Cambodia sits in the south of the Indochina peninsula, sharing borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Visitors to Cambodia are rewarded with awe-inspiring temples, off-the-beaten track mountains, sparkling rivers and lakes, and exotic island hideaways. The country has a fascinating history, both ancient and modern, and the iconic temples of Angkor truly belong on any traveller’s bucket list.
No trip to Cambodia is complete without spending at least a few days in Siem Reap, which is the base for exploring the extraordinary Angkor Archaeological Park. The jewel in the park’s crown is of course the dramatic Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious building in the world. However, there are many other wonderful temples to explore, a number of which have been reclaimed by the jungle, creating an alluring atmosphere of mystery and adventure. Visitors to Siem Reap can also enjoy a trip to Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The water stretches as far as the eye can see, and the lake is home to several floating villages.
During a trip to Cambodia, it is also worth spending a few days in the country’s capital Phnom Penh. This is the best place to learn about Cambodia’s tragic modern history, as there are many remnants here from the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime. The Khmer Rouge party initially began to form in the 1960s, but did not receive much traction until 1970s, finally seizing Phnom Penh in 1975. During the party’s four-year rule, around two million Cambodians died, either as a result of starvation or from mass executions by the soldiers.
In Phnom Penh, it is possible to visit the notorious S-21 Jail, where up to 17,000 people were detained and tortured. Nearly all of these people were then executed and buried in mass graves in the area now known as the Killing Fields, which lies just outside the city.
Beyond these poignant reminders of the past, modern Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer. There are a number of fantastic restaurants as well as an eclectic mix of architecture, including the grand Royal Palace, colourful Chinese temples and fading Colonial store fronts.
Cambodia also has some wonderful locations for those wanting to get off the beaten track. Far to the east of the country, Mondulkiri is the country’s largest, and yet most sparsely populated province. Unlike much of Cambodia, which features swathes of verdant rice paddies and wide rivers and lakes, Mondulkiri has a more wild-feel, with deep rainforests and rolling hills. This is also the best place in Cambodia to visit ethical elephant projects.
The towns of Battambang and Kep both offer travellers an insight into local life in Cambodia beyond the cities. Battambang lies to the west of Tonle Sap Lake, surrounded by pretty countryside laced with rice paddies and orchards. Kep is on the country’s south coast, featuring a sleepy laid-back atmosphere and fantastic seafood.
For the ultimate Cambodian beach experience, the coast around Sihanoukville and the Koh Rong Archipelago offer a range of retreats, from boutique beach bungalows to exclusive villas on private islands. Sandy shores and turquoise seas await visitors here, as well as a number of diving and snorkelling sites.