Standing as the ancient capital, Oudong sits about 44km away from Phnom Penh–about a two-hour tuk-tuk journey and 1.5 hours in a taxi–and makes for an interesting day trip out of the city.
Serving as Cambodia’s capital from 1618 to 1866, Oudong was the venue where several kings were crowned and buried, holding a special place in many Cambodians’ hearts.
Accessing the ancient site, which sits atop a hill, may be challenging for those who are unsteady on their feet, with a flight of 509 uneven stone steps the only way to access Phnom Oudong’s peak.
For those who are simply unfit, then push through because reaching the top comes coupled with unparalleled 360-degree vistas of the surrounding countryside.
A sequence of historic sites dot the peak in the form of temples and stupas that contain the ashes of kings, such as the stupa Damrei Sam Poan, which was built by King Chey Chetha II (1618-26) and holds the ashes of his predecessor, King Soriyopor.
At the base, sits a collection of stalls selling snacks, food, drinks and souvenirs. Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Mediation Centre also sits close to Oudong and is well worth a visit to see its pristine shimmering pagodas. Visitors are welcome to wander around, provided they are dressed appropriately, which means keeping knees and shoulders covered.
A short tuk-tuk ride and trip on the ferry sits Koh Dach, commonly referred to as Silk Island. Despite only being 6km from the capital, Koh Dach sits a million miles away, where rural life has been preserved on this island in the Mekong River.
The trip can easily be shortened into half a day for those tight on time, or stretched out to take in a lazy day of enjoying the laidback delights of sleepy island life.
Despite Cambodia’s rich silk weaving heritage being in decline, Koh Dach is home to an abundance of weavers. Freshly dyed silk can be seen hanging in the sun to dry in front of homes, where women weave from a handmade loom below their stilted houses.
The Silk Weaving Centre and Village is open to visitors and shows the whole process, from silk worm to cocoon, to silk to fabric. A small restaurant and picnic spot on the river, with a swimming area, are on-site.
Offering a glimpse into rural living, there is a road that skirts the island which is ideal for a lazy bike ride past paddies and woodland, through small villages and across shallow streams. Bikes are available for hire at the ferry terminal. Popular stop-off points include Koh Dach Pagoda, which houses some of the island’s colourful boat entries into the annual Water Festival boat races.
Le Kroma is a great place to stop for a breather, food and a swim in their infinity pool that overlooks the river. Their woodfire pizzas (only available at weekends) come highly recommended, with local dishes also on the menu. If the day has tired you out, then check-in for the night, with a range of bright and breezy rooms available.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Whether you’re an animal lover or not, a trip to Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre ticks all the boxes. Run by Wildlife Alliance (WA), it sits about 36km outside of the capital and is home to more than 1,200 animals, such as tigers, elephants, snakes, gibbons and clouded leopards, that have been rescued from the clutches of poachers and illegal trafficking.
Animals that are in a fit state are rehabilitated before being returned to the wild, while those unable to be freed due to physical or psychological trauma become permanent residents.
WA also puts on ‘behind the scenes’ day tours, where guests can spend the day shadowing a worker, meeting the animals and learning more about their stories.
The centre is also home to Free the Bears, which operates a Bear Keeper for a Day tour, where visitors can see how rescued Asiatic black bears and Malaysian sun bears are cared for, prepare food for them and hang alongside them—at a safe distance, of course.
Famed for its bamboo bridge, Kampong Cham is the place to go for some relaxation as time almost stands still in this compact rural city–more a small town.
Sitting approximately a two-hour drive from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s third largest city is the capital of the province with the same name. Serving as a thriving trading post under the French means Kampong Cham is dotted with ageing buildings from colonial times.
Nestled on the Mekong River, the charming town boasts a pleasant promenade that gets busy at dusk, and the iconic bamboo bridge, which was rescued from being scrapped last year.
Standing as the longest bamboo bridge in the world, it connected Kampong Cham with Koh Pen, a scenic island that is home to a cluster of villages.
The rickety 1km bridge had to be rebuilt annually once the rainy season passed and the Mekong water levels dipped. Despite its precarious positioning, vehicles of all kinds hurtled across this seemingly unstable structure, from horse and carts and motos, to cars and trucks.
However, the construction of a concrete bridge made the bamboo alternative obsolete. The bamboo bridge’s closure caused a bit of a stir, so the provincial chief decided to build a smaller version and has banned vehicles.
This destination is popular with the weekend Khmer crowd, who flock to the large lake about 30km south of Phnom Penh to enjoy picnics on one of the many floating bamboo pavilions that dot the edge. Locals also love to splash about in the water so don’t forget your bathers if you dare to join them.
A trip to Tonle Bati isn’t all about the lake. The area is also home to the ruins of Ta Prohm of Bati–not to be confused with Angkor’s Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm. Built by Jayavarman VII to house the Jayabuddhamahanatha statues, the gardens are well-maintained by a crew of elderly caretakers–it’s worth keeping a few small notes handy to give them a tip.
About 12km from the lake sits the impressive 11th century Phnom Chisor, which is perched atop a 133-metre high hill above Dok Por village. This requires another hefty hike up 461 steps, but the sweeping views make it worthwhile.
Kirirom National Park sits approximately a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital. At this mountain retreat, visitors can enjoy hiking through the cooling pine forests, where temperatures sit a good few degrees below the heat of the capital–leading to it being dubbed Cambodia’s mini Switzerland.
The national park was founded in the 1950s as the country’s first protected national park and is home to some of the country’s rarest and endangered animals.
Hiking and cycling trails snake through the forests (bikes can be hired from the resorts that dot the area), waterfalls and rivers can be swum in and Chambok Community Ecotourism Project gives visitors the chance to delve into village life.