Travelling in Cambodia: Where to Go for an Active Break on a Budget
Cambodia is gradually getting back on its feet and receiving an increasing amount of positive press as a tourist destination. Home to Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the world, and a detailed account of the country’s troubled past at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, many people visit the country for the culture and history available. But travellers seeking a more healthy holiday lifestyle will not be disappointed either. Cambodia offers plenty of options for eating well and staying active, and fortunately, unlike other Southeast Asian travel destinations, Cambodia has not begun to brand itself as an ‘adventure’ or ‘retreat’ destination, so a health conscious travel doesn’t have to mean huge additional costs. Read on to discover where to go in Cambodia to stay active and stay on budget.
Before You Go
Eating healthily is easy in Cambodia. National dishes combine rice, steamed or raw vegetables, and tend to be protein rich. Seafood is popular in the south, and elsewhere fresh water fish is very common and comes fresh, salted, smoked, or made into fish sauce and paste. Cambodia has a strong agricultural industry with an increasing focus on producing organic goods without pesticides and chemicals; making fresh fruit and vegetables even healthier. Budget wise, always opt for local restaurants and look out for charity food kitchens, which operate in many towns to teach culinary skills to young Cambodians and provide them with an opportunity to work.
Active holidays in Cambodia are very weather dependent. During the wet season, trekking and biking might well be impossible because heavy rain and flooding make routes impassable. Many tour operators and activity organizers are only open during the dry season, which tends to be from May or June until the end of October.
For the budget conscious, Cambodia can be a very cheap country to travel around because most areas are connected by well organized and well established bus routes. Cambodia’s roads have had a fair share of bad press from online forums, but these days, due to regular repairs to the pot-holed passes and increasing competition between bus companies, unfortunate incidents are becoming much less frequent. For travel at your destination, private taxis and tuk-tuks are easy to find and relatively cheap, but cycling is recommended wherever possible because it is better exercise and because it allows more time to take in the natural landscape at no additional cost.
Staying Active When You Get There
Cycling in Siem Reap
Host town to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complex, most people visit this area exclusively for the temples. For a great start to the day, get lots of sleep, stock up on water and then cycle out to the temples before sunrise to appreciate their beauty and mystery at daybreak. The closest part of the temple complex is located approximately three kilometers from the centre of Siem Reap, but keen cyclists can easy cover over 50 kilometers in a day cycling between temples. Bikes can be hired for about three dollars per day from many hostels and hotels, or the bike hire shops dotted around the town centre. For more challenging cycle options around Siem Reap, join one of local guide, Chai’s off-road tours for a chance to explore the surrounding jungle areas, forest, rice paddies and small villages with active markets.
Trekking in Cardamom Mountain Region
This relatively untouched area on the western coast of Cambodia is starting to gain a good reputation for mountain biking, rafting and trekking activities. Traditionally, the area has been known for its history of logging and poaching, but charities are now working to help local villagers find alternative forms of employment. Take advantage of the villagers’ extensive knowledge of the area, and get out into the jungle for some serious trekking. Head to Chi Pat village in the Southern Cardamom region where guided treks start at about 11 kilometers and include overnight and three-day options for fitter travellers. Accommodation is basic and ranges from home-stay to hammock, but this ensures prices stay low (between $8 to $20 per person per day for trekking with a guide). Contact the Chi Phat Visitors’ Centre for more information: [email protected]
Yoga in Krong Kep
The towns of Kep (by the coast) and Kampot (on the river) in southern Cambodia are well worth a visit – or at the very least a detour on the way to or from Ho Chi Minh. Both towns have a sleepy, peaceful feel and make great destinations if you’re looking for gentle bike rides, long strolls and lots of fresh seafood. The Vine Retreat is an organic farm and bed and breakfast, situated within tuk-tuk distance of both Kep and Kampot, but is also nestled between the mountains and coastline for those who prefer to explore the surrounding countryside by bike. Guests can also join regular yoga retreat weekends, where yoga teachers from Phnom Penh teach yoga and meditation workshops surrounded by the beautiful Cambodian countryside. Yoga packages include accommodation and food, usually a wide variety of healthy vegetables, herbs, and fruits which are nearly all organically grown on the form or sourced from local suppliers.
Water Sports on the Southern Coast
The southernmost part of Cambodia opens onto the coast of the Gulf of Thailand and offers beautiful beaches, clear clean water and lots of options for water sports. Sihanoukville has come to be known as the party corner of the country, with lots of hostels and bars offering drink deals for backpackers. The health orientated traveller can enjoy this area, but would be advised to leave the Sihanoukville center and head for Otres Beach, which feels very far from the noisy nightlife. Those looking for more strenuous activities than sunbathing can visit the Otres Nautica Sailing & Kayaking Club where sailing boat and kayaks are available for private hire, or where you can join full day or overnight kayaking and sailing trips around nearby islands. Alternatively, for a real taste of island life, aim to see Koh Rong island, located two hours from Sihanoukville by chartered ferry. The island offers 43 kilometres of pristine beaches, and plenty of activities from trekking and biking, to snorkelling and diving.
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