Top 10 Things to See and Do
1. A predictable list-topper of course, but you have not truly travelled to Cambodia until you’ve visited the awe-inspiring crown jewel of the nation, the Temples of Angkor. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and one of the eight wonders of the world, the hundreds of temples rise regally across four hundred square kilometres, constituting the remarkable skeleton of an empire that once stretched from Burma to Vietnam.
2. Visit Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, for a taste of serene, agricultural Cambodia. Board a remork (Cambodian tuk-tuk) and cruise between the floating villages and stilted houses that are home to Cambodia’s fishing communities – keep an eye out for their shops, schools, hospitals and even crocodile farms.
3. Although often an upsetting experience, a tour of the infamous S21 Prison and the Killing Fields is also a shatteringly powerful one; it provides an important insight into Cambodia’s recent, harrowing past, and will give a renewed appreciation for the indomitable spirit of the country’s inspiring people.
4. A city of captivating contrasts, old and new Asia intertwine in Phnom Penh, a place where motorbikes will roar past a group of red-robed monks, pungent scents float through the streets from market stalls, and cosmopolitanism holds hands with old world chaos.
5. Rising majestically over the riverside, the Royal Palace is the ornate centrepiece of the Phnom Penh skyline. The official residence of King Sihimoni, visitors are still allowed to view the throne hall and some of the buildings surrounding it, as well as the Silver Pagoda complex located adjacent to it.
6. With a more laid-back vibe than chaotic Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is nonetheless at the heart of New Cambodia, with world class hotels, restaurants and spas, as well as the old-world charm of its tree-lined boulevards and bustling market.
7. The famous bamboo train, which runs southeast from O Dambong to O Sra La, consists of carriages made of light bamboo, and clicks and clacks its way along at around 15km per hour – a train experience truly unlike anything you will be used to along a beautifully scenic route.
8. Learn to make traditional Cambodian cuisine in authentic, interactive cooking classes lead by keen chefs! Available in many cities and tourist destinations, but often in rural villages as well, these fun classes equip you with the skills to share the most delicious part of your Cambodian experience with your friends back home.
9. With its diverse terrain and endlessly beautiful landscape, Cambodia is a great country to explore by bike. High quality bikes are now readily available to rent in Phnom Penh, and cycling tourists are enthusiastically welcomed in small rural villages!
10. Not far from the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia comprises four terracotta pavilions facing a picturesque garden, and houses the world’s finest collection of Khmer sculpture, dating back more than a millennium.
Top 10 Family Experiences
1. With miles upon miles of white sands and crystal blue waters, there is no good reason why Cambodia’s beaches are often overlooked in favour of Thailand’s, however their lack of development makes them ideal places for families to set up camp and relax.
2. Wildlife tours with Wildlife Alliance are a great way interact with a whole variety of rescued animals, including elephant, macaques, gibbons, and even tigers and crocodiles. Tours can include walks with elephants and the chance to feed baby animals in the sanctuary nursery – best of all, all proceeds contribute to the rescue and care of wildlife at Phnom Tamao.
3. For the ultimate elephant experience, learn the art of the mahout for a day at the Elephant Valley Project. Begin with a tour of the project before learning about the elephants and their body language, experiencing a ride and even helping to wash down the elephants.
4. For a slightly more meaningful culinary experience, why not go for a family meal at one of Phnom Penh’s charitable restaurants? Not only is the food delicious and the service excellent, but the proceeds help to provide restaurant training and jobs for street children.
5. Families of thrill seekers should explore the Cambodian countryside and coastline by quad bike! Quads are automatic, making them easy to handle for beginners, and rental leases are from ninety minutes to a full day.
6. For those who would prefer their exploration to be a little less full-throttle, experience the countryside in a calmer way on horseback. Popular rides take in Wat Athvea, and riding lessons are available for children and beginners.
7. Under 11s are admitted free to the Angkor Heritage Park, which is simply one more reason to visit Cambodia’s most mesmerising location.
8. For a colourful visual treat and a taste of traditional Cambodian culture, be sure to attend at least one performance of an Apsara dance. Best described as ‘dance-drama’, traditional stories and messages are conveyed through the medium of classical dance, shadow theatre, Lakhon Khol (all-male masked dance) and folk dance.
9. The many outdoor markets of Phnom Penh make for a series of interesting excursions for all the family. Peruse clothes, games, handicrafts, wooden toys and DVDs, and join other local families for a picnic dinner at the weekend night market.
10. Cool down with a trip to the Phnom Penh Water Park, with an impressive array of waterslides, a sizeable jungle gym and plenty of shallow areas for the little ones to enjoy. Best visited on the weekend, as the largest slides are sometimes turned off during the week.
Top 10 Honeymoon Experiences
1. Marooned amongst exquisite settings on the remote islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong (connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve), Song Saa Private Island boasts 27 individual villas, each with their own private pool, and is the ultimate getaway for newlyweds seeking beauty, tranquillity and privacy.
2. If indulgence and pampering is top of your priority list, Siem Reap is the place to be; in the past few years, it has become a hotbed for world-class spas and top-quality massage centres, making it the perfect place to head first for some blissful post-wedding rejuvenating.
3. Although at their most impressive during the rainy season, the numerous waterfalls of Cambodia are always inspiring. Some are a little risky to access due to their remoteness, but one that’s accessible all year round is Phnom Keu, about 10 kilometres east of Wat Phnom Yat.
4. Discover the diversity of Cambodia from the mighty Mekong River; cruise gracefully along its shores while admiring the cities, towns and temples from the sanctuary of a comfortable luxury vessel.
5. White sands sloping gently into turquoise waters for as far as the eye can see, the beaches of Cambodia are as idyllic as they come, and often all the more romantic in atmosphere for avoiding the rampant development that has swept many of neighbouring Thailand’s shores.
6. A country as rich in stunning natural landscapes as it is in temples and beaches, trekking is a great way to absorb the atmosphere of Cambodia between its cultural highlights; discover the jungle, commune with hill tribes, and get back to untouched nature together to have adventures that won’t be forgotten.
7. Although not often mentioned in the context of a top diving destination, Cambodia’s crystalline waters beckon to be explored, and you would have to be made of stone (or afraid of water) to resist their call. Several high quality diving companies operate along the coast, with professional instructors able to cater to all levels of ability.
8. The islands scattered in orbit of Cambodia are nothing short of pristine, and with development rumoured to be just around the corner, you’d be well-advised to get there first! Short on amenities but rich in stunning natural beauty, they offer the perfect atmosphere of remote seclusion and romance for the enamoured couple.
9. Get off the beaten track and explore the rural side of Cambodia, passing through villages and towns that will have been virtually untouched by tourism.
10. Soar above it and explore Cambodia from the sky in a helicopter ride, swooping over the temples of Angkor Wat and admiring the rolling paddy fields and pristine coastline stretching out as far as the eye can see.
Culture in Cambodia
Perhaps some of the most resilient and inspirational people on earth, the Cambodians have experienced years of poverty, oppression and unspeakable brutality and still come out on the other side courteous, smiling and friendly. A reserved nation, the Cambodians find public displays of affection offensive, particularly in the rural, more conservative provinces and among the hill-tribe people. The official religion of Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism (as indicated by the abundance of temples throughout the country) however Christianity and animism are also found.