Cambodia: The Kingdom of Wonder

With a history both inspiring and depressing, Cambodia delivers an intoxicating present for adventurous visitors, from the glory of Angkor to the simplicity of village life.

Ascend to the realm of the gods at Angkor Wat, a spectacular fusion of spirituality, symbolism and symmetry. Descend into the darkness of Tuol Sleng to witness the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. This is Cambodia, a country with history both inspiring and depressing, a captivating destination that casts a spell on all those who visit. Fringed by beautiful beaches and tropical islands, sustained by the mother waters of the Mekong River and cloaked in some of the region’s few remaining emerald wildernesses, Cambodia is an adventure as much as a holiday. This is the warm heart of Southeast Asia, with everything the region has to offer packed into one bite-sized chunk.

Though much less visited than neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodia has established itself firmly on the Southeast Asian tourist trail. The stunning temples of Angkor are the obvious draw for most visitors, but the country has much else to offer: white-sand beaches, unspoilt forest, a balmy climate, and a relaxed atmosphere that’s refreshingly low on hassle. All this, combined with the warmth of its people, have helped put the country firmly on the tourist map.

Top Reasons to Visit Cambodia

ANCIENT TEMPLES

Cambodia is home to some of the world’s most spectacular temples of which the monumental Angkor Wat is the temple heavyweight.

Contemporary Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire, which, during the Angkorian period, ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The remains of this empire can be seen at the fabled temples of Angkor, monuments unrivalled in scale and grandeur in Southeast Asia. The traveller’s first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, is sublime and is matched by only a few select spots on earth, such as Machu Pichu or Petra.

While Angkor is clearly Southeast Asia’s most magnificent archaeological treasure, northwestern Cambodia is home to forgotten jungle temples and pre-Angkorian capitals.

Not-to-be-missed ancient temples:

  • Angkor Wat
  • Ta Prohm
  • Prasat Preah Vihear
  • Sambor Prei Kuk

PRISTINE ISLANDS & BEACHES

Cambodia’s long southern coastline is fringed by unspoiled islands, some of which are still undeveloped and waiting to be explored.

Southern Cambodia boasts a lengthy and beautiful coastline marked with fine powdery beaches, while the warm tropical waters are dotted with thousands of idyllic tropical islands lurking not far offshore. Don’t expect Thailand-style development; these islands have barely been discovered, making them perfect for aspiring Robinson Crusoes. Do expect beauty on par with anything Southeast Asia has to offer. King of the Cambodian beach resorts, with a headland ringed by squeaky white sands, is Sihanoukville.

Best islands to visit:

  • Sihanoukville
  • Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem
  • Koh Kong
  • Kep

RIVER CRUISES

The Mekong River form an important part of Cambodia and a river cruise is the best way to see and experience village life in and around it.

River cruises are incredibly popular along parts of the Mekong River – including luxurious options linking Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam – and its tributaries in the northeast offer jungle excursions straight out of Apocalypse Now. The Tonle Sap Lake is home to other-worldly floating villages and the Prek Toal Biosphere, home to rare water birds. In the far northeast are plunging waterfalls and pristine crater lakes.

Must-visit popular water features:

  • Mekong Discovery Trail
  • Tonle Sap Lake
  • Boeng Yeak Loam
  • Bou Sraa Waterfall

OFF-THE-BEATEN-TRACK ADVENTURES

Siem Reap and Phnom Penh may be the heavyweights, but to some extent they are a bubble, a world away from the Cambodia of the countryside where you can experience off-the-beaten path adventures.

If you are looking for a classic Asian adventure, then you have come to the right place. The Cambodian countryside is the place to experience the rhythm of rural life and timeless landscapes of dazzling rice paddies and swaying sugar palms.

Inland from the coast lie the Cardamom Mountains, part of a vast tropical wilderness that provides a home to elusive wildlife and is the gateway to emerging ecotourism adventures. The northeast is a world unto itself, its wild and mountainous landscapes a home for Cambodia’s ethnic minorities and an abundance of natural attractions. Choose from tough treks in national parks, animal encounters in remote jungle, exploring karst cave systems or motorbiking along ancient Angkor roads.

Best off-the-beaten-track adventures:

  • Elephant Valley Project
  • Virachey National Park
  • Kampot Cave Pagodas
  • Cardamom Mountains
  • Motorbiking ‘Route 66’ to Preah Khan

KHMER CUISINE

There is no surer way to spice up your life than with a culinary odyssey through Cambodia. With subtle spices and delicate herbs, Cambodian food is an unexpected epicurean experience.

Everyone has tried Thai and Vietnamese specialities before they hit the region, but Khmer cuisine remains under the culinary radar. Amok (baked fish with lemongrass, chilli and coconut) is the national dish, but sumptuous seafood and fresh fish dishes are plentiful, including Kep crab infused with Kampot pepper. It wouldn’t be Asia without street snacks and Cambodia delivers everything from noodles (mee) and congee (rice porridge) to deep-fried tarantulas and roasted crickets.

Best places to sample Cambodian cuisine:

  • Phnom Penh
  • Siem Reap
  • Sihanoukville
  • Battambang
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Best Time to Visit Cambodia

Located 10 to 13 degrees north of the Equator, like most of Southeast Asia, Cambodia varies from warm to very hot throughout the whole year. There are four annual seasons: cool and dry between November and February; hot and dry between March and May; hot and wet between June and August; and cool and wet between September and early November. The best time to visit is the cool season (November to February), when the weather usually benefits from a pleasant dry heat and the countryside is still green from the rains.

Where is Cambodia located?

Covering an area of 181,035 sq km (69,900 sq miles), Cambodia is bordered by Laos to the north, Thailand to the north and west, and Vietnam to the east. It has a coastline of 443km (275 miles) along the gulf of Thailand. It is largely, although not exclusively, flat and is bisected by the mighty Mekong River, which flows north to south from Laos, through Cambodia and then on to Vietnam. The Tonle Sap, a tributary of the Mekong, feeds the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest in Southeast Asia.

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