Few countries are as authentic as Cambodia. Less visited than its neighbours, Thailand or Vietnam , it is now experiencing real growth after the dark episode of the Khmer Rouge.
It is its landscapes of raw beauty, its rice fields speckled with sugar palm trees, the majestic vestiges of its ambivalent history and the incredible kindness of its inhabitants that make the country special.
Without waiting, we present to you the most beautiful places to discover to visit Cambodia in all its subtlety!
1. The temples of Angkor
Symbols of the country, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap are vibrant witnesses to the grandeur of the Khmer Empire , which dominated medieval Southeast Asia. Angkor (“the city”) was the capital of the empire and at its peak had 750,000 inhabitants: it was then one of the largest cities in the world.
Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the most emblematic of the site’s temples. Considered the eighth wonder of the world, it is dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu. We advise you to come very early to admire the sunrise over the temple. The view is splendid… Another remarkable temple, Ta Prohm is swallowed up by vegetation. The cheese trees, which are home to gibbons and parrots, nestle on the ancient stones: it is as if visitors were discovering the place as it was left centuries earlier.
The alliance between Khmer architecture and the wild jungle brings a very special atmosphere. The site is huge and you can schedule your visit for 1, 3 or 7 days. To visit the temples in Angkor and avoid the crowds , do not hesitate to explore the less famous temples of the Angkor complex.
2 Phnom Kulen
To the northeast of the Angkor archaeological site, Phnom Kulen is a massif which culminates at 487 meters above sea level. It houses the sources of the rivers that bathe the ancient city. Its micro-climate makes it grow delicious fruits, famous throughout the country. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Khmers, who consider Phnom Kulen to be a sacred place.
The visit of the massif allows you to see archaeological remains which have the particularity of mixing with the water of the sources. The River of a Thousand Lingams is lined with bas-reliefs and Kbal Spean is an incredible carved river bed. At the top of the mountain is a small temple that houses a reclining Buddha. You can also bathe in majestic waterfalls, an opportunity to mingle with the local population, who are very numerous here.
3. Tonle Sap
The Tonlé Sap designates a river and a large lake located in the center of the country. Regulated by the seasons, its flow regime is unique in the world: the water empties and fills with the monsoons. During the rainy season, the watercourse of the Tonle Sap River changes direction and the area of the lake is multiplied by four! Cambodians then celebrate the water festival, or Bon Om Touk .
But the great particularity of Tonlé Sap Lake is that it is inhabited. Indeed, several communities, mainly Vietnamese, have formed there and live in what are called floating villages. The shops and homes of these extraordinary villages move on the lake according to the seasons. Visiting Cambodia is an opportunity to discover them, and to observe the curious daily life of its inhabitants.
4. Koh Rong Island
The Gulf of Thailand is home to several paradise islands attached to Cambodia. Among them, Koh Ron g is renowned for its dream beaches and festive atmosphere.
Sip delicious cocktails, take advantage of a diving session to admire the seabed, bask on white sand beaches and bathe in turquoise and crystal clear water… What is the most beautiful beach on Koh Rong? Long Beach is a little more difficult to access than the others, but will offer you a real postcard landscape.
Nearby, the island of Koh Rong Samloem is even more beautiful. Isolated and small in size, it is bordered by clear waters. Accommodation is more expensive there, but you will benefit from a wild environment, and above all quieter than Koh Rong once night falls.
The Cardamom Mountains are ideal for those who want to visit Cambodia through a great diversity of landscapes: jungle, pine forests, rice fields and green hills are on the program. On a trek or on a motorbike, the Cardamoms allow you to really get off the beaten track and sleep in the jungle, lulled by the song of birds and gibbons.
During the journey, you can stop at many local stalls. Visit Koh Kong , a very pleasant town surrounded by abandoned beaches. Koh Kong Bay on the Gulf of Siam is dotted with rivers and waterfalls.
Moreover, the village of Chi Phat is an experience to live to visit authentic Cambodia. This community has set up its village to welcome tourists and introduce them to their customs.
6. Phnom Penh
Visiting Cambodia also means discovering its history and culture. For this, the capital is a destination of choice. Although it has a bad reputation in the eyes of tourists, it is full of treasures that offer visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in Cambodian life. Its arteries blocked by the thousands of motorbikes circulating there, its markets full of noises and smells, its many monuments which testify to the prosperous or dark periods of the country’s history… Better to let yourself be carried by the current to appreciate the town.
During your visit to Phnom Penh , be sure to visit the must -sees , such as the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. Nearby, the National Museum exhibits an impressive collection of Khmer objects and offers traditional Khmer dance performances. The Tuol Sleng museum is a must-see which allows you to better understand the painful period of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, you can get lost in Phnom Penh’s Central Market, the largest in the country.
This charming town is known for the famous Kampot pepper . A break of tranquility for those who want to visit Cambodia, it has managed to retain a certain authenticity despite its tourist development. Its quiet streets come alive regularly to host different markets. A little secret for those who want to live a timeless experience, without tourists: get up at dawn to go to the fish market on the banks of the river, run by the Cham Muslim community.
Rent a bicycle or motorbike to get lost in the surroundings of the city. Visit the fish island and its pretty fishermen’s houses swept in red earth, the many water lily lakes, the salt marshes and the coastline which has a very special character.
20 kilometers from Kampot, in Bokor Park , is a colonial ghost town that is worth visiting.
It is said of Kratie that it contains the Khmer soul. This small town in northeastern Cambodia is surrounded by the arms of the Mekong. In this region, you may have the invaluable chance of spotting Irraway dolphins, which look like belugas and swim in the fresh waters of the river. This animal is unfortunately threatened and it is increasingly rare to come across it.
The city of Kratie has a particular colonial architecture. On site, you can visit the Phnom Sambok Buddhist temple which overlooks a hill with lush vegetation. The steps to access the pagoda are decorated with many large colorful monk statues. Once at the top, you can admire a magnificent panorama of the Mekong.
9. Le Ratanakiri
Ratanakiri , or Rotanah Kiri , is one of the most beautiful and remote parts of the northeast in the country, home to Virachey National Park. Its dense forests cover 80% of its area, which you can explore during treks and excursions, thus taking advantage of the welcome coolness of the region. An opportunity for nature lovers to observe the very rich biodiversity of Cambodia, particularly dense in this mountainous province. Discover its luxuriant jungles, its waterfalls, its wild animals, but also its villages sheltering a mosaic of ethnic minorities.
Admire Lake Yeak Lom, a true jewel of nature: its translucent waters are set on a volcanic crater, and the Cambodians give it a sacred character. It is said to be inhabited by protective spirits… Moreover, don’t forget to go through Banlung, nicknamed the red city because of the characteristic color of its land. The market is worth a visit, if only to meet its friendly inhabitants.
If you want to visit Cambodia while fleeing the more touristy areas, Pursat is the destination for you. A small country town renowned for its stonemasons and its marble work, it is a great destination for meeting the Khmers and making discoveries outside the traditional circuits. Do not miss to taste the delicious traditional Cambodian dishes. Not far from there, you can take a canoe to sail on the Tonlé Sap and visit the fascinating floating village of Kompong Luong, and why not spend the night there!
Another Pursat highlight is the Bamboo Train , which you can take a short walk on. It is made up of bamboo platforms, loaded with goods, which move on rails using a motor. A very good opportunity to meet the locals while watching the beautiful Cambodian countryside pass before your eyes.