Four Thousand Islands/Don Det

 

The Four Thousand Islands is a large island group located in the Mekong River near the Laotian border. These islands primarily house farmland and small villages but are also home to some fantastic hostels and bars. I suggest spending at least a day or two on these islands, the largest and most tourist-friendly of which is Don Det. There are several places to eat and some great bars in the main town area on the island. My favourite of all of these was Adam’s Bar, a restaurant/ bar where you can spend the day relaxing, watching the latest pirated movies or playing Xbox, or watching turtles swim in their encolsure. The bar was also famous for selling other, non-standard edible and smokable items. The two main things worth doing on the island are cycling around and between islands, and tubing. Sadly for me tubing was not possible a the time of year that I visited, due to the water levels of the Mekong being dangerously high. As far as the cycling side of it goes, I suggest just renting a bicycle and going off down one of the island paths ad seeing where they take you, you will find some very cool locations. Just make sure to relax, enjoy and explore the natural beauty of the islands and the relatively cheap cost of everything compared to the larger cities.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g1082249-d4354676-Reviews-Adam_s-Don_Det_Champasak_Province.html

 

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Stung Treng

Strung Treng is the final stop when leaving Cambodia via the Laotian border and is a fantastic way to farewell Cambodia. The town houses one of the largest and most impressive markets in Cambodia and will keep a visitor busy for hours. Stung Treng is not worth a visit on its own, but if you are passing by or passing through, I highly suggest spending a few hours there soaking up Cambodian rural culture and sifting through the town’s amazing marketplace.

 

Sihanoukville/Koh Tah Kiev

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s answer to Phuket, on a far smaller and less touristy scale. The town is built right on the beachfront and is the gateway to Cambodia’s tropical islands. The town itself isn’t overly large, but outside of the town, you will find plenty of beachfront rentals and small bungalow housing resorts. My advice would be to rent a bike and drive between the town and the beachfront areas and just explore the area. You will have plenty of options as far as which island you would like to visit and stay on from Sihanoukville itself. I personally chose Koh Tah Kiev to get the unique experience of staying in a treetop jungle hut connected to a central canopy hotel by boardwalks. If you are more into the party scene, then I suggest Koh Rong, as that island is party central.

 

 

Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev is to date one of the coolest experiences I’ve had, wading out into the water to climb onto a boat to a jungle island to stay in the tree tops. The island’s resort has no electricity or running water and uses a wood-fire oven to cook all food. The rooms are all open to the elements and come with a mosquito net to keep all insects and reptiles out of your bed at night. To make up for its lack of electricity ( which is all part of the experience), the island houses an absinthe distillery, which is supposed to rival other contenders for the title of the world’s strongest genuine absinth. Whether or not it actually is the strongest, is irrelevant as it is definitely strong enough to get you where you want to be. You can tour the jungle distillery and meet the owner Johan who is one of the most interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of having a drink or 6 with.

http://www.sihanoukville-cambodia.com/sihanoukville-businesses/new2011/ten-103-treehouse-bay.html

Kratié

Kratie is a small town in the northeast of the Cambodian countryside, situated right on the banks of Mekong, the town is primarily farming and fishing based. The outskirts of town are home to numerous villages which give you a glimpse of daily village life in Cambodia. In the town center, is a large marketplace and several restaurants looking onto the river. There are also numerous temples throughout and surrounding the town worth visiting. The town is a great place to see local wildlife, some of which is extremely rare, such as the soft-shelled turtle and the irrawaddy dolphin, both of which are critically endangered. If you’re looking to get out of the city and see how a great number of average Cambodians live, Kratie is a great way to experience this. The locals are also extremely friendly, with my tour guide inviting me to his house for lunch to meet his beautiful family after the tour ended.

 

 

Temples

The town and surrounding area is home to some fantastic temples and temple complexes. These include depictions of the road to heaven and the path to hell and are adorned with incredible paintings and sculptures.

 

Mekong/Wildlife

The Mekong is teeming with life and if you decide to spend time on and around it, you will see plenty of it. Kratie is famous for its local dolphin population, the Irrawaddy dolphin is extremely endangered, but can easily be seen swimming in the Mekong right outside of Kratie. Make sure to take a boat ride out onto the river and go dolphin spotting, I managed to see at least four in the span of 30 minutes. Located near the town is an amphibian rescue center, housing numerous species of frogs and turtles, including the endangered soft shelled turtle.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the tourist hub of Cambodia for a number of reasons. Firstly, the city is the located just outside of the ancient city of Angkor Wat. Secondly, the city houses amazing markets, nightclubs, restaurants and cultural performance centers.  Thirdly and finally, the city is located right near Tonlé Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. I would personally recommend spending a couple of days in the city, as there is plenty to see and do. There are several evening shows in town including the Cambodian Circus and Cambodian traditional dance show. You will need many hours to fully explore the night markets and day markets located throughout the city. Take a day and visit Tonlé Sap to see an entirely different culture living upon the lake. There are also beautiful parks and temples to explore.

 

 

Tonlé Sap

Tonlé Sap is the largest inland lake in Southeast Asia and supports countless lake-based communities, several of which are built on the lake itself. These are either on stilts on the water’s edge or floating on the lake itself. I highly suggest taking a boat tour of the lake and the village including a crocodile farm. When I was in on of the lake villages, I spent several hours teaching English to local village children, which was actually a lot more fun than I had expected. If this is something that you would like to do, then get in touch with a local tour guide when in one of the villages.

http://www.tourismcambodia.com/travelguides/provinces/siem-reap/what-to-see/76_the-great-lake-tonle-sap-floating-village.htm

 

Nightlife

Siem Reap has one of the best night-lives in SE Asia. The city has entire streets containing just pubs and clubs. If you get a chance, make sure to do a pub crawl through the city as you will visit some amazing hidden bars. There are also numerous amazing night markets, selling exotic foods such as tarantula, scorpion, snake, crickets, frogs, etc, all of which I suggest trying as they are delicious and a unique experience. For anyone who is a fan of Hard Rock Cafes, there is a fantastic one in the city with some great memorabilia. Finally, I suggest going to a cultural dance show, as it is a great experience and teaches you a bit about Cambodian culture and dining.

 

http://www.cambodianlivingarts.org/experience/see-a-show/

https://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/ppnight.htm

 

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is without a doubt one of the most well-known tourist attractions in the world. The ancient city complex stands in remarkable condition, mostly unravished by time. The complex is located just outside of Siem Reap near Cambodia’s western border with Thailand. I would personally suggest allocating the majority of a day to spend there exploring and taking in how truly amazing the site is. I also suggest hiring a local tuk tuk driver to take you from one site to another at the complex as the city is large and spread out over a wide area. If you are able to, I highly suggest arriving before the sunrise in order to watch it rise over the reflective pools in front of the most famous part of the city. If you are interested, there are elephant riding tours through certain parts of the city. Visiting this ancient city is, in my opinion, something that everyone should do before they die.

 

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a very interesting city, having such a dark history in the past several decades. The city was the center of the Khmer Rouges reign and saw the brunt of the genocide and atrocities that occurred in the country under Pol Pot. At the same time, modern Phnom Penh is very much full of life and has a culture all of its own. The city is a must visit in anyone’s lifetime. I can’t think of many other places where you can visit bustling markets, shoot an AK47 or RPG, visit a genocide museum, hit the clubbing scene and visit a silkworm farm all in one day. In saying that, I suggest spending a few days exploring the city. The center city evening food market is an amazing experience and will allow you to try all aspects of Khmer cuisine, all while enjoying a seat on the ground and listening to local live music. One of any of the city’s shooting ranges is worth visiting to be able to use weapons that most other countries will not allow.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng is the location that prisoners were taken, interogated, tortured and often killed before being taken to the mass killing and burial sites throughout the city. The most notorious of these sites is Choeung Ek. I highly recommend visiting the prison complex/museum before the mass graves, both in order to fully understand what occurred in the city and to prepare yourself for what is to come. If you are faint of heart, then you may struggle with both locations, as graphic images are present at the museum, along with the photos and clothes of those killed, including men women and children.

Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields)

Choeung Ek is a haunting place, a testament to the darker side of humanity, a glimpse into what we are truly capable of. If you are feint of heart, this may not be the place for you to visit. If you want to truly understand what occurred in Cambodia, then I suggest that you do visit this place. For the same reason that Auschwitz is important to visit and remember, so too is Choeung Ek. Be prepared to see former mass graves, along with a very large amount of human remains and to read about what happened to those who lost their lives in this terrible place.