Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia

Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary

The name of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary is a little misleading, as rather than a wide open space where animals are permitted to roam freely, this is little more than a large zoo. All of the animals at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary are cages, and as is often the way in Asia, the cages seem to be rather cramped.

However, those who are travelling with children may want to take the kids here as a break from visiting the area’s temples and other historical sites. All of the animals that can be found at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have been recued from the clutches of traffickers and the traps of poachers, however, and the sanctuary does give visitors the chance to view a number of rare species.

Those who want the chance to get up close and personal with the animals of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary have the chance to be a bear keeper for a day, which involves feeding and taking care of one of the cute infant Malaysian sun bears, an offer almost too good to be true.

Many of the animals are also trained to perform tricks to capture the attention and admiration of visitors, an it is possible to take in the unusual sight of elephants playing football or creating works of art, while nearby colourful birds walk on tightropes and solve maths problems.

It is possible to visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary on a daytrip from the capital city of Phnom Penh, as it is located just 40kms from the city centre. Most of the local drivers know the way here, and also offer to chauffer visitors around the sanctuary itself, which is ideal for those who are suffering from the heat and humidity.

Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia

Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.

Poipet, Cambodia

Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia
Poipet, Cambodia

The dusty border town of Poipet is largely ignored by the people who pass through it on their way from Thailand to Cambodia. For many this is simply a place to get their passport stamped and perhaps wait for the bus to whisk them away to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.
However, if you do need to spend the night here you will find the town is not quite as rough as it appears at first glance and there are a few things to amuse and entertain. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and so large numbers of people cross the border to try their luck at one of the town’s many flashy casinos.

Theft is quite high in Poipet, so if you do decide to spend some time here make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t give money to beggars as the young girl staring at you with pleading eyes quickly multiplies into dozens of demanding beggars once some slight generosity is shown.

There are a number of places to eat in Poipet, many serving western snacks such as sandwiches and French fries. There is also a large bustling marketplace selling clothes and souvenirs, although this is a popular spot for pickpockets, so keep a careful eye on your belongings.

The border crossing is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and try to avoid arriving on the weekend. Queues can last for several hours, although the longest queues are usually for those heading into Thailand from Cambodia. Don’t trust anyone offering to make your visa for you, even if they are wearing official looking laminated badges. Instead, head to the Cambodian Consulate or get your visa made on arrival. The cheapest and easiest way to get a visit for Cambodia is to go online and get a e-Visa, which costs USD $25.

Once you have your visa you can travel by bus or pickup truck to a number of places such as Siem Reap, Sisophon and Battambang. You may have to wait a few hours for the bus to fill up, but once it starts moving simply sit back and relax as the worst part of the journey through Cambodia is now behind you.

Koh Ker, Cambodia

Koh Ker, Cambodia
Koh Ker, Cambodia
Koh Ker, Cambodia

Situated to the north of Siem Reap, Koh Ker was formerly a capital of the Khmer empire and consequently contains a large number of ancient temples and other buildings. Now little more than a village in the middle of the jungle, Koh Ker’s remoteness is part of its charm and those who venture this far will be rewarded with the area’s intense natural beauty.
There are nearly a hundred crumbling temples hidden amongst the lush jungle. Prasat Thom is perhaps the best known and easily recognized by its towering pyramid shape and moat running around the base. At 40 meters high this is also the largest temple in the area and climbing to the top offers spectacular views across the jungle.

Many of these 10th century temples have been built from brick and mortar made from tree sap and have been very well preserved. Other temples of interest include Preah Vihear and Preah Kahn and a great way to explore is by taking a guided tour in an ox cart.

You can also hire a motorbike and zoom through the jungle. Take care if you choose this option as although the area has extensively been cleared of landmines there may still be some around. Stick to the well-worn paths at all times to avoid trouble.

Koh Ker is close enough to Siem Reap to visit on a day trip, or you can stay overnight at the little village of Sra Yong, where you are sure to receive a warm welcome along with basic accommodation and traditional home cooking. It is also possible to camp in this area, and the picturesque jungle is a great place to wake up in the morning.

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia
Sambor Prei Kuk, Cambodia

The ancient temple complex of Sambor Prei Kuk predates those at Angkor and this is a good place to visit before heading to see Cambodia’s national monument. Originally known as Isanapura, Sambor Prei Kuk was the capital of Chenla during the reign King Isanavarman in the early 7th century.

Sambor Prei Kuk contains more than one hundred red brick temples scattered through a pretty forest. Cool shade is provided by the thick vegetation, making this a pleasant place to explore slowly. Follow the sandy paths through the forest, which lead to ponds and shrines as well as quietly crumbling temples.

Visitors will discovere that all of the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk fall into three main groups. While the first and most popular group is known as Prasat Sambor, is dedicated to the Shiva incarnation known to the Khmer people as Gambhireshvara.

Situated in the heart of the forest, the Prasat Yeay Peau group is extremely peaceful, while Prasat Tao – also known as Lion Temple – is one of the largest temples in Sambor Prei Kuk and features two large lions carved by the Chenla people.

There is a craft shop near the entrance to Sambor Prei Kuk where you can pick up a souvenir or two and learn more about this interesting site. There are also a number of food stalls where you can buy a basic meal and a cold drink.

The main part of this interesting complex can be explored in two or three hours, although it is worth taking the time to soak up Sambor Prei Kuk’s uniwque atmosphere and explore each temple in detail.

Sambor Prei Kuk is located about 20 miles to the north of the town of Kompong Thom. This is a good place to spend the night and get a decent meal before heading off to Siem Reap to explore the mighty Angkor temple complex.

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Prasat Preah Vihear, Cambodia

Also known as Khao Phra Wiharn or Sacred Monastery, Prasat Preah Vihear is one of Cambodia’s most striking monuments from the Angkorian period. This 800 meter temple is situated at an elevation of 730 meters and offers spectacular views across Cambodia to the scared mountain of Phnom Kulen.

Prasat Preah Vihear is an important pilgrimage site and was build to represent Mount Meru where many important deities are believed to reside. Climb the monumental stairway and pause to appreciate the detailed carvings that adorn the temple.

Look out for the Gopura on the third level, which displays an early rendition of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The temple sits atop Pey Tadi, which is a rocky cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, providing interesting views into both countries.

Many people take a picnic with them so that they can enjoy the stunning views from the top while they eat. The large market place at the foot of Prasat Preah Vihear is a good place to buy freshly cooked food and snacks.

Prasat Preah Vihear is a great place to visit on the way into Cambodia from Thailand or just before you leave the country. For a really memorable adventure, travel to Prasat Preah Vihear by helicopter from Siem Reap.

The sunset is spectacular from the top of the temple and it is worth sticking around at the end of the day to see it. The nearest town to Prasat Preah Vihear is Kantharalak. Here you will find a number of basic guesthouses, restaurants and pretty places to explore, making this a good place to spend the night.

Pursat, Cambodia

Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia
Pursat, Cambodia

This picturesque and peaceful town is a great place to unwind for a while and it serves as a base for those wishing to explore the stunningly beautiful Central Cardamoms Protected Forest. Pursat is also a transit point Battambang and Phnom Penh and this is a pretty place to pause and slow the pace a little as you travel between the two cities.

One of Pursat’s most famous features is its marble carvers, and visitors will have the chance to watch local craftsmen honing their skills in various workshops as they explore and it is even possible to purchase finished pieces to take home as gifts and souvenirs.

The floating village of Kompong Luong is a great place for a day trip. Situated on the mighty Tonle Sap Lake, this is a pretty place to explore and watch the fishermen at work. There are also a number of good restaurants here serving fresh fish and traditional Khmer dishes.
 
Another good day trip destination is Nhek Ta Khleang Moeung, where people travel to of worship the spirit of Nhek Ta and ask for his assistance. The site is situated 3 miles from Pursat and is a particularly pleasant walk.

Slightly further away, the sacred site of Baktra is also worth visiting. Climb the high hill for spectacular views of the area and see the pretty forest stream and natural wells. For an alternative way to see the countryside, take a trip on the traditional bamboo railway before returning to Pursat for a good meal in one of the local restaurants.

As you explore the area you will discover a number of pretty waterfalls, which are the perfect place to cool down after hiking in the heat of the day. In the evening, join the local people who gather in the small park near the bridge to enjoy the cool river breeze and relaxed atmosphere.

Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Anlong Veng, Cambodia

Anlong Veng is famous – or rather infamous – as being the home of Khmer Rouge Brother Number One Pol Pot as well as other leaders such as Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ta Mok. The little town is close to the border crossing of Choam–Choam Srawngam, and this is a good place to enter Thailand if you want to avoid the crowds and general hustle and bustle at Poi Pet.

Exercise caution when exploring this area as there are still a large number of unexploded landmarks in the countryside around the town. Make sure you stick to the clearly marked paths and if in doubt hire a guide to show you the sights.

Most people visit Anlong Veng to discover more about Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Those who are interested in the life of former leader Pol Pot will be able to take a motorcycle ride through paddy fields to get here. Although the house itself is a bit of a let down, the ride is worthwhile as it takes visitors past the picturesque Damrek Mountains.

Next, take a short walk to Ta Mok’s mountain house, which offers stunning views of the surrounding area from is lofty position. Those who want to spend the night here will find a comfortable guesthouse nearby. Afterwards, take a short trip to Ta Mok’s town house, which is set overlooking a large lake. The house was built by Tak Mok himself and contains a number of large murals depicting scenes of Preah Vihear and Angkor Wat.

Pol Pot’s grave is also located in the town of Anlong Veng, although it is a fairly modest construction, complete with wire from old tires and a rusting metal roof. There is a small shrine nearby, which was put up by someone from Thailand after they had a dream in which Pol Pot appeared to them with the winning lottery numbers. Even in death, Pol Pot’s legend lives on in its own bafflingly bizarre way.

Local people often tend to gather at the manmade Anlong Veng Lake to do a spot of fishing, and this is also a good place to swim or take a boat out. Those who are feeling a bit peckish can buy food from the snack stalls that can be found near the lake and enjoy a picnic while soaking up the scenery.

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

The small city of Siem Reap is the best place to stay if you intend to visit the Angkor Wat complex. There are a number of good places to stay, restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine and bars to hang out in the evening.

Before you visit Angkor, stop by Miniature Replicas, where you will see sculptures of all the temples situated in a lovely garden. This is a good way to get an idea of how much there is to see and plan your time accordingly. There are also a number of modern temples situated around Siem Reap, such as Wat Bo with its beautiful paintings and former royal palace Wat Dam Nak, which provide an interesting contrast to the wonders of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is a major symbol in Cambodia; it appears on the flag, on coins, posters and just about anything else you can name. The site was reopened in 1991 after nearly two decades of closure due to civil unrest. The best way to start a tour of Angkor is to visit Phnom Bakheng in time for sunset. Not only is admission free, but you can get your pass made, avoiding the crowds the next day.

Get up early the following day and hire a moto with a driver for the day so that you can travel in style. Head straight to Angkor Thom, which is surrounded by a vast moat, before moving on to the Terrace of the Elephants, which is over 300 metres long.

The next temple to visit is the enchanting jungle temple of Preah Khan, while the nearby Neak Pean is a symbol of the lake that lies at the top of the universe.

It is best to allow around four hours to see Angkor Wat properly, so perhaps devote the following day to exploring this magnificent temple. According to records, it took around 30 years to complete Angkor Wat, which measures an impressive 65 metres and covers some 500 acres.

The mighty Wat is built on several levels. The Gallery features 1,000 Buddhas where Buddha effigies of all descriptions line the corridors, while the temples picture galleries display scenes from Hindu epic texts the Ramayana, the Battle of Kurukshetra, and other epic scenes such as the Judgement of Heaven and Hell. 1,500 apsaras or ‘heavenly dancing girls’ wonderfully decorate the second level interior.

Now it is time to screw up you courage and climb to the very summit of the top level, which is a privilege that was originally reserved for the High Priest and the King. 480 steep steps lead up to the five towers, which lie waiting like the Holy Grail at the end of a virtuous quest. Ascend the 70 degree angled steps carefully and walk around the outer gallery, enjoying the magnificent view, which is incredible from all angles. Watch the sun set before slowly descending once more.

Most people find it difficult to leave Siem Reap and you need to allow at least through days to explore thoroughly.

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia
Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Cambodia’s capital city is loud, dirty and rather violent on first glance, earning it the reputation as a ‘rough city’. However, scratch the surface and you will find plenty of pretty places to walk, good restaurants and interesting buildings. Although the residents are not as warm and welcoming as in the countryside, many people are willing to provide much needed advice and a friendly face.

Phnom Penh was largely destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and is slowly being restored to its former glory. Also known as Riverside, Sisowath Quay is a pretty avenue running along the banks of the Mekong River and is an interesting place to walk in the evening when dozens of stalls set up selling everything from good meals to cheap souvenirs.

According to popular legend, the city was founded in the 14th century by an old woman named Penh who discovered a tree with a handful of Buddha images wedged in a niche. She recovered the images and had a hill – phnom in the Khmer language – built to contain them. The city grew from there into the sprawling metropolis it is today.  

A tour of Phnom Penh should lead you straight to the Royal palace with its Silver Pagoda and temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also known as Wat Preah Keo Morokat, the entire floor of the Silver pagoda is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kilo. Inside is the Emerald Buddha, which was crafted from baccorant crystal and is one of Cambodia’s most famous images.

Opposite, the National Museum is home to some impressive Khmer sculptures, including many pieces previously at Angkor. This is a good place to get a feel for the ancient art work and various styles. Climb a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay for spectacular views and to visit Wat Phnom with its resident monkeys.

To get an idea for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, many people take a day trip to the Killing Fields, which are located at Cheoung Ek, about 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Now peaceful, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge killed several thousands of their victims and visitors can explore the Buddhist stupa which is filled with human skulls.  

Another gruesome reminder is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the actual school building that the Khmer Rouge leaders converted to a prison. The museum contains a number of graphic photographs detailing the brutality and handwritten accounts by a few of the survivors.

On a lighter note, taking a cruise on the Mekong River is a great way to see the area, and many tour companies offer sunset dinner cruises. Before you leave Phnom Pehn visit Mekong Island and watch the traditional weaving.

In additional to the city’s many bars and nightclubs, evening entertainment is provided by the French Cultural Centre, who show regular movies.