When heading to Cambodia, almost everyone makes a first stop in Siem Reap.
And it makes sense. Home to the amazing Angkor Wat, and an easy and comfortable base for exploration, Siem Reap is beyond tourist-friendly.
But if you have a few extra days to spend in Cambodia, consider leaving Pub Street and $5 massages behind, and checking out a different side of Cambodia.
Where to go?
Until the 1960s, Kep was a premier destination in Cambodia, but has slowly faded in favor of Sihanoukville.
Now, Kep is still an important Cambodian city to visit, but more for its famous crab meals and relaxed atmosphere than for its small and few beaches. The vibe in Kep is very rustic, with mountainous jungle surrounding the quiet beaches, and only a few hotels and guesthouses. It’s a great jumping off point for exploring the national park, taking a visit to Rabbit Island, and for enjoying rural Cambodian life.
A sleepy riverside town, Kratie is usually passed over for more “exciting” destinations. Kratie does have a few good restaurants, catering especially to foreigners and with English menus, in addition to cheap guest houses and great river sunsets.
But you should know that Kratie itself is the door to a very exciting adventure – the Mekong Discovery trail. A multi-day bike ride and home stay trip, the very inexpensive expedition benefits local families and communities. Biking for hours along the Mekong, and eating meals with a Khmer family give you an unbeatable local experience, and an invaluable window into rural Cambodian life.
Not to mention the amazing scenery and awesome exercise!
Cambodia may not be known for its beaches, but it has a few beautiful ones, especially in the region of Sihanoukville. This tourist-friendly destination may seem like it is attempting to compete with Southern Thailand, but it’s of a completely different sort. While much smaller than Phuket or any of the Thai island tourism scenes, Sihanoukville is much less expensive and with a distinctly Cambodian vibe.
Party animals and chilled out beachside relaxers alike will find something they enjoy in this city – and with very cheap accommodation as well!
While it is Cambodia’s capital, more tourists visit Siem Reap than Phnom Penh, and often shirk off spending additional days in the drearily described city.
Phnom Penh may not be as energetic as Bangkok, as glamorous as Hong Kong, or as relaxed as Vientiane, but it still has its charms. The riverside location, like so many Cambodian cities, offers relaxing spots to sit with a picnic and people watch, vibrant markets, and devastatingly important historic sites – including Tuol Sleng (S-21) and the Choeng Ek Killign Fields.
Located in Mondulkiri province, which literally means the “mountain of the mandala”, Sen Monorom is surrounded by vast jungle hills and amazing waterfalls. It is the true “Wild West” of Cambodia.
While this remote destination isn’t for everyone, it should be a must-see for any adventurer, the hiking and trekking is amazing. The province is the least densely populated in all of Cambodia, and few tourists make it out this far. The ones that do are rewarded with kind hospitality, and encounters with Pnong tribespeople.
Visit soon, though, as the vast virgin forest is under threat from loggers and deforestation.
Another quiet riverside province, Kampong Cham has only a few foreign-catering restaurants. Anyone desiring a taste of the “real” Cambodia can find it here, and easily reached by a single bus journey from Phnom Penh.
Kampong Cham is not well known, but among those that have heard of it, it is due to the bamboo bridge. Located on the Mekong River, Kampong Cham has a river island (Koh Paen) associated with it. Every dry season, a bamboo bridge is built to connect the island to the mainland. Every wet season, it washes away completely. Visit in dry season to ride a bike to Koh Paen, and take a step back in time, as you watch most villagers get around on bike as well, plow fields with oxen, and weave baskets in their front yard by hand.