With Siem Reap and the famous Angkor temples that were built here between the 9th and 15th centuries, Cambodia has one of the greatest tourist attractions anywhere in the world.
Covering some 400sqks, the UNESCO World Heritage Angkor Archiological Park is home to scores of temples, canals, bridges and gateways. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat, built during the first half of the 12th century and today receives more than 2 million visitors a year. Best seen at dawn before the crowds arrive and as the sun turns the east face pink, it is a truly incredible site. Ta Prohm is famous for the temple strangling trees that seem to devour the ancient structures and my own favourite is the beautiful Angkor Thom, or Bayon Temple, with its serene collection of exquisitely carved faces. With so much to see you’ll need at least two if not three days here.
But where in the past people thought that the temples of Siem Reap were all Cambodia had to offer, now things are changing. For a start there are many more wonderful Angkorian and pre-Angkorian temples to see such as at Preah Vihear, on the border with Thailand, Banteay Chhmar and at Sambor Prei Kuk on the road to Phnom Penh. And in Battambang, the provincial capital of Battambang Province, is an atmospheric and quite town, which is home to an array of temples, both old and new, and the famous bamboo train, on which our clients can take a stunning ride through the countryside.
And if you want to get further off the beaten track on your own private adventure, why not travel up to Phnom Kulem, otherwise known as the Sacred Mountains. Here you can visit waterfalls, a local village and school and trek through the jungle to find remote and fascinating temples, like the stone elephant deep in the jungle. Here you can stay in an amazing camp, put up especially for you, and have night of glamping amongst nature as the only travellers for miles around.
At some stage on your journey through Cambodia, you are bound to pass through here, the nation’s capital, Phnom Penh.
Whilst Phnom Penh my not have the plethora of obvious tourist attractions some of the other capital cities of the region possess, it is still an interesting place and definitely deserves a day or two exploring. Sitting at the confluence of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers, packed with great restaurant and bars, there are plenty of places to explore including the Wat Phnom, the city’s first pagoda, the old French Quarter and the towns busy market. There are also some great places to stay the most famous of which is Raffles Hotel.
Heading south from Phnom Penh you’ll come to Kep. Under French rule, Kep – known at the time as Kep-Sur-Mer – was Cambodia’s most prestigious beach town. Established in 1908 it became a thriving resort for the French and following independence for the Cambodian elite. Although the beach is nothing much to shout about, its architecture, its cuisine and its sleepy, laid-back atmosphere make it is a lovely place to discover.
The most important thing about Kep today is its famous crab market, which is a fascinating place to visit as the catch comes in. It’s also a good place to grab lunch.
From here you can head into the Cardamom Mountains for some more trekking and adventure activities, or for some R&R and some more great food further down to the beach town of Sihanoukville.
With increased economic growth has come a huge improvement in the country’s infrastructure. Roads are in good condition, fine restaurants offer great cuisine and impressive hotels are springing up all over the country.
In Siem Reap and Phnom Penh the choices are endless. In Kep you have the absolutely wonderful and architecturally significant Knai Bang Chatt. In Koh Kong province, close the Thai Border, is the stunning 4 Rivers Resort – a unique floating luxury camp, exquisitely positioned at a bend in the Tatai River offering some of the most original accommodation anywhere in Southeast Asia. And if you really want to push the boat out on the private island of Song Saa you have one of the most amazing resorts in the region.
Added to that great guides can be found and the country is totally safe.
So almost three decades after Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge tore the country apart, Cambodia is finally immerging as one of Southeast Asia’s most exciting travel destinations.