Cambodia is a relative newcomer on the world tourism stage. After decades of civil war, genocide, and a repressive government, Cambodia finally opened its doors to tourists from all over the world in 2004 and we are glad they did.
From the amazing Angkor to the dark tourism of the Killing fields, Cambodia has a world of wonder to explore. Below we list out our 10 best places to visit in Cambodia. It has a little something for everyone, whether you are into ancient temples and palaces or enjoying a cool drink on a white sand beach.
1. Siem Reap & Angkor Archaeological Park
The city of Siem Reap is the gateway to the amazing Angkor Archeological Park. The ruins of Angkor are the most popular destination in Cambodia. The ancient temple complex spans an area the size of Manhattan and a two day tour is a minimum to see the major temples.
Outside of the temples of Angkor, there are many other attractions to visit. The Cambodia Land Mine Museum, Cambodia War Museum, and the Artisans d’Angkor are some of the best things to do in Siem Reap.
The downtown area has Pub Street, which is the central area for restaurants and bars. The markets are popular for shopping or just browsing, and the Angkor Night market is a good place to have a look around for souvenirs.
A trip to the Angkor National Museum will provide a good background on the Angkor Archeological Park and the Khmer history.
2. Phnom Penh
The capital city of Phnom Penh is the largest and most modern city in Cambodia. Phnom Penh is located on the banks of where the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers merge. Sisowath Quay has a wonderful riverside promenade where travelers can enjoy the views of the mighty Mekong River flowing past.
The city has number of excellent temples, palaces, and museums to visit. A visit to the Royal Palace, National Museum, and Wat Phnom are three of the must-see attractions in Phnom Penh.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Genocide Museum at S-21 prison are dark reminders of the mass killings committed at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
A long time stop on the backpacker trail through Southeast Asia, Sihanoukville has become a destination for all travelers seeking a beach holiday in Cambodia. It is still very popular with backpackers and the party scene can be quite lively.
There are numerous beaches of Sihanoukville are the top draw for visitors to relax, soak up the sun, or enjoy the party atmosphere depending on your disposition.
The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang is popular with travelers looking to explore the many temples and take a ride on the Bamboo Train.
There are several sites to explore within the city, including a mixture of colonial architectural buildings, Buddhist temples, numerous statues, and Battambang Museum.
Most of the temples and ancient buildings are located just outside Battambang. One of the darker attractions Phnom Sampeu, a hill with the Killing Caves of the Khmer Rouge. It is a grim memorial to some of the atrocities committed during Cambodian genocide.
The Khmer Rouge destroyed the railroads during the civil war. Cambodia is one of the poorest nations on the planet and replacing the trains has yet to happen. However the people have created their own rail cars made from bamboo pallets and small lawnmower size engines. You can take a kidney jarring ride on what has become known as the Bamboo Railroad for a small fee.
The relaxing riverside town of Kampot has quaint old quarter and riverfront promenade that is made for a leisurely stroll. Walking around is a great way to take in the old buildings in an atmosphere that feels like the town was frozen in time. Its location makes it a great base to exploring the Bokor National Park and Hill station and the surrounding areas.
Kampot was is known for its pepper and durian agriculture. The Kampot pepper was once considered the finest pepper in the world and found on the tables of the finest restaurants in Europe. You can take a guided tour of the pepper farms and see first-hand how it is grown.
6. Koh Rong
The only island on the list, Koh Rong is known for its pristine beaches and relaxing atmosphere. The island is located off the cost of Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand. While Koh Rong is a laid-back beach destination during the day, at night the party side of the island comes out to play.
Visitors to the island can partake in scuba diving, snorkeling, and trekking. If you just want to sit on the beach and relax there are 23 different white sand beaches to choose from
Kep used to be the holiday destination of choice for the French colonial elite and well healed Cambodians till the Khmer Rouge and civil war. The sleepy, laid back town is making a resurgence as a popular beach destination in Cambodia.
Now days, Kep is known for it’s peaceful atmosphere, food, and abandoned colonial villas. A new beach was recently created with imported white sand from nearby Sihanoukville. No trip to Kep would be complete without sampling some of the local food and the crabs in Kep are considered by the many to be the best in Cambodia.
8. Preah Vihear
The historical site of Preah Vihaear has huge cultural significance to both Cambodia and Thailand. While the site is occupied by Thailand, it has also been claimed by Cambodia which has led to exchange of gunfire of their two militaries in 2008 and 2011. While there is still a significant military presence in the area, it has been peaceful in the area since 2011, though visitors should check the current situation before they decide to visit.
The site is located on a hill near the Thai-Cambodian border and not the easiest to get to. However, if you want to see an ancient temple complex that pre-dates those at Angkor, this could be a destination to look into further.
A trip to Kratie will take you off the beaten track into Eastern Cambodia. Travelers make the journey here for the chance to see the Irrawaddy dolphin swimming in the Mekong river. These freshwater dolphins are critically endangered and only exist in a few rivers around Southeast Asia.
Outside of dolphin watching, the Phnom Sombok temple and Sambor archeological site are the two main attractions in town.
10. Koh Ker
Koh Ker is an Archeological site located North East of Siem Reap and is best visited as a day trip as accommodation is almost non-existent. The remoteness of these ruins has kept them in amazing condition just as they looked when they were first carved out of the Jungle. New temples are still being discovered and a visit here is a way to see an ancient Khmer city in an unrestored setting.