When it comes to travel in Southeast Asia, Thailand often gets the first mention (no doubt thanks to its famous full moon parties and movie set references). However, if you’re looking to expand your travels to lesser-visited parts of the world, true adventurers find happiness with Cambodia tours. Beyond the scalloped spires of Angkor Wat, a country full of teeming jungles, floating villages, and decadent cuisines (fried tarantula, anyone?) awaits you! It won’t be long til you fall in love with the dazzling coastlines and rhythmic dichotomies that pepper trips to Cambodia. The best part? They’re only a tuk-tuk ride away.
Even though Cambodia isn’t a particularly large country, you’ll have plenty of options when deciding on a home base for your Cambodia adventure tour. Depending on the type of experience you’re after, you may want to focus on more coastal areas or stray inland to see just what the overgrown jungles have to offer.
Siem Reap. The launching point for flocks of visitors to the fabled ruins of Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is a worthy choice for reasons beyond its proximity to the famous temple complex. Although it is a popular tourist destination for Cambodia tours, Siem Reap also offers the chance to get off the beaten path. Whether you’re starting a trek through protected forests, learning about the complicated nature of volunteer tourism at local orphanages, or caring for rescued elephants at an ethical sanctuary, Siem Reap is the perfect place to get your Cambodian adventure started.
Phnom Penh. The capital city of Cambodia is a great choice for someone looking to get more of an urban feel with their adventure travel. Phnom Penh boasts palaces, temples, and western-style shopping malls alike, and its riverside location gives it unique access to outdoor adventures. You could head out on boat tours, horseback rides, camping and hiking adventures, or even rent a quad bike for a different vantage point of the city. After a day of gritty adventure, you could choose to relax in the opulent Raffles Hotel Le Royal, which has been a favorite of glamorous travel aficionados from Jacqueline Onassis to Angelina Jolie — just don’t be shocked by the New York City prices on the cocktail menu!
Rural Areas. To really dive into trips to Cambodia, you could forgo cities altogether and focus on a program in one of the various rural areas of the country. You could study resource management in the flowing waters of the Mekong River basin, volunteer at understaffed rural hospitals, and even work at a rescue sanctuary for Asiatic black bears and sun bears who have suffered from abuse. Living and working in one of the varied rural areas of this diverse country will open your eyes and challenge your ways of thinking; and while you may not run into the Hollywood version of Angelina, you’ll be more likely to see the Tomb Raider version somewhere among the overgrown temple ruins!
Adventure Tours in Cambodia
Adventure travel in any location is an exciting endeavor; along with the normal nerves about being in a new location, you’re willingly taking yourself even further out of your comfort zone and adding adrenaline-pumping activities to the mix. In a country that is as diverse and relatively “under the radar” as Cambodia, there are no limits to the type of adventure you could choose.
Along with more popular Cambodia adventure tours like backpacking and scuba diving, the country offers a host of other activities. In the aquamarine waters off the country’s coast, you could do your part to aid in ocean conservation by charting the health of the coral, recording marine life population information, and learning about sustainable fishing practices from traditional island fishermen. If your day’s work involved snorkeling past living jewels in an island paradise while feeling good about helping a worthy cause, you may find yourself explaining to your parents that your adventure travel in Cambodia has been extended indefinitely.
You could also take part in a tour that focuses on the Mekong River, the coursing lifeblood of Cambodia that is being irrevocably altered by population growth and technological advances. By combining a traditional river adventure full of rafting, trekking, and canoeing with a more in-depth look at the changing culture and economics of a developing region, you can be sure you’ll have an adventure travel experience that few will rival.
Adventure tours don’t strictly have to make you fear for your life or constantly involve strenuous outdoor activity, however. A unique option in Cambodia is an in-depth look at the changing politics of the country, and how the push for a more democratic rule affects things from environmental conservation to livelihoods. With homestays and meetings with regional experts in between adrenaline-pumping activities, you will get an intimate look at Cambodia’s complicated human rights history and the chilling effects of the Khmer Rouge. These hands-on trips to Cambodia may be less lighthearted than some, but it will leave you with a profound understanding and knowledge of global politics and international development.
Cambodia is nearly always hot and humid, no matter what time of year you go; if you’re hoping to stay a bit drier, you should aim to be there between November and March. However, prices drop during the rainy season between March and November, so be sure to take into account what matters the most to you! Weigh the pros and cons of avoiding frizz versus keeping your bank account happy.
Costs & Affordability
Cambodia tours are generally a safe bet for a cost-effective trip. Just try not to get too addicted to luxurious hour-long massages that only set you back about the cost of a beer in your home country; coming home again may be a rude awakening!
A plate of the most delicious bai sach chrouk you’ve ever encountered will only set you back about $2.00 at an inexpensive restaurant in Cambodia, and bus tickets cost about $1.00. Budgeting for your Cambodian adventure will be much easier than planning a semester in Paris as long as you are prepared for quite a different adventure than your Louvre-bound friends!
Most program costs include everything but the kitchen sink (AKA your plane ticket to Cambodia). This basically means housing, in-country transportation, support and guidance, and even food could be included. When you’ve found a Cambodia adventure tour program that suits your needs and adventurous tastes, be sure to check on what is included with the fee to make sure it’s an affordable option for you.
Some programs also offer scholarships to stellar students or to people who aren’t financially able to cover an adventure trip. Additionally, many people choose to fundraise for their adventure journeys online (hint: FundMyTravel); if your program aims to give back to local communities or better the world somehow, people are often far more willing to donate money towards that cause instead of the guy fundraising for an “epic” spring break trip in Cancun.
Accommodations & Visas
Ahh, the most dreaded part of any trip — figuring out the logistics (better known as having the correct answers ready when your mom grills you about how feasible this trip really is!). Luckily, getting to Cambodia is simple! You just need a valid passport for your airplane travels and a visa, which can be purchased at the airport on arrival for about $35. For the most up-to-date information about visa requirements in Cambodia, visit GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory.
Living arrangements are going to vary greatly depending on what program you choose. However, as you’re signing on for an adventure travel program in a developing country, the accommodations are most likely not going to be very ritzy. Whether signing up for Cambodia tours that organize a homestay with a Cambodian family or you stay at a yoga retreat center, you’ll get the most out of your living arrangements if you go into it with an excited, adaptable, and flexible attitude!
Benefits & Challenges
Besides the affordability and natural splendor of Cambodia, the country also just has a general sense of contentment. While many places boast cliche taglines such as “friendly locals,” there does seem to be a consensus among travelers that Cambodians are some of the most welcoming and inviting people of any country. It’s not uncommon for complete strangers to approach you who simply want to practice their English or welcome you to their home. Many people have noted the almost incredible contrast between this easygoing environment and the dark history of Cambodia’s killing fields and genocide; seeing people rise beyond the horrors of the past is life-changing inspiration.
As with any strenuous travel program, adventure travel certainly has its drawbacks. In the humid environment of Cambodia, there will almost certainly be times when all you want is an ice-cold shower and some air conditioning instead of yet another day of jungle slogging. Many adventures cite physical and mental exhaustion by the end of their trips to Cambodia. It’s important to really reflect on why you want to do a trip of this sort; if being covered in a constant sheen of sweat sounds like torture, then you may want to rethink an Asian adventure program, or an adventure program altogether.
But let’s be real, sweat is really just sparkle, right!?
Travel of any sort broadens your mind and builds a deep connection with the world around you. Adventure travel programs in Cambodia, in particular, can be life-changing in a different way. By getting off the beaten path and really learning intimate details about local conservation or social change efforts here, you’ll find yourself becoming a more aware and empathetic person in all aspects of your life. Huzzah!