When it comes to exploring Southeast Asia, Cambodia stands out as a hidden gem with its rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture.
If you’re planning your next adventure, here are the top 10 places to visit in Cambodia that should be on your list.
Top 10 Places to Visit in Cambodia
Cambodia, a country located in the heart of Southeast Asia, is known for its awe-inspiring temples, lush jungles, and captivating history.
The land of the Khmer Empire is a traveler’s paradise, offering a unique blend of ancient wonders and modern delights.
Below are the top 10 places to visit in Cambodia.
- Angkor Wat – The Iconic Temple
- Exploring Phnom Penh
- Siem Reap and its Hidden Gems
- The Beautiful Coastline of Sihanoukville
- Battambang – A Quaint Riverside Town
- Discovering the Mystical Temples of Angkor Thom
- The Wildlife of Cardamom Mountains
- Historical Significance of Killing Fields
- Delicious Cambodian Cuisine
- Local Markets and Shopping
1. Angkor Wat – The Iconic Temple
Angkor Wat, often referred to as the crown jewel of Cambodia, is an architectural masterpiece that takes you on a journey back in time. Located in Siem Reap, this UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest religious monument globally, and its grandeur is beyond words.
Let’s talk about the details of this iconic temple:
- Architecture and Design: Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century during the Khmer Empire and is a prime example of Khmer architecture. The temple complex covers 162.6 hectares and is designed to represent the mythical Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Hindu cosmology. It consists of three rectangular galleries, each rising higher and symbolizing the three realms of Hindu mythology.
- Intricate Carvings: What sets Angkor Wat apart is its intricate and detailed carvings that adorn almost every inch of the temple. These carvings depict various Hindu mythological scenes, stories from the Ramayana, and the famous “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” narrative. The precision and artistry of these carvings are a testament to the skill of the Khmer craftsmen.
- Sunrise and Sunset Views: One of the most magical experiences at Angkor Wat is witnessing the sunrise and sunset. The temple’s silhouette against the changing colors of the sky is an unforgettable sight. Many visitors gather at the temple early in the morning to witness the sun rising behind the iconic spires, casting a mesmerizing reflection in the surrounding moat.
- Exploring the Temple: Visitors can explore the temple’s five towers, each representing Mount Meru, and climb to the uppermost level for a panoramic view of the temple complex and the surrounding jungle. As you wander through the temple’s galleries, you’ll be awe-struck by the sheer size and beauty of the place.
Angkor Wat is not only a magnificent temple but also a symbol of Cambodia’s rich history and culture. It’s a place where you can appreciate the artistry and devotion of the Khmer people and immerse yourself in the spiritual atmosphere that still lingers.
2. Exploring Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia, offers a rich tapestry of culture, history, and contemporary life. Here’s a deeper look into some of the must-visit attractions in the city:
- The Royal Palace: The Royal Palace is a splendid architectural masterpiece that serves as the official residence of the King of Cambodia. It’s a remarkable blend of traditional Khmer design and French-inspired architecture. Visitors can explore the Silver Pagoda, which houses a priceless collection of gold and jeweled Buddha statues, as well as the stunning Emerald Buddha.
- The National Museum: For those interested in Cambodian art and history, the National Museum is a treasure trove. It houses an extensive collection of Khmer art, including sculptures, ceramics, and bronzes. The museum provides valuable insights into the country’s rich cultural heritage.
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: While a visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a somber experience, it’s an essential part of understanding Cambodia’s tragic past. The museum was once a high school but was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge regime. It’s a harrowing reminder of the dark chapter in Cambodian history.
- Wat Phnom: Wat Phnom is a sacred hill and temple that stands at the heart of Phnom Penh. It’s a serene place where locals come to pay their respects and make offerings. The temple is also surrounded by a small park, providing a peaceful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Phnom Penh encapsulates Cambodia’s complex history and vibrant present. It’s a city where tradition and modernity coexist, offering a unique and enriching experience for visitors.
3. Siem Reap and its Hidden Gems
Siem Reap, often associated with Angkor Wat, is much more than a mere gateway to the famous temple complex. It’s a town with its own charm and hidden gems waiting to be discovered:
- Lively Arts Scene: Siem Reap boasts a vibrant arts scene, with numerous art galleries and workshops. Visitors can explore the works of local and international artists, and even take part in art classes to unleash their creative side.
- Bustling Markets: In addition to the renowned Angkor Night Market, Siem Reap has several markets that provide a glimpse into local life. The Old Market (Phsar Chas) is a bustling hub of activity, offering everything from local crafts to delectable street food.
- Vibrant Nightlife: Siem Reap’s nightlife scene is vibrant, with numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs. Pub Street is the center of the action, where you can enjoy live music, dance, and savor delicious cocktails.
- Hidden Temples: While Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom steal the limelight, Siem Reap is also home to lesser-known temples, such as Banteay Srei and Banteay Samré. These temples offer a quieter and more intimate experience for those seeking solace.
Siem Reap’s allure extends beyond the iconic temple complex, making it a destination in its own right. It’s a place where you can explore the local culture, engage with artists, and experience the vibrant atmosphere of a thriving town.
4. The Beautiful Coastline of Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville, located on the southwestern coast of Cambodia, is renowned for its pristine beaches and turquoise waters. Here’s a closer look at what this coastal paradise has to offer:
- Serene Beaches: Sihanoukville boasts several beautiful beaches, including Ochheuteal Beach, Otres Beach, and Serendipity Beach. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing day in the sun, water sports, or beachfront dining, you’ll find it all here.
- Water Sports: The calm waters of Sihanoukville are perfect for water sports enthusiasts. You can enjoy activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, and even take boat trips to nearby islands.
- Island Getaways: Sihanoukville is a gateway to some stunning nearby islands. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem are known for their pristine beaches, clear waters, and a more laid-back atmosphere.
- Seafood Delights: Don’t miss the opportunity to savor fresh seafood at the local restaurants. From grilled fish to crab, the seafood in Sihanoukville is a culinary treat.
Sihanoukville offers a serene and picturesque escape for beach lovers, adventurers, and those seeking relaxation by the sea. The beautiful coastline and the surrounding islands make it a must-visit destination in Cambodia.
5. Battambang – A Quaint Riverside Town
Battambang, a charming riverside town in Cambodia, provides a tranquil and cultural escape. Here’s a closer look at the town’s unique attractions:
- French Colonial Architecture: Battambang is known for its well-preserved French colonial architecture. Strolling through the town, you’ll come across elegant colonial-era buildings that transport you back in time.
- Bamboo Train: A unique experience in Battambang is riding the “Bamboo Train.” These improvised bamboo platforms on wheels offer a fun and exhilarating journey through the scenic countryside.
- Phare Ponleu Selpak: This non-profit organization and art school in Battambang is a hub of creativity. It offers a range of art, music, and circus classes, and you can catch breathtaking performances by the students.
- Ancient Temples: Battambang is surrounded by ancient temples, such as Wat Banan and Wat Ek Phnom. These temples provide a glimpse into Cambodia’s historical and religious heritage.
Battambang’s peaceful ambiance, combined with its artistic and historical attractions, make it a destination where you can unwind and immerse yourself in Cambodian culture.
6. Discovering the Mystical Temples of Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom, the “Great City” in Khmer, is a sprawling archaeological wonder that continues to captivate travelers with its enigmatic beauty. Here, you’ll encounter two remarkable temples that stand as testaments to Khmer architecture and mythology.
- Bayon Temple: Bayon Temple, a central feature of Angkor Thom, is renowned for its striking stone faces. The temple is adorned with 216 serene and enigmatic faces, believed to represent either the king himself or the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Exploring the temple’s labyrinthine corridors and ascending its steep stairs allows you to get up close to these mesmerizing visages.
- Ta Prohm Temple: Ta Prohm Temple, on the other hand, offers a unique blend of architecture and nature. What makes Ta Prohm distinctive are the massive tree roots that seem to embrace the temple, giving it an almost mystical appearance. This iconic site gained global fame through its appearance in the movie “Tomb Raider,” adding to its allure.
As you wander through Angkor Thom, you’ll encounter these architectural wonders, and you’ll feel the palpable connection to Cambodia’s rich history and cultural legacy.
7. The Wildlife of Cardamom Mountains
For those who seek an adventurous and nature-filled experience in Cambodia, the Cardamom Mountains are a haven waiting to be explored. These lush mountains offer not only breathtaking landscapes but also a chance to connect with Cambodia’s diverse wildlife.
- Rainforests and Biodiversity: The Cardamom Mountains are blanketed in dense, untouched rainforests. It’s one of the largest and most pristine rainforest ecosystems in Southeast Asia, teeming with diverse flora and fauna. The region is home to various endangered species, including Indochinese tigers, Asian elephants, and Malayan sun bears.
- Trekking and Wildlife Observation: Trekking through the Cardamom Mountains provides an opportunity to witness Cambodia’s natural beauty up close. You can embark on guided hikes and wildlife observation tours to spot exotic birds, reptiles, and even elusive mammals in their natural habitat. Don’t forget your binoculars and camera to capture the wonders of the jungle.
- Conservation Efforts: The Cardamom Mountains have garnered attention for their conservation efforts. Various organizations and eco-tourism initiatives are working towards protecting this biodiversity hotspot and ensuring sustainable tourism that benefits local communities.
Exploring the Cardamom Mountains is a chance to immerse yourself in the splendor of Cambodia’s wilderness, to appreciate the importance of preserving such environments, and to experience the thrill of encountering unique wildlife.
8. Historical Significance of Killing Fields
While Cambodia’s natural beauty and temples are awe-inspiring, it’s crucial to acknowledge the country’s tragic history, particularly during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh provide a somber but essential glimpse into Cambodia’s past.
- Choeung Ek Killing Fields: Choeung Ek, located just outside Phnom Penh, was one of the many sites where mass executions took place during the Khmer Rouge era. The Killing Fields are a somber reminder of the atrocities committed during that dark period. Visitors can see mass graves, a memorial stupa, and learn about the chilling stories of the victims.
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly a high school, was turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge. This prison was a place of torture and suffering for thousands of Cambodians. The museum now serves as a memorial, displaying photographs, testimonies, and the grim remnants of the past.
Visiting these historical sites is a heart-wrenching but necessary experience to gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s resilience and the importance of preserving peace and human rights.
9. Delicious Cambodian Cuisine
Cambodian cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors and influences that reflect the country’s rich history. Here are some mouthwatering dishes to savor:
- Amok: Amok is Cambodia’s national dish, a flavorful and aromatic curry made with fish (usually catfish) or chicken. The dish is cooked with a luscious coconut milk and a mixture of fragrant herbs and spices, resulting in a creamy, slightly sweet, and mildly spicy flavor. It’s traditionally served in banana leaves, adding to the unique presentation.
- Lok Lak: Lok Lak is a savory stir-fried beef dish, often served with a side of fresh vegetables, a zesty lime and black pepper dipping sauce, and a generous serving of steamed rice. The tender and marinated beef, combined with the tangy dipping sauce, creates an explosion of flavors.
- Khmer Noodles: Khmer noodles come in various forms, but the most popular is “Num Banh Chok.” It’s a dish made with rice noodles topped with a flavorful fish-based green curry sauce and fresh, crisp vegetables. It’s a refreshing and satisfying choice, especially on a warm Cambodian day.
Exploring Cambodia’s cuisine is a delightful adventure, and these dishes are just the beginning of a culinary journey that will introduce you to the country’s diverse and flavorful food culture.
10. Local Markets and Shopping
Cambodia’s local markets offer a vibrant and authentic shopping experience, where you can find unique souvenirs, handicrafts, and traditional textiles. They are not just shopping destinations but also windows into the country’s culture and a chance to interact with the friendly locals.
- Old Market (Phsar Chas) – Siem Reap: Siem Reap’s Old Market is a bustling hub where you can find a wide array of goods, from clothing and jewelry to souvenirs and street food. It’s a great place to pick up traditional Cambodian handicrafts, including silks, ceramics, and wood carvings.
- Central Market (Phsar Thmei) – Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh’s Central Market is an iconic Art Deco building housing countless stalls. Here, you’ll find everything from jewelry and clothing to electronic gadgets. It’s a fantastic spot for purchasing gemstones and textiles.
- Psar O Russei – Battambang: Battambang’s Psar O Russei, also known as the “Big Market,” is where you can immerse yourself in the local shopping scene. It’s an excellent place to buy fresh produce, traditional snacks, and local crafts, including bamboo and rattan products.
- Night Markets – Various Locations: Cambodia boasts a plethora of night markets, particularly in tourist areas. These markets come to life in the evenings, offering a wide variety of goods. You can shop for clothing, artwork, and, of course, enjoy the delectable street food that is a staple of Cambodian markets.
Exploring these local markets is not just about shopping; it’s an opportunity to engage with Cambodian culture, support local artisans, and bring home unique mementos of your journey through this captivating country.
Frequently Asked Questions about Traveling to Cambodia
Below are some of the common questions about traveling to Cambodia.
1. Is Cambodia safe for travelers?
Cambodia is generally considered a safe destination for travelers. The country has made significant progress in terms of safety and security in recent years. However, like any other travel destination, it’s essential to exercise caution and follow some basic safety guidelines. Ensure that your belongings are secure, especially in crowded places or tourist areas. Be aware of your surroundings, particularly in bustling cities.
Avoid walking alone in poorly lit areas at night, and if you’re using transportation services, choose reputable providers. While Cambodia is safe for the most part, being a responsible traveler is key to a trouble-free journey.
2. What is the best time to visit Cambodia?
The best time to visit Cambodia is during the cool, dry season, which typically runs from November to February. During this period, the weather is relatively mild and comfortable, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing. The temperatures are lower, and humidity is reduced, providing a pleasant environment for exploring Cambodia’s historical sites, jungles, and coastline.
Keep in mind that this is the peak tourist season, so popular attractions can be more crowded. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting during the shoulder months of October or March when the weather is still pleasant, and the crowds are thinner.
3. Do I need a visa to visit Cambodia?
Yes, most travelers require a visa to enter Cambodia. The most common way to obtain a visa is upon arrival at the airport or land border crossings. You can apply for a tourist visa, which is usually valid for 30 days. It’s advisable to have your passport, a recent passport-sized photo, and the visa fee in US dollars ready when applying for the visa. Alternatively, you can apply for an e-visa in advance through the official Cambodian government website.
Make sure to check the latest visa requirements and regulations before your trip, as they can change from time to time.
4. What is the currency used in Cambodia?
The official currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel (KHR). However, it’s important to note that the United States Dollar (USD) is widely accepted and commonly used for most transactions in Cambodia, particularly in tourist areas and major cities.
Many prices for goods and services, such as accommodation and meals, are often quoted in USD. Travelers can use USD for day-to-day expenses, and ATMs are widely available for withdrawing both Cambodian Riel and US dollars. It’s recommended to carry a mix of both currencies to ensure you can pay for items or services in various locations.
5. Can I explore Cambodia on a budget?
Absolutely, Cambodia is a budget-friendly destination that offers fantastic experiences without breaking the bank. Accommodation, food, and transportation in Cambodia are generally affordable, making it an excellent choice for budget travelers.
Hostels, guesthouses, and budget hotels are widely available, and you can enjoy delicious and inexpensive street food from local markets. Public transportation, such as buses and tuk-tuks, is cost-effective for getting around. Many attractions, like temples and natural sites, have reasonable entrance fees.
With careful planning and budgeting, you can explore Cambodia’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty without straining your wallet.
In conclusion, Cambodia is a destination that offers a perfect blend of history, nature, and culture. It’s a country that will leave you awestruck with its timeless temples, picturesque landscapes, and warm-hearted people. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore this extraordinary nation and create memories that will last a lifetime.