Away from the popular trips to Siem Reap, the seaside views of Sihanoukville, and the exploration of the capital itself, Kampong Cham in Cambodia is fairly off the beaten track. Also referred to as Kompong Cham (but sounding the same as the alternatively spelt version), the city itself resembles that of Phnom Penh with towers, reconstructed roads, and working lives aplenty. Nevertheless, it also taps into the provincial aspect of Cambodia: with a bamboo bridge to drive on, villages to cycle through, and wide views of the Mekong to take in Kampong Cham. You’ll delight in hidden gems nestled within Cambodia’s provincial cities.
The best way to reach Kampong Cham is by bus, which will take 3 hours and cost roughly between 18,000 and 20,000 KHR (4.50 - 5.00 USD) each way. Kampong Cham is also ideal for backpackers, as there is a string of hostels on the riverfront, and for those that want to experience a truer side of Cambodian life away from the tourist hot spots.
Cycle into the unknown
The town of Kampong Cham is a small but sweet area to take a look around in, with many developing sites mirroring Phnom Penh’s growing skyline. That said, getting around to these areas is best done by a bicycle that can be easily rented from the riverfront with the maximum charge per day being 12,000 KHR (3.00 USD). The wide views of the Mekong is one of the biggest delights of the provincial stronghold along with the famous Ko Paen Bamboo Bridge to the south of the town, which is only accessible in the dry season as the rainy season submerges the bridge, and the Ko Paen Island itself.
This shall be your first glimpse of life outside of the major cities and hotspots. You’ll also get a chance to explore the fields of growing pomelos, chillis, and jackfruit to tantalise your senses. When heading back into town, you can go to the other side over the Kizuna Bridge where you’ll be able to see the French Watchtower as a meeting point before cycling into the unknown yet beautiful parts of the province’s many villages.
Through the forests and ancient pagodas
The villages of the provinces around Cambodia are always a treat to explore for a variety of reasons, but the most memorable parts are the friendly waves you receive from locals, and the pagodas still standing the test of time amongst the trees and beautiful landscapes across eons of rice paddy fields.
Most villages have a small market that can be visited, should your Khmer skills be up to scratch, filled with local produce, desserts, and essentials at prices much lower than those found within the cities. Cycling through these areas allows you to fully experience Cambodian life away from the hustle and bustle, though be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water.
To top it all off, is the ability to discover a landscape view of the province with eons of countryside to gaze upon, as well as watching the local fishermen and women at work, collecting their food for the day.
The religious flair of the countryside
You’re never too far away from a temple or a pagoda in the provincial areas, with most standing the test of time from the Khmer Rouge period. Many of the pagodas are used as homes for villagers as well as safe havens, but others are abandoned with remaining beautiful structures surrounding them. Some even house the famous boats used around the time of the Water Festivals (referred to in Khmer as Bon Om Touk) in Cambodia.
If you happen to find a pagoda that’s open, and welcoming visitors, remember to keep your shoes outside of the building before you enter. In addition to keeping your shoes outside, it’s also recommended to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees as a form of respect before taking in some of the interiors that are often not seen by many tourists.
Test your phrasebook skills in Kampong Cham
There are many delights to the city itself, with various backpacker hostels to rest up in on the riverside, the friendly welcoming locals, and the chance to see the province all within a short space of each other. Kampong Cham city tends to be off the beaten track, but is definitely getting some traction as the city develops and the tourists come in their troves.
Should you fancy a trip outside of the city, be prepared to speak some Khmer whilst you’re out exploring those water refills and sugar boosts. However, if you fancy staying closer to the town then the Bamboo Bridge is a must, and with only an average spend of 40,000 KHR (10.00 USD) to reach there from the capital you’re guaranteed a cheap and easy getaway to a lovely riverside town.
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