Cambodia is a wonderful country full of contrasts. From ancient temples, to wild jungles and pristine beaches – in Cambodia you can have all of this. Having lived and worked in Cambodia for two years now I have been lucky enough to visit the country extensively. Here are my top 10 things every volunteer should do while in Cambodia:
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1. Visit the mighty Angkor Wat
Visiting the majestic temple complex of Angkor Wat is an absolute must on every visit to Cambodia. The Angkor archeological complex stretches over 400km and includes temples built as early as the 9th century. Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat will be one of the most magical moments in your life.
2. Spot dolphins in Kratie
The small river town of Kratie is located in the North East of Cambodia. It is famous for the Kratie river dolphins. There are only about 20 Irrawaddy river dolphins left. The best way to see these rare creatures is via a river cruise at sunset in the small village of Kampi, 15 km outside of Kratie.
3. Relax on the Cambodian islands
Unlike its Thai neighbor Cambodia is not exactly famous for its beaches. But that’s exactly why you should visit them, especially the islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s biggest beach town.
The most remote and hence most unspoilt island is the paradise island of Koh Rong, where you can truly live your cast-away fantasies with white, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.
4. Sit back in Kampot
Kampot is a sleepy riverside town about 4 hrs south from Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh.
What is really charming about this town are the crumbling colonial buildings, but the main attractions in Kampot are actually the caves, waterfalls, salt flats and pepper plantations. Kampot pepper is one of the finest in the world and is used by all the top chefs in France.
Visiting a pepper plantation gives you a unique insight into how pepper is grown and harvested. And no visit to Kampot is the same without sampling this amazing pepper on a fresh seaside dish.
5. Do a home-stay
To get a true feeling of what life in Cambodia is like there is no better way than a home-stay with a local family.
Accommodation will be simple, but your hosts will no doubt welcome you with open arms. It is the perfect way to interact with locals and learn their traditional way of living.
The community of Chi Phat offers great homestay packages.
6. Ride the bamboo train
For years the bamboo train in Battambang has been the major choice of transport for locals, but for a few years this unusual journey can also be enjoyed by tourists now. The train consists of a wooden frame that is covered with slats made of bamboo. It rests on two bogies and fits up to 15 people. You can cruise along past some beautiful countryside at about 15km/h.
7. Trek in Mondulkiri
The North Eastern province of Mondulkiri is home to a few hundred wild elephants and is a trekker’s paradise. Due to its higher altitude temperatures are a pleasant 25 degrees (compared to 35 degrees in the rest of the country). Elephant trekking in the mountainous jungles is very popular here, but make sure to book any elephant trekking activities through respected and certified eco-tourism companies that treat the elephants well.
8. Cruise down the mighty Mekong River
The Mekong river is the world’s 12th longest river and runs through China, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. There are different routes one can choose to travel on this mighty river, but the most adventurous is probably from Phnom Penh to the Mekong delta in Southern Vietnam. The three-day cruise will take you past mangrove forests, jungles and rice paddies. It is a great way to witness rural life in Cambodia.
9. Visit the Killing Fields
When visiting Cambodia you won’t be able to avoid getting to know its tragic past. During the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 70ies, millions of people died. Almost half of those people were killed if the regime believed that they were traitors.
There are killing fields all over Cambodia, but the most famous is just outside of Phnom Penh. Visiting the killing field will be an emotional visit and is certainly not for the faint hearted.
However, in order to truly understand Cambodia’s history and the reasons why Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, a visit to the killing fields will help you do that.
10. Eat a tarantula
Most countries have at least one dish that is just weird. The Scots have haggis, the people of the Amazon have grubs, the Chinese have crickets, and the Cambodians have spiders. Yes, that’s right. These creepy crawlies are in fact a delicacy here in Cambodia. Tarantulas are plentiful here so are a very popular snack. They are usually eaten with a chili sauce. Fancy one?
So, which of these 10 things would you like to try out?
Tammy Lowe hails from Germany, but has been living an expat life for the past 10 years. In 2011 she and her hubby quit their cubicle jobs in London to travel the world and work and volunteer along the way. Tammy is currently in Cambodia volunteering as a communications adviser for a human rights NGO.
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