For first timers and returning travellers alike, a Cambodia vacation can be so much more than just a journey through the beaten tourist track. The well known Cambodia destinations such as Angkor Wat, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are certainly worth every visit. However, this Southeast Asian country also boasts many a unique, hidden gem, tucked away in their misty mountains, verdant valleys, emerald bays and endless rice paddies.
Our destination experts have travelled high and low in search of unexplored, offbeat things to do in Cambodia. It’s time you crossed these undiscovered places in Cambodia off your list, far from the madding crowds!
Those who venture to Mondulkiri in Cambodia’s “wild east” will be rewarded by a land where the temperature drops by several degrees and rolling green hills stretch out in every direction. Just seeing such an unexpected landscape is reward enough for the four-hour car journey from Phnom Penh, but further exploration reveals opportunities to visit remote hill tribes – the Wehh Project provides ethical, community-run expeditions – and marvel at Bou Sraa, Cambodia’s most majestic waterfall, which rushes down three tiers in the middle of the jungle.
Kampong Thom province
For so long, visitors treated Kampong Thom as little more than a quick coach stop on the tourist route between the capital Phnom Penh and the temple town of Siem Reap. That was always a mistake, but just last year the area was given a boost when its Sambor Prei Kuk temples were named a Unesco World Heritage Site. The temples were completed in the 7th century, long before their more famous brethren at Angkor, and spending a couple of days exploring the quiet forest complex is a fantastic way to live out any latent explorer fantasies.
Preah Vihear temple
There aren’t many temples anywhere in the world that can give Angkor Wat a run for its money, but Preah Vihear is one of them. Located in the country’s far north, quite literally a stone’s throw from the Thai border, this 800 metre-long marvel is comprised of five gopura (stone gateways separating the temple’s five sections) with ancient staircases and walkways guiding visitors along the way. Incredibly well-preserved thanks to its remote location, Preah Vihear saves the best for last when its tranquil ascent ends at a cliff that drops 500 metres to the lush, emerald plains below.
For those who still picture Cambodia as a dusty backwater, the refinement of Phnom Penh’s bar scene may come as a shock. It’s certainly no longer necessary to stick to hotel bars when searching for a well-crafted negroni or old fashioned, but the Bodleian, found in the capital’s BKK 1 neighbourhood, remains something of a secret. Art Deco flourishes abound, from the period furniture to the green-shaded banker’s lamps that set the mood for sipping one of the numerous high-end whiskies or signature cocktails on offer.
Rapidly becoming the darling of in-the-know diners in Phnom Penh, Labaab could not be more discreetly located. Hidden away inside a nondescript residential block above a pharmacy, those who hunt it out are rewarded with warm wooden interiors based on 19th century homes from Battambang province in the country’s northwest. The food is in thrall to the lower Mekong area, meaning a mix of Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes, but be sure to try the char kroeung – beef stir-fried with peppers, onions and the Cambodian herb paste known as kroeung.