Cambodia still manages to straddle the line between tourist hotspot and untrodden eastern destination, and is dotted with an array of unforgettable places, views, and experiences. Below are some of the best places to visit in Cambodia.
The home of the famous Angkor Wat is unquestionably one of Cambodia’s must-see places. Angkor served as the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 14th centuries. As such, it is filled with historic treasures, making it one of the most significant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. Ruins of a thousand temples can be found scattered over jungle, farmland and rice fields, emerging from the canopy in a medley of historic Khmer towers and enchanting one-time Hindu shrines.
These include the famous Angkor Wat temple, the world’s largest single religious monument. Watching the sun rise from behind the temple’s iconic towers is an unforgettable experience and well worth the untimely wakeup call. However, don’t expect to have the temple to yourself as this is peak time when masses of other early birds flock here to capture this magical moment.
Located on the Mekong River and once known as “The Pearl of Asia,” Phnom Penh is the largest city in Cambodia, and has been its capital since French colonial days. French influence can still be found today. Top attractions include the opulent Royal Palace complex, which shimmers with the spires of the Silver Pagoda at its center. For a taste of local life, be sure to hit the buzzing Sisowath Quay, which runs along the Mekong in a medley of markets and picnic spots. The Killing Fields just on the edge of town are sobering and stark reminders of the horrors of Cambodia’s 20th-century past.
It’s true that most people flock to Siem Reap (literally “Siam Defeated”) to hop across to the UNESCO wonder of Angkor Wat. However, thanks largely to the influx of folk coming in recent decades, Cambodia’s fastest growing city has developed into a fine place to visit in its own right. You can delve into an old town of elegant French mansions and enchanting Chinese shops, all of which are punctuated by the heady fray of Psah Chas market, where you should check out the sizzling noodle soups. Museums include the sobering Cambodia Landmine Museum and the War Museum.
Kratie is a small town located on the banks of the Mekong River and dominated by a central marketplace surrounded by old, French colonial buildings. A trip to this remote eastern province brings with it a wealth of wildlife opportunities. This includes rare Irrawaddy dolphins, which can be spotted swimming in stretches of the Mekong River, and Cantor’s giant softshell turtles that can be seen at the Mekong Turtle Conservation Center.
Located on a river not too far from the Gulf of Thailand, the quaint town of Kampot is famous for its uniquely flavored black peppercorns. The famous Cambodian dish of Kampot pepper crab was born here, and a visit to the Crab Market serves up an authentic taste. You can watch the women wade into the sea to haul in the crab baskets before being served the freshest dish in the Kingdom.
There are several neighboring shacks to enjoy an accompanying beer. View ancient ruins at the Kampot Kampong Trach caves, go boating on the river and discover glistening waterfalls.
Cambodia’s lesser known UNESCO site of Preah Vihear is well worth getting off the beaten track to visit. This stunning temple complex, which sits on the border of Thailand, draws fewer crowds and a more accurate flavor of the Khmer kingdom. Breath-taking views from its summit can be enjoyed.
Asian elephants stalk the fields and bushlands of far-flung Mondulkiri Province; water buffalo and timber longhouses ring the wetlands and peaks of forest-clad rock rise to meet the border with Vietnam. This eastern jewel is a far cry from the sun-scorched lands and steamy tropical climes that dominate the rest of the country and is slowly becoming famed for its second-to-none elephant conservation project. Cultural encounters with the earthy Bunong tribespeople are also possible, and ecotourism of that ilk is now the main driver here.
The Bokor National Park is home to the Popokvil Waterfall, a giant Buddhist statue, an abandoned French hill station, a giant casino, derelict church, mesmerizing views, and a refreshingly cool climate.
Koh Ker is the smaller, lesser-known brother of Angkor Wat. Located deep within the jungles of northern Cambodia, 75 miles northeast of Siem Reap, it was − for a very brief period, from 928 to 944 AD − the capital of the Khmer empire. In this short time some very spectacular buildings and immense sculptures were constructed.
The site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a temple pyramid that soars 98 feet above the surrounding jungle. You’ll also be able to see an elaborate array of fortifications dating from the 10th century, and crumbling ruins of shrines now almost entirely claimed by the roots of giant teak trees.
Established as a trading center in the 18th century, Battambang is Cambodia’s second most populous city. Battambang later became part of French Indochina, with some colonial buildings still in existence. The town has many Angkor-style temples and Buddhist shrines and is easy to get around on foot or by bicycle. Statues, mostly of animals and gods, can be found in most public places, the most famous of which is an ancient Khmer king located on the road to Phnom Penh.
The Central Market also is worth a visit. Around Battambang is where you’ll find the fruit-bat-filled Wat Baydamram and the eerie Wat Samraong Knong, which was once used as a Khmer Rouge prison.
The island of Koh Rong sits where the waters of the Thai Gulf meet the South China Sea. It is a picture of tropical perfection, complete with 23 individual stretches of sand. Rustic, salt-sprayed bungalows line the coast sporadically, and there are plenty of opportunities for trekking through the forests or hitting the coral-colored sea for a spell of snorkeling. Koh Rong is also famed for its bioluminescent waters, which glimmer under the dark skies at night.
The rugged, salt-sprayed rocks of the Koh Kong coast mark the point where the primeval woods of the Cardamom Mountains Rainforest cascade down to meet the Indian Ocean. Undeveloped and untouched by the onset of modern tourism, the place remains a picture of wild Southeast Asia. A smattering of casinos and sleazy massage parlors do still linger on from the days when this was a smuggler passage town on the Thai border, but the real attractions are the gushing waterfalls, the wild jungles, and the legendary white-sand beaches.
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