There are plenty of day trips and activities around Phnom Penh to keep visitors entertained outside the city centre. The wild Cambodian countryside is great to explore, but remember to take a guide as landmines still plague the terrain. And although the beach is a little distance away, there are still enough secluded spots to relax on the water close at hand.
Koh Dach Island
Usually crowded with local Khmers on the weekend, the 30sq/km island of Koh Dach features a superb local artisan crowd and popular beaches. Lying north along the Mekong, some 15kms from the Phnom Penh, a midweek visit will mean you’ll have the place to yourself allowing you to spend time with the local weavers, potters and wood carvers.
Tourist boats leave from the riverfront area while many organised day-trips include a stop here. You can also make your own way to Koh Dach by local ferry (US$1) which leaves from near the Chinese temple on the east bank of the Mekong, over the Japanese Bridge from the city centre. On the beach, private thatched huts with table service can be rented for US$1–$2.
Kien Svay (Koki Beach)
Similar in set-up to Koh Dach, with vendors and artisans plying their trade, Kien Svay is 15kms east of Phnom Penh on the road to Ho Chi Minh City. Teeming with locals on Sundays, which are to be avoided, the beach is not much to speak of but a nice break from the city heat. Thatched huts can be rented for around US$5 but make sure you agree on a price beforehand as they are run by unscrupulous businessmen. A nonetheless tranquil spot, Koki beach is easily reached by road via the NH1, with taxis and buses departing from Central Market whenever full.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is around 40kms from downtown Phnom Penh and makes for a fun and fascinating day trip. Trips are organised by Betelnut Tours and depart at 10:00, returning around 17:30 and 18:30 in the evening.Transport, traditional Khmer lunch and even moonshine are all included in the US$33 price, with the trip also offering highly recommended guides and a rare chance to hang out with older Cambodians and chew the infamous betel nut. While you can make it on your own, the Betel Nut tour affords access to areas off the beaten path, including visiting elephants at a watering hole and rescued tigers.
The former Khmer capital, established after the defeat to Thai forces at Angkor, was the seat of power in Cambodia for over 100 years before Phnom Penh was settled in 1866. Though the ruins are not as grand as around Angkor, the old monastic centre still features a number of 13th century temples and the views from the Oudong Mountains, particularly Oudong Temple, over the countryside are breathtaking.
Oudong is best seen by hire vehicle and sits an hour away on up the Mekong Delta. Another popular way to see the old city is by bicycle tour, with Spice Roads offering a mountain-bike day-trip which takes in stilted villages, vast rice fields, local markets and Khmer temples. The full-day outing, suitable to all fitness levels, includes all equipment, meals and transfers.
Tonle Bati and Phnom Chisor
Tonle Bati, south of Phnom Penh, is a popular lakeside picnic spot that draws the local crowds on weekends. The picturesque journey to the lake, through rural village and rambling countryside, also passes two fine Angkorian temples in this often overlooked region.
Further south, at its stunning hilltop location, sits the splendid sandstone Phnom Chisor temple complex which dates back to the 10th century.
The hill offers sweeping views of the Takeo province and Mekong delta for those who can clamber up the 503 steps. (Buses heading towards Takeo that pass Tonle Bati on National Road 2 depart every hour from the Phnom Penh Sorya Transport station. Entrance (US$7) is at the 35km road marker. Phnom Chisor is at the 55km marker, just look for the giant sign. Motos (US$1) make the four kilometre trip to the temple)
Phnom Penh Shooting Range
The notorious Phnom Penh shooting range is either a brilliant or disgusting experience depending on the individual. The range is a wildly popular institution for travelers who like guns, but certainly not for those who don’t. At US$40 per clip you can fire off as many rounds of an M16 or AK-47 as your heart desires, at a defenceless chicken or duck if you so choose.
Despite an urban legend which holds that you can bazooka a cow for the right price, nobody has met anyone who has done so. Best visited by taxi or tuk-tuk, you can travel to the range by yourself but the army base location and its razor-wire ringed jail are a scary sight for the uninitiated.