Family Travel: 10 Sights you must see in Cambodia

This summer we took a family holiday to Cambodia. I’ll write about our experiences soon, but as an appetiser (a crispy fried spring roll, if you like), I’m going to tell you about some of the weirdest things we saw. The incongruities of life in Southeast Asia, compared to life as we know it in the UK were quite honestly mindblowing, and I want to remember those moments when we stood open-mouthed and stared, or simply got fits of the giggles together. Because those are the stand out moments you remember about your holidays, right?

10 Weird but Wonderful Cambodia must see sights

The contrast between the new and the old is startling. The bright yellow gold turrets of palaces and temples stand garishly side by side with the construction cranes of modern skyscrapers. Cambodia is a country in such enormous transition. Three decades of Khmer Rouge rule pretty much decimated the cities and laid waste to the agriculture. We travelled on an organised tour with the Family Adventure Company, and our guide pointed out that a whole generation of people is missing – you don’t see many people over the age of 50 – thanks to the régime’s habit of killing anyone with an education, and starving everyone else with their failure to maintain the country’s rice production.

Royal Palace Phnom Penh


They have had it rough, the Cambodian people, and yet they are constantly cheerful, with an optimism and resilience that can only come as a result of getting through the worst, and finding that you’re still here. They are just getting on with life, building the new, and restoring the old.

Trees growing on the roof. If you lived in Cambodia in the 12th century, you might have been tickled to know that nine thousand years later, your carefully constructed temple would be smothered by tree roots. But that’s what has happened at Ta Prohm, the temple made famous for its starring role in the 2001 film, Tomb Raider. Fig, Banyan and Kapok trees have mercilessly spread their roots down through stone walls, as the silt of the ground has risen, poking into crevices, and taking ownership of what was once painstakingly crafted for a King. It’s a surreal experience to stand at the base of a tree and know that a civilisation is now below the current ground level.


Villages floating on water. On the edges of the Tonlé Sap mangroves are entire villages – including schools, churches, and restaurants – floating on boats and platforms. The residents fish for  their livings, moving seasonally when the waters recede, and again for the rainy season.


Floating village at Tonlé Sap

Whole families on a moped. On our first afternoon in Cambodia we laughed a lot about the things we saw travelling by moped or bicycle. By the end of our trip we didn’t bat an eyelid – we’d seen it all. Tiny babies, animals, multiple sacks of rice, and once, 7 people sandwiched onto one moped. This is one thing you simply must see in Cambodia!

Coconuts on a bike

Pedestrians sharing the road with cars. You need nerves of steel to cross the road in Cambodia. We found a crossing point with a green man once, and waited for the traffic to stop for us. It didn’t. To stop traffic you just have to keep walking. Step out into the road, and everyone slows down to let you walk out. After the first time you barely even think about it. And it’s not just crossing the road that puts you in with the mopeds as a pedestrian. It’s near impossible to walk along the pavement, because every square inch is often filled with tables, barbeques, bikes, and merchandise. It can get irritating, until you remember that UK bureaucracy means that no one is allowed to stand outside their favourite pub on a summer’s evening.

Prawn pagodas. Pagodas and temples are everywhere in Cambodia, and their statues and shrines don’t always have the most obvious icons (to westerners). We saw this frankly giant Buddha, as well as a huge model of a prawn outside one of the pagodas in Phnom Penh province.

Shrine superstores. Given their commitment to their religion, it shouldn’t be surprising, but I did find it amusing to see huge stores – like our DIY retail park outlets – full of Buddhist shrines dotted all along the major highways. You know, in case you fancied picking up a giant Buddha on your way to lunch. On the back of your moped.

Birds on a bike. On the streets of Phnom Penh it’s not unusual to see a cage full to brimming with small birds, travelling on a moped. At first we worried they may be headed for a deep fat fryer – after all, a box of skinned frogs is a common delicacy at the food markets! But no, these birds were headed to one of the many pagodas, to be released to attract good luck. They were going too fast for me to get photo!

Monks on mopeds. You’ll see monks everywhere in Cambodia, not just in the temples. We saw a monk using a mobile phone as he rode his moped, and monks taking selfies on the Bamboo Train. Although they are considered holy (they must not be touched by a woman) many of the monks you see going about their day to day life are actually there for an education. Our guide explained that when a family can’t afford to send their son to college, they will instead send him to be a monk, where in return for his work in the temple he will be given a free education, before returning to secular life. It’s accepted practice that monks will go out round their village collecting alms, and people donate what they have willingly, for the upkeep of the temple, and these young men.

Even monks like selfies! These buddhist monks are videoing their trip on the Bamboo Train, in Battambang, Cambodia
Selfies on the Bamboo Train

Cars full of fish. Not kidding, if the Cambodian people want to transport a product, they will find a way. We spotted this car, its passenger seats piled high with fish, ready to go to market!

You will see all sorts of unusual sights in Cambodia. This car full of fish was on its way to market!

Rain so heavy that young men will take a shower in it – complete with shampoo and shower gel!

We were guests of the Family Adventure Company this summer on a family tour of Cambodia. All views are my own, and if you’re considering seeing Cambodia, their Cambodia family holiday is a great way to do it.

Read the full rundown of highlights from our trip to Cambodia here.

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Cambodia is one of the most unusual places you'll ever visit. Discover some of its history as we learned it on our family holiday, and the weirdest things you'll see while you're there. Click through for some weird and wonderful Cambodia facts.
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33 thoughts on “Family Travel: 10 Sights you must see in Cambodia”

  1. Oh how lovely. I’ve been to Cambodia once, but it was for work, so wasn’t able to go around like a tourist. Would love to take my daughter and husband back! Lovely photos too.

  2. Not sure if you had seen the documentary that Jack Whitehall did with his dad but one of the stops on their tour was Cambodia and they ate some pretty disturbing things like a rat! I have to agree with you on the contrast between the old and the new but it is beautiful x

    • Oh! No I haven’t seen that – I’ll try and find it on catch up somehow. There were actually snack carts going round Siem Reap with fried scorpions and other bugs on them to buy and eat. We resisted!

  3. What an amazing experience this holiday must have been. Love that the men were showering in the rain and still trying to fathom how to get 7 people on one moped – the car full of fish made me feel ill though!

  4. It is interesting seeing the weird and wonderful things in Cambodia compared to the UK, imagine just stepping out in front of traffic they would think you’re suicidal and arrest you lol

  5. What the Cambodians suffered is just such a hard thing to get your head around. Such a beautiful country to experience #MondayEscapes

    • Really made an impact on all of us – I remember hearing about it on the news at the time, but I had no idea how bad it really was!

  6. Wow! A car full of fish really does take the biscuit…just when you think you’ve seen everything! I’d love to see monks on a moped in the flesh! What an eye-opening trip! Thanks for sharing on #MndayEscapes

  7. I’ve been to Cambodia but it was years ago. I’d love to go back. The car full of fish is hilarious! Loved your whole line up! #mondayescapes

  8. Oh Helen this ‘crispy friend spring roll’ summary made me laugh out loud! I LOVE the pics of the car loaded with fish and the guy taking a shower in the rain is just hilarious! I remember seeing whole family’s riding on mopeds in Vietnam too, it amazed me how much they could fit on one tiny moped! Thanks for linking up to #MondayEscapes I cannot wait to read about the rest of your trip. What a once in a lifetime experience;)

  9. Love these photos and memories from your trip. It really is another world. I remember being in Berlin and other pedestrians glowering when we didn’t wait for the green man at a crossing, even though there was nothing coming. This is at the opposite end of the spectrum!

    That car with the fish – like a big sardine tin!
    #mondayescapes (from ages ago, still catching up 😉 )


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