked slopes of the Cardamom Mountains are home to thick jungle, meandering rivers, dense mangrove swamps and thundering waterfalls. This is the place to come if you want to get back to nature, staying in remote eco-lodges and spending your days kayaking through the mangroves, swimming in rivers, hiking to waterfalls and taking a sunset boat ride in search of wildlife.

Kratie and the north

The Mekong enters Cambodia from Laos and snakes its way across the fertile plains in the north of the country. This is an area of lush grasslands that are home to a wide variety of water birds and peaceful villages where the main form of transport is the ox-cart.

Dotted along banks of the Mekong are a number of attractive towns without necessarily much in the way of sights but very pleasant places to explore, particularly by bike. There are endless quiet country roads that you can follow along the edge of the river, past traditional stilt villages, paddy fields and groups of waving children. Stop for a freshly steamed corn on the cob boiled in a giant pot on the side of the road or take a break at a sugar cane stand where you can have a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.

Kratie is the main town in the north and the big draw card here is the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. Take a boat ride in search of the dolphins then stretch out in a hammock on one of the floating bamboo pontoons that line the edge of the river.

Kep & Kampot

The twin towns of Kep and Kampot are very picturesque with lovely ocean and river views and distinctive crumbling French colonial architecture. They are a great base for a couple of days of gentle exploration of the surrounding countryside. This is a verdant landscape of emerald green paddy fields and pepper plantations, of flocks of white egrets and small stilt villages.

You can visit the ghost city of Mount Bokor. This was built in the 20s by the French but abandoned by the 70s, leaving deserted ramshackle buildings often shrouded in mist and fog. Or perhaps head to Rabbit Island, a picture-perfect tropical island of blindingly white beaches and swaying palm trees with lots of colourful fish that make it ideal for snorkelling.

This area has fantastic seafood and a strong restaurant scene and you can dine on crab and giant prawns, freshly cooked on a barbeque.

Sihanoukhville and the Beaches

Cambodia has a long coastline and there are some beautiful beaches and idyllic islands. However, there are also some very built-up areas where little thought has been given to aesthetic considerations so you need to choose your resort carefully. Our favourite area is Otres Beach, south of Sihanoukhville, where there are a smattering of charming boutique resorts on a white swathe of beach and blissful views of the offshore islands.

If you don’t need your creature comforts you might like to consider staying on an island for a night or two. There are a number of simple beach bungalows, which offer hammocks slung beneath the palm trees, a laidback vibe and great snorkelling.

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