My partner and I want to go to Cambodia in early to mid-December for about a week. We have travelled through most of Asia but this will be our first time in Cambodia. Besides Angkor Wat, what other must-dos are recommended? We love food, local culture, architecture, wildlife and history. Should we try to extend our stay to 10-14 days or is one week long enough?
Angkor is the single reason most travellers go to Cambodia; the rest of the country is not to everyone’s tastes. However, since you’re experienced Asia hands, Cambodia offers a few oddities that are hard to find in other parts of south-east Asia and these might tempt you to consider a longer stay.
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You need a minimum of three days in Siem Reap and you could just as easily spend four to five days exploring the temples.
Cambodia’s coastline is luscious, serene, decorated with islands and beaches and dotted with crumbling French villas.
Ground zero is Kep, a former French resort that is slowly returning to life and being labelled the next Goa, though it’s probably still safe for a century or so. Kep’s bay is a flashing sheet of turquoise, the jungle steals into the town’s backstreets and many of the best beaches are occupied by ramshackle fishermen’s huts.
The big drawback is the beach – it’s almost non-existent but there are plenty of local boatmen who will take you out to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island), which has decent beaches and fabulous seafood restaurants. If you want to stay at Kep in style, take a look at Knai Bang Chatt (knaibangchatt.com), which gets knockout reviews. Another 20 kilometres to the north-west is Kampot (pictured), a river port with a few tarted-up bars and guesthouses along the waterfront.
The main reason to come to Kampot is the bumpy two-hour ride up Bokor Mountain, one of the few places in south-east Asia with enough intact forest to maintain a population of elephants and tigers. At the top is Bokor itself, a former hill station that was shattered in the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces, now silent and wreathed in mist.
If you want a look at rural life, you might spend a day or two in Battambang. This is Cambodia’s second-largest city and the gateway to the country’s rice bowl. The Travelfish (travelfish.org) website is also a good source of information on Cambodia.