Cambodia is a Southeast Asian country sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand. With low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains, and the Gulf of Thailand coastline, Cambodia is a destination that offers many different activities for locals and tourists alike.
Aside from the beautiful outdoors, the country also has a rich culture and a complex historic past. The destination gained independence after 90 years of French colonial rule, and Khmer Rouge took over only two decades later between 1975 and 1979. During this time, the population suffered from mass executions. Although the country is now free and moving on, the victims are remembered through memorials and museums throughout.
From the colossal temples of Angkor Wat, to the sunny beaches of Koh Rong, down to the buzzing capital of Phnom Penh, if you are venturing off the beaten path into the Kingdom of Wonder, discover Cambodia’s top attractions below.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Arguably the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Archaeological Park. Pre-pandemic, tens of thousands of tourists would flock daily to view the hundreds of ancient temples, religious structures, and cultural relics that make up the park. Dating back to the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat is one of the world’s top sought-after ancient sites.
The temple city was built between AD 802 and 1432 and was once the largest city in the world during the medieval age. Today, the city’s ruins are overgrown and immersed in the surrounding jungle and is accessible from Siem Reap. While viewing Angkor Wat usually takes around three days to see it in total, travelers short on time can view the highlights in one: Ta Prohm (made famous from the movie Tomb Raider), the Bayon Temple (216 stone-carved faces), Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan. Most popular visitor hours are during sunrise and sunset.
Often referred to as the “heartbeat of the nation”, Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is a city full of organized chaos. Once deserted during the Khmer Rouge era, the city now is full of people, motorbikes, a buzzing restaurant scene, and traces of Cambodia’s modern and ancient history.
From the National Museum, to the Royal Palace, and the Tuol Sleng Museum and Choeung Ek, travelers can take in the nation’s history from the pre-Angkorian age, as well as learn about the brutal past under Khmer Rouge. For those who are lovers of art and theatre, the Apsara Show, or traditional Khmer performance, is one of the top rated things to do in Cambodia. The cultural dance takes inspiration from mythological courts of kings and Gods, telling a story through colorful attire, dance, and performance.
Koh Rong is a sleepy island off the south coast of Cambodia; it is one of many island options, however, this particular island is noted for being one of the “most beautiful” due to the chance to experience bioluminescent planktons lighting up in the ocean at night, glowing to the movement of the water.
Reasonably untouched, Koh Rong gives travelers an authentic taste of simple island life. Activities include scuba diving and snorkeling, boat rides, and relaxing at one of the few beach hut bars. The islands can be accessed from Sihanoukville, a coastal city in Cambodia.
The Cardamom Mountains are Southeast Asia’s largest remaining rainforest – spanning more than 4.4 million hectares of rainforest with mountains, marshes, plains, and gushing rivers. Full of endangered flora and fauna, the Cardamom Mountains are the region’s most pristine expanses of wilderness.
For adventurous travelers, it is important to be warned that the terrain is rugged, there are no hospitals nearby, and there is no shortage of insects, snakes, spiders, and mosquitoes within. Yet, even so, the Cardamom Mountains are home to about 25,000 people and endangered wildlife – elephants, tigers, sun bears, Siamese crocodiles, gibbons, and clouded leopards.
Due to these natural treasures and rare wildlife, the forest has unfortunately been plagued by illegal loggers and poachers. However, community-led initiatives have been popping up where locals have been stepping in to ensure that the endangered and rare wildlife within the forest are safe, as well as the land that many depend on. These improvements have made the area much easier to navigate, and much more approachable to be visited by tourists.
Sail the Mekong River
From Tibet to Vietnam, the Mekong River is a Southeast Asian icon, passing through six countries. Throughout Cambodia, the river enters at the northeastern province of Stung Treng from Laos, and passes through Phnom Penh in order to reach Vietnam.
A popular attraction for tourists and locals is to take the trans-country cruises, which can take passengers from Laos to Cambodia and onto Vietnam by boat. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the traveler’s chosen itinerary. Alternatively, for those who would rather spend most of their time on land, passengers can choose the daily sunset cruise along the Mekong while in Phnom Penh. Many boats now offer food and drink options, while sailing along the river and viewing the evening city lights and sunset water views.
Sample Street Food & Shop at the Local Markets
Lastly, to truly get a taste of the Cambodian way of life, simply walking throughout the major hubs (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh), sampling foods and grabbing souvenirs from the local markets can teach and show visitors traditional customs within the country. As food is an intrinsic part of Southeast Asian culture, at all hours of the day, plastic tables and chairs fill the pavement while locals gather to feast on rice dishes, num banh chok or Khmer noodles and curries.
As for shopping, some of the best things to buy in Cambodia include silver trinkets, precious gems and stones, betel nut boxes, rice paper prints, checkered Krama scarves, weaving silk, carved wooden items, and so on. The Angkor Night Market, Made in Cambodia Market, Angkor Handicraft Association, Old Market, and the Russian Market in Phnom Penh are some of the most popular options for travelers to shops for inexpensive handicraft products – bringing home and invaluable memento to remember their time in the unique destination.
When planning on visiting Cambodia, the best months are between November and April when there is very little rain. While from May to November, heavy rains and monsoon season are common throughout the country. Nonetheless, the country is warm and humid all year round, with temperatures peaking as high as 40°C in April.
Are you interested in booking a trip to the Kingdom of Wonder? Reach out to us at Asia Bespoke Tours and we will help you plan your custom trip!