Beyond Angkor Wat: 5 Things to Do in Cambodia


Anuja Pradhan


Set foot in Cambodia and you immediately find yourself surrounded by culture, history, nature, and spirituality, making the country popular with all types of travellers. Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument, might be the country’s most famed attraction but there’s more to Cambodia, waiting to be discovered. From wildlife rescue centres to pristine beaches, here are 5 things to do in Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat:

1. Birding in Siem Reap

Over 200 species of birds flock through Siem Reap and the surrounding areas, making bird watching in Siem Reap one of the most popular activities among wildlife travellers visiting Cambodia. You can even add this to your Angkor visit and guided by an expert, you can spot lesser whistling ducks, little grebes, and black-naped kingfisher waddling around the canals surrounding temples. Throngs of bulbuls, monarchs, and flycatchers might also be nearby. If you’re a real enthusiast, set aside an entire day for this excursion and you won’t regret it.

2. Explore Phnom Penh

Image via Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city is also its largest. There is a lot to do here besides relaxing in some of the city’s luxurious hotels. Adventurous travellers with a taste for history will want to visit Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek to get a real picture of Cambodia’s past. Tuol Sleng was a former school used by the Khmer Rouge as a place of torture. It has now been preserved as a museum. Nearby is Choeung Ek, otherwise known as the Killing Fields, an area where thousands of men, women and children were murdered and buried in mass graves by the Khmer Rouge following the advent of “Year Zero” (the year 1975, when Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia). A visit here is not for the faint of hearted, however, these sites are sobering reminders of the difficulties of Cambodian people.

Wildlife lovers will want to make a day trip to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC). A haven for animals rescued from illegal wildlife trade, PTWRC helps in their recovery and rehabilitation with assistance from the Wildlife Alliance. Opt for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour and you will be allowed to interact with an array of wild animals, and also meet the team that cares for them.

Tucked away in a secluded corner, close to the Russian market, is the Sovanna Phum Arts Association. Here you’ll find yourself viewing a wonderful shadow-puppet play. After the 50-minute performance of shadows, classical dances, and traditional drum shows, you can even try your hand at manoeuvring the puppets yourself!

No visit to Cambodia is complete without experiencing the cultural display put up by Plae Pakaa, an initiative by the Cambodian Living Arts. Performing three rotating shows on an hourly basis, each act is an embodiment of a wide range of traditional arts.

End your days in the city with strolls down the Sisowath Quay. Running the length of about 3kms the Quay is nestled on the banks of the peaceful Tonle Sap River.

3. See the statues of Battambang

Battambang is Cambodia’s unique version of idyllic countryside merged with the steady yet reassuring hum of a modern city. This is the second most populated city in the country and an equally popular destination for tourists. Ancient religious Buddhist shrines, temple ruins, well-kept colonial structures, and prominent sizable statues are the icons of Battambang.

The Battambang statues can be seen in almost every square, park and large public space the city has – and it does have quite a few. A blend of animals, mythological creatures, and divinities, each of these figures is accompanied by its very own origin story.

While there might not be written records for every statue, stories passed down from generation-to-generation through word of mouth accompany the towering figures. Take a leisurely stroll in the market, engage in conversation with the locals and take a trip back in history – to the legends of Ta Dumbong and his Magic Stick, the White Horse and God, and even Lord Vishnu with his eight hands.

4. Relax at Kep

The small seaside town of Kep plays the role of a tranquil time-out, a relaxing breather to recover from daily life. Kep was originally founded as a colonial retreat for the French elite in 1908. Excelling in seafood delicacies, Kep’s speciality would be its variations of crabmeat dishes. Observe the fishermen as they secure the catch in the traditional hook and line method. Then take your pick of the fresh catch of the day and enjoy a sumptuous meal.

Enjoying a relaxing sunset river cruise at Kep is among travellers most favourite activities here. See local children frantically waving from veranda’s of their Muslim Cham’s as you cruise along the tranquil river. Pass by mosques, mangroves swamps, and salt fields, and enjoy a view of Phu Quoc Island in the distance.

If you have time for a day trip, travel via boat to Koh Tonsay a.k.a “Rabbit Island” as it’s known because locals feel it’s shaped like a rabbit. Your journey takes you across calm waters to this beautiful palm-fringed island, home to a small community of fishermen and farmers. Spend the day enjoying the white-sand beaches that ring the island, and then travel back to Kep for the night.

5. Enjoy the beaches of Sihanoukville

Dubbed as the most happening beach destination on Cambodia, Sihanoukville or as the locals call it, Kompong Som, is home to a total of eight beautiful beaches. The largest of the eight beaches is the Ochheuteal Beach, a narrow 2km stretch of fine sand strewn with beach chairs. Known for its luxurious restaurants and hotels, Ochheuteal is the place to visit for a weekend of extravagant bliss. Serendipity Beach nearby is popular among partygoers and comes to life at night as visitors venture out to visit one of the many souvenir stores and start yet another session of partying.

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