Most travelers leaving Siem Reap either fly back to Bangkok and to onward destinations or to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. But there are several others destinations worth visiting for those with time to spare and a desire to learn about the culture of the country. Kratie, Kampong Cham, Batttambang and Sihanoukville have all become popular destinations for travelers.
There is a daily ferry from Siem Reap to Battambang departing at 7:30 am. The cost is approximately $25 per person and allows travelers to take in Tonle Sap lake. It can take from 4 to 10 hours depending on the season. Dry season takes much longer. Alternately, taxis or buses are available and take about 4 to 5 hours of road travel.
This is the second largest city in the country, and its laid back feel and local culture are a perfect entry into Cambodian culture. Stroll along the Sangker River in the evening, taste the local cuisine of fried spiders and other creepy crawlies, or watch the locals engage in rain gambling. Locals bet big money on how much rain will fall at a certain place at a given time. Watch for people on high ground with walkie-talkies keeping in touch with their rain-spotters who are in the fields watching the sky.
One of the best ways to view village culture in Cambodia is through a homestay. It was a fabulous experience and most visitors rate it as a highlight of their trip.
Most other destinations in this small country are reached via Phnom Penh, as most buses originate or end in the capital. Kompong Cham is a popular day trip accessible via bus. A local motorbike driver will happily act as guide to explore the town’s attractions. This is not a touristy area so the relaxed local pace is a nice change. Old Angkorian temples, local dances and NGO (non-governmental organizations) offer things to see and do. NGOs are active in Cambodia, to help orphans and street children and develop the country in a positive direction. The bamboo bridge is a pretty spot to watch the sunset, and the local market is a fun place to watch locals bargain for pig’s heads, local produce and everything in between.
It is possible to get to Kratie from here via boat. The slow boat leaves daily at 6:30 and noon and takes about 5 1/2 hours. The express boat leaves at 7 and 9 am and arrives in 3 to 4 hours. Kratie is famous for its rare Irawaddy river dolphins. Riding along the river is a great way to watch life along the river continue as it has for hundreds of years.
The small town has begun to attract visitors due to the rare freshwater dolphins. But it also has a nice riverside to stroll along, taste some local delicacies, and watch the sun set over the Mekong.
For a different facet of Cambodian life, head to the popular beach resort of Sihanoukville. Named after the former king, it is easily accessible from Phnom penh and offers a more cosmopolitan resort feel than the rest of Cambodia. The lovely white sand beaches and beach front bungalows combine to make a great beach getaway. Scuba diving, snorkeling and day trips to nearby islands are all available, as is a wide variety of fresh seafood and nightly entertainment.
Visitors heading to Cambodia will not regret taking some time to explore this charming country beyond Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. But all roads lead to the capital…