As most my readers know, I’m an adventurer. I don’t travel to relax or “get away from it all.” I travel for excitement. I travel to learn. I travel to get those endorphins flowin’! That’s why I chose Cambodia, Phnom Penh in particular, for a riveting trip into the unknown, into history, into a new fascinating culture.
Cambodia is such a diverse country, though, that travellers looking for relaxation and a place to put their feet up will not be disappointed. They will, however, be disappointed that they stayed indoors when just outside their door a vast array of culture and history awaited them within a day’s trip of Phnom Penh.
For the history buffs out there, Phnom Penh’s surrounding countryside contains important temple ruins from the pre-Angkorian and Angkorian-eras. There are more impressive temples closer to Siem Reap, but the temples that I went to around Phnom Penh were less touched by tourists (although there are still plenty), giving me the sense of adventure that I’m always looking for when I’m traveling.
Quick tip before I get into my favorite destinations around near Phnom Penh, if you head west you will run into Oudong, a royal city that tells the tale of Cambodia’s 17th-19th French colonialist history. Most forgo this experience on their trips to Cambodia, but I highly recommend it. A trip to Oudong provides a valuable insight into what the life of Cambodians was like from the end of the Angkorian-era through the French colonial period.
Here are my top 4 Cambodian destinations outside of Phnom Penh:
4: Silk Island – Where to Get Your Souvenir
If you’re like me, souvenirs are a pretty important part of the trip. I’m not talking about a mug, or a t-shirt, a little silver spoon – I’m talking an authentic, Cambodian-made souvenir. That’s the main reason that I suggest taking a half-day or an entire full-day to take the boat ride up the Mekong River to Silk Island. This island is also known as the Silk Weaving Island. Can you guess what kind of souvenir you can get on this island? That’s right: silk. There is an assortment of silk items for you to choose from and bring home; they can tend to be a bit on the expensive side, but they’re definitely worth it.
This island is also a pretty interesting look into Cambodian rural life. Almost all the residents are entirely dedicated to silk weaving, so you can see people working the looms, and weaving and spinning the silk. Silk Island is one of the destinations that is on the path less travelled by tourists, so naturally I loved every minute of the full-immersion in Cambodian culture.
3: Tonle Bati – Where to Go on an Adventure and Then Relax
I really like Tonle Bati, which is a small lake with temples close by. It makes for a really nice day if you visit the two temples – Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau – that are on the way to the lake and then stop by the lake for lunch/supper. Tonle Bati has several picnic tables and mats that surround the lake that are mostly used by locals, but are very warm and welcome to visitors.
As for the temples, Ta Prohm is the largest and most impressive of the two temples. Unlike some of the more travelled temples, both temples still have well-preserved carvings dating to the 12th century. Yeay Peau is still worth a visit even though it is a smaller temple; it is composed of a single sandstone tower and has some pretty impressive carvings on the pagoda next to it. My favorite part of this trip was seeing that the pagoda is still in use by Buddhists today.
2: Phnom Chisor
Phnom Chisor, a rather large 133-meter-high hill, sports excellently preserved 10th and 11th century Angkorian-era ruins at its top. The 10th and 11th centuries were prosperous times for the Angkorian Empire, so the ruins are especially impressive. Like Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau, Phnom Chisor still has many well-preserved carvings of the gods that the temples were built for: Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, etc. So, Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau can give you a Buddhist look into Cambodia culture, while Phnom Chisor will give you the Hindu.
As a guy always looking for adventure, I’m not averse to a little climbing. The climb to the top of Phnom Chisor consists of 503 steps. That’s a lot of steps. This trek is not for those that aren’t looking for a bit of a workout. A trek consisting of that many stairs to the top of a hill containing ancient ruins makes me feel like my favorite fictional archaeologist, Indiana Jones, so I could find no reason to complain once we reached the fascinating ruins and the breathtaking panoramic view of the landscape.
1: Phnom Da
To reach Phnom Da you must go to the town of Angkor Borei. This town is what I like to call living history. It has been inhabited nonstop for 2,500 years. While there are no temples in or near Angkor Borei, there is a hill much like Phnom Chisor (but not as high) that has a tower at its top that contains some pretty impressive carvings as well. The tower is surrounded by wilderness; it looks majestic and mysterious on top of the hill, definitely worth the 20 km hike.
If you are feeling especially adventurous, you can go around Phnom Da to another ruin called Ashram maha Rosei. This ruin will probably be the most interesting of the trip. It was constructed during the Chenla period in the latter half of the 7th century, predating the Angkorian Empire. This ruin will be the most unique and will stand out the most out of any of the ruins that you visit near Phnom Penh.
Be sure to visit these amazing destinations in Phnom Penh. They will bring out the adventurer in you and expand your historical knowledge of the Cambodian people and their culture.