When you first think of Cambodia is Angkor Wat, the first thing that comes to mind? Recently, personal travel manager Frances Cream and her family spent 2 weeks travelling around the country and discovered there is so much more than she originally imagined. Here are the highlights she found from her adventure…
Siem Reap is a magical place. It’s full of cafès and French, Italian, Khmer (local cuisine) restaurants that rival any major city. There’s a constant buzz of activity with markets, music and visitors mingling around and of course having a drink at the famous Pub Street. Obviously Angkor Wat is an absolute must! Make sure your tour includes a sunrise visit; seeing the first rays of sunlight over the ancient temple is worth the early wake up call. Seeing the Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area on foot is one thing, but seeing the temples from the air really allows you a bird’s eye view of its size and complexity. We were fortunate to experience this on a helicopter ride around the complex. If your budget permits, this is well worth the expense and ticks the ‘once in lifetime’ bucket list.
After a day of shopping, eating and relaxing at our hotel pool, we then took a 3 hour guided quad bike adventure through rice fields and country roads and saw parts of Siem Reap that would not be possible in a vehicle. From ancient temples, local villages and wild pigs it was a unique, safe and memorable way to experience the countryside.
A short flight saw us in Sihanoukville where we spent 4 fabulous days at a luxury resort on Otres 2 beach; a beautiful, clean, family friendly beach. It is a much quieter beach than others in the area and geared to the family market. Get in quick however, as ongoing development may soon take the sparkle off its peace and quiet. Here we enjoyed beach massages, cocktails by the beach, food and swimming in a crystal clear Bay of Thailand…bliss. In fact in 2016, Tripadvisor rated Otres Beach in the top 25 beaches in Asia.
From there we overlanded to the seaside town of Kep, known for its seafood and sunsets, and visited the nearby river village of Kampot, known for its pepper. We stayed at bungalows owned by a Frenchman, Sam, right across from the crabmarket. This added an element of feeling like you are in France, with a French wine and tapas bar overlooking the sea and marinated olives served as your poolside snack with your cocktail! The crabmarket is a row of basic restaurants geared towards tourists, serving fresh crab, seafood and cocktails. As we were there from New Year’s Eve, a plethora of Phnom Penh expats divulged to Kep to eat seafood and party away 2016.
Thirty minutes by Tuk-Tuk, lies Kampot a bourgeoning river town alluring backpackers and visitors attracted by its growing adventure activities on the river. We took a local boat tour of the river, run by a passionate ex-pat Bjorn, who speaks fluent Khmer and a strong advocate for sustainable tourism in the region. Our boat tour took us through the mangroves, fruit plantations and local villages. We stopped at a local farmer’s property where the farmer climbed barefoot up the coconut tree, grabbed a coconut and hacked it open for us, which we bought for far less than you’d expect to pay forany organic coconut juice in Australia. Lunch in Kampot is a must with a plethora of fabulous restaurants overlooking the river. We were directed to a café with the best pizza in town and in fact we rated it some of the best pizza of all time!
We then journeyed to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh where we toured the royal palace, took a cyclo tour around town and had a drink at the legendary Foreign Correspondents Club, where less than 18 years ago it was a haven for UN officials and journalist reporting on the civil wars and turbulence. Our Cambodian adventure showed us the beauty of the country and we thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and fell in love with the people.
It is important to remember that Cambodia has had a turbulent past and only recently has been able to open its arms to tourism. It is far less developed than its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam, yet is a country with a powerful ancient history and a passion for modernity. We were welcomed with opened arms to Cambodia and as guests to this magnificently ancient yet young country we have a duty to support the economy through sustainable tourism and tell our friends to come visit, bringing an open mind and heart. See you there next time.
If you’d like to learn more about the culture of Cambodia or plan a trip there, get in touch with Frances now by viewing her profile here.