Cambodia is catching up with its more-developed neighbours: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have plenty of activities, but the South Coast offers water sports and the northeast is the place for a walk on the wild side. Whether you are hiking, biking, ascending peaks or plumbing depths, Cambodia delivers the action.
With so much water around the country, it's hardly surprising that boat trips are popular with visitors. Some of these are functional, such as travelling up the Tonlé Sap River from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, or along the Sangker River from Siem Reap to Battambang. Particularly in the wet season, when the Mekong is in full flow and the Tonlé Sap at its maximum extent, do as the locals do and travel by boat.
Where to Go
Kampot The riverside town of Kampot offers boat trips upriver to mangroves and downriver to isolated beaches and the open sea.
Mekong River The mother river flows through the heart of Cambodia and offers some rewarding opportunities for discovering tranquil islands and quiet homestays along the Mekong Discovery Trail.
Cambodia is a great country for adventurous cyclists to explore. Given the country’s legendary potholes, a mountain bike is the best bet. Some roads remain in poor condition, but there is usually a flat unpaved trail along the side. Travelling at such a gentle speed allows for much more interaction with the locals. Bicycles can be transported around the country on the roof of minibuses.
Cycling around Angkor is a rewarding experience as it really helps to get a measure of the size and scale of the temple complex. Mountain biking is likely to take off in Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri Provinces over the coming years, as there are some great trails. Guesthouses and hotels throughout Cambodia rent out bicycles for around US$2 per day, or US$7 to US$15 for an imported brand.
Where to go
Battambang The beautiful countryside around Battambang is perfect for two-wheeled exploring.
Kampot Pedal along rivers, through rural landscapes and out to organic pepper farms that dot the Kampot province.
Koh Dach Silk Island is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh on two wheels.
For experienced riders, Cambodia is one of the most rewarding off-road biking destinations in the world. The roads are generally considered some of the worst in Asia (or best in Asia for die-hard biking enthusiasts). There are incredible rides all over the country, particularly in the provinces of Preah Vihear, Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri and the Cardamom Mountains, but it is best to stay away from the main highways as traffic and dust make them a choking experience.
The advantage of motorcycle travel is that it allows for complete freedom of movement and you can stop in small villages that Westerners rarely visit. It is possible to take motorcycles upcountry for tours, but only experienced off-road bikers should take to these roads with a dirt bike.
Motorcycles are available for hire in most popular tourist destinations. Costs are US$5 to US$10 per day for a 100cc motorcycle and around US$10 to US$25 for a 250cc dirt bike.
Where to go
Cardamom Mountains Not for the faint-hearted, the Cardamom Mountains offer some tough jungle trails north to Pailin or Pursat. Seek an experienced operator.
Ratanakiri Province Red-earth Ratanakiri offers some rewarding biking for experienced riders, including the notorious old 'Death Highway'.
Snorkelling and diving are available off the coast of Sihanoukville, and while the underwater scenery may not be as spectacular as in Indonesia or the Philippines, there is still plenty out there in the deep blue yonder. It's best to venture to the more remote dive sites, such as Koh Tang and Koh Prins, staying overnight on a boat. There are many unexplored areas off the coast between Koh Kong and Sihanoukville that could one day put Cambodia on the dive map of Asia.
As the Cambodian coast takes off, there are more water sports available, including boating, windsurfing and kitesurfing off the beaches of Sihanoukville. In Kampot, stand-up paddleboarding has taken off in a big way and it's a great way to appreciate the river scenery.
Where to go
Kep Hit the waterfront Sailing Club to rent a hobie cat sailing boat or windsurfer to explore the calm waters off the coast.
Kampot Explore the river and mangrove channels on a stand-up paddleboard, or laze around in an inner tube if that sounds like too much hard work.
Sihanoukville Water sports capital of Cambodia; choose from diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, wake-boarding, jet skiing and more.
Trekking is not the first activity most people would associate with Cambodia, due to the ongoing presence of landmines, but there are plenty of safe areas in the country – including the nascent national parks – where walking can be enjoyed. The northeastern provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri, with their wild, natural scenery, abundant waterfalls and ethnic-minority populations, are emerging as the country’s leading trekking destinations.
Cambodia has an established network of national parks with visitor facilities; Bokor National Park, Kirirom National Park and Ream National Park all offer day trekking potential, while Virachey National Park in Ratanakiri has multiday treks. Chi Phat and the Cardamom Mountains also offer the possibility of a walk on the wild side.
Angkor is emerging as a good place for gentle walks between the temples; as visitor numbers skyrocket, this is one way to experience peace and solitude.
Where to go
Koh Kong Province Coastal gateway to the Cardamoms, Koh Kong has several trekking companies offering jungle treks around Tatai.
Mondulkiri Province One of the most rewarding trekking destinations in Cambodia thanks to cooler climes, Bunong minority encounters and thundering waterfalls, not to mention tracking elephants or gibbons.
Ratanakiri Province Choose from gentle treks to ethnic-minority villages or hard-core treks into the heart of Virachey National Park.
Cambodia is home to rich and varied wildlife that has somehow survived the dramatic events that engulfed the country in the past decades. Big cats, small cats, elephants, primates and some curious critters all call the Cambodian jungle their home, and it's possible to see them across the country. Birdwatching is a big draw, as the country is home to some of the region’s rarest large waterbirds, including adjutants, storks and pelicans.
Where to go
Kratie Province Extremely rare freshwater river dolphins inhabit stretches of the Mekong River between Kratie and the Laos border.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre So much more than a zoo, this wildlife sanctuary offers behind-the-scenes tours to meet the animals.
Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary Cambodia's world-class bird sanctuary; see rare waterbirds like the spot-billed pelican, black-headed ibis and painted stork.
Ratanakiri Province This remote jungle province is home to a pioneering gibbon-spotting project.
Siem Reap Visit the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, where rare animals, including the giant ibis, pangolin, silvery langur and leopard cat, can be seen.
Ziplining in Cambodia
Ziplining has recently taken off in Cambodia. Angkor Zipline offers the longest zipline course in the country with 10 lines and the chance to spot some gibbons in the wild. Mayura Zipline is a new adrenaline-fuelled adventure above the Bou Sraa Waterfall in Mondulkiri Province. There is also a zipline on Koh Rong if you need more than a beach buzz, and a super-scenic and affordable canopy tour at BeTreed Adventures near Preah Khan of Kompong Svay. Ziplining doesn't come cheap though – Angkor Zipline charges around US$99 per person and the Mayura Zipline around US$69 per person.
Quad bikes or ATVs are growing in popularity in Cambodia thanks to the prevalence of dirt roads across the country. Siem Reap has three operators offering countryside tours around temple town. Phnom Penh has one quad-bike outfit, which offers a very different experience to city life. Prices for quad biking range from US$25 per hour to more than US$100 for a full-day adventure.
Rock climbing is very much in its infancy compared with neighbouring Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, but there is a climbing outfit down in Kampot Province where the landscape is peppered with karst outcrops. Climbodia offers cabled routes up Phnom Kbal Romeas, about 5km south of Kampot town, from US$35 for a half day.