Cambodia is a land of low plains and forested hills. It has a warm tropical climate, fertile soil, and plentiful monsoon rains which make it an ideal rice growing country. In the countryside, most of the inhabitants are rice farmers and village settlers engage in home made crafts. In the city, rickshaws dominate the road as few Cambodians can afford cars. Bicycles and motorcycles are the most popular form of transportation. Religious temples (wat), houses on stilts along the river, and a rich expanse of rice fields are just a few the sceneries that welcome every curious traveler.
Here are top ten of the not to be missed places when you visit Cambodia.
is a huge monument built in the 14th century by King Jayavarman VII (in which the Khmer Empire achieved its peak) with predominant towers and faces carved in stone, which welcomes each visitor with her enigmatic smile. This smiling god looks out from the tower of the Bayon, an ancient monument located at the center of the ancient capital. Angkor was once the biggest cities in the world. Its temple, called a wat is the largest religious building ever recorded. All of the temples are consecrated to the worship of Buddhism. Inside, there are galleries and carvings that represent the war scene between the Khmer and Chams. At the top of this temple you can take photos of locals dressed in national costumes.
Angkor Archaelogical Park
has a wealth of treasures and 80 temple ruins to admire and contemplate with. It is a large park that offers an interesting peek into its rich religious culture. To get around it is necessary to hire a taxi or a tuk tuk (motor powered rickshaws). Inside you can visit the
Temple of Bayon, Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Phimenakas
, etc. A visit provides an unforgettable experience in the magical and enigmatic Kingdom of Angkor. Do not forget to wear long sleeve shirts or blouses as the Buddhist monks are very sensitive about the proper attire on their sacred ground.
To reach the
Island of Koh Trong
you can take the first boat in the middle of the
and enjoy the relatively warm weather early in the day. The ride to the island is shaded and pleasant. You can meet the people who live in their everyday environment and admire the varied flora and fauna
along the river. The simple and smiling welcome of the inhabitants is quite remarkable. You cross the Mekong to Kratie and along the way you see the freshwater dolphins as you arrive in a charming island.
There are rice fields in the middle and a view of the floating village. In this village, you can see typical single –story houses built on stilts because flooding is common across Cambodia especially during the monsoon season months. The walls of these rural homes are usually made of bamboo, wooden planks or palm leaves. The countryside scenery is beautiful and the island is more interesting than the city.
Prior to a visit to the Killing Fields, seeing the
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
is a must when in Phnom Penh. It is strategically located in one of the many schools that took the prisoners during the time of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s dictatorial rule (1975). His leadership forced town dwellers to farm the land, hard labor sends millions of the people to die from hunger and disease or were either beaten up and murdered here. You can see the classrooms converted into cells, torture rooms, pictures of the innocent people imprisoned there and killed. It became a museum where you can see through photos all the elements of torture and the many atrocities committed by a group of crazy and insane military that is against their Cambodian “brothers”. It is a required stop to understand (or at least begin to understand) Cambodian culture, why they are still scared and how they went from being one of the richest countries to be one of the poorest. Sad, but it’s what there is to see.
Killing Fields (Choeung Ek)
is about 15 km outside the capital city and an hour away if you take the tuk tuk ride. This site completes the visit to the genocide museum. Here you can see countless mass graves, the tour of the “Magic Tree” from which hung a speaker to hear the cries of the people and a special tree where the Khmer Rouge killed children. It takes a strong stomach when you visit this memorial, but the Cambodians also want tourists to visit Choeung Ek. It’s hard and heartbreaking to visit this area where more than 30 years ago a mass extermination of people occurred. You can still see the bones, teeth, skulls and clothes of the people who lost their lives probably without understanding why. Upon entrance get a headset and choose your language to understand the different explanations of what happened there during the tumultuous era. After the visit you see the world with different eyes.
Bokor Hill Station
Bokor Hill Station
will also make your visit awe inspiring. The site is of course a top tourist destination in the country. You will get to the place from Kampot by car.
The attraction offers you a wonderful place away from the busy and heated Phnom Penh city. You will have a great place to relax in and share your experiences in the country as you witness the many surrounding beauties in the neighborhood.
The site had been abandoned twice and thus you will definitely find some of the loneliest buildings standing there. Their structure is awesome to look at. However they seem a bit eerie but you have to enjoy the experience there.
The place may be a bit inaccessible due to the reconstruction of the roads linking to it and hence visitors are advised to book hiking tours with the local travel agents at a cheap fee.
The scenic Silva Pagoda is yet another highlight to make your visit completely fabulous. The pagoda is indeed a breathtaking site that appeals to all. The site will be accessed by car from Phnom Penh.
The pagoda has unique impressive and massive architectural design that really showcases the good efforts and skills of its builders. This site is indeed worthy of been taking photos.
The pagoda is a great museum that houses some treasured items such as the golden statues of Buddha. You certainly cannot regret having come here as the forthcoming guides will take you to where these sculptures are situated and also give you a detailed information on how they were formulated and their uses.
The Baccarat crystal Buddha will also not escape the attention of your curious eyes. This is indeed a spectacular carving that you will feel very comfortable standing before it as you get plenty of snaps before it.
The stirring golden Maitreya Buddha that is indeed attractive and mind blowing. Its style of decoration is amazing and actually you are not likely to find any other of its kind. The about 10,000 diamonds used to give it an exquisite appearance are perfectly placed on it. You certainly have to take it photos.
Be keen to note the walls’ embellishments that reflect a high rate of skills of their artists.
If you want to see a beach in Cambodia that is fairly quiet and a bit away from the major tourist crowd drawer attractions visit the
From the bus station in Sihanoukville ride a tuk-tuk following a dirt road. It is away from the busy nightlife of Sihanouk city. There are bungalows which open directly into the sea and small quiet hammock areas and bars. The beach is generally quiet and you can wander into areas where virtually no one is around to distract your peace. You can soak in solitude under the trees unlike its other surrounding beaches that are filled with a huge crowd of people. The sea is crystal clear and you can toggle baths and massages made by the women who populate the beach and offer their services. You can rent a boat owned by a German who lives a short walk from the beach and take a guided tour to visit the different atolls and islands that lie along its archipelago.
In contrast to the tranquil Otres, the
is a long golden beach with numerous resorts, hotels and restaurants attached to each other. Loaded with tourists, it is hard to find a quiet corner where you enjoy your sunbathe. Water sport (jet ski, speed boats, para sailing, etc.) attractions abound. During the day the noise and the crowd get unbearable but at night, live band music is performed at one of the clubs facing the beach. Alcohol, loud music, and wild crowd go on until the wee hours of the morning.
You will also not miss to tour the astounding Preah Vihear area. This is indeed a major destination for many tourists in the country. The site is indeed breathtaking for hikers and nature lovers. You can catch a bus from Siem Reap to the site.
The scenic site is perched on top of a splendid low mountain that offers you a great chance to explore the beauties on the mountain before reaching the real site. The path leading to the top is elegant and easy to trace.
The atmosphere filling the whole place is one of the best you can ever want to be in. This is highly contributed by the countless plants covering the mountains and hence they do their role of freshening perfectly.
Once at the top, you get welcomed by an intriguing set of temples that are accurately designed to give them a world class rating. You surely cannot afford to miss such a spectacular site.
Here you will find in one of the rooms the Hindu god Shiva and you certainly have to take its photos for good memories.
The site is also a place where you can warn yourself of influencing attacks as it is here where several soldiers got killed after a dispute between Cambodia and Thailand. You can also come with flowers to show tribute to them.
Battambang Bat Caves
is an incredible spectacle of a million bats emerging from a cave dug into the side of a small mountain. The phenomenon takes place every evening from 18 to 18.30 and lasts up to 45 minutes. From the top there is in fact a remarkable view of the surrounding area. The wait begins at the foot of the mountain or at the opening of the cave. The tuk-tuk drivers are all gathered there (and tourists) but the time during which the output of bats is expected is quite funny, it reigns a special atmosphere. Then the thousands and thousands of bats escape from their cave and you contemplate this spectacle of nature with eyes wide open.
It’s amazing to see all these creatures from the onslaught of insects and mosquitoes in the dark forming a long cloud like a snake in the sky. At the top there is also a small temple frequented by monkeys and up the hill you can visit the “killing caves” which is a cave where several Cambodian families were thrown during the Khmer Rouge era. You must set aside a couple of hours in order to climb to the top of the mountain.
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
is a delightful place located about 20 minutes by motor boat from the city of Kep. Although the sand is not as white as the Caribbean, there is a palm grove that reaches the sea and to the right is a path which takes 15 minutes to the other side where there is a poor but picturesque village. It is a small island with one “working “ beach. There are small kiosks operated by locals for something to eat for lunch and thatched bungalows to sleep on as you are lulled by the waves while sunbathing.
Bamboo benches are conveniently found along the palm tree shaded areas. The elements all around the beach is so rustic but that characterizes the charm of this small corner that is quiet and peaceful. The water is not great but you can ‘still enjoy a good swim and clean bathrooms.
You can reach the
in 3 different ways; on foot, by bike or by boat. Located at 134 km from the RN 48, you have to walk half an hour to reach the falls of the river Tatai. By boat, you can rent one from the bridge that can load up to 12 people. Along the lovely view of the small falls with a powerful water flow you can see flying fish and monkeys playing along the banks. Even in the dry season you can jump in and swim in its shallow water. The flow is not very strong and you can swim behind the waterfall.
Koh Kong Safari World
is the only place of family entertainment in Koh Kong . To get there you must arrange for a tuk-tuk ride from the city with the agreed return time. In general, the place greatly appeals to children because of the numerous animal shows provided by its owners. The kids enjoy and at the same time teach a whole lot more about the animals especially the show about the birds and the monkeys. The crocodile and the tiger show are also equally interesting.
Wat Nokor Complex
has undergone several modifications but overall is still quite elegant. The oldest part dates from the eleventh century and was revised to change the location to show the full devotion to Buddhism. The statues inside are fairly well preserved and there is a section where you can find an exhibit of the small and old vehicles used during the olden times.
From the center, you cannot ignore the presence of an imposing pink building called
The French Tower
. To the left of the new Japanese bridge on the opposite bank, the former French lighthouse on the Mekong is a building in Arabic style which is unusual for a lighthouse. The French have been concerned at the time to build this lighthouse in the “Cham” style which is an ethnic Muslim. To visit the lighthouse, cross the bridge to Kratie and take the first dirt road on the right just after the bridge, follow the path 400 to 500 meters to the lighthouse. If you are athletic, climbing the difficult ladders is rewarded with a beautiful view of Kompong Cham and the famous Mekong River.
Elephant Valley Project
is a wildlife preserve area that can be found in the deep mountains of eastern Cambodia. It will take you a good half-day to get this adventure done. When you reach the camp, the team of Jack (aka Mr. Banana) you will discover that its activity is to recover domesticated elephants and return them in the valley to allow them to live in their natural habitat.
This is a unique opportunity to experience these animals in their natural environment, within the forest and in an exceptional setting; no cage, no gap, and no chain on the elephant’s legs. You can spend a day as a visitor or spend more nights (in bungalows equipped with showers) as a volunteer, or even several months.
Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake
is a place that is ideal for swimming and a great place to relax. Before the lake you can be photographed in costumes worn by the ethnic minorities there. The site is nice and you can have a pleasant stroll around the lake with a visit to an adjacent small museum.
Your visit to the country can barely be complete before touring the magical
Tonle Sap Lake
. This is indeed a major tourist destination that is eve full of visitors from every part of the world. The lake is reached by car from Siem Reap.
The lakes magnificent atmosphere is one of its kind and you will certainly have an out of the earth experience. The vegetation around is also amazing and comprises some common and rare plant species.
A visit to the lake in November to May is certainly different from one in June. This is because of the changing seasons where in November to May dry spells are experienced leading to the lake shrinking completely that you will hardly believe the bare banks were ever filled with water. However, you will still have a wonderful time.
In the rainy seasons the lake gets overflowed and some of its water flow out to the lovely Mekong River. This is truly an amazing place you should not imagine missing.
The water activities are enticing. You will have a great time on the boats across the lake as you feel the sensational cool wind blowing past you. Watching the water is also awesome where you get the dramatic desire to swim in them.
Otherwise, you can sail across to any of the starring villages that rest on the lake as floating. Here you will definitely find friendly locals who will get you to the waters and show off a few of the activities they feel proficient in.
You truly have to visit the lake.