Attractions & Things to Do in Cambodia

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Highlights

If this is your first Cambodia travel experience, there are some iconic cities, sites and destinations located throughout the country that are simply a must-see for first-time travel to Cambodia, but it really all boils down to the temples at Angkor. However, the capital Phnom Penh is nothing if not enlightening, and we consider it essential as well.

TEMPLES OF ANGKOR

ANGKOR WAT

An essential stop on any tour of Cambodia, the first glimpse of the towers of Angkor Wat will bring goose bumps to even the most jaded traveler. As one approaches the wonderment only increases-the enormity is almost unbelievable and the stone bas-reliefs so exquisitely carved.

Get there for sunrise at the main entrance and prepare to be floored. The sunset from its upper gallery is also unforgettable. There is an air of immense mystery to the Angkor complex, like a pervading fragrance that intoxicates the traveler. Once in your lifetime you simply have to see this.

ANGKOR THOM

Angkor Thom, the "Great City," was the last capital of the Khmer Empire, built by King Jayavarman VII at the turn of the 12th to 13th centuries. Inside its walls lie Baphuon, Phimeanakas, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, and at the very center, the Bayon, with over 200 faces carved on its 54 towers. If you have only a day, visit the temples above and Ta Prohm, which has been mostly untouched by archaeologists and remains in the grasp of the jungle.

Within its jungle-covered ruins immense kapok trees grow through the gray sandstone galleries. An almost overwhelming sense of wonder and awe will wash over you in this sanctuary, as your imagination attempts to fathom the life pulsing throughout these structures at the height of the Khmer empire.

PREAH KHAN

This magnificent and massive maze of corridors and carvings is currently being restored by the World Monument Fund and is well worth a visit.

PREAH NEAK PEAN

With its collection of five ponds and unusual design, this is a compact, and generally untouristed, little-known gem.

Other important structures to visit if you have two days are Prasat Kravan, Pre Rup, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei and Sras Srang.

AROUND ANGKOR

BANTEAY SREI

The "Citadel of Women" is a small jewel of a temple built 50 miles northeast of the Bayon. Its rose-colored sandstone walls house what many consider to be the best carvings and bas-reliefs of any temple at Angkor. The standard of work and the state of preservation make Banteay Srei extraordinary. 

ROLUOS GROUP

This area is a daytrip from the main Angkor complex and well worth a visit. The three temples (Bakong, Lolei and Preah Ko) were built in the late 9th century and are the oldest at Angkor. Stop in the morning at the little upcountry market in Roluos town.

Royal Palace Roof Phnom Penh Camobdia

PHNOM PENH

Once considered the loveliest of the French-built cities of Indochina, Phnom Penh’s charms are once again being discovered and revitalized after decades of neglect. A palpable youthful energy is pumping through the colonial streets as Cambodia renegotiates its role on the world stage.

TUOL SLENG & CHOEUNG EK

Sobering but necessary to understanding contemporary Cambodia, these two important sites provide insight into the brutality of the Khmer Rouge’s ultraradical Marxist regime of the 1970s. A visit to this prison and mass execution site is undeniably intense but we highly recommend it to understand the hurdles the country is struggling to overcome.

Siem Reap Cambodia Monk

SIEM REAP

With its stately riverfront trees and fine old buildings, Siem Reap town is a good place for a wander by foot or by bicycle. There are shops selling crafts, silks and souvenirs opposite the river, a large market on the south edge of town and a large souvenir market behind the Ta Prohm Hotel.

Several times a week that establishment puts on a classical dance performance by the river. The Angkor National Museum, which opened in 2007, features eight galleries that explore many facets of Khmer culture in a well-interpreted collection.

About 6 miles outside of Siem Reap in the rural countryside is the Cambodia Landmine Museum. Far more than an exhibit, this facility is home, school, orphanage and clinic to 30 landmine victims. Former Khmer Rouge child soldier Aki Ra founded the facility. Ra was forced to lay thousands of mines as a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, but has spent the last decade removing over 50,000 mines and has become a legendary landmine activist in his country. Millions of mines still exist in Cambodia's countryside, making otherwise arable land impossible to farm and forcing villagers into squalid cities in search of work. This museum and facility provides great insight into this dynamic in modern-day Cambodia, and it is a moving experience to visit this place.

Tonle Sap Lake Siem Reap Cambodia

TONLE SAP

The main freshwater feature of this small country, Tonle Sap (the “great lake”) is a fascinating world unto itself. Kayak along the shore to access stilted villages hugging the water’s edge or venture into haunting mangrove forests rich with endemic birdlife.

Adventures

Have more time, second trip to Cambodia, or looking for something specific? Here are some additional highlights when creating your custom Cambodia travel plan.

KOH KER

Adventurous souls will want to explore the recently opened ruins at Koh Ker, a former Angkorian capital in the northwest. They constitute one of the most remote temple sites in Cambodia that is currently accessible.

Getting there will be half the fun-or perhaps half the challenge is more accurate-as you negotiate rugged potholed roads through traditional villages. Crawl over crumbling walls and descend jungle vines to access the inner courtyards. Note: This area is strewn with land mines-it is imperative that you stay with your guide on the established path at all times.

 

BENG MEALEA

Nature is re-staking her claim at the magnificent ruins of Beng Mealea. A newly paved highway makes visiting here much easier than the former bumpy ride on a rugged country road. Pass small traditional villages on your way to this remote Angkor site, well worth a visit.

Enveloped by jungle, these ruins receive far fewer visitors than Angkor Wat and exude a sense of mystery. They can be seen on a daytrip along with Banteay Srei. Feel like the French explorer Henri Mouhot did as he discovered the overgrown temples of Angkor in the mid 19th century.

Cambodia Beaches

KEP & KAMPOT

Travelers typically don’t think of Cambodia as a beach destination—but their loss is your gain. Explore miles of white-sand coastline, dotted with charming resorts and intriguing offshore islands. Just a few minutes inland, jungle hikes lead to hidden waterfalls.

Banteay Chhmar Temple Ruins Tented Camp

BANTEAY CHHMAR PRIVATE CAMP

Venture beyond Angkor, for an overnight deep in the countryside at the exquisite 12th-century Temple complex of Banteay Chhmar. Reminiscent of the undiscovered ruins of Angkor, Banteay Chhmar languishes peacefully in the forest, inviting intimate wanderings, free from other tourists.

Upon arrival, you will be welcomed by the community of local villagers before starting to explore the temple ruins on foot. A picnic lunch will be served at the west gallery close to one of the site’s most mesmerizing bas reliefs—an exquisite example of Khmer craftsmanship.

In the evening, retire to your exclusive tented camp (complete with full en-suite) just next to the temple. Enjoy a cocktail as you watch the sunset over the ruins and then tuck into a delicious Cambodian dinner, prepared in the nearby village using the freshest local ingredients and served al fresco by torchlight. After dinner, a traditional band from the village will provide a private concert of traditional Khmer music.

Sambor Prei Kuk Ruins Cambodia

SAMBOR PREI KUK

The remains of this ancient city are of great cultural and archaeological significance. UC Berkeley recently undertook a digital reconstruction of this 7th century site, noting that the Sambor Prei Kuk area illuminated "the eastern expansion of Hinduism along the trade routes from its Indic origins into Southeast Asia-one of the great cultural assimilations in human history."

Tourism has not infiltrated the area; indeed, there is only one boutique hotel available. However, it is very comfortable, and the entire experience offers a glimpse into what Cambodia was like a mere 15 years ago. We recommend a stay of two nights, and for those so inclined, the area is a wonderful place to explore by bicycle. It lies about half way between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Questions? Ready to start planning your trip?

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