Places to Visit in Cambodia
The stunning temples of Angkor are the obvious draw for most visitors, but there are many more exotic and wonderful places to visit in Cambodia.
Though much less visited than neighbouring Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodia has firmly established itself on the Southeast Asian tourist trail with several exotic and wonderful places to visit across the country. Cambodia has an alluring mix of romantic escapes and exhilarating outdoor pursuits, as well as world-renowned archaeological wonders. The stunning temples of Angkor are the obvious draw for most visitors, but the country has much else to offer: white-sand beaches, emerald paddy fields, a rich diversity of wildlife in unspoilt forests, a balmy climate, and a relaxed atmosphere that’s refreshingly low on hassle.
For a trip that covers the highlights and wonders of this charming country, follow our list of best places to visit in Cambodia.
Best Places to Visit in Cambodia
10. Siem Reap
Until recently, this French Indochinese town with its colonial buildings and tree-lined boulevards was little more than a staging post for visitors on their way to the temples of Angkor and the Roluos Group. Today, however, the town has reinvented itself as the epicentre of cool Cambodia and it is fast becoming a destination in its own right with everything from backpacker party pads to hip hotels, world-class wining and dining, and sumptuous spas. Beyond town lie floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, adrenaline-fuelled activities like quad biking and ziplining, and such cultured pursuits as cooking classes and birdwatching.
The setting for Colonel Kurtz’s jungle camp in Apocalypse Now, Ratanakiri is one of Cambodia’s most remote and pretty provinces. Home to Virachey National Park, one of the largest protected areas in the country, this is serious trekking country. Possible animal encounters here include elephants and gibbons. Swimming is popular too, with jungle waterfalls and a beautiful crater lake within striking distance of provincial capital Ban Lung. Home to a diverse mosaic of ethnic-minority people, Ratanakiri is a world away from lowland Cambodia and is making a name for itself as a diverse region of outstanding natural beauty.
8. Prasat Preah Vihear
The mother of all mountain temples, Prasat Preah Vihear stands majestically atop the Dangkrek Mountains, forming a controversial border post between Cambodia and Thailand. The foundation stones of the temple stretch to the edge of the cliff as it falls precipitously away to the plains below, and the views across northern Cambodia are breathtaking: lowland Cambodia, 550m below, stretches as far as the eye can see, with the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen looming in the distance. The 300-year chronology of its construction also offers an insight into the metamorphosis of carving and sculpture during the Angkorian period. It’s all about location, though, and it doesn’t get better than this.
Gateway to the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins of the Mekong River, the lively riverside town of Kratie is emerging as a busy crossroads on the overland route between Phnom Penh and northeastern Cambodia or southern Laos. The town has a certain decaying colonial grandeur and boasts some of the country’s best Mekong sunsets. Nearby Koh Trong is a relaxing place to experience a homestay or explore on two wheels. North of Kratie lies the Mekong Discovery Trail, with adventures and experiences themed around the mother river, including community-based homestays, bicycle rides and boat trips.
There is one word to describe Battambang – ‘Charming’. This is the real Cambodia, far from the jet-set destinations of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Unfurling along the banks of the Sangker River, Battambang is one of the country’s best-preserved colonial-era towns. Streets of French shophouses host everything from fair-trade cafes to bike excursions. Beyond the town lies the Cambodian countryside and a cluster of ancient temples – while they’re not exactly Angkor Wat, they do, mercifully, lack the crowds. Further afield is Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, a world-class bird sanctuary. The most scenic river trip in the country links Battambang with Siem Reap.
5. Kampot & Kep
These south coast retreats form the perfect combination for those looking to get beyond the beaches of Sihanoukville. In the laidback riverside town of Kampot, take in the wonderful French colonial architecture, explore the pretty river by paddleboard or kayak, and day-trip to wild Bokor National Park. The sleepier seaside resort town of Kep is famed for its spectacular sunsets ans splendid seafood. It offers visitors its famous Crab Market, hiking in Kep National Park and hidden resorts to escape from it all. Crumbling half-century-old villas in both towns offer glimpses of a time when these were prime destinations for Phnom Penh’s privileged few.
Eventually the endless rice fields and sugar palms that characterise the Cambodian landscape give way to rolling hills. Often referred to as “the Switzerland of Cambodia” for its grassy landscape, rolling hills, and two large lakes, Mondulkiri is the wild east of the country and home to the hardy Bunong people, who still practice animism and ancestor worship. Elephants are used here, but better than riding them is visiting them at the Elephant Valley Project, where you can experience ‘walking with the herd’. Add thunderous waterfalls, jungle treks and black-shanked douc spotting to the mix and you have just the right recipe for adventure.
Despite a reputation for backpacker hedonism, Sihanoukville’s real appeal lies in its beaches. Surrounded by stunning white-sand beaches, undeveloped tropical islands and azure waters, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s most happening beach destination. On nearby islands like Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, resorts are creating a laidback beach vibe. One the mainland, it’s only 5km from the grittier central beach, Occheuteal, to Otres Beach, still mellow and sublime despite the long-looming threat of development. More central Victory Beach, Independence Beach, Sokha Beach, and even backpacker favourite Serendipity Beach all have their charms and unique personalities. The emergence of the southern islands as cradles of castaway cool give non-backpackers a reason to visit.
2. Phnom Penh
The Cambodian capital is a chaotic yet charming city that has thrown off the shadows of the past to embrace a bright future. Boasting one of the most beautiful riverfronts in the region, Phnom Penh is in the midst of a boom, with hip hotels, designer restaurants and funky bars ready to welcome urban explorers. Experience emotional extremes at the inspiring National Museum and the depressing Tuol Sleng prison, showcasing the best and worst of Cambodian history. Add to that the glimmering spires of the Royal Palace, the fluttering saffron of the monks’ robes and the luscious location on the banks of the Mekong River and you have the quintessential Asia many dream of when first imagining an overseas adventure.
One of the world’s most magnificent sights, the temples of Angkor are so much better than the superlatives. Choose from Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building: Bayon, one of the world’s weirdest, with its immense stone faces; and Ta Prohm, where nature runs amok. The temples are the perfect fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion. The Cambodian ‘god-kings’ of old each strove to better their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry. Today, the temples are a point of pilgrimage for all Cambodians, and no traveller to the region will want to miss their extravagant beauty.