Top Things to Do in Cambodia
For decades, Cambodia was off limits to tourism, and only the most intrepid travelers risked life and limb to roam in what was once one of the most dangerous places in Asia. Today, this ancient country in Southeast Asia is a popular destination for backpackers and tourists alike, roaming far into the Cambodian hinterlands in search of adventure, and crowding around the ancient temples of Angkor.
Over the last two decades, tourism in Cambodia has exploded, with first the ancient temples opening up to visitors, and then the inclusion of the country’s islands, some of the most beautiful places in the world. With a culture that dates back into pre-history, and more temples per square mile than any other country in the world, Cambodia is on almost everyone’s bucket list.
However, there is more to Cambodia than just temples. While there is no doubt that they are a unique experience in the tourist industry, there are also many other things to do in Cambodia that does not include walking around ruined piles of stone covered with jungle vegetation. For those who want to experience a little more, Cambodia, one of the most cultural countries in the world, offers a wide variety of attractions to its tourists.
Cruising and Boating
The cruising and boating experience is one of the most spectacular, and popular, attractions in Cambodia, right after the temples. The traditional Khmer style of boats can be used for local commuting along the great Mekong River, and is one of the best ways to sink oneself into the culture and historic heritage of the country.
Tour operators also offer cruise tours along the Mekong River on Cambodia’s first luxury boat, the Toum Tiou. It offers first-class accommodation and hospitality, and is a real luxury cruise, although there are a huge number of other boats that offer comparative cruises as well. The Mekong River is also a great way to travel between some of the most popular tourist destinations in Cambodia, such as Siem Reap, Angkor, Tonle Sap, Kompong Cham, Kratie, and Stung Treng.
Massage and Spa
While it is probably not on everyone’s list of things to do in Cambodia, the massage and spa centers offer some of the most relaxing therapy in Asia, and can often be found inside the hotels as well. Majority have built-in wellness spas that provide relaxing massages and local, natural treatments to guests, and you should never miss out on the traditional, Khmer-style massages.
The “fish massage” as weird as it may sound, is a highly relaxing massage therapy that is available in almost all of the country. Using doctorfish, a species that is naturally found in certain parts of Asia, and they nibble at the dead skin on the feet and ankles with a ravenous appetite. The fish also excrete a salty secretion that leaves the feet feeling velvet-smooth.
Cycling and Biking
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around in many countries is by bicycle, and Cambodia has a huge industry around cycling tours. Cambodia’s ancient heritage can be seen better and more fully understood with the use of the bicycle tours and rental bikes that can be found in every hotel and on most street corners across the country. Cycling tours of Cambodia contain all of the elements that you could want in a vacation – Adventure, pilgrimage, heritage, culture, sight-seeing, and entertainment.
The cycling tours are very flexible, and start at half-day tours right up to week-long adventures. Guests are normally accompanied by guides, but this is not compulsory, and you can go out on your own to explore the land. Some of the areas that are covered in these tours are Mekong Delta, Phnom Penh, all temples of Angkor, Takeo, Kep, Sihanouk Ville, and Cardamom Mountain.
Street Food Tour of Siem Reap
Climb aboard a motorized rickshaw and delve into the cultural melting pot of street food with an expert gastronomic guide. Pleasure you palate with local delicacies and sweet desserts, savoring the flavor of skewered meat, fried crickets and soft-boiled duck eggs. A three-hour tour of the best street foods in Siem Reap is one of the most delightful, and satisfying tours you can take in Cambodia.
You will weave your way through the winding streets of Siem Reap, leaving the tourist trail behind you as you get to the areas where locals eat street food, instead of the popular tourist traps of the main centers. You will get to feast your senses on the aromatic aromas before disembarking to find streets thronged with stalls that sell exotic fruits and sizzling snacks that will delight and amaze with their unique flavors. Try the fried tarantulas and crickets on sticks, and the delicious Khmer fried chicken and green mango smothered in chili sauce and salt.
Cambodian Village Cooking Class
With a culture that is almost 3,000 years old, Khmer cuisine is one of the oldest in the world. And what better way to impress everyone back home than hosting an authentic Cambodian meal after taking a cooking class. You will get the chance to learn the secrets of authentic Cambodian cuisine, taught by local master chefs. Not only will you learn about the traditional way of cooking, but you will get the chance to visit local villages and watch as real local people prepare dishes that will amaze you.
Learn about the various tricks used when preparing traditional Cambodian cuisine and find out more about the various herbs, spices, and vegetables that are grown here, and how to cook them in a traditional style.
Virachey National Park Trek
The largest national park in Cambodia, Virachey is the home to beautiful forests and an uncharted number of plants and animals. You can explore a small part of the park on foot, by taking an overnight or multi-day trek. Covering a huge area, the park boasts semi-evergreen lowlands, cloud forests, upland savannahs, bamboo forests, and mixed deciduous forests. It is the home to many species of wild animals, including the guar, clouded leopard cats, elephants, gibbons, sun bears, and hundreds of other species of mammals, birds, plants, and trees.
Treks through the park are organized by the Ministry of Environment, as part of its work to protect the forests and animals, and provide an alternative income to local villagers whose hunting rights have been lost due to prohibitions. Largely unexplored, this area of beautiful virgin jungle is also home to several ethnic minority groups.
Sunrise Angkor Tour by Tuk-Tuk
No visit to Cambodia would be complete without visiting the temples of Angkor at daybreak and watching the beautiful, world-renowned sunrise over the temples. And what better way to explore this massive area than on a tuk-tuk. A day out on a tuk-tuk to Angkor Archeological Park is a spectacular trip, where you can witness the dawn of a new day over the ancient ruins of the temples of the Khmer Empire, and tour the rest of the park in style.
Angkor is the largest site of religious significance in the world, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the volume of stone used at Angkor is comparable to the Cheops pyramids of Egypt. The Great City of Angkor Thom is one of the most impressive sites inside the entire Angkor Complex, which was likely more lavish than most 12th century European urban communities.
Scuba Diving in the Islands
Filled with rich marine life and a huge amount of coral reefs, Cambodia is one of the best scuba diving locations in the world. Throughout the year, its tropical islands provide unlimited entertainment for diving enthusiasts, despite the country having both wet and dry seasons. One of the best things about the diving sites in Cambodia is that it offers a diverse variety of diving environments for divers with widely varying levels of skill and experience.
And the marine life around the Cambodian coast puts many other international diving sites to shame. The best diving in Cambodia is normally found around the islands of Koh Rong, Koh Rong Saloem, Koh Kon, Koh Tang and Koh Prins.
Cambodia War Museum and Landmine Museum
If history is your passion, then a visit to the War Museum is a must. The site transports you back to discover more about the historical reigns, struggles, successes, and wars of Cambodia over the latter part of the 20th century. Tourist guides are mainly former soldiers from the last war, and the site has an amazing collection of jet fighters, helicopters, artillery guns, and various other war machines.
The Cambodia Landmine Museum is one of the most interesting sites for environment lovers. One of only a few places in the world that presents the dangers of landmines in warfare, it shows how they work, the dangers and risks, the impact on children in the country, how they kill or maim people, and ways to disarm them. Behind the museum is a farm that acts as a relief camp and care home for children injured by landmines across the country.
Battambang Bat Caves
At the base of Mount Sampeou is the famous Battambang Bat Cave, and one place you should not miss. One of the top tourist attractions in Cambodia, it is very popular with foreign tourists, and are also known as the “Killing Caves”. The nocturnal bats live inside the cave system in their thousands, and fly out every evening into the woods nearby hunting for food. You can get to watch this amazing spectacle around dusk for about forty minutes, which is how long it takes for the caves to empty.
However, it is best not to stay in the caves too long when the bats are leaving, as the sheer volume of flying rodents is quite dangerous. The best place to watch is from outside, as the bats exit through the main entrance and various other holes and gaps in the rocks.
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