Cambodia conjures up images of ancient temples, paddy fields, straw hats and Lara Croft. Its storied past, stunning natural beauty and warm people scream Indochina but the nation offers so much more. With this Cambodia travel guide, we introduce you to the magical temples of Angkor Wat, and the golden sands of Sihanoukville. Get to the know the Cambodian people and what makes them uniquely them.
The best time to visit Cambodia is its dry season. The months of January and February especially promise great weather with sunny days and cool evenings. If you are brave enough to bear sweltering heat and humidity, April is a great time to experience Cambodian culture with the entire nation celebrating Khmer New Year.
Cambodia stays warm throughout the year with temperatures rarely dropping under 20°C. Like most of Southeast Asia, the country experiences two distinct seasons, wet and the dry. The wet season, or monsoon, lasts from May to October while the dry season, favored by most tourists, is from November through April. The best time to visit Cambodia is in the months of January and February.
Called the Pearl of Asia, Phnom Penh is one of the prettiest cities in Indochina with its French villas and golden pagodas. The city was named after the 14th century Wat Phnom temple and that is where you should begin your exploration of the Cambodian capital. One of the top attractions in Cambodia, Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple known for murals from the Ramayana and the Jataka tales. You should also make your way to the Royal Palace Complex where the king of Cambodia still resides. The magnificent Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion, the Silver Pagoda and the Khemarin Palace are all Phnom Penh attractions you cannot afford to miss.
The gateway to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is oft ignored by tourists making a beeline for the temple complex. Don’t be one of those tourists. The resort town has a lot to offer with its colonial architecture, green pockets and thriving nightlife. Wander through the Old French Quarter with its candy coloured villas or head to Old Market for a glimpse of Chinese architecture. The city is also a great place to experience Cambodian culture. Head to the Cambodian culture village or one of the city’s many museums and attend a traditional apsara dance performance before you leave the city.
Also called Kampong Som and sometimes Snooky, Sihanoukville is the most popular of Cambodia’s beach resorts. It is known for its golden sands, seaside taverns and beach resorts. Some of the best beaches in town are Independence Beach, Victory Beach and the pretty Serendipity Beach. In the unlikely event that you get tired of sun bathing and the water sports of offer at the beach you could take a day tour to the Ou Tro mangroves a short drive from the city and enjoy an afternoon of canoeing.
Cambodia’s storied past and stunning natural beauty may be popular among tourists across the world, but no place in the country is as big a draw as Angkor Wat. This January, visit the largest temple complex in the world and give your year the auspicious start it needs. Originally dedicated to Lord Vishnu by Khmer emperors in the 12th century, the temple complex evolved into Buddhist viharas over a few decades. The temples today are visited by thousands of tourists everyday who are as mesmerised by the stone murals and sprawling gardens.
Situated in the northern edge of Cambodia, Preah Vihar is a stunning Hindu temple built atop a cliff on the Dângrêk Mountains. Part of the Khao Phra Wihan National Park, the temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to Lord Shiva and dates to the ninth century. Its ornate gopuras and pillars as well as its spectacular cliff top location are some of the biggest reasons to visit the temple. We recommend trekking through the National Park up the hill to the temple.
Kampot is synonymous with two things; pepper and durian. The pepper plantations that line the countryside around Kampot attract visitors from all over the world. The city is also known for the odd smelling durian fruit. So famous is durian that the people of Kampot built a monument in its honour. When you do find yourself in the city we suggest plantation tours, a trip to the durian monument, a visit to the city museum and an evening at a riverside café watching the sun go down on the Praek Tuek Chhu river.
Mondulkiri is the wild, untamed Cambodia most visitors never get to see. Its dense jungles teeming with elephants, monkeys and colourful birds are quite unlike the sandy beaches of Snooky and the paddy fields of Siem Reap which is exactly why you should go there. The region has verdant rolling hills with scores of ecotourism projects that would be happy to give you a taste of the wild. Should you decide to venture into the rainforest, be sure to make stop for a drink at the Busra Waterfall.
Angelina Jolie swinging through its sanctum as Lara Croft is what shot the temple to fame, but Ta Prohm has been a tourist magnet for centuries. With trees growing out the ruins of the temple, the jungle has engulfed Ta Prohm. The decay only adds to the eerie atmosphere of the temple and draws visitors to it. It was built as a temple in the 12th century dedicated to Lord Brahma but eventually turned into a Buddhist Monastery before the fall of the Khmer empire turned it into the what it is today. You are free to explore the galleries within the temple and the ruins of a library once used by 12th century monks but a word of caution; watch out for the roots!