The Cambodian countryside offers not only the scenic views of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap with its pagodas, rice paddies and tiny villages but also offers pre-Angkorian and Angkorian ruins that allow you to understand better and appreciate the culture of the Khmers at certain times of history. So get out of Phnom Penh, the capital city. It is easy to take day trips now that the road system has really been improved. Your hotels will readily arrange transport for you. If you are more adventurous, take the buses and experience the regular travel experience of ordinary Khmers. Most of the places are on the bus routes and once you arrive there, there are always motodups (a ride at the back of the motorbike driver) or tuktuks (three wheelers) that will take you to the site from the bus stops. Try some of these day trip options:
Rent your own boat or take the local transport to Mekong (Koh Okhna Tey) and Silk Weaving Island (Koh Dach). You can also take the regular ferry that locals take. The tuktuk or motodup driver will bring you to the ferry pier. In this island, you will see that almost all of the houses have a loom or two and many times, both husband and wife weave when it is too hot to work on their farm. You will have a good glimpse of life in a Khmer village as you go around the houses.
Take Route #5 or take the bus that goes to Kampong Chnang and get off at Oudong. Watch for the big billboard of Oudong town and stop the bus. From here, you take a motodup to reach the hills of the old abandoned city. Until 1866, when Phnom Penh was made the capital city, Oudong was Cambodia's capital city. The three hills on this site are crowned with stupas, temples and other structures and also offer a magnificent view of the villages around. These stupas contain the remains of several Cambodian kings. In 1979, it was also the site of some of the Khmer Rouge's prolonged resistance.
Take the bus for Takeo and get off at the 52km road marker. You won't miss it as there is a big signboard, "Phnom Chisor". Take a motodup to the site and start climbing the 503 steps to the top. You will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside and Angkorian 10th to 11th century ruins which are well worth the climb. This temple is dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu as seen in the carvings that are still visible.
From Phnom Chisor, proceed to Phnom Da/Angkor Borei. It is a two-hour rough road trip. You can also go to Takeo and take the boat. In the wet season, this is your only option. Angkor Borei is an area said to have been continuously inhabited for at least 2500 years as seen in some of the Neolithic artifacts taken from archaeological diggings in the area. These are displayed in a small museum there that also provides information on some of the diggings. About 25 kilometers is the hill, Phnom Da, with its 11th century Angkorian temple dedicated to Shiva. Further down the hill is the pre-Angkorian Chenla temple ruin, Ashram Maha Rosei, constructed in the late 7th-early 8th century.
Take the bus to Takeo but this time, get off the 51 km road marker. On a small hill right next to the road are two Angkorian brick prasats (towers), Prasat Neang Khmau, dedicated to Shiva and said to have been built in the 10th century. Beside the towers is an active pagoda and a modern-era statue, Black Lady (Neang Khmau) gave this complex its name.
Have a weekend picnic in Ta Khmau/Prasat Tamao. This is Phnom Penh's weekend playground. Many from Phnom Penh go here to have a picnic and enjoy the zoo, which displays lions, tigers, bears, birds and other animals. Close by is Prasat Tamao, sitting at the top of Phnom Tamao, a temple built in the 11th century by Suryavarman I.
Take the bus for Takeo and get off at Tonle Bati. You can take the bus from the Phnom Penh Sorya bus station, which departs every hour. Get off when you reach the 35 km road marker in Tonle Bati and take the motodup to the base of two Angkorian temples, Ta Phrom and Yeay Peau, constructed in the late 12th century, the same period as Bayon and Angkor Thom in Siem Reap. Ta Phrom, the more impressive of the two, displays some well preserved carvings while Yeay Peau is a single sandstone tower beside an active pagoda.
Some of these day trips especially by buses may be a bit uncomfortable but they certainly offer experiences that will be richer than just going around Phnom Penh. Being with the local people as they go about their local travel certainly adds more spice into your experience.