"What is there to do? Isn't 9 days too long??" - the most common response I received after telling my friends I was gonna be travelling Cambodia for 9 days in March. Now that I'm back, I would (unfortunately!) conclude that 9 days is actually too short!
The Kingdom of Cambodia is much more than temples, tuk-tuks and cheap massages, so here are 5 unmissable experiences you should add to your itinerary the next time you visit this gem of a Southeast Asian country:
1. Get disconnected from the world on a stunning and untouched beach island
Just a 45min speedboat ride away from mainland Cambodia sits a quiet beach island where you may cast all worries aside and bask in the endless sunshine. Koh Rong Samloem is Cambodia's secret backpacker beach paradise. For about USD35, you can get yourself a cosy private villa and a couple of hammocks to enjoy the seabreeze from.
Don't expect luxury though - electricity is rationed and water is drawn from wells (frequently running out during dry season), and there is surely no phone signal or wifi for you to instagram that spectacular sunset either.
2. Take a dip in the Mekong River and look out for the Irrawaddy Dolphins
This excursion was hands down the most fun part of my trip :) We travelled northwards into Kratie, a tiny town that is home to the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins. Together with Sorya Kayaking Adventures, we spent half a day paddling through the most picturesque and serene sections of the Mekong River - past sand islands, flooded forests and finally to a deep pool where we spotted a pod of river dolphins come up occassionally to the surface to breathe. We also managed to stop by a sand bank along the river for a quick dip. Truly a back to nature experience!
The Great Tonle Sap Lake is Cambodia's lifeline, providing sustenance for the 3 million Cambodians who live around (or on, as you will later see) the lake. We hopped onto a van to Kampong Khleang, one of Cambodia's largest floating villages to get an insight into this community. We visited in the dry season, so we got to see all the stilts bare and exposed as the river is only about knee deep at this moment. During the monsoon, all the houses along the river would be submerged and hence look like they were floating!
The community here leads a pretty interesting lifestyle - during the dry season most of them are farmers, and during the wet season when their land floods, they become fishermen instead. Some families also relocate their houses downstream towards the lake during the dry season (and vice versa), and there is even a community that is permanently located on the lake (we saw even a floating school). Definitely an interesting experience that is worth checking out - Kampong Khleang is a mere 1-2 hours drive away from Siem Reap!
4. Chill out at Siem Reap's themed cocktail bars
Every night is an interesting night in Cambodia, with alcohol being so good and so cheap. I had a whole list of interesting cocktail bars in Siem Reap to visit, and Asana Bar was my favourite to visit. Their drinks came in intersting conconctions featuring local herbs and flavours (give me that ginger mojito!) and the bar itself was the cutest wooden house on stilts complete with swings, hammocks and beds for you to enjoy your evening.
5. Explore the Largest Religious Monument in the World
As kitschy as it may be, no trip to Cambodia is complete without visiting this world renowned heritage site. The Angkor Wat complex is huge, and by huge I mean overwhelming. The whole complex is larger than 160 football pitches put together, and you'll need a couple of days to take it all in. Just half a day is sufficient for you to see the most famous temples though - Angkor Wat, Bayon and a couple more. Be prepared for a lot of walking, stair climbing and sweat (the temples are built many storeys high so the devotees had to work hard to reach the gods...)
So there you have it! My top 5 favourite attractions to visit in Cambodia. Hope you enjoyed the photos and the occasional commentary. If it helps, you may see a mapped itinerary of all the places of interest I visited here to help you plan for your trip too!
To more wanderlust adventures ahead! Write again next time xx