1) The Highest Summit

Phnom Aoral (Kampong Speu)

Summit of Aoral

Foreigners in Cambodia generally come from places where we care about our highest peaks. Some of us even do whatever it takes to summit these. For some reason, no one ever asks about Cambodia’s highest mountain. It may come as a surprise that Cambodia has a 1813m mountain (6000ft in American) and it’s not even that far from Phnom Penh (on a map).

Foreigners in Cambodia generally come from places where we care about our highest peaks. Some of us even do whatever it takes to summit these. For some reason, no one ever asks about Cambodia’s highest mountain. It may come as a surprise that Cambodia has a 1813m mountain (6000ft in American) and it’s not even that far from Phnom Penh (on a map).

At the base of the mountain they told me that every couple of years a group attempts to climb the mountain but many turn back before the top after misjudging it’s difficulties. For example, it would be pretty crazy to try and hike this mountain in a day so you’re going to end up sleeping on the mountain. You’ll never say it doesn’t get cold in Cambodia again!

Then there is the lack of water – maybe I will drink from those puddles now. Also the access – don’t let the rivers sweep away your moto/bike. The trail isn’t very clear either, so best get a guide.

2) Hit The River

Raft the Mekong

Raft complete with makeshift sail

The river networks are traditionally Cambodia’s lifeblood. It only makes sense to get immersed in them. Whether the Mekong, one its tributaries or the Tonle Sap, get hold of a boat, raft, kayak, or paddle board. It doesn’t really matter. We found it quite the experience asking riverside dwellers near Kampong Cham if we could use some of their old banana trees and bamboo to make a raft and sail back to Phnom Penh.

3) The Real Cardamoms

Beyond the Ecolodges (Koh Kong, Pursat)

Old Bridge Crossing

Visit the Cardamoms! It was wonderful – I went to Koh Kong city riverside, rainbow lodge, 4 rivers, Tatai waterfall, even Chi Phat! Bah! It’s the Cardamom Mountains. I don’t remember seeing any of those where highways go. The Koh Kong / Pursat border runs through the real Cardamoms and the gateway is Pramoay (Veal Veng as some say) in southern Pursat. After this, there’s no 4 wheels allowed. Get on the 250cc or preferably mountainbike and hit Smuggler’s Trail. It’s advisable to visit the Cardamoms fast before the Chinese muck it up with Hydrodams and other excuses to clear the forest.

4) Remote Temples

Outside the Tourism Circle

Exploring other temples at Koh Ker

The definition of remote temples is changing all the time as roads get paved and the tourism circle around Siem Reap grows larger and larger. My favourites are still probably Koh Ker and Preah Khan (Prasat Bakan) but it is still an adventure to visit Bantay Chhmar and Prasat Preah Vihear. Even these not remote anymore? Well how about Phnom Chisor and Phnom Da in Takeo? As with all these trips, its the journey that’s most of the fun so bigger temples doesn’t always mean better.

5) Fringe Islands

Visit While They Last

Long stretch of beach on one of Cambodia’s fringe islands

Again, the definition of fringe islands is changing all the time as roads get built and guesthouses pop up (there’s got to be 20 guesthouses on the Koh Rong’s by now!). That just means you have to push further and look more remote. How about Koh Kong island? Ko Totang off the coast of Botum Sakor national park in Koh Kong? Koh Thmei? Or why not go out on a limb, hire one of those lazy looking boats near White Horse statue in Kep and point to a random deserted non-pirated looking island (or just to Kampot while they fix that stupid highway).

6) Kirirom Mountain Biking

Get There Before Sokha Resorts (Koh Kong)

Kirirom mountain is hands down the best place for mountain biking in the country. Most people only visit a small area of the mountain, namely a congested waterfall picnic area. Outside this, there are networks of trails which could keep you busy for days. Aside from biking, there are ample camping opportunities as well as trekking, for example to Phnom Dat Chvit (end of the world) which has views to the north over a cliff face.

7) Hydrodams

The Old and the New

Kep Dam Even after 10 or 15 trips to Kep, there are always new options for adventuring. This time Steve discovered an old abandoned hydrodam, hidden in the mountains which looks as if it’s been dried up for half a century at least.

For some reason the journey to find both the old, new and abandoned hydrodams in Cambodia are facinating. They are always located in remote areas and the new ones have tight security and are usually breaking a number of environmental laws, which adds to the adventure. First there are the old abandoned dams. I went to Kep a dozen times before I stumbled upon it’s abandoned dam nestled in the hills. Then there’s refirbished dams from the 60s like Kirirom 1 which can be accessed by an amazing mountain bike trail off the south side of Kirirom Mountain. Finally, the controvercial new dams. To get a peek at Kamchay in Kampot province you have to sneak around a few security posts and to get a glimpse of Steng Atay in Pursat you have to cross the Cardamom Mountains in the process.

8) Underground Complex

A Strange History Lesson (Kampong Chhnang)

Exploring the secret underground complex

A Phnom Penh Post article in March 2010 first tipped me off to the existance of this site. Someone had stumbled upon Khmer Rouge era underground tunnel and complex network not far from the Kampong Chhnang district capital. The complex was built along with the massive airstrip nearby in 1977 by forced labour and under supervision of Chinese engineers. I only found the place after giving up and stopping at a noodle stand, which just happened to be a few hundred meters from the entrance. The kids around there knew all about adventures in the hills.

9) Abandoned Airstrips

Just Pick a Province

Abandoned Airstrip in Kampong Chhnang

There are currently only 3 active (public) airstrips in Cambodia but nearly every province had one or two at one point. One of the best is near Kampong Chhnang (the biggest in Asia when first constructed) and the one near Kampong Cham has a cool hillside bunker. Battambang’s strip is worth a race and it’s hard to miss Sen Monorom’s.

10) Mountain Fortress

Phnom Baoh Dambang (Kampot)

Phnom Baoh Dambang

Phnom Baoh Dambang We’ve known about this old coal mine mountain not far from Kampot for years but never had a chance to check it out. You can see it from the road on the way to Kampot from Phnom Penh and it looks like a fortress on top of a mountain. There is also an old French-era railway bed that spits off the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville line and ends at the mountain so 50 years ago this would have been a buzz of excitement. Finally, Tim and Steve had the chance to ride our bikes out to this mysterious hill and check it out. Most of the area is in ruins but there is a creepy stairway up the mountain and a bunch of abandoned shafts and caves. The views from the top of the mountain are also spectacular.

If you know when to look, it’s possible to see this strange mountain on the way to Kampot from Phnom Penh. There’s quite a bit of mystery surrounding the place and probably a strange history lesson. To say any more would ruin the surprise and exploration potential.

11) Jungle Plane Wreck

The Last Flight Before The War? (Kampong Speu)

Mark looking into the wreck

It doesn’t get much better than questing to find wrecked airplanes in remote jungles. One such wreck can be found with a bit of research as it was one of the last ones to go down before the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh.