Created: 13 June 2012
Mention Cambodia, and most travelers' first thought will be of the amazing temple complexes at Siem Reap. Yet there's much more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat. "It's a country that's just getting on people's radar, and it's definitely worth going to see," says Myths and Mountains President Toni Neubauer. "It has fairly good infrastructure and varied ecosystems and people. I think it should be up there on the hotlist."
There are wonderful beach and jungle resorts, luxury tent safaris to magnificent but little-known temples, opportunities to see diverse wildlife, and of course a fascinating and welcoming culture. Yet most U.S. travelers experience only a fraction of Cambodia's diverse attractions.
"You just don't see a lot of American tourists doing any of this," Neubauer says. "They're missing out."
High on Neubauer's list of Cambodian favorites is the beach resort of Song Saa. One of Asia's premier luxury resorts, Song Saa is set on two private islands in the pristine Koh Rong archipelago. "If you're looking for a truly unique and beautiful beach experience you just can't beat it. A tropical nirvana," she says. Although expensive, the resort is good value because it includes all food and drink, as well as excursions and activities.
For those who don't want to spend the money to stay at Song Saa, good alternatives include Kampot and Kep, two other beach resorts that get very few American visitors.
Another Cambodian experience not to be missed is a temple safari into the jungle. Guests sleep in safari tents, with excellent cooks and staff. "There are zero tourists," Neubauer says. "You get to appreciate magnificent Khmer monuments that most people never see." Highlights include the extraordinary sites of Preah Khan and Beng Melea.
Among Cambodia's lesser-known draws are its varied nature and wildlife. As a good base for nature-based activities, Neubauer recommends 4 Rivers Floating Lodge on the Tatai River in the Cardamom Mountains. The Cardamoms are home to more than 550 species of birds and more than 100 mammal species, including such endangered species as the Malaysian sun bear and the clouded leopard, as well as rare rhinoceros, tiger, and elephant. From 4 Rivers, guests can visit local communities, go on kayaking tours and jungle hikes, visit waterfalls, and cruise on the river at sunset.
Another wildlife-related highlight that most Americans don't experience is seeing the critically endangered Irawaddy dolphin. This freshwater species can be spotted in the Mekong River near the town of Kratie, several hours upriver from Phnom Penh.
"There's a Cambodia that most people don't get a chance to wander," Neubauer says. "Now that mines are cleared and you don't have to worry about any of the politics, it's a wonderful, wonderful country to explore."