Cambodia is one of the most challenging yet amazing places that I have ever visited. With Angkor Wat at the top of most travellers lists, you will quickly realise that there is much more to Cambodia than ancient temples. Here are 7 amazing places to visit in Cambodia…
The Best Cambodia Tourist Spot – Top Places to visit in Cambodia
#1 Siem Reap – Angkor Wat and Surrounding Temples
Deep inside the forests of the Siem Reap province, the sophisticated points of an ancient stone city soar above the sprawling complex of Angkor Archaeological Park. The Khmer Empire’s numerous capitals thrived here from the 9th to 15th centuries, while their rulers officiated over an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam. Including forested areas and newly discovered suburbs, Angkor covers more than 400 square kilometres and is clearly the best Cambodia tourist spot.
Although it is just one of hundreds of surviving structures and temples, the huge Angkor Wat is the most known of all Cambodia’s temples and also appears on the nation’s flag. The 12th century temple-mountain was made as a spiritual home for Vishnu, a Hindu god. The temple is known as an architectural triumph that is loaded with artistic riches like the galleries which line numerous walls and tell on-going stories of the Cambodian legend and history.
Angkor is about water and about stone and the site claims a huge system of artificial dikes, canals and reservoirs, the largest (West Baray) is 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide. These insane feats of manufacturing form a vital part of an overall site design which remains faithful to the religious symbolism. For example, moats simulate the oceans surrounding Mount Meru, which is the home of Hindu gods.
But these huge pieces of work also served a practical resolution by competently harnessing rainwater and river to quench the thirst of around 750,000 residents in the world’s biggest preindustrial city. That water also flooded wealth-producing crops such as rice, which assisted the Khmer as currency.
Other unmissable temples in Siem Reap include Bayon (with the faces!), Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider temple!) and Bateay Srei (well preserved Hanuman statues). Spend at least 3 days exploring the temples of Siem Reap. You can do the large circuit, the small circuit and have an extra day exploring some further out temples like Banteay Samre.
Although it is Cambodia’s second biggest city, time somewhat stands still when visitors arrice in Battambang. In comparison with the tourist hubs of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, there are some visitors and the city, quite like a small town, has continued to retain its Cambodian charm.
A massive sigh of relief rippled across Cambodia when in January, the government had finally announced that the bamboo train was back on the track and being re-established in a different area after operations were stopped in its original location. Known as a norry in Khmer, the train entails of a small bamboo platform which is covered with a mat and a few slim cushions to sit on. This sits on two sets of bogies with a motor at the back. A pole made out of wood is used as both the accelerator and brakes, with the train hitting speeds of around 50km/h. A truly hair-raising ride.
Enjoy a tuk-tuk ride in mid-afternoon to Phnom Sampeau, around 12km from Battambang centre, and go to the peak. This is where you’ll find Wat Sampeou and its lovely views which stretch continually into the horizon. Visitors may sightsee the temple as well as the adjacent Killing Caves, where Khmer Rouge soldiers had to push their victims to their deaths. A shrine sits inside the caves. Just before dusk, head back down to the base, and join the crowds that gather at about 6pm to watch the seemingly endless stream of bats pour out of the caves for a night of hunting.
Sihanoukville’s insane white sand beaches and warm Gulf of Thailand waters are combined with a laid back, beachy atmosphere used to offer a brilliant little tropical holiday. Sadly now, the place has been over-run with Chinese hotels and Casinos and the beaches are strewn with rubbish. Built as a port city in the late 1950s, the town is much fresher, more urban and multicultural than most Cambodian provincial cities. Most people nowadays stay in Sihanoukville for just one night and use it as a stepping stone for the nearby islands.
This place has much more than adequate supply of accommodations, including a stunning 5-star resort compound on Sokha Beach, numerous mid-range spots downtown and at the beaches, a few ‘upmarket’ three-star hotels, and loads of cheap guesthouses, particularly on Weather Station Hill. Bearing in mind the moderate number of visitors to Sihanoukville, the town provides an unpredicted number and range of restaurants and bars. Fresh seafood, particularly crab, prawns and ocean fish, has continuously been one of the town’s major draws, but there is also a widespread variety of places offering foreign cuisines such as French, Indian, Australian, German, British, Italian, Sri Lankan, pizza places, a few western bakeries and finally a espresso coffee shop.
#4 Koh Rong
Situated just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Koh Rong is well-known for its serene splendour. Frequently described as an ‘island paradise’ by staying travellers, the island claims pristine, warm crystal-clear ocean waters, white sandy beaches and a warm tropical climate.
There are numerous spectacular tourist places on Koh Rong. The main traveller beach (Koh Touch) has a lively party atmosphere, with lots of bars, hotels and night clubs. The quiet, less-busier beaches (e.g. Lonely Beach, Long Set Beach and Palm Beach) are more soothing destinations. The territory on Koh Rong is mainly hilly, with a 316m mountain in the north-west. Most of the island’s inner is concealed in jungle forestry, with numerous waterfalls, bays and sandstone rock formations totalling to the pleasing scenery. Exposed to the weather and open sea, the south side of Koh Rong is particularly beautiful, while the east side is characterized by smooth hills that gently slope towards the crescent-shaped beaches, inlets, and bays.
There are four village communities on Koh Rong: Koh Touch (south-east), Prek Svay (north-east), Daem Thkov (Sangkat village) (east), and Sok San (west). Most locals live from fishing (70%) and small-scale crop cultivation (30%). As of 2019, tourist industries outnumber suburban homes on Koh Touch. A lot of people visit Koh Rong amid the middle of November and May, as throughout these months there are gorgeous hot days (25°C – 40°C) with very little cloud and low humidity. Whether you want to unwind, lie back and appreciate the glorious views, swim in the deep invigorating ocean, explore the striking wildlife, learn the significant Khmer culture, or celebrate till the sun comes up, the breath-taking island of Koh Rong will give you memories for a lifetime!
#5 Phnom Penh
The capital of Cambodia has only really been developing for around 30 years, and this means that it is less hectic than other major Asian capitals such as Bangkok and Manila. I was pleasantly surprised by Phnom Penh with its clean and well constructed Riverside promenades and well organised roads with Buddha roundabouts.
While you are in Phnom Penh, don’t miss the Royal Palace (with Silver Pagoda), the National Museum of Cambodia and the Phnom Penh Killing fields tour. The Killing fields tour (often combined with S21 prison) is a harrowing insight to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, but an essential part of eduction to help you to understand the history and culture.
Kampot is a river city based in the South of Cambodia which makes a great Cambodia tourist spot and popular weekend retreat from Phnom Penh. Kampot is famous for it’s French Colonial architecture and chilled out riverside bars. There is a fantastic fish market and night market in Kampot. Kampot is a fine producer of sea salt and the salt fields are a popular attraction. From Kampot, you can also explore Bokor National Park.
Just around 30 minutes along the coast from Kampot is the sleepy seaside town of Kep, although it is rapidly becoming more popular with the tourists! You can easily do Kep as a day trip from Kampot, or spend 2-3 days there if you are looking for somewhere chilled out to catch up on your work as a digital nomad or get a few days in to relax and read. You will experience amazing seafood in Kep and also can enjoy a hike in the Butterfly filled Kep National Park. It’s a more relaxed and cultured alternative to the islands.