What is there to do in Cambodia, you might ask? Sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodia is often seen as a short stopover to tick off Angkor Wat – the most well known landmark in the country. With a turbulent past and long history, Cambodia has a lot to offer those who are willing to dig deeper and escape the crowds of Angkor. We believe it’s about time Cambodia got the attention it deserved! There are plenty of highlights in Cambodia to keep any avid traveller occupied for weeks. Keep reading to find out why this gem of Southeast Asia is more than just the temple of Angkor Wat.
A land of temples
It’s safe to say that Angkor Wat dominates the front cover of any Cambodian travel brochure. While the building is of course a masterpiece of architecture and a beautiful landmark, it often overshadows other unique and charming temples. There are thousands of temples scattered throughout the country, after they were commissioned by the kings of the Khmer Empire from the 12th century. Bayon is known for its alluring stone faces while Banteay is perfect for it’s unique sandstone colouring. For the adventurous, Beng Mealea offers visitors the chance to scramble over the ruins to explore, since it is unpreserved and consumed by the jungle. With so many to discover, exploring the temples are a true highlight of Cambodia.
The charming towns
Step out of the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and you will soon realise Cambodia is a tranquil country. Picture crumbling colonial buildings set on dusty streets, roadside food vendors and charming guesthouses. One of the best is Kampot, located in the south of Cambodia. Known for pepper production, Kampot provides a sleepy getaway where you can kayak down the river and lounge in hammocks. For some incredible sunsets head to Kratie, situated on the Mekong River and the base for spotting rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
These rural towns and villages are the perfect base for hopping on a bike to explore. Cycle along the dusty roads and watch as rural life passes by. Witness the rice, pepper and salt fields and learn about the food that the villagers here produce.
When someone mutters the words “Cambodian food” what do you think of? Perhaps a generic Southeast Asian noodle dish, maybe a bowl of rice or perhaps fresh fruit. It’s fair to say Thai cuisine and Vietnamese spring rolls overshadow most of their neighbours dishes, but Cambodian food should not be missed. The beauty of food here is that it caters for everyone. Meat eaters can indulge in beef, pork, chicken and fish, especially along the coast. Important flavours are lemongrass, coconut, banana, lime and palm sugar, and you’ll be surprised at the flavour of even the most simple looking dishes. What about a vegan in Cambodia? Fear not! With various rice and noodle dishes available, toss in the fresh veggies and herbs and omit the fish sauce. Many local dishes are automatically vegan and if not, can easily be adjusted.
The picturesque beaches
The masses may flock to Thailand for a taste of white sandy beaches, leaving Cambodian beaches often wrongly forgotten. Miles of pristine, untouched coastline lay to the south of the country, providing a slice of tropical paradise. Koh Rong undoubtedly receives plenty of attention as the largest island. The island has just under 30 beaches and so it is easy to find a slice of calm. Towards to the north of the island sits the aptly named Lonely Beach. This little stretch white sand and clear waters is home to only one resort. Coral Beach, on Koh Ta Kiev Island, offers postcard perfect scenery. Beautiful shoreline, the odd fishing boat and photo worthy palm trees all blend to create this little slice of heaven. So leave behind the crowds of Angkor Wat and start searching for your favourite beach in Cambodia!
History buffs will find themselves right at home in Cambodia. While the history can be traced back to the 5th millennium BC, the country is most known for the more recent and brutal Khmer Rouge. There are various places to learn more about the past of this wonderful country, from the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum to the Royal Palace and National Museum of Cambodia. Of course, areas such as Angkor Wat provide a fascinating glimpse into the past. Many of the temples in Cambodia were constructed during the shift from Hinduism to Buddhism, therefore provide a wonderful insight into both religions.
The friendly faces
One of the highlights of my trip to Cambodia was just how friendly and hospitable the people were. Visitors are often overwhelmed by the number of welcoming smiles when travelling Cambodia, from the tuk tuk drivers to the guesthouse staff. Khmer people have a gentle nature, and will more often than not be willing to help you. Enjoy the hospitality and make sure you give the same in return. Be patient, respect the culture and enjoy the wonderful country!