You’re walking down a dirt road, observing the laid back way of life. You are welcomed with warm and gracious smiles, with waving hands from energetic children and even with the calling of a nearby ox out in the fields. This is what Cambodia is all about. Go beyond the temples, go beyond the cities, go beyond the beaches and discover for yourself the true meaning of what life is like for the typical rural Cambodian.
Of course, for most people, a visit to Cambodia must be taken with the Angkor temples in mind. And why not? These are some of the world’s best preserved ruins. Some are quite majestic and awesome, like Angkor Wat, others are covered in jungle and looks exactly like how explorers have found them just like Ta Phrom. You should head to Siem Reap and discover these wonderful relics.
In the meantime, why not bask in Cambodia’s beaches? These are quite subdued ones, when compared to Southeast Asia’s other seaside destinations. And most of them are all concentrated in one area along Southern Cambodia’s coast facing the Gulf of Thailand. Sihanoukville is the country’s most popular, but Kep is right on its tail. Ream National park provides a different kind of beach experience; one with the added benefits of exploring some of Cambodia’s flora and fauna. Plus, you get to mix the outdoors with luxury, as posh tented camp stays await.
Ok, so, what do you do in between these experiences? Time to head on out to the countryside! Beyond the cities, temples and beaches, Cambodia remains quite untouched. Things are simple, people go about their routines and life goes on, albeit a slow and laid back pace. So let’s take a look at some prime countryside towns and destinations.
Bask in the atmosphere of the Cambodian outback. Kratie is quite picturesque and soothing, aided by its presence along the banks of the Mekong River. Its position in Eastern Cambodia makes it somewhat remote from the more visited areas in the north, west and south. Good, isn’t it? Don’t miss out on the red flower trees that grow along the banks of the river. While you are at the banks, explore the small quaint villages that exist on both sides. And since you are here in Kratie, you should try your luck in catching a glimpse of the Irrawaddy Dolphin. They say the town offers your best chance of spotting these rare and elusive animals, only about 6000 or so exist in the wild today. Head back into town and check out the quaint temples.
Going even further into obscurity is Banlung. This is a capital of a province, but you wouldn’t know it if we didn’t tell you. The town of 17,000 lies even further northeast from Kratie. The area is heavily forested and hilly. In fact, it is home to hilltribes, who come to the town market every morning to sell their goods and wares. A certainly colorful spectacle indeed! Venturing just outside of town, you’ll find a vast natural playground all to yourself. Grab a dirt bike, put on your trekking shoes, even bring along your raft; there’s much to do here for the adventurer. Don’t forget to check out the nearby waterfalls and a 700,000 year old crater lake.
Let’s head a little further inland to Kampong Thom, known to some as the midway point between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but forgotten by people who pass through it. The town itself is pleasant and quite typical of your average everyday small Cambodian settlement. The area surrounding it is also quite scenic. The vast grasslands and rice fields (apart from the farmers and locals who work them) are home to a wide array of animals. Its position along the Stung Sen River also attracts birds and of course is another spot for you to enjoy and soak in. While you’re here, check out the less explored pre-Angkorian temple of Sambor Prei Kuk.
Now that we are in and around the Tonle Sap, let’s give a quick mention to Kampong Chhnang. This is a small floating village port town, with some natural gems to discover just outside of its jurisdiction. The rice fields and farmlands are just amazing. You can also learn about local pottery production at nearby villages and observe humble temple rituals at local monasteries.
Last but certainly not least, we’ll take you down south to Takeo, another typical sleepy Cambodian town. Just like the other places you have visited, children will come up, greet and wave at you while the older citizens will flash their warm and genuine smiles. Take a boat from Takeo along a peaceful river to the archaeological museum of Angkor Borei and on to the temple ruins of Phnom Da. Not too far is Tonle Bati, a recreation area where the Khmers like to spend their leisure time. During the weekdays, the lake sees very few visitors and the site is quiet and peaceful.
Step out of the tourist trail and gain some insight into what Cambodia is about. Most of the country and its population are rural, but yet many fail to see this. Take the Grand Tour of Cambodia and experience both sides of Cambodia, from its main attractions such as Angkor Wat and the capital Phnom Penh to its less visited sites mentioned above. You’ll really fall in love with Kampuchea.
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