I’ve had a love affair with South East Asia for 18 years now, but despite many visits, there are still a few countries that I haven’t seen. So, in March, I made my first trip to Cambodia on a 10-day solo tour. It was also a great chance for me to try out our fantastic local partners' products for myself. I always say that adventure travel doesn’t have to mean shared dorms and sweaty backpacks, so I tailored a bespoke itinerary covering the highlights of Cambodia, with some great tours and luxurious hotels along the way.
Days 1-3: Phnom Penh
Markets, mopeds and the mighty Mekong
On arrival into Phnom Penh I was met by my guide and driver and driven through the midday heat (37 degrees) to the historic Raffles Hotel. It was everything I had imagined and more! Shattered after my journey, my first afternoon was spent relaxing by the lovely pool.
Having spent many a first night in a new city feeling disorientated and wandering the streets for hours before settling on some random (often disappointing) restaurant to eat in, I decided this time would be different. So I booked a Vespa Adventures Tour and can honestly say it was the best first night I’ve ever had on a trip!
My Vespa driver picked me up at 6pm and we zoomed off to our first stop and to meet the others on the tour. Drinks on the rooftop of the historic Foreign Correspondents Club overlooking the Mekong River as the sun set, were followed by our next stop at a street-side seafood restaurant where we shared benches with locals eating the most delicious steamed fish, squid, baby octopus and oysters. The food was stunning, but that was just a snack! Back on the Vespa's, we whizzed through the city to the Elephant Bar at Raffles for their famous Femme Fatale cocktail (invented for Jackie Kennedy when she visited). Our next stop was dinner at a Cambodian restaurant with band playing and anyone who wants to, getting up to sing! Typical Cambodian dishes of barbecued frogs’ legs, stir fried beef with red ants, fish curry and rice – all absolutely delicious! Then a final stop at a hidden bar for margaritas before dropping me back at my hotel. It was so much fun and a great introduction to the city – and the frogs’ legs were a highlight!
With only one more full day in Phnom Penh I’d picked the key things I wanted to see. A morning wander around the city with a trip to the Russian market, before touring the Killing Fields and the S21 Genocide Museum. This was a sobering afternoon and wouldn't be for everyone, but I like to try and get under the skin of a country, and these tours were so worthwhile, and really helped me to understand Cambodia a little better, so I’m really glad I did.
The evening started with a lovely sunset cruise down the Mekong before dinner at Romdeng, a wonderful Cambodian not-for-profit restaurant giving training and jobs to street kids. The food and service were fabulous, and I even tried the local specialty of deep fried tarantula – pretty tasty, and yes, I ate every bit!
R & R in Kep
The next morning I said goodbye to Raffles and headed to the pretty coastal town of Kep, touring through Takeo province on the way, climbing the 390 steps to Phnom Chiso Pagoda, followed by a riverside lunch and a wonderful boat trip to Phnom Da Temple before arriving at the peaceful resort of Knai Bang Chatt, right by the sea. Dinner was spent with my toes in the sand, listening to the sound of the ocean – blissful!
After a few days of relaxing by the pool, spa treatments and evenings dining by the ocean, I was ready to see some more. An incredible 6am yoga session on the end of the jetty set me up for the day, then a 30 minute boat trip took me to Rabbit Island, where I spent the day swimming, having massages on the beach with great food provided by a fab little beach shack.
We ended the day with a visit to the famous Kep Crab Market, with crabs bought fresh from the ocean and steamed by one of the local ladies waiting with boiling pans of water. Tucking into the most delicious crabs ever using nothing but our hands, is one of those memories that will stay with me forever. Kep is such an unassuming little place, but together with my “barefoot luxury resort” it had stolen my heart, and truth be told, I didn’t want to leave.
Days 6-10: Siem Reap
Tuk-tuks and Temples
Before my short flight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap, we stopped off in lovely Kampot town for a wander, some lunch, and a tour around a Kampot Pepper Farm. After the peacefulness of Kep, arriving in Siem Reap, the busiest place I had visited yet, was quite a shock. I wandered around the vibrant night markets, then had a fab dinner in Sugar Palm restaurant before finally collapsing into my very comfortable bed at the fabulous Park Hyatt hotel.
The next morning was my first trip to Angkor. I didn’t know how I would feel about this as I’m not a huge fan of ancient history so I didn’t want to get “templed out” however, I needn’t have worried. We spent 4 hours touring Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. It was so spectacular; I could have happily spent more time at the temples. However, the heat was getting the better of me so I went back to town for a wander before relaxing by the pool.
The following morning, I was collected at 5.00am to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. This was truly spectacular and well worth the early start. After exploring Angkor Wat, we visited Ta Prohm before having the afternoon to shop and relax. In the evening my guide took me to explore some local spots, and my favourite was Road 60 – empty highway by day, street food market by night. Sitting on plastic mats by the side of the road watching couples strolling, whole families on motorbikes and everyone enjoying the local delicacies on offer was just fantastic.
I wandered the markets and shops of Siem Reap, zipped around by tuk-tuk and spent some time chilling by the pool to escape the heat of the day. A tour to the enormous Tonle Sap Lake (120km long) which included a boat trip on the lake itself, was a fantastic chance to see rural life and my final night’s entertainment was the wonderful Phare, Cambodian Circus, which is definitely one not to miss.
Cambodia was a fascinating country to visit; genuinely warm people, fantastic food and wonderful experiences. It was a great trip and my first time to the country, but one thing I’m sure of, it won’t be my last.
If you’d like to experience the delights of this amazing country, then please get in touch for your own bespoke itinerary.