In the last few decades, tourism in Cambodia has improved considerably, making it a comfortable and enjoyable holiday destination to travel to. However, while the recent lure to a holiday in Cambodia is mainly due to the unparalleled beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor Wat and the end of the genocide that came with the Khymer Rouge Rein, Cambodia is special for so much more than its captivating history.
Cambodia is a relatively small country with easy border access to Laos, Vietnam and Thailand. Riddled with lush nature opportunities, delicious culture and the odd white sand beach, your Cambodia holiday can be an all-around experience. If you are lucky enough to enjoy a Cambodia holiday, be sure to try each of the activities on our list of 7 must-do activities in Cambodia.
1. Explore Angkor Wat by bike.
Every Cambodia trip is generally centred around the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, and for a good reason too. Angkor Wat was once a multitude of temples of Buddhist monks, but each new monarchy that comes into power brings with it a change in religion, and eventually, most of Angkor Wat became disused.
Today, Angkor Wat features magnificent buildings that were lovingly created back in their heyday with carvings and turrets. Because they have been left for such an extended period, many have spectacular tree roots growing in and around, creating plenty of photo opportunities. Some are still home to Buddhist monks whose saffron robes can be spotted darting to and from their daily activities.
Most travellers to Cambodia get caught up with a tour group to explore the ruins, but the best way to check them out is by bike.
Bikes can cost as little as $USD1 for an entire day and are quickly hired from the main village of Siem Reap.
By biking the area, you can enjoy taking the slow pace intended, enjoying nature, and feeling the spiritual essence of this extraordinary place. Plus, renting a bike is a way to give back to the local community. We recommend hiring your bike from Cavar Biking, on Taphal Road.
2. Listen to a monk chat.
Buddhism isn’t about spreading religion; it’s about sharing ways to reduce suffering in your own life, no matter what your faith or personal belief is. Buddhism is rich throughout Cambodia, and monks regularly take time to share insights, stories, teachings, or practices with those interested in listening.
With Cambodia being such a spiritual destination, taking time to stop and calmly listen to a gentle being will undoubtedly add to your journey.
The Peace Cafe in Siem Reap has monk talks on their activity schedule and is a beautiful place to experience Buddhist teachings. Their activity programme features free monk chats on Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s at 5:30 pm, and on other days, yoga is available. The Peace Cafe is located at Peach Palace Lane, just off river road.
3. Take a ferry from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
Because South East Asia is tailored for tourists, travelling between each city over land is a valuable way to experience parts of the country otherwise missed from the sky. Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, is the situation on the Tonle Sap river, which runs inland through the country.
The Tonle Sap is a vast, slow-moving river with small fishing villages dotted along the banks. Leaving at 7 am each morning from Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh’s city centre are ferry boats travelling north to Siem Reap. Ferry rides up to Siem Reap take around 6 hours duration and are relatively comfortable; take sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses, though, as it does become hot sitting under the full force of the sun.
Because most Cambodia visitors head to Siem Reap after being first being in Phnom Penh, taking a ferry up the Tonle Sap river is a convenient way to travel between the cities.
Ferry tickets can be purchased a day in advance directly from the port at Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh. Taking a bus is a lot cheaper, and don’t expect a high-end boat for your travels; remember, this is Cambodia. What you will experience along the river will give an insight into parts of Cambodia you may not see otherwise, though.
4. Eat fried Tarantulas.
Every country has their quirky delicacy, and Cambodia is no different. In Cambodia, fried tarantulas are eaten by locals and sold in markets for tourists to eat as a protein-enriched snack.
The local Cambodian people hunt tarantulas in the rainy season of June and cook with oil, butter and sugar. The result is a texture similar to crunchy fried chips in Western culture. Although the delicacy originated in the market town of Sukon, you can buy fried tarantulas all over Cambodia. Still, the most accessible place to locate them is at the night markets in Siem Reap.
5. Hike Bokor National Park.
An hour from the riverside village of Kampot is the Bokor National Park, and it is here you’ll have an opportunity to explore Cambodia’s preserved nature. Unfortunately, for some, the enjoyment of the park itself is superseded by the drive from Kampot, which passes beautiful scenery, interesting abandoned buildings, and a rather bizarre casino.
We recommend spending time at Kampot, where you’ll reach Bokor, and enjoy kayaking or other activities on the tranquil river. The team at Karma Traders Guesthouse, Kampot, can help with your planning and be sure to stay for a night or two as well!
6. Volunteer in an orphanage.
An activity made famous in the ’90s by Angelina Jolie’s adoption of a Cambodian orphan while filming Tomb Raider in Angkor Wat, volunteering in Cambodia has become a popular task. It’s easy to understand why volunteering in Cambodia has explicitly become famous when you consider the catastrophic orphan numbers and grotesque issue with child prostitution and trafficking. Unfortunately, Cambodia seems to have worse problems than other countries.
There are plenty of orphanages in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Most are eager for the support and assistance of travellers, but some are exploiting the opportunity too. If you desire to spend time – either minor or a lot- you can help children in need through cooking and domestic duties, reading and teaching English, or playing and interacting with orphans.
You don’t need a lot of time, and in some cases, the support is free. However, if you are looking for something more in-depth, there are also opportunities to pay for the privilege of volunteering to help build schools and orphanage facilities.
7. Explore Angkor Night Market.
The Angkor Night Market in Siem Reap is possibly the best night market in South East Asia – or at least a close second to Chiang Mai‘s Night Bazaar.
Here, in place of knock offs or mass-produced goods, you’ll find an array of beautifully made and thoughtfully designed quality handicrafts.
The Angkor Night Market has gone to great efforts to create a place that provides quality products hoping that tourists will pay a reasonable price in return for something they genuinely love.
Not only will you get the opportunity to pursue gorgeous Cambodian, locally made (and sometimes eco-conscious) items, but you’ll also witness talented musicians.
Some Cambodian land mine victims have assembled to form bands or singing groups to make an honest living despite having a disability. Its transparent practices have gone to great lengths to ensure the delivery of quality music.
So enjoy beautiful Cambodian sounds in exchange for a donation, or go one better by purchasing a music CD to support those less able while taking a keepsake back home with you.
Adjoining the market is a section of bars and restaurants with entertainment like pool tables. So sit back under the stars in the heart of the Cambodian evening and enjoy cocktails, music, and a total sense of peace that comes organically with time spent in Cambodia.