The first thing that often comes to mind when someone says they’re visiting Cambodia is Angkor Wat and the Killing Fields. Although both of these activities are definitely ones you shouldn’t miss, there is way more to Cambodia than these two touristy destinations.
Stunning beaches paint the coast of Cambodia and offer some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world. Visiting eery caves tainted with turmoil from the Khmer Rouge make the perfect adrenaline rush activity for backpackers and the like. A large volcanic crater that is now filled with lake water invites travelers to walk along its edges and enjoy the beauty that surrounds it.
I challenge you to explore the off the beaten path destinations in Cambodia. There is no other country in the world like it. Cambodia doesn’t abide by the normal rules, they make their own. Locals will give you the warmest smiles on the planet, the amok curry and lok-lak will make your taste buds dance in delight, and the nature and outdoor activities will leave you with the experiences of a life time. Cambodia will become a country that will attach itself to your heart and will never, ever let you go.
Here are ten non-touristy things to do in Cambodia:
1) Explore the Caves Near Kampot
These caves are hardly known to tourists and mostly used by locals. One tour company, Climbodia, takes adventurers to one of these caves for a half day of caving, abseiling, and rock climbing. If you don’t want to do this tour, you can choose to explore one of the many caves around Kampot via motorbike. Some of these caves are Phnom Ta or Phnom Sia, which has an elephant rock formation. You can also see Phnom Chhogok, which has a small temple inside the cave. You have to walk up some steps to the cave, but will see stunning views of the rice fields in the distance.
2) Explore Kep National Park
The 8 kilometer circuit can be done by foot or bike, and offers impressive views of the ocean and mountains in the distance. There is a $1 entrance fee into the national park. This is a perfect get away from the nearby towns. Make sure you bring water and comfortable shoes!
3) Eat Fresh Seafood on Ko Ta Kiev Island
Travelers have access to this island via a tiny wooden boat that leaves SeaGarden guesthouse (on Otres 1) around 11 am, daily. The entire island is jungle except for the sporadic guesthouses spread out around the coast. You can choose to trek through the jungle or go cliff jumping on one end of the island. Or, you can trek to the fisherman’s village on the coast of the island and eat some delicious, fresh crab and fish.
The locals will welcome you with huge smiles and open arms. My friend and I were the only westerners in this tiny village and enjoyed every second. We got a ton of crab, vegetables, rice, fish, and two cans of coke for $10 total. Talk about a deal! Your guesthouse will gladly give you a map of the island and show you where the fisherman’s village is. I recommend staying at either Kactus Guesthouse or The Last Point. There’s no wifi on this island and hardly any electricity.
If you choose to stay at The Last Point, you will see an incredible sunrise over the horizon.
4) Visit the Tampuen Villages in Ratanakiri District
You’ll gain massive insight to the local life in Cambodia by visiting the Tampuen Villages, where you can buy handmade jewelry and clothing. Nearby is Yeak Laom Lake that fills an old volcanic crater. With a guide, travelers can trek around the lake, which is surrounded by beautiful, unobscured nature.
5) Lounge on Otres Beach (1 & 2)
Otres Beach 1 and 2 are often skipped by travelers who only stop in Sihanoukville. Both beaches are quieter, cleaner, and safer than Serendipity beach in Sihanoukville. Guesthouses and bars line the beach of Otres and invite travelers to sip on an Angkor beer while, quite literally, dipping their feet into the clear blue ocean water.
The bars here stay open late and are not your typical club that plays Top 50 Hits- if you want that, stay in Sihanoukville. You’ll spend nights on Otres listening to live music, or if that doesn’t interest you, head over to Psytrance Night in Otres Corner. Every Thursday night during high season, it seems that everyone in Otres heads over to Shins Bar for some funky beats and delicious cocktails that last well beyond sunrise.
During the day you’ll find yourself relaxing on one of the many lounge chairs as the sun kisses your skin and gives you that tan you’ve always wanted. Children will approach you offering to make you bracelets as elderly women sell delicious, fresh seafood. Otres is paradise (which is why I didn’t leave for five months).
6) Eat Dumplings in Phnom Penh
Thanks to Google, I found two delicious dumpling restaurants in Phnom Penh. Move to Cambodia wrote this awesome post on their dumplings street 136 food tour, and I have to say, they’re absolutely right in how delicious some of these restaurants were! I ate lunch at Herk Fung and dinner at Shandong Restaurant, and was very happy with both of my meals!
7. Visit Battambang
This tiny city, several hours from Siem Reap, is supposedly how Cambodia was ten years ago. It’s a lot quieter and lesser known than all of the other major cities, making it an ideal destination for those of you looking for something incredibly cultured.
The colonial styled buildings, similar to those found in Kampot, make it a great destination for photographers looking to capture history frozen in time. The most famous temple in this city, situated on the top of a hill (Phnom Sampeau), is Wat Banan.
8. Kayak to a Fisherman’s Island in Otres Beach
Several guesthouses in Otres Beach 1 allow travelers to rent kayaks by the hour. They range from $5-7/hr. Hop on a three man one with two of your friends and set out on an adventure to one of the fisherman’s islands, directly across the water from Otres 1.
It’s an incredibly fun day activity, but beware, your biceps will scream at you in agony.
9. Visit Kbal Chhay Waterfall Near Sihanoukville
Easily accessibly by motorbike, visiting this waterfall makes a great day trip. The waterfall is much nicer during or after the wet season (June-November) when the rains fill up the falls and make an enjoyable place for locals and travelers to relax. There are also hammocks and a picnic area to allow for total peace and relaxation!
10. Support the Local Deaf Community in Kampot by Eating at Epic Arts Cafe
This cafe, located in Kampot, provides jobs to local community members with disabilities, most of who are deaf. Customers order their drinks and food by writing it down on a piece of paper for the lovely staff members. There’s also an Epic Arts store down the road, where they sell bracelets, shirts, bags, and much more. Profits go towards their cause, and it’s a wonderful way to support the local community. They’re also registered as a charity in the UK.
Epic Arts Cafe serves big portions and are also vegan and vegetarian friendly. Make sure you try their cappuccinos, as well as any of the breakfast items. My favorite was the couscous chick pea salad. I got it every day I was there!
Where to Stay
Mad Monkey Hostel has locations in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot, and Koh Rong Samloem. I highly recommend their hostels! They’re affordable, sociable, and some locations even have a swimming pool!
Cambodia is relatively cheap. Most hostel dorms will set you back around $3-6 a night, while hotel rooms will se you back around $30-60 a night. Hotels on the beach in Otres 2 are a bit more expensive, and may set you back over $100 a night. Food is cheap, most food is around $2-5. There is a lot of Western food in Cambodia, but the two local dishes you should definitely try are amok curry and lok-lak! Transportation between major cities is around $7-20 depending on the distance and bus company.