You're cosying up with your spouse-to-be, scanning through pages of turquoise seas, fancypants hotels and experiences of a lifetime, trying to decide on a honeymoon destination. Chances are more than reasonable that Cambodia isn't at the top of your list for unforgettable romance, but if you want to stretch your budget without sacrificing the exotic, perhaps it should be.
Imagining photos of you and your newly-hitched frolicking on a white beach with a glass of something fruity in hand, with further fruitiness happening off camera? Smooching as the sun sets into the ocean? Feasting on freshly caught crab? Cambodia's islands make under-populated beaches accessible to the budget-conscious. The most expensive accommodation on Koh Rong Samloem, starting at $45 a night, is at Saracen Bay Resort, which has beautifully-made beach bungalows with a view to marry for.
Expat favourite Lazy Beach is also worth a look, with sensational sunsets on a private beach. Have a head for heights? Fall asleep to the sound of lapping waves under your treehouse at aptly-named Treehouse Bungalows on neighbouring Koh Rong.
If your honeymoon is setting the tone for your married life together, a bit of excitement should be a given. Instead of your spouse, get up close and personal with the elephants at the Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom for something a little bit different, and ethical. You could also get astride a motorbike (faster and with less stops for bamboo munching) and sling your hammock for an overnight jungle experience.
Battambang's Bamboo Railway is still providing fairground thrills through paddy on improvised ‘carriages', although rumours of its imminent demise have persisted for years. Recapture those heady days of whirlwind emotions by racing along over buckled rails — speed is relative when you're holding on to a slatted bamboo platform and the driver is applying the brakes with a stick.
Cambodian roads are sometimes no less exhilarating, on two or four wheels. Nature Cambodia will take you for the dirt bike ride to remember with an Easy Rider burn around the countryside, rider provided if you prefer watch the scenery from the pillion. Grab hold of the handlebars for a quadbike tour of paddy, forest and villages, with a visit to the Phnom Tamao wildlife centre and a sunset thrown in ($110 per person for a full day Blazing Trails tour, shorter and longer tours are also available).
It is almost a crime to visit Cambodia without making a trip to the temples at Siem Reap — which means they can get a little crowded, especially the must-see Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Phrom (yep, the Tomb Raider one). Think outside the guidebook and head to Banteay Kdei for a peaceful and beautiful daybreak with some genuine romance. When the sun sets, the often missed hilltop temple of Phnom Krom makes a great alternative to the crowds at Bakheng.
Of course, you can hire a tuk tuk or bicycles and rough it with the rest around the temples, but this is your honeymoon, right? You're high on love, why not get a bit higher? Helicopters Cambodia offer rides to suit most budgets: $90 per person for an eight-minute swoop over Angkor Wat and nearby temples, up to a whopping $430 for 48 minutes, including Phnom Krom. For a more graceful float, from June 2015, Aero Cambodia will be offering microlite flights for two for a really thrilling view of Angkor and amazing photo opportunities.
between December and March you could get airborne at sunrise or sunset for $125 for a 45 minute flight in a hot air balloon; if you like to maintain a connection with the ground, tethered hot air balloon ‘flights' are just $15 for 15 minutes throughout the day. Be warned, alas, of safety concerns; consider that you could be brought back to earth with a bump.
Chances are you'll spend some time in Phnom Penh, and this is one capital city where you can live it up without taking out a second mortgage. Surrounded by a lush garden inside the high walls of Phnom Penh's Pavilion, create your own colonial fantasy in a 1920s villa built by Queen Kossamak. Make like movie stars in a room with your own private pool (from $100 a night) and indulgent daily massages in the on-site spa. Not swanky enough? Then join the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin by booking in at Raffles Hotel Le Royal. The old world atmosphere starts with the doorman's outfit and continues through beautiful architecture and attention to detail. Rooms come with silk robes, bathtubs and butler service, but you'll have to bring your own sense of smugness.
If the wedding magazines have convinced you that no honeymoon is complete without an over-water hotel, try 4 Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong. This is glamping at its best: luxury tents with private terraces on floating pontoons. There's no WiFi, leaving you free to focus on moonlight swimming, misty mountains and dancing fireflies. The beautiful Tatai waterfalls and a private sunset cruise will provide picture perfect moments that will have you wondering why you didn't get married sooner.
Knai Bang Chatt, also known as The Sailing Club in Kep, is a beautifully simple and tasteful resort in the seaside town made popular by French colonialists. Although not cheap by Cambodian standards, do the currency conversion and you're likely to check the calculator. Private candlelit dinner for two at the end of the jetty? Done. Personal fishing tour to catch your dinner? Can. Stunning sunset previously enjoyed by Brangelina? Of course! Fill your days with seaview massages, yoga in the gardens and cocktails at the infinity pool, or get energetic (tsk, not like that!) with kayaks and windsurfing.
Siem Reap is blessed with a plentiful supply of chic boutiques and luxury hotels in iconic buildings. For an intimate feel, FCC Angkor in the former Governor's Residence is understatedly elegant with consistently good food. Rainfall showers and waterfall bath tubs will have you rushing back for your ablutions. For wow factor with a price tag to match, Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor and the Park Hyatt Siem Reap provide supreme levels of comfort after an arduous day of apsaras and architectural appreciation.
Before you head home, book in for some alternative wedding photos at a studio in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. These stylised, Photoshopped images are displayed in large scale format at Khmer weddings and take pride of place in many homes. It's honestly the best $15 you're ever going to spend, and you'll treasure the results.
Cambodia has all the ingredients for an exotic, laid-back honeymoon with plenty of romance and dates to rival The Bachelor. It might be time to revise that wedding list. Forget the toaster, add a Khmer phrase book!
Western side, Koh Rong Samloem
T: (016) 214 211, (017) 456 536
Koh Touch beach, Koh Rong, southeast side
T: (016) 594 177, (015) 207 719, (090) 900 740
Elephant Valley Project
Svay Jek Village, Sen Monorom, Mondulkiri
T: (099) 696 041
Choeung Ek (2oo metres before the Killing Fields), Phnom Penh
T: (012) 676 381
#658 Hup Guan St, Siem Reap
T: (063) 963 316
Jayavarman Airfield, Siem Reap
T: (097) 933 3101
#227 Street 19, Phnom Penh
T: (023) 222 280
By Abigail Gilbert
Last updated on 8th September, 2013.
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