Why just drop in at the Angkor Temples when there’s an entire country to explore?
We don’t like to make excuses, but in the past much of the north and east of Cambodia formed an almost impassable frontier. Thankfully, although distances are still lengthy, the roads are now much easier to navigate. This opens up remote rural landscapes, unique villages, barely trodden jungle trails and hidden waterfalls, along with Irrawaddy dolphin and elephant spotting opportunities: ideal for those looking for an adventure away from the tourist throngs of Siem Reap and the (relative) bright lights of Phnom Penh.
If you devote a few days to the northern province of Ratanakiri, you’ll be richly rewarded. Venture to some of the area’s traditional villages, such as Kres, where members of the Kreung community live in houses clustered in circles; Krala, where unmarried adults’ bamboo houses are built separately in front of their family homes; and Kachon, a village with a very unusual cemetery... Head further south to Mondulkiri and visit the superb Elephant Valley Project, founded and run by our fellow ‘Brightonian’, Jack. We’re rigorous about experiences involving wildlife, and only work with projects that are committed to responsible conservation. The Elephant Valley Project delivers on every level. Guests are invited to join the herd for the day, walking beside the elephants as they explore their natural forest habitat. Currently, this is a rare approach in Cambodia – watching the population of up to 20 elephants simply ‘being elephants’, whilst providing invaluable support for the local community.
Centre your route around this pair of less-visited destinations, and decide on a selection of others that catch your eye for a full trip. These are a few of our favourites...
Having touched down on Cambodian soil, take time to marvel at the extraordinary Angkor Temples. Three (or, ideally, four) days gives you space to discover the area’s jaw-dropping ruins and palaces the Selective Asia way. Cycle out to less-visited temples, hidden deep in the jungle, where you can get up close (sometimes within touching distance) of abandoned yet grand ruins. The intrepid can even camp in their shadows and wake up with the quiet stones all to yourself for a few hours. Away from the obvious attractions, visit a local market to purchase ingredients before continuing to a nearby village where some of our Khmer friends will welcome you into their home. Use your purchases to learn to cook a traditional lunch, as you hear from your hosts about the daily ins and outs of local life and the rich Khmer culture.
Perched in a lofty position on Dengrek Mountain, with far-reaching views over Cambodia’s northern border with Thailand, you’ll find the temple of Preah Vihear: one of the most impressive and remote of the Angkor Kingdom. Take time to wander among its atmospheric carved pavilions and arches, and appreciate the stunning landscape spread out below. In this country of constant contrasts, you can make a stop en route at Anlong Veng to see some less visually striking (although equally important) relics of Cambodia’s modern history: the house of Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge military commander, and the grave of Pol Pot. It’s food for thought that both these figures are still respected by some in this northern region, with fresh flowers often laid on Pol Pot’s grave.
Surrounded by rice fields, lotus farms and rolling countryside dotted with traditional wooden stilt houses, is the mellow Colonial town of Kratie. This unassuming destination, and the nearby island of Koh Trong, aren’t necessarily the first places travellers include on their bucket lists, especially when faced with a drive of around six hours from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. However, there are few better places to gain true insight into rural life in Cambodia. The pace seems less hurried here, informed by the changing seasons and daily rhythms of the land, rather than the rush of modern living. Learn about the farming and river fishing traditions that have been practised in these parts for centuries, and head out on the water to see the fishermen in action, with the hope, just perhaps, of catching a glimpse of the elusive Irrawaddy dolphins.
Swap countryside for city life in bustling Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s capital city is an ideal place to start or finish your trip to the north and east. Two or three days will give you the opportunity to explore the contrasting neighbourhoods, sample the street food, and take in more Khmer Rouge sites for a deeper understanding of Cambodia and its people. Test your tastebuds with some of the capital’s more unusual treats, such as deep-fried tarantulas or hot-and-sour red ants; take a cyclo ride along the riverbank; and find a few peaceful moments at Wat Phnom. If you’re looking for something a bit more active, cycle out of the city to visit a traditional stilt village dedicated almost entirely to silk weaving, or to the crumbling stupas of the old capital of Phnom Oudong.
The guide price of £3,190US$3,890 is a per person price (not including international flights) staying 4 nights in Siem Reap, 1 night in Srah Emm, 2 nights in Ratanakiri, 3 nights in Mondulkiri and 3 nights in Phnom Penh; all in our favourite mid-range hotels & lodges.
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