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Planning a trip to Cambodia? Cambodia is an incredible country full of beautiful and rich culture yet simultaneously, the country has a devastating history. Cambodia is rustic, no doubt, but the people are lovely, the food is good and diversity of environment and attractions is endless. With so much on offer, what are the best places to visit in Cambodia? We’ve spent over four months there and these are the places that you don’t want to miss. A list of Cambodia highlights including tourist spots in Cambodia + off the beaten path Cambodia destinations.
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Best time to visit Cambodia
The best time to visit Cambodia is from December to February when the temperatures are slightly cooler and there is little rain. This is the centre of Cambodia’s dry season which runs from November until April. From February onwards, it begins to get warmer and more humid, as the rainy season approaches. Temperatures in April can often reach around 40 degrees Celsius.
It is possible however visit Cambodia at any time of year. The rainy season is from May through to October and is characterised by heavy afternoon rains that are usually pretty short. You’ll want to find shelter during a downpour, but afterwards you’re free to continue exploring.
Where to go in Cambodia: Top places to see in Cambodia
By all accounts, Siem Reap is at the top of the list of places to visit in Cambodia. Not because there aren’t other amazing cities to see, but because a trip to Cambodia simply isn’t complete without visiting the Temples at Angkor.
Siem Reap is a bustling town that has evolved to meet the demands of the millions of tourists who use it as a basis for exploring the temples. While Angkor Wat and the thousands of other temples are the draw card, your experience in Siem Reap city can be as exciting or relaxing as you want it to be. The closer to the centre of town you are, the more touristic you’ll find it. There is no shortage of western-styled restaurants, bars, and accommodation. For a more traditional, cultural experience, it is possible to explore the outskirts of the town for homestays and authentic local street food.
Recommended: Tips for planning your visit to Angkor Wat
Pro tip: If you’re in awe of the temples, make sure you don’t miss Beng Melea. Located about an hour and a half from Siem Reap, it was featured in the Tomb Raider films. It is not included in the price of the Angkor Pass so you’ll need to book a tour to Beng Melea, or hire a motorbike and go by yourself. If you do this, you’ll need to purchase a separate ticket for $5 USD. The ticket office is about 1.5km before the temple, on the main road so keep an eye out or you’ll miss it.
If you have some time left after you’ve explored the incredible Angkor Archaeological Park, there are plenty of other activities in Siem Reap to keep you entertained. For some last-minute gifts, you could visit the Old Market. An enormous market in the heart of the city where you will find anything you want at a great price. Alternatively, the Angkor Night Market will keep you busy in the evening.
Plenty of day trips also leave from Siem Reap. Visit the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake, or explore the beautiful Phnom Kulen National Park, about an hour from Siem Reap.
Find other top things to do in Siem Reap besides exploring Angkor
About 170km from Siem Reap is the beautiful French colonial influenced town of Battambang. Quieter and less touristic than Siem Reap, it’s the perfect place to relax and learn about Cambodian culture. A tuk-tuk tour is a necessary Battambang experience. Don’t worry about finding them, they’ll find you as soon as you get off the bus. You can explore the local production of things like rice wine and lotus seeds. Visiting the local market in the centre of town is an eye-opener and you’ll be able to delve into traditional cuisine if you’re game.
Tours of Battambang will generally include a few of the local temples such as Phnom Banan and Wat Ek Phnom, as well as Phnom Sampov, the temple on top of the mountain. At Phnom Sampov there is also a killing cave that was used during the Khmer Rouge era and not far from town you can visit a memorial to the Khmer Rouge victims.
At night, one of the best ways to wind down in Battambang is by visiting the Phare Ponleu Selpak, the Battambang Circus. Phare Ponleu Selpak is a non-profit arts school that offers support to children and youth in Battambang. Be entertained by amazing performances as you learn a little about local history through story, all while supporting a great cause.
Note: You can also take a full-day excursion from Siem Reap to Battambang
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The thriving capital of Phnom Penh is an intoxicating mix of modern development and money, history and poverty. You will see all these things with a walk down any one street. It’s a strange experience to walk through the main tourist area and see a series of makeshift tarpaulin homes beside the King’s palace. All while there is a $200,000 car parked across the street. Yet this is Cambodia, and while you will see this throughout the country if you’re looking for it, it is blatantly present in Phnom Penh.
If you want to understand how this mix of wealth and poverty came to be in Cambodia, the cultural attractions of Phnom Penh are a must. The most heartbreaking and informative sites are the S21 security prison and the Killing Fields, or Choeung Ek. You’ll learn how the Khmer Rouge came into power, and about the fate of the people and political prisoners. You’ll walk away in awe at the strength and resilience of the Cambodian people.
Note: I would suggest this Phnom Penh Killing Fields and S21 Hop-on-Hop-off Joint Tour. You can choose between morning or afternoon tours.
Other interesting things to do in Phnom Penh include visiting the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda and the National Museum which shows the history of art and religion in Cambodia. There is an enforced dress code for the Royal Palace, and it’s a good idea to stick to it for places such as the Killing Fields and S21 prison also. These sites deserve our respect.
For a truly unique foodie experience, we’d also recommend the Dine in The Dark restaurant. As the name suggests, you eat in the dark, but it’s not just ‘dark’, its pitch black. Your blind waiter will guide you to your table and show you, by feel, where your cutlery and drinking glass are, and then will serve your dinner. All in complete darkness. The visually impaired staff are incredible, with good English and you’ll learn how they are trained and taught a skill. Something that is vital for survival in Cambodia where there is no government assistance. You can find the Dine in the Dark restaurant at 126 Preah Ang Yukanthor Street (19), Phnom Penh.
If you enjoy entertainment, you should experience the Cambodian Living Arts, Dance Show. It is a celebration of Cambodian traditional music and dance.
Chi Phat and the Cardamon Mountains
One of my greatest memories from my first time in Cambodia was visiting the Eco-Tourism Community of Chi Phat, in Cambodia’s southwest. Once a community of poachers, the eco-tourism project allows this community to earn an income by hosting visiting travellers and guiding them on treks through the Cardamon Mountains. Chi Phat is one of the top places to go to see untouched nature in Cambodia.
When you first arrive in the community you visit the reception area and check-in, and it is here you can organise your trek in the jungle, find a homestay and learn everything you want to know about the community and the project.
The homestays are traditional and very rustic, there are no street lights so it’s dark at night and your options for luxuries like showers are limited, so Chi Phat is not for the faint-hearted but for those looking to experience the real rural Cambodia, Chi Phat is a fantastic option.
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Kampot is one of Cambodia’s more rustic towns. Amongst the dusty streets and damaged cars and motorbikes, you’ll find a thriving expat community. The old and young alike are settling in Kampot and there is a definite hippy vibe in the town. A mixture of local cuisine, pizza places, and vegan, raw, restaurants, there is something for everyone.
The river Kampot is a large, slow-moving river that runs through the centre of town. At night you can take a dinner cruise and see the gorgeous sunset and fireflies. By day you can take a walk along its banks and stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants or bars lining the street opposite the river.
Kampot is a great place for exploring some of Cambodia’s natural wonders. There are plenty of caves in the surrounding limestone mountains and a beautiful secret lake that lies between them. Take a tour of a peppercorn farm and find out why Kampot is known for its pepper production.
A great day trip, especially if you ride motorcycles, is exploring Bokor mountain. It is one of the top places to go in Cambodia for motorbike riding with its properly sealed, winding road. It’s a great ride up the mountain and there are plenty of fascinating things to see once you’re there. Part of Preah Monivong National Park, you can visit the Black Palace, the old summer palace of the former King, and the amazing Sampov Pram Pagoda. The Pagoda sits on the top of the mountain and if you’re there are the right time, there is nothing but fog behind the Pagoda. It’s a surreal feeling to feel as though the earth just stops.
Kratie is a small town in central northeast Cambodia located along the Mekong River. As with towns like Battambang, it is influenced by the French colonialists and you’ll see beautiful French era architecture throughout the town.
Kratie is a great base from which to explore the local area and is a launchpad for the more rural areas of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri. It is a popular stop on the way for travellers heading to or from Don Det, Laos.
For nature and wildlife lovers, Kratie is the perfect place to organise a visit to Kampi, a town about 15 km away, and the home of the vulnerable Irrawaddy Dolphin.
Pro tip: There are two ways to see the Irrawaddy Dolphin; by boat, and by kayak. We would highly recommend the kayak option over the boat. Having done both, we can safely say the boat is quite loud and seems to ‘chase’ the dolphins. Paddling the Kayak is an unbelievable day on the water and when you come across dolphins you simply float as they swim around you. We recommend Lucky from Dolphin Kayaking Adventures.
You can also visit a small island called Koh Trong in the centre of the Mekong. A community-based tourism centre operates and you can book homestays or hire a bicycle for the day and ride around this beautiful island for a few hours. You can explore Koh Trong as a tour or take the ferry over to the island yourself.
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Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem
If you’re after an island paradise then you must visit Koh Rong and the smaller Koh Rong Sanloem off the coast of Sihanoukville. Hotels and bungalows line the white sand beaches and crystal blue water just calls out to you. Dense jungle covers both islands. They really are the perfect island getaway.
Koh Rong is closer to Sihanoukville and has more of a reputation as a backpacker and party island, while Koh Rong is a little quieter and less developed with only a handful of guest houses.
Get adventurous on Koh Rong with jungle trekking, kayaking, diving and snorkeling and then head over to Koh Rong to relax. You can also explore local villages and find traditional Khmer cuisine and great prices.
Find activities in Sihanoukville, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem on GetYourGuide
The far east of Cambodia is different to anywhere else in the country, with rolling hills and luscious rainforests. Mondulkiri has the densest population of wildlife and slew of ecotourism projects in place. You can explore local villages, hike and swim in waterfalls and if you’re lucky, see some animals in the wild.
Sen Monorom is the capital of Mondulkiri province, and here is where you’ll most likely find your accommodation and restaurants and you’ll see plenty of local people from ethnic minority groups coming into the town daily for trade.
As the region in mountainous Mondulkiri can get surprisingly cold, so if you’ve been carrying warm clothes through South East Asia and wondering why now is the time you’ll use them.
North of Mondulkiri, Ratanakiri is bordered by Laos to the North and Vietnam to the east and is the most off the beaten path as any of the places to visit in Cambodia. With around 70% of the locals in the area being from ethnic minority groups, Ratanakiri is a great place to explore remote tribal villages.
While tourism is growing, its remote location means that Ratanakiri and its capital, Banlung, are largely authentic, and missing some of the luxuries of established tourism that you’ll find in places like Siem Reap. This, however, that is part of the charm.
Like Mondulkiri, there are plenty of eco-tourism opportunities for you to see remote tribes and wildlife, and plenty of natural attractions including the beautiful Yeak Laom Volcanic Lake.
It is well worth taking the time and getting off the beaten track in Cambodia. You’ll be endlessly surprised at the kindness of the people and the varied experiences that are on offer.
This is a guest post written by Christine from Travellers With Time
Christine is the author at Travellers With Time. She and her partner Ben have spent over nine months in Cambodia and Vietnam as part of a larger South East Asia trip. They love getting off the beaten track, trying new foods and hunting down good coffee. Having spent the start of 2019 travelling New Zealand by camper van they’re now in Europe, with their adopted 10 year old dog Whiskey. You can follow their adventures on facebook.
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