Being the 3rd largest city in Cambodia, Kampong Cham offers a plethora of sights, activities, and culinary delights awaiting discovery. The city’s geographical layout predominantly comprises rural areas juxtaposed with a bustling city center, providing a delightful blend of experiences. You can immerse yourself in traditional Cambodian life through village tours and handicraft-making excursions and seamlessly transition into the urban hustle, partaking in the locals’ lunchtime food rituals.
Kampong Cham boasts a unique population mix within Cambodia. While the majority of the country is ethnically Khmer and follows Buddhism, Kampong Cham features a significant presence of Muslims, Christians, and individuals with ethnic Chinese backgrounds. This diversity allows you to savor a Cambodian melting pot, complete with various religious centers and, perhaps even more enticing, a wide array of culinary offerings.
Let’s embark on a journey to explore the best things to do in Kampong Cham.
Visit the Local Market
While this market does not seem to bear an official or distinct name, locating it is a breeze. Make your way to the Mekong Crossing Restaurant, and right across the street, a bustling scene of stalls and a lively crowd engaged in buying and selling goods will catch your eye.
This market epitomizes authenticity in Cambodia. Here, you will not encounter tourist-oriented gimmicks or merchandise. Instead, it serves as the go-to place for locals to procure their fresh produce, meat, and spices, as well as clothing, hardware, and toys.
You’ll have the opportunity to purchase locally grown organic fruits like mangoes and dragon fruit. Additionally, they offer dried seafood such as squid and shrimp—don’t hesitate to request a sample! Among the intriguing offerings, you might come across whole pig heads artfully prepared with cheerful expressions and live buckets teeming with marine life, including lively fish and frogs. Embrace the unique experience!
Sunset Boat Tour on the Mekong River
When you enroll in the Sunset Boat Tour, you’ll discover that it offers much more than meets the eye.
Your adventure begins as you embark on a boat journey along the Mekong River at approximately 3 p.m. An English-speaking guide will accompany you, sharing insights about Kampong Cham and the lives of the local fishermen you will encounter along the way. During your boat excursion, you will make two stops—one on the island of Koh Darch and another on the island of Koh Pene—where you can immerse yourself in the local village life.
As the sunset approaches, reboard the boat and savor a refreshing beverage. You’ll peacefully glide over the water, witnessing the sky’s transformation from blue to orange as you slowly make your way back to the shore.
Koh Paen Island
How does the idea of spending a day on a tranquil, rural Southeast Asian farming island sound to you? Rent a bicycle and make your way to Koh Paen Island, where you can explore small dirt roads that seem to stretch endlessly. At times, it may feel like you’re the sole inhabitant of this lush green landscape until you unexpectedly encounter a friendly farmer or a leisurely cow.
Take the initiative to ask these farmers if they can help you pluck a coconut from a nearby tree. The warm interactions and the refreshing coconut are truly worth the effort. Anticipate that local children will eagerly come out of their homes to greet you; don’t hesitate to exchange high fives throughout the day.
Make a point to visit local shops and purchase treats, even if you do not necessarily need them. You can also stop by a local restaurant for a soda, even if you are not particularly thirsty, as it is the connections you make with the residents of Koh Paen Island that make this place so special.
Phnom Srey and Phnom Pros Mountain
Embark on an exhilarating scooter ride to explore Mountain Pros and Mountain Srey, two mountains situated just to the west of the city.
Your journey to Mountain Pros, a modest peak standing at just 30 meters tall, promises a plethora of surprising and unusual sights. This mountain is adorned with a remarkable collection of pagoda temples, eccentric fruit statues, mischievous monkeys known for snatching food, and vendors selling sweet sugar cane juice.
On the nearby Mountain Srey, you’ll need to ascend a set of ancient-looking stairs comprising 308 steps, surrounded by vibrant green forests. Upon reaching the summit, you’ll encounter an ancient temple that has been abandoned and now lies in ruins, offering a breathtaking sight.
Between these two mountains lies a valley that the Khmer Rouge once used as a killing field during the genocide. However, there is no monument to visit, just a significant historical fact to be aware of.
The French Lookout Tower
If you happen to have a motorbike rental during your time in Kampong Cham, why not make a trip to the French Lookout Tower?
This tower, built with a Western design, stands out prominently in the area. It is located next to the river and was originally constructed to monitor river traffic, although such traffic is scarce on this wide river with small boats. Nevertheless, the tower offers some splendid views of the town. From its vantage point, you can observe traditional Khmer houses on stilts, get a glimpse into the daily lives of the families residing below, and even have the opportunity to witness a picturesque sunset.
If you do not have a fear of heights, you will be able to climb over 100 rickety stairs to reach the top of this structure. The tower is slowly deteriorating, which makes climbing it quite the thrill.
Chup Rubber Plantation
I bet you did not realize that rubber comes from trees. There are rubber plantations all over Southeast Asia, including one right here in Kampong Cham. Take your bicycle or motorbike to the plantation located approximately 20 kilometers outside of town.
The tall forest of rubber trees is a stunning sight. These majestic, leafy columns with incredibly thick trunks are perfectly arranged row after row, creating narrow pathways of dirt and light that run between them, reminiscent of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.
It is best to go in the morning to avoid the heat and also to witness the farm workers in action. You can take a peaceful stroll among the trees, and for just $1, you can enter the actual rubber factory where you will see the rubber being processed by noisy machines, with a man or two sitting in plastic chairs, seemingly half asleep.
Nokor Wat Ruins
This Angkor-era temple, built during the 11th century, features a similar architectural style to the famous temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
Inside this Kampong Cham temple, you will find tombs containing human remains from the Khmer Rouge genocide, along with wall paintings depicting scenes of death, torture, and souls transitioning to the afterlife. The atmosphere can be quite eerie.
To reach this site, you can either bike or take a tuk-tuk 1 kilometer from the town center toward Phnom Penh. Upon arrival, you may discover that you are the only tourist around. Nearby, you can usually find monks, whom you should approach politely and respectfully to request access to the temple. If you are a woman, it is advisable to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees.
Ko Paen Bamboo Bridge
Every year, without fail, the local community comes together to slice thousands of bamboo pieces, constructing a single long bridge across the dry land where water flows during the rainy season. This bridge serves its purpose just well enough for locals and curious tourists to cross during their day-to-day activities. However, as each year passes, the river erodes the bridge until it eventually disintegrates. And then, they build it anew! Whether for the joy of it or as a tradition, they appear content to continue without seeking a permanent solution.
If you are adventurous enough to ride your motorbike across, be prepared for a noisy and rickety journey. Alternatively, if you are more cautious, a leisurely walk will suffice to give you an understanding of the bridge’s nature. There’s a fee of $1 per person (tourist) for a round trip.
Enjoy a delightful and breezy afternoon ride along the Mekong River as you journey towards Kratie town. Located just 100 kilometers away, it will take you only a few hours to reach your destination, with breathtaking scenery along the route and plenty of reasons to stop for some delicious food.
Kratie boasts several natural wonders, including the Irrawaddy River Dolphins in the village of Kampi, excellent opportunities for bird watching along the river, and a turtle sanctuary run by an enthusiastic monk who may not speak English.
Keep in mind that Kratie is a traditional rural town, so dress respectfully with covered shoulders and avoid wearing short shorts. The locals will be delighted to welcome you to their town and even more thrilled if you make an effort to speak a few words of the Khmer language with them.
Phnom Hanchey Hilltop Temple
Get out of bed at around 4 a.m. if you aim to reach Phnom Hanchey by 5 a.m. for one of the most breathtaking sunrises you can witness in Cambodia. As the sun gradually rises, it casts its warm light over the mountains, valleys, villages, and the Kampong Cham River.
In the soft morning glow, take the time to explore the temple grounds. You will come across a traditional burnt orange roof crowning a pagoda adorned in gold and white. Nearby stands an exceptionally distinctive Buddhist statue reminiscent of a Hindu deity, featuring multiple arms and various implements. You’ll also encounter eerily lifelike statues of former monks that might make you half-expect them to spring to life at any moment. This site is not only a standout in Cambodia but across all of Southeast Asia.
Cheung Kok Village
Life unfolds quite differently from what you might be accustomed to in this NGO-sponsored rural village. Prepare for an enlightening experience in Cheung Kok as you witness the humble and simple lifestyles of its residents.
Entire families occupy one-room wooden teak houses elevated on stilts, nestled amidst lush banana trees and expansive farmlands. Many of these homes feature silk-weaving machines beneath them, where women dedicate their days crafting scarves and shirts to sell in local markets, supporting their families. Meanwhile, husbands toil in the fields, harvesting crops or taking on various tasks within the village. Young school children can be seen playing in the earth, radiating joy while clad in their official school uniforms.
You’ll encounter exceptionally warm hospitality here as villagers engage with you, offering insights into their daily lives. Consider hiring a tuk-tuk driver to provide you with a guided tour.
Q: Is Kampong Cham safe for tourists?
A: Kampong Cham is generally considered safe for tourists. However, it’s always advisable to take common safety precautions, such as safeguarding your belongings and staying aware of your surroundings.
Q: What is the best time to visit Kampong Cham?
A: The best time to visit Kampong Cham is during the dry season, which typically spans from November to April, as the weather is pleasant and conducive for outdoor activities.
Q: Are there any cultural etiquettes to be aware of in Kampong Cham?
A: When visiting temples or interacting with locals, it’s respectful to dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering sacred spaces.
Q: How can I get to Kampong Cham from Phnom Penh?
A: Kampong Cham is easily accessible from Phnom Penh by bus, taxi, or private car. The journey takes approximately 2-3 hours, depending on traffic and mode of transportation.
Q: What are the must-try street foods in Kampong Cham?
A: Some must-try street foods in Kampong Cham include Khmer noodles, grilled skewers, and fresh fruit shakes, which you can find at local markets and street stalls.