One of the most appealing attractions in Cambodia is the people who, despite their traumatic past, are determined to move forward and face the future with happiness that they share with visitors. Also, they are particularly excited about any opportunity to speak English with foreigners!
People watching is one of the fun things to do in Cambodia. Watch the busy locals going about their day or see what travellers get up to as they try to find their way around.
Meanwhile, here are six things you may like to do when next you land in the popular southeast Asian country.
You can actually visit the temple in Cambodia that featured in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Said to have been faithful to the actual appearance of the Ta Prohm temple, the movie took full advantage of its spooky look and feel. Situated in the Siem Reap Province, Ta Prohm is characterised by the silk-cotton trees growing out of it as nature has tried to reclaim it. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries as a monastery and university for Mahayana Buddhists.
Abandoned in the 17th century following the fall of the Khmer Empire, it sat completely neglected for hundreds of years. Today, it is a popular attraction and work has been done to ensure its foundations are stabilised, but minimal aesthetic repairs have been carried out as this is considered more desirable. Wooden platforms and walkways have been erected on the site to protect the temple from damage caused by the large numbers of visitors.
Quad Adventures Cambodia offers tourists a unique opportunity to ride off into the sunset on an ATV (all-terrain vehicle). In the late afternoon, groups of around eight people and their accompanying guides travel through rice fields and villages, past temples and over rural dirt roads to a very special spot on the landscape.
There, you will watch as the sun sets in glorious tranquillity, making you feel like the most fortunate people on the planet. It’s a 32 kilometre round trip and of course, you’ll be making your way back in the evening but your guides are accustomed to the journey and your safety is their priority*.
No trip to southeast Asia is complete without a visit to a market and in Siem Reap, it’s the Angkor Night Markets where you’ll find a vibrant atmosphere, loads of food stalls, massage parlours, cheap shopping and happy locals. You can dip your feet into a tank where tiny fish nibble the dead skin to leave your feet smooth and soft.
Chug down a freshly squeezed tropical juice or a cashew nut milkshake or, if you’re really brave, munch on the local delicacy, fried silkworms, crickets or water beetles! If you’re looking for souvenirs, then look around at the arts stalls where you can purchase cotton or silk shawls, oil paintings and handmade jewellery.
For bargain clothing, there are loads of stalls selling T-shirts and if you bargain – as you should – you could pick them up for a couple of dollars each. Other cool finds are Buddha statues, prayer beads, teas, incense and even earrings fashioned from spent bullet casings. Take a tuk tuk from your hotel and have a brilliant evening wandering around, seeing, sampling and hearing interesting things.
For many people, understanding the local culture is about more than eating the food and riding in a tuk tuk. One of the more solemn things to do in Cambodia is to visit the Killing Fields Museum. Founded by Dara Duong who survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia in the tumultuous and deadly years of 1975 to 1979, the museum shares stories of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. You may also wish to visit the actual killing fields themselves, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
A combination of cemetery and sacred ground, the fields are where Pol Pot ordered the Khmer Rouge to commit genocide on millions of Cambodians. In fact, 21 per cent of the population were murdered in this devastating period of time. Ironically, hundreds of locals now earn their living by showing tourists through the fields where skulls lay in full view and shallow graves remain uncovered. Aside from the economic benefits, the site also serves to educate visitors on the events that occurred there, in the hope that it never happens again.
For a chance to thoroughly relax in an unexpected environment, it has to be the Ecran Movie House, a private bed cinema in Kampot. It has to be one of the more unusual things to do in Cambodia, for sure.
Yes, you can sprawl your tired touristy body out over a gigantic bed alone or with your travelling companions in a lovely air conditioned private room and be served drinks and snacks by the room service attendant. TripAdvisor reviewers comment that the big screen on which the movies are shown offers a brilliant viewing experience complete with excellent sound quality. For a mere $3.50 per person, you can select from over 1,000 movies including, of course, The Killing Fields.
Cambodia has often been overlooked as a beach destination in favour of Thailand but the tide – as it were – is slowly changing. The pure white sand and glistening blue water remain unpolluted and are a relaxation lover’s paradise.
- Southwestern Beach, Koh Rong - Five kilometres of untouched sand and a shoreline shaded by palm trees.
- Lazy Beach, Koh Rong SaloemGo snorkelling, diving or fishing in the day and sip cocktails on the beach at night.
- Koh Thmei Beach, Ream National ParkNot so much sand as shells covering the beach.
Visitors who have commented online about the dangers of travelling in Cambodia have explained that accidents easily happen there with the busy traffic and lack of road rules. Additionally, Mother Nature is said to wreak havoc on a regular basis with floods, earthquakes and landslides known to happen with little warning. There is also quite a high crime rate with petty theft, scamming and general rip-offs attracting little to no police attention. Even violent crime has been rampant in the country with murders, kidnappings and beatings making the news.
Whatever you do, invest in travel insurance whenever you go abroad, and particularly when visiting a country with such a rich history of violence and lawlessness. But, given the increasing number of tourists visiting Cambodia, you should also be heartened to know that most people come home with fond memories and vows to return.