Cambodia – Captivating Temples, Bustling Cities, Breathtaking Jungle and Luxury Beach Resorts

Cambodia – Captivating Temples, Bustling Cities, Breathtaking Jungle and Luxury Beach Resorts

Any visit to Cambodia should include a stop in Siem Reap, the gateway to the ruins of Angkor’s vast complex of intricate stone buildings, but there’s plenty more to discover in this breathtaking country. Our first stop on our two week tour of the country was Siem Reap and a half day guided cycling tour took us on a journey through shaded parklands, around beautiful lakes and the amazing ruins of the Angkorian era which included preserved Angkor Wat, the main temple, and  Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom with its giant, mysterious stone faces.

Siem Reap has more to offer than the temples of Angkor so we decided to spend our first evening exploring the city and it’s culinary delights by Vespa. This was a great way to immerse ourselves in the hustle and bustle of local life and try local street food which included exotic fruits, fried creepy crawlies and other treats washed down with local beer and rice wine.

Half a day is not enough to visit all the temples of Angkor so we headed back the next morning to visit Srah Srang, Ta Prohm, Ta Nei and Ta Keo, stopping between the temple visits for a picnic breakfast in the serene countryside that surrounds the temples.  In the afternoon, we drove through beautiful rural Cambodia along traditional dirt roads to the Port of Mechrey, a small rarely-visited fishing village on the edge of the Tonle Sap lake. At Mechrey we boarded our specially-designed shallow-drafted boat to explore the near empty waterways with remnants of floating villages and flooded forests all around.  We zipped across the water to the authentic village of Prek Toal, Tonle Sap’s largest floating village complete with church, schools and village stores. As the sun begun to set we stopped for drinks and local snacks whilst we watched the hive of activity in the village and on the water. Our journey back to Mechrey took us to the edge of the vast Tonle Sap lake which looked more like an ocean.

From Siem Reap we flew to Sihanoukville and then a short drive took us to the private back-to-nature tropical island – Six Senses Krabey Island.  Here we had four nights of rest and relaxation in our private pool villa located within the lush canopy of trees that cover the small island.   Time was spent in the enjoying the calmness of the villa, the beach, kayaking, the amazing spa treatments/exercise classes at the Six Senses Spa and sampling traditional Khmer food with divine modern twists.

Our next stop was the Cambodian jungle for adventure at Shinta Mani Wild which has just been added to National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World.   Nestled deep within the wilderness of the South Cardamom National Park we spent 3 nights in the Bensley Collection luxury tented camp.  From the exhilarating moment of arrival – criss-crossing the rapids via a 350m zip line, straight into the Landing Zone Bar, there was no such thing as a typical day during our stay. We joined the Wildlife Alliance rangers and motorcycled through the forest on antipoaching patrols, traversed the secret estuary backwaters on a six-metre pontoon-style boat, learnt to Tenkara fly fish: a meditative form of Japanese catch and release fly fishing, indulged in the daily complimentary spa treatments, foraged for edible wild plants with the chef and still had time to relax on the terrace of our luxury tent surrounded by the sounds of the jungle, thundering waterfall and gushing river.

We couldn’t visit Cambodia without recognising it’s fairly recent and brutal history so we headed to the capital, Phnom Penh, for our last few days to visit the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21) – the former high school that the Khmer Rouge converted to an interrogation centre and prison in 1975 and The Killing Fields Memorial at Choueng Ek. Both visits were moving and thought provoking experiences.  We didn’t want to leave on a low so we escaped the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh on our last afternoon and ventured into the capital’s surrounding countryside on a rural cycle tour of the Islands of the Mekong.  Passing through the local Cham Muslim communities, orchards, market gardens, visiting a family owned silk weaving business and seeing the sunset over the Mekong River and Phnom Penh was the perfect way to end our last afternoon in Cambodia.

Helen travelled to Cambodia with her family in October.

Helen Thomas