Off the main tourist track in Cambodia

Cambodia is well known for Angkor Wat and other archaeological sites and also for the brutal history told through the mass-grave Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

But the country also has much to offer in nature and areas off the beaten tourist track, so my friends and I opted for these.

Ziplining above the trees

The Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap is not just home to thousands of temples, it also plays host to the Flight of the Gibbon, the only zipline canopy tour in Cambodia that enables people to "swing" from tree to tree in the park, which is part of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

There are 10 ziplines and four hanging bridges. I felt an initial adrenaline surge at the first zipline platform. But it was over in a matter of seconds, making me feel like I had reached the end too soon.

That only whetted my appetite for the longer ziplines.

The longest on this course was 300m long, with the highest station platform at 45m above ground.

It took us about three hours to finish the entire course. Our sky ranger guides took the time to explain instructions step by step.

At every platform, one of them went ahead to ensure that we landed safely on the other side while another went last to ensure that all of us got off the platform safely.

They also explained the flora and sights in the area. Unfortunately, the gibbons did not make an appearance while we were there, but zipping from tree to tree above the rainforest canopy was thrilling enough.

Saving the fauna

We were not sure what to expect at the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Centre, which was opened by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2000.

It is the only official wildlife rescue centre in Cambodia and some animals were said to be rescued from poachers' traps.

Located 45km south of Phnom Penh and an hour's drive away because of poorly maintained roads, the zoo is a popular place that locals visit on weekends.

As we drove down the dirt road, we saw many Cambodians begging by the road.

A common sight here, said our guides. And a depressing one.

When we reached the zoo, it started to rain and we only saw some deer and free-roaming monkeys.

We also saw gibbons kept in cages in which they could just barely swing around.

Given the inclement weather and the dreary state of the zoo, we opted to cut short our time there.

In hindsight, we realised we should have planned for a full-day behind-the-scenes tour of the wildlife rescue centre to learn about how rescue work was done instead of touring the zoo.

The lost city of Udong

An hour's drive north of Phnom Penh, Udong, which means the victorious, was the capital of Cambodia between 1618 and 1866.

It was, during various periods, sacked by the Thais, bombed by the Americans and blown up by the Khmer Rouge.

Today, what remain are several stupas.

Be prepared to climb plenty of stairs to get to the top.

But the reward is a beautiful view of the Cambodian countryside dotted with rice fields and sugar palm trees.

We had to walk up 151 steps before we could reached the first attraction, the Vihear Preah Ath Roes.

The vihara (Sanskrit for Buddhist monastery) and an enormous 20m-high seated Buddha, dedicated in 1911, were blown up by the Khmer Rouge in 1977. Restoration works were still going on during our visit.

Another temple, said to contain relics of the Buddha - believed to be an eyebrow hair and fragments of teeth and bones - was also being renovated.

The relics were stolen late last year but were said to have been recovered, our guides said, and are being kept in the Royal Palace while the temple is being restored.


I took a two-hour flight from Singapore to Siem Reap on Jetstar, then went on a seven-hour overnight bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. The US dollar is widely used in Cambodia, whose currency is riel.

■ Visit Mok Mony in Phnom Penh. The Khmer- Asian restaurant with a local chef is owned by a Malaysian-Canadian.

The food is fantastic and the service superb as the owner took the time to recommend dishes and also gave us tips on the city.

The signature dish is the grilled betel nut leaf with marinated beef.

■ Try the street food at the local market.

In Siem Reap, head for the local market that is farther away from the city than night markets along Pub Street.

There are many types of local food here, including snacks made from palm sugar, and dough sticks dipped in palm sugar.

This article was published by the Special Projects Unit, Marketing Division, SPH.

This article was first published on December 2, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.