Five things to do in Cambodia that don’t involve temples
Let’s face it the temples in Cambodia can become a little like the castles in the UK or the cathedrals in Europe. They are amazing, awe-inspiring-make-your-jaw-drop destinations, but after a while you can become a bit ‘templed out’. Plus, sometimes you want to do something that doesn’t involve fighting crowds for awesome photos.
Cambodia is a beautiful country and there is a lot more to see and do beyond Siem Reap and those temples! Here are just five things to do in Cambodia.
Hang out in a ghost town
And by ghost town, we mean the Bokor Hill station- a series of French Colonial buildings not far from Kampot. Today the buildings are run down and abandoned but back in the 1920s and 30s this was the playground for the wealthy French settlers. There is an old casino, palace, church – all now in ruins. The buildings are high up on a mountain so often get lost in the clouds, but this only adds to the atmosphere – particularly at the old casino. Back in the day it must have been quite a grand old building – three floors of luxury, no doubt. Today you can wander through each of the floors imagining what each room might have been used for. And it has spectacular views across the valley below.
The station is about two hours outside of Kampot – a charming little town on the banks of Praek Tuek Chhu River. It’s well worth chilling out here for a few days!
The buildings at Bokor Hill Station are quite spread out, you can do a day tour from Kampot (ours included a beautiful sunset cruise on Praek Tuek Chhu River) or hire your own vehicle to explore them.
Haggle for wares in a market
This is Asia, of course there are markets! And while you may not be into shopping, or markets in particular, it is well worth checking them out! I love the hustle and bustle of markets, particularly local markets. I love watching people go about their day in a completely different part of the world, completely different culture. I love seeing what kinds of things are sold in the markets – the different fruits and vegetables on sale and the quality of the produce. I don’t like seeing the meat on sale – out in the open air, in a hot climate, sometimes covered in flies – but it’s all part of experiencing a different culture.
And in Cambodia, as an added bonus, at some of the markets – I’m thinking of you Kampot markets – you can watch the artisans at work! How interesting to see a jeweller ply his craft right next to the stall holder you’re haggling with for a bargain.
Chill out on a deserted beach
This was completely new to me. I had no idea the beaches in Cambodia were so beautiful. But a friend suggested we check out Sihanoukville while visiting the country and I’m so glad we listened.
But don’t just stay in Sihanoukville, get out and see the islands!
We did a one-day snorkelling cruise, which really only included 20 minutes of snorkelling, but the beaches we stopped at were some of the best we have ever seen (Remember we live in Australia, and have close access to the beaches throughout the Asia Pacific region so feel well qualified to judge!).
Koh Rung beach was spectacular; we’re definitely planning to go back and stay (please don’t tell anyone about this beach, we don’t want it to be overrun when we get there – let’s just keep it our little secret, ok?).
Just make sure you get to the right side of Koh Rung, there is the chilled out, palm-fringed, endless white sand and clear blue water, deserted island type haven to the island, and the non-stop party, bar hopping side of the island.
Check out the floating villages
There are a range of floating villages to explore throughout Cambodia, including some not far from Siem Reap.
But the village we saw was just off Koh Trung Island near Kratie. We spent two nights on the island – a very chilled island with no cars and few accommodation options, but a charming village and friendly locals!
We didn’t actually go on to the floating village – this is after all home to those that live there. But were able to get a sense of life on a river from the banks of Koh Trung Island.
The floating village – a Vietnamese community – is set in the middle of the Mekong Delta and has been there for centuries. The village consists of about 30 teak homes.
We hired bikes for about $US5 to ride around the island and stopped to view the floating village at sunset. It takes about half an hour to ride around Koh Trung Island. Koh Trung is a short, cheap boat ride from Kratie.
Explore the brutal history
This one may seem a little morbid but bear with me here. Like many countries Cambodia has a chilling footnote in its history, in its recent history!
Visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (Security 21 or S21 prison) may not seem like the kind of thing you want to do on your holidays, but it offers a glimpse into one of the most destabilising times in the country in recent history and will help you understand a little more about the locals.
We spent a day visiting the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia, the killing fields and S21 and while it was a sombre day, it also gave me far greater empathy for the people and what they went through under the Pol Pot regime in the 70s. One in four people in Cambodia were killed – pretty much every family was directly affected.
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