1. Mondulkiri province
Those who venture to Mondulkiri in Cambodia’s “wild east” will be rewarded by a land where the temperature drops by several degrees and rolling green hills stretch out in every direction. Just seeing such an unexpected landscape is reward enough for the four-hour car journey from Phnom Penh, but further exploration reveals opportunities to visit remote hill tribes – the Wehh Project provides ethical, community-run expeditions – and marvel at Bou Sraa, Cambodia’s most majestic waterfall, which rushes down three tiers in the middle of the jungle.
2. Kampong Thom province
For so long, visitors treated Kampong Thom as little more than a quick coach stop on the tourist route between the capital Phnom Penh and the temple town of Siem Reap. That was always a mistake, but just last year the area was given a boost when its Sambor Prei Kuk temples were named a Unesco World Heritage Site. The temples were completed in the 7th century, long before their more famous brethren at Angkor, and spending a couple of days exploring the quiet forest complex is a fantastic way to live out any latent explorer fantasies.
3. Preah Vihear temple
There aren’t many temples anywhere in the world that can give Angkor Wat a run for its money, but Preah Vihear is one of them. Located in the country’s far north, quite literally a stone’s throw from the Thai border, this 800 metre-long marvel is comprised of five gopura (stone gateways separating the temple’s five sections) with ancient staircases and walkways guiding visitors along the way. Incredibly well-preserved thanks to its remote location, Preah Vihear saves the best for last when its tranquil ascent ends at a cliff that drops 500 metres to the lush, emerald plains below.
4. The Bodleian
For those who still picture Cambodia as a dusty backwater, the refinement of Phnom Penh’s bar scene may come as a shock. It’s certainly no longer necessary to stick to hotel bars when searching for a well-crafted negroni or old fashioned, but the Bodleian, found in the capital’s BKK 1 neighbourhood, remains something of a secret. Art Deco flourishes abound, from the period furniture to the green-shaded banker’s lamps that set the mood for sipping one of the numerous high-end whiskies or signature cocktails on offer.
Rapidly becoming the darling of in-the-know diners in Phnom Penh, Labaab could not be more discreetly located. Hidden away inside a nondescript residential block above a pharmacy, those who hunt it out are rewarded with warm wooden interiors based on 19th century homes from Battambang province in the country’s northwest. The food is in thrall to the lower Mekong area, meaning a mix of Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes, but be sure to try the char kroeung – beef stir-fried with peppers, onions and the Cambodian herb paste known as kroeung.
A cute coffee shop by day, Menaka truly reveals itself after dark when a hidden stairwell whisks patrons up to Siem Reap’s first speakeasy. Although the space is fitted out with the requisite Chesterfield sofas and well-thumbed books, it is the drinks that are the star of the show here. Crafted by mixologist Annemarie Sagoi, the menu is presented on linen scrolls and inspired by three different eras in Cambodia’s history. Local ingredients abound, but a standout option is the Monsoon Perfume, which puts a spicy Khmer twist on a classic G&T by adding local mint and the country’s famed Kampot pepper.
Siem Reap’s high-end dining scene is going from strength to strength, with numerous exciting, young Cambodian chefs experimenting with modern takes on their nation’s cuisine. Arguably the most talented of the lot is Tim Pheak, who learned his trade at the country’s premier luxury resort, Song Saa Private Island. After culinary adventures in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives, Pheak is now running his own kitchen at Trorkuon in Jaya House Riverpark hotel. Elegantly plated and unafraid of testing diners with ingredients such as red tree ants, dinner here pushes boundaries in all the right ways.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking and seating requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
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