Top Places to Visit in Cambodia
Siem Reap-A glorious past and a vivid present!
Siem Reap is the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat but what many don’t realize is that Angkor Wat is a part of the Angkor Archaeological Park which spans 150-square-miles!! Because the park is so big its important to have a way to get around, a cycle or a tuk-tuk is quite famous, but equally important is a knowledgeable guide. Most tourists cram here for sunrise where the temple with its reflection in the water makes for a magical sight, but beware it’s a crowded affair and you will share the matinee show with thousands!
Later in the day there are more temples to explore. There is the Angkor Wat the most popular temple in the complex, then Angkor Thom complex nearby is 3.5 square miles with the famous Bayon temple with 216 gigantic, beatifically smiling carved faces. Then to the east is the Little Circuit with Ta Prohm temple, featured in the 2001 movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the Big Circuit further northeast of Angkor Thom, has the Preah Khan and Pre Rup! All in all without a good guide its just an overwhelming number of ancient temples.
Besides the temples Siem Reap has a lovely culinary scene so from eating in restaurants and cafes supporting good causes and practicing zero waste policy to learning to cook like a master chef everything can be arranged. The nightlife is good and for fun we even arrange scavenger hunts for our clients in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The city has many luxury hotels like Belmond La Residence d’Angkor to budget hostels and everything in between. Enjoying the surrounding countryside, relaxing with massages and enjoying the food is an additional bonus besides the temples. A day trip to Tonle Sap Lake to visit the many floating villages is also on most itineraries.
Southwest Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap is Cambodia’s most important waterway and an important source of food and irrigation. The lake itself is home to 170 floating villages that depend on fishing for their livelihood, with homes built directly on the water. Everything from schools to churches is built on rustic buoy foundations of lashed together barrels and bamboo, and all transport is by boat. A daytrip from Siem Reap makes for an interesting day.
Coast and Islands of Cambodia
The best places to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Cambodia are its islands, Koh Rong is known for its nightlife and Koh Rong Sanloem for relaxing. Then there are private islands home to luxury resorts like Krabey island with Six Senses Krabey and Song Saa island with Song Saa Private Island resort. There are other islands with very limited infrastructure that can also be visited or you can spend a night or two in the basic shack type accommodation.
Then there are islands best visited as a daytrip if you choose to stay on land in places like Kampot or Kep. From these coastal towns hop on a longtail boat to Koh Tonsay or Rabbit island. Kampot is a small riverside town which does not exist for tourism and can be a base to explore the surrounding islands, kayaking on the river and exploring the nearby Bokor and Kep National Park. The town is seeing more tourism lately and many French bungalows from the French Colonial days of Cambodia are being converted to boutique luxury hotels. The expat community presence here means western food is also available but the main ingredient in dishes is the famous green pepper of Kampot. Here you can visit the salt pans or the pepper farms. Lately the main town center seems to have a more pronounced presence of sex-tourism which is unfortunately prevalent in most Asian tourist destinations.
The most developed and popular town on the Cambodian coast is Sihanoukville but not the most recommended anymore. This once sleepy town was converted into a port and later became the favorite beach destination of Cambodia. Today Sihanoukville is a hotbed for Chinese investment with more than 70 casinos and a plastic filled beach. Over tourism and construction has left its ravages on this once hippie heaven. There is a section of coast seeing fast development outside of town with many sustainable luxury resorts too and chances are you will enter town as it’s a gateway to the islands and other places on the coast due to its airport.
Did you know this was a city that was forcefully vacated and left to wither and decay during the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge madness is now the frenetic heartbeat of the nation; Phnom Penh is Cambodia's most cosmopolitan destination, with a buzzing café and restaurant scene.
Phnom Penh is also home to the National Museum that traces the nation's history from the pre-Angkorian age right through to the phenomenal majesty of the god-Kings of Angkor, The Royal Palace provides gorgeous examples of traditional artistry, while Tuol Sleng Museum and the killing fields of Choeung Ek speak of the horror and brutality the people of this country suffered under Khmer Rouge rule.
But Phnom Penh, even today is skipped on many Cambodia itineraries and is not as popular as the Coast and Temple rich Siem Reap.
Forests and Rivers of Cambodia
As unusual as it many sound Cambodia actually has a pine forest dubbed the Switzerland of Cambodia. Kirirom National Park is home to pine trees, gibbons, elephants and eco-tourism is also Cambodias first National park and only 3hours drive from Phnom Penh. There are also unspoilt rivers, waterfalls, and lashings of crisp mountain air with activities like orchid spotting, foraging, kayaking, tubing and wild swimming. Those even more adventurous can put on their hiking boots for mountain-biking, jungle trekking or anti-poaching expeditions with the park rangers.
One of Asia’s most luxurious glamping retreats Shinta Mani Wild is located here at the confluence of Kirirom, Bokor and Cardamom National Parks This bold eco-tourism endeavour is a luxury tented camp in an 865-acre private nature sanctuary can be reached in about 3 hours from Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville followed by a 20 minute off road drive or via a 1,050ft zipline over the canopy and rushing Tmor Rung river before gliding into the Landing Zone Bar, built overlooking a waterfall, where a Khmer G&T is just the thing to settle excited nerves. More affordable tents can be found at V.Kirirom resort.
Another popular place for eco-tourism is the Tatai River and Koh Kong Island along the Thai border. The Tatai River Meanders lazily via the world-renowned Cardamom Mountains (South East Asia’s largest surviving rainforest) in Koh Kong province and north-eastwards to the scenic mangrove flats. Local villages follow age-old traditions and a life of fishing, speaking mainly Khmer and some Thai. The main sight here is the Tatai waterfall and the 4 river Floating lodge offers luxury tents on floating pontoons much like the villages on Tonle Sap. There are many other river side accommodation options but this one is our favorite.