For those looking to break up the journey between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh whilst also gaining insight into everyday Khmer life, we highly recommend a stay in Kampong Thom. Although this city takes its name from its province, it is surprisingly understated and has a largely agrarian economy – you will feel a world away from the more cosmopolitan Phnom Penh. Locals are modest and friendly, making their living by working the local rice paddy fields and selling their wares in the town’s buzzing markets, and are always more than happy to show you around or point you in the right direction.
While the town remains relatively untouristed, those who do visit are often tempted by its relaxed charm and slower pace of life. A number of traditional guesthouses and more luxurious boutique hotels can be found here (our favourite being The Sambor Village), which ensure authentic stays in a Khmer atmosphere. Most lodges rent out bikes to their guests, allowing you to travel with ease through the town streets and surrounding area in local custom. Once outside the city’s confines, don’t forget to look up to the sky above as Kampong Thom is a haven for several rare species of birdlife including the Yellow-breasted Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat and globally threatened Manchurian Reed Warbler.
For days when cycling seems too much, we recommend taking a boat trip along the Stung Sen river to admire the picturesque scenery. Pass local fishermen, gold-adorned temples, and verdant paddies as you glide downstream and enjoy a trip at sunset for spectacular views.
Another highlight of the area is Sambor Prei Kuk, the ancient ruins of the Chenla Kingdom’s capital city that lie just a 45-minute drive away. The site predates the heavily visited Angkor temples by four centuries and offers visitors the chance to witness extraordinary historical remains in a far quieter environment. Officially instated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2017, we recommend visiting as soon as possible, before the international crowds start to set in.
Features in the following itineraries
- Matthew Nicklin, North India
- Jaime Benitez, South India
- Krista Weir, Sri Lanka
- Leslie Siben, India
- Mr Geoffrey Johnson, India
- Mr & Mrs Manson, North India
- Mr Richard Stoughton, Sri Lanka
- Mr David Wallace, North India