Cambodia has an amazing, vibrant, unavoidable soul and it rubs off on every person that visits this beautiful country. Whether you are staying for a couple of weeks or passing through, there are a couple of sites that you must see.
Before you head to Cambodia, make sure you have:
A visa. Most visitors require a one month tourist visa to Cambodia ($25), most visas will be granted at arrival. Make sure you have a passport sized photo with you.
Travel insurance. Hospitals are extremely basic in provinces and even in Phnom Penh facilities are not up to standard. Anyone who has a serious injury or illness while travelling in Cambodia will require emergency evacuation to Bangkok. So make sure you have a travel insurance which covers you for medical expenses before you leave home. It is also a good idea to look for travel insurance which can provide you with guidance during emergencies. For example Fast Cover, which insures Australian travelers, gives travelers access to the Allianz Global Assistance team which can be contacted 24/7 to help during medical emergencies.
A torch, mosquito repellent, and a rain cover for your backpack.
The sites you cannot miss:
SIEM REAP AND THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR
The life-support system for the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap was always destined for great things.
Its French-colonial architecture and thriving arts scene has seen Siem Reap become a top-rated destination. You can cycle along the quiet country trails through rice fields and charming Cambodian villages. Make multiple stops and meet local villagers to better understand everyday life in the area.
The temples of Angkor – one of the seven wonders of the world- are a source of inspiration and national pride to all Khmers as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years of terror and trauma. The history and architecture are unbelievable and the energy inside and surrounding these seemingly impossible temples is a wonderful, magical feeling. Take your time seeing the temples. They are very detailed and large and it can take a few days to be satisfied.
Tip: Watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat but get off the main walkway and sit on the steps of the outpost buildings to avoid the crowds and sit for optimal unobstructed viewing. One warning; beware of monkeys. They swarm the place and will grab stuff out of your hands
Phnom Penh is a chaotic yet charming city that has thrown off the shadows of a tragic recent history. Cambodia’s riverside capital is abuzz with youthful energy with hotels, restaurants and bars ready to welcome urban explorers.
Explore it by foot – Explore the backstreets and spot the many examples of French-colonial architecture and visit the inspiring National Museum and the depressing Tuol Sleng prison, showcasing the best and worst of Cambodian history.
Tip: To get to Phnom Pen drive 6 hours on Route 6 from Siem Reap. The road cuts through authentic rural Cambodia. You’ll see shacks with grass-grown driveways just big enough for a bicycle or scooter. Roadside stands also hawk urine-yellow petrol in glass bottles for motorbikes on its last fumes. Check out straw-hat topped workers in the rice paddies, stubborn road-blocking cows, ox-driven carts laden with hay, open trucks stacked with mongo rice bags, and of course, the famous fried spiders.
THE KILLING FIELDS
It’s a monument unlike any in the world – crammed with skulls and other bones unearthed from just one of the hundreds of Cambodian Killing Fields. The Killing Fields tell Cambodia’s horrifying recent history and is a must-see destination when you visit the country. The Killing Fields is the location where millions of the Camair people were killed by the Khmer Rouge while ruling Cambodia from 1975 -1979.
Despite a reputation for backpacker hedonism, Sihanoukville’s real appeal lies in its beaches. On nearby islands like Koh Rong there are no roads and only generator power supplies electricity to a few places for a couple hours a day. There are four different places to stay that take up three miles of the islands beaches (only three places are available in rainy season because of the poisonous snakes on the far side of the island). Here you can find the most beautiful and vibrant people on this planet!
Unfurling along the banks of the Sangker River, Battambang is one of the country’s best-preserved colonial-era towns, far from the most popular destinations.
Beyond the town lie the Cambodian countryside and a cluster of ancient temples, and further down is Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary.
TONLE SAP LAKE
Take a boat to the Floating Villages. This is an eye-opening look at the abject poverty and subsistence living in the primitive fishing villages of Cambodia. You’ll pass shacks on stilts, children paddling with babies in canoes, and livestock in floating pens. Be sure to take lots of fresh fruit or school supplies. Stop at the Temple – an oasis of flame-colored serenity in the midst of the squalor.
Eventually the endless rice fields and sugar palms that characterise the Cambodian landscape give way to rolling hills. Mondulkiri is the wild east, home to the hardy Bunong people, who still practice animism and ancestor worship. See the thunderous waterfalls, jungle treks and spotting endangered black-shanked douc to the mix and you have the right recipe for adventure.
Tip: Elephants are used here, but avoid riding on them, better to see them at the Elephant Valley Project, where you can experience “walking with the herd”.
PRASAT PREAH VIHEAR
Prasat Preah Vihear stands majestically atop the Dangkrek Mountains. The foundation stones of the temple stretch to the edge of the cliff as it falls away to the plains below, and the views across northern Cambodia are incredible. The 300-year chronology of its construction offers an insight into the metamorphosis of carving and sculpture in the Angkorian period.
Everyone has tried Thai and Vietnamese specialities before they hit the region, but Khmer cuisine remains under the culinary radar. Amok (baked fish with lemongrass, chilli and coconut) is the national dish, but sumptuous seafood and fresh fish dishes are plentiful, including Kep crab infused with Kampot pepper.
Have you visited Cambodia or will you be going soon?