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Best Places to Visit in Cambodia

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, and a popular resort town as the gateway to Angkor region. Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are museums, traditional Apsara dance performances, a Cambodian cultural village, souvenir and handycraft shops, silk farms, rice-paddies in the countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake. Siem Reap today—being a popular tourist destination—has a large number of hotels, resorts, restaurants and businesses closely related to tourism. This is much owed to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia.

Angkor Temples

Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1992, the Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact place it alongside other wonders of the world like the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. Built between seven and eleven centuries ago the temples—about 100 of which are still standing—were devoted to Buddha and Hindu deities. Within the fortified city of Angkor Thom lies the Bayon temple, the third tier of which is lined by more than 200 huge, carved faces that stare down from 54 towers.  Other highlights include the Buddhist temple of Ta Prohm, which was not been restored and looks just as it did when French explorers stumbled upon it in the 1860s, and Angkor Wat, a vast temple complex dedicated to Vishnu in the early 12th century. Many of the temples are covered with fantastic carvings depicting religious stories and scenes from daily life.

When you visit the temples, you will be issued an “Angkor Pass” which is similar to an entrance ticket but has your photo on it. The pass allows you access to all the temples in the complex and some surrounding structures. Make sure you keep the pass with you at all times just in case you would like to explore the temples in your leisure time, as long as the date is still valid.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, formerly known as Chaktomuk, is the capital and most populous city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation’s center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia. Once known as the “Pearl of Asia,” it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards. Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 1.5 million[1 of Cambodia’s population of over 14.8 million.

Battambang

Battambang is the capital city of Battambang province in north western Cambodia. Founded in the 11th century by the Khmer Empire, Battambang is the leading rice-producing province of the country. For nearly 100 years it was a major commercial hub and provincial capital of Siamese province of Inner Cambodia (1795-1907), though it was always populated by Khmer, with some ethnic Vietnamese, Lao, Thai and Chinese. Battambang remains the hub of Cambodia’s northwest, connecting the region with Phnom Penh and Thailand. The city is situated on the Sangkae River, a tranquil, small body of water that winds its way picturesquely through Battambang Province. As with much of Cambodia, French Colonial architecture is a notable aspect of the city, with some of the best-preserved examples in the country.

Coastline

Following years of neglect and isolation when it was practically cut off from the rest of the country due to security issues in the hinterland, the Cambodian coast has been rapidly developed as a tourist destination over the past few years. Foreign investors have joined local businessmen in developing hotels, resorts and better-quality restaurants. To be sure, there is some way to go – but for the people of Phnom Penh and ­for foreign travellers, trips to the coast and long hours of swimming and sunbathing by the Gulf of Thailand are back in vogue. The coast features palm-fringed beaches, a scattering of resorts and some beautiful offshore islands. A short distance inland are a series of national parks and some impressive mountain scenery.

Places to visit around the Cambodian Coast:

Kep

In contrast to the popular and bustling beachfronts in Sihanoukville, Kep is a small and low-key beach town. From the early 20th century through the 1960s, Kep was Cambodia’s premier beach town, drawing weekend holiday-makers to its picturesque shores lined with ritzy ocean side villas of the privileged class. Nowadays, the old villas are in ruins, and the town is known more for its oceanfront seafood stalls than for its beaches, which are narrow and stony, offering just a few slivers of sand. Nearby attractions include Bokor Hill Station, a mountaintop collection of colonial buildings (hotel, casino, church, and royal residence) constructed by French authorities in the early 1920s as a retreat for French officials and foreign visitors to old Indochina and Rabbit Island, a short 20minute trip from the shores of Kep with beautiful beaches and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Getting here: From Kampot, it is a 25km (30-45 mins) trip on paved, smooth road through scenic Cambodian countryside. From Phnom Penh it is 3 hours.


Kampot

Kampot, the capital of the eponymous province, is a small, relaxed town of around 33,000 people. Just 5km (3 miles) inland, by the banks of the Sanke River, there is a coastal feel to the place which adds to its rather languid appeal. A series of narrow, colonnaded streets lead west from the main central roundabout to the riverfront. Although in need of restoration, there are some fine examples of French and Chinese architecture to be seen in this warren, as well as the best of Kampot’s restaurants. There are some particularly handsome colonial buildings in this area, notably the Governor’s Residence and the main post office at the southern end of the riverfront. Fishing boats cluster on the far side of the Sanke River.


Bokor National Park

The Chuor Phnom Damrei, a wild region of wildlife-rich forests and sheer rock outcrops about 40km (25 miles) northwest of Kampot. Part of the range is protected by the Bokor National Park, within which is the 1,079-metre (3,506ft) high former hill station of Bokor. Often shrouded in mist, the hill resort was built by the French in the early 1920s, but later fell on hard times under the Communist guerrillas and the Khmer Rouge. The hillsides still harbour the danger of landmines, so visitors should keep to the tracks. The ruins of the old hill station include the Black Palace complex, King Sihanouk’s former retreat, and the huge Bokor Palace Hotel, which included a casino as well as a small church. There has been only modest encroachment by development and Bokor (and the other southern parks Kirirom and Ream) is a treasure trove of endangered species. Tigers, elephants, gaur, leopards and langurs are found in the jungles.


Sihanoukville

Once a holiday haven for the rich, these days Sihanoukville is packed at weekends with visitors from the capital. As the country’s third-most-visited tourist destination, it is seeing a steadily increasing number of foreign visitors, and can be crowded during the dry season. There are numerous hotels and guesthouses of all classes, with many run by expatriate Westerners. Sihanoukville’s restaurants offer a wide choice of cuisines, and seafood is fresh and plentiful. The main activities are, as one might suspect, sunbathing and swimming. There’s also good snorkelling and fishing, while diving trips are available with experienced dive instructors. In all, Sihanoukville has about 10km (6 miles) of beachfront, divided into four main beaches. The nightlife here is the liveliest in the country.


Koh Kong

Koh Kong – confusingly the name of the province, the provincial capital and an offshore island – is a fast-developing island resort, a beautiful tropical backwater which is establishing itself as a leading eco­tourism centre: the nearby Koh Kong Conservation Corridor encompasses the Cardamom Mountains, Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, Koh Por and Tatai waterfalls, Koh Kong Island, Southern and Central Cardamoms Protected Forests, and a portion of Botum Sakor National Park. All of these sights present endless outdoor activities and opportunities to see endangered species.

Best Places to Visit in Cambodia:

Northeast

Best Places to Visit in Cambodia’s “Wild East” contains some of the most remote yet remarkable areas in the country and the vast majority of the region is well and truly off the beaten tourist trail, yet the majority of backpackers and travellers who get to this part of Cambodia see solely the Mekong riverside towns of Kratie and Stung Treng — the former for the Irrawaddy Dolphins, the later for its proximity to Laos.

But for the more intrepid, both Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri are excellent destinations well worth exploring. The former is well regarded for enabling people to get close to elephants, waterfalls and jungle trekking potential, while the latter is the heart of Cambodia’s Wild East, with a particularly remote national park, a crater lake, trekking, boat trips and even a border crossing leading to neighboring Vietnam. The region is absolutely worth visiting. Aside from the dolphins and riverside scenery, you can visit volcanic crater lakes and the impressive Virachey National Park in Ratanakiri and waterfalls and see elephants in Mondulkiri — all the time soaking up an interesting and very hospitable part of the country.

Places to visit around Northeastern of Cambodia:

Ratanakiri

Banlung City is the provincial capital of Ratanakiri Province in the mountainous northeastern corner. It is one of the poorest regions in the country with a sparse population of 150,000. Ratanakiri is known for its lush forests and rich biodiversity, though recent development is threatening the province’s ecological health. Some of the most biologically diverse lowland tropical rainforest and mountain forest ecosystems of mainland Southeast Asia are located in Ratanakiri. Activities include excursions/treks to remote Khmer Loeu villages and jungle areas, waterfalls, gem mines, and Ratanakiri’s famous Yeak Laom volcanic lake.


Mondulkiri

Mondolkiri is the largest province of Cambodia but is sparsely populated with about 40,000 people. Located on the eastern highlands, Mondolkiri has scenery and a climate quite unlike anywhere else in the country. There are rolling grassy hills, serene rivers, powerful waterfalls, and forested mountains. At an average elevation of 800m, it can get quite chilly at night. Mondulkiri has numerous tourist attractions such as waterfalls, indigenous hilltribe culture, national parks and elephant trekking. Sen Monorom, the provincial capital, is a quiet town with a frontier feel, although it has potential to develop into an eco-tourism center.


Kratie

A charming, cheerful little town on the Mekong, Kratie is best known for its dolphins, in particular the Mekong Irrawaddy dolphins. Roughly 80 of the dwindling population of these dolphins make their home off the village of Kampi, 20 kilometres north of Kratie. The swirling waters here are considered one of the best places in the world to catch sight of this critically endangered creature.


Stung Treng

Stung Treng sits on Cambodia’s northern border with Laos, at the point where the Mekong River drives into Cambodia after swirling around southern Laos’ 4,000 Islands. Originally part of its northern neighbor, it was transferred to Cambodian possession by the French but to this day, you’ll still hear a lot of Lao spoken in this extensive province. Most travellers stay in the eponymous provincial capital on the east bank of the River San, a tributary of the Mekong.


Preah Vihear

The object of a longstanding territorial dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, which has at times turned lethal, Prasat Preah Vihear is one of the kingdom’s most stunning creations, not just because of the temple itself but thanks to the spectacular views across northwest Cambodia afforded from atop the 650 metre-high cliffs at the temple’s apex.