The serene temples of Siem Reap may not conjure up images of white-knuckle adventures for adrenaline addicts, yet there are an ever-increasing number of opportunities to ramble along little-trodden routes and escape the crowds by foot, bike, horseback and petrol power. Here’s a roundup of some of the best adventurous and active ways to see famous Angkorian antiquities and contemporary rural life.
Hiking in a tropical climate might seem just a little nuts as putting up with the heat is likely to be your main endurance test. But this slower pace of travel can be worth the sweat. Kbal Spean is a great one-day trip from Siem Reap by car with of a short trek – a slightly uphill hike along a jungle forest trail to reach the River of 1000 Lingas. However, for more impressive and expansive views, climb up the 633 steps to the summit of Phnom Bok, with a temple atop. You can cycle there – if you’re keen – otherwise it’s a 45-minute tuk tuk ride from the central temple complex to the base.
Heading further away opens up more possibilities. The low-lying plateau of Phnom Kulen, “Mountain of the Lychees”, is home to a waterfall and only moments beyond hides plenty of tourist-free terrain. Don’t be too daunted by the name “Phnom” translating as “Mountain”, since it’s used a bit liberally to describe anything that’s not flat as a pancake. Specialist tour operators run full-day hikes as well as overnight camping – you’ll need a guide who knows the area.
Short on time and with a lower budget, you can always stick to the heart of the Angkor Archeological Park where the shady forested paths high up on the laterite walls of the ancient city of Angkor Thom provide a quiet walking route. Although no signposts point out that you can climb up these walls, it is square, so once up you can’t get lost!
Though you might not reach Tour de France cycling speeds given the ever so occasional (!) bumps in the roads, you’re likely only to find hill-free paths, making bike rides accessible to all. It’s as simple as hopping on the rental bike likely available at your guesthouse or hotel to tour the temples or renting a decent mountain bike to find that only 10 minutes from the city centre you reach paddy. Grasshopper Adventures run countryside tours and offer mountain bike rental.
If you’re British you probably triumph at sports that involve sitting down. Happy Ranch is happy to oblige with horse-riding for all levels of ability in picturesque corners of Siem Reap – though no lessons are given. If you’ve got young ones it tow, an ox-cart ride is a fun alternative.
Speeding up the pace somewhat, but staying sat down, motorcycle and quadbiking tours are ways to get further afield if the energy from sugarcane juice alone isn’t getting you far enough, fast enough. In dry season expect the Cambodian equivalent to a spray on tan as the dust from the rusty red coloured paths sticks to you skin, and in the wet season don’t wear your finest attire either as you’ll probably come back caked in mud.
On water, an alternative way to explore the great Tonle Sap is by kayak – a ‘soft adventure’ activity likely to develop more over time given the wonderful opportunities to paddle alongside floating homes and by stilted houses. Kompong Phluk is particularly charming given the seasonally flooded forest, where typical day tours include a short stint being canoed in a wooden boat. Unique Kayak Cambodia run day kayaking trips on the lake.
The newest option to connect with your wild side is the Flight of the Gibbon experience, which opened in 2013. Zip lines see you soar across the canopy from tree trunk to tree trunk. Fun, even without any gibbons found in the habitat.
T: (012) 462 165
1.5km south of town
T: (016) 920 002
Quad Adventure Cambodia
T: (017) 784 727
Unique Kayak Cambodia
T: (097) 456 31 31
Flight of The Gibbon
T: (096) 999 9101
By Caroline Major
Last updated on 4th February, 2015.