When you think of Cambodia, you are certain first of all to think about Angkor. It is a stunning place and the first thing any tourist visiting Cambodia wants to see. Perhaps older people recall the terrible times of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 70s? They are part of Cambodia’s history and can never be erased. When it comes to booking Cambodia tours, there is little doubt that the tour packages will include Angkor as well as the ‘’Killing Fields’’ but there is so much more to Cambodia.
The latest figures suggest that around four million tourists travel to Cambodia each year. The region as a whole is becoming more and more popular each year with many travellers booking a Cambodia and Vietnam tour and others going even further to enjoy Indochina tours. On the Cambodia leg of any tours there are a number of highlights to enjoy:
• Angkor is a large complex, awarded UNESCO World Heritage status, with its highlight, Angkor Wat, among the most photographed structures in Asia, if not the world. There is plenty to see on the site with one of the other landmarks, Ta Prohm, largely left in the state that is was discovered with the jungle invading its walls and windows. Angkor is certainly worth a few hours of your time if you have it.
• Siem Reap is the nearest city to Angkor and there are a few things worth seeing while you are there. The reclining Buddha in Wat Praeh Prom Rath, a 16th Century temple, receives more tourists than any other landmark in Siem Reap. It is extremely decorative as is Wat Kesararam with its lovely ceiling and attractive murals. The National Museum is a must for tourists wishing to learn more about the Khmer Empire which existed in this region between the 9th and 13th Century.
• Tonle Sap is the largest lake in South East Asia with its size and depth varying enormously between the seasons. It shrinks to just 2,800 sq. km., and the depth of a metre at the end of the dry season but at its height, it is 8 metres deep, covering 15,000 sq. km. Villagers have to move their homes when the water gets too high but it is a great source food at the same time, supporting up to 3 million people. The flora and fauna justifies its inclusion in the UNESCO Man & Biosphere Programme.
• Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia but in some ways, it is overshadowed by the existence of Angkor. There is still plenty to see although some of the things are sad reminders of the past.Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum falls into that category. It was the prison where many were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. On a happier note, the Royal Palace with its lovely pagodas, dated 19th Century, are a combination of French and Cambodian architecture; the number one landmark in Phnom Penh.
• The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are just 17 kilometres outside the City. The large stupa commemorates this awful period in Cambodian history and there are 8,000 skulls on display as a memorial. It is not a place for the faint-hearted and certainly will give you reason to think about the evil that man is capable of doing.
• The Mekong is an iconic river, a source on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing through Cambodia en route to the South China Sea. It is navigable from Phnom Penh down to its Delta in Vietnam and it is important source of life to Cambodian people. As an absolute minimum, everyone should at least spend a little time on the river.
• Bokor Hill Station in Kampot was a retreat built by the French in the 1920s to escape the heat at lower-lying areas. When the French left after the First Indochina War, the Cambodian upper classes used it but they also abandoned it as the Khmer Rouge grew stronger. The Khmer Rouge used it as a base longer after they were removed from power and it was not until the early 1990s when they were finally removed. There is talk of renovation because the site is currently little more than a deserted shell; time will tell if it actually happens.
• Mondulkiri is a stunning province on the border with Vietnam. It is a place for trekking, the home of beautiful waterfalls and hill people who are living similar lives to the generations that preceded them. The flora and fauna is impressive and if you enjoy the natural environment, this is a place for you.
• Sihanoukville has a number of beaches and has become the most popular coastal resort in Cambodia for locals and tourists alike. It began as an artificial deep-sea port, built half a century ago, a Cambodian-French enterprise that was named after the ruling prince at the time. Many of the years that followed saw serious strife but these days, it is a place for anyone wanting to relax by the sea to visit.
• Koh Rong is an island offshore from Sihanoukville in the Gulf of Thailand. There are plenty of nice beaches and plenty of accommodation in the form of bungalows and guesthouses. It is largely undeveloped with no roads and hence no traffic. Everyone walks while quite naturally with a clear and warm blue sea surrounding it, snorkelling is great fun. After a hectic time seeing the best of Cambodia, what better way to wind down that visiting a place like this?
When it comes to the best time to visit Cambodia, the climate is fairly complex. In general terms, there are two seasons, wet and dry though the monsoon season does not mean it rains constantly throughout the day; there may just be an afternoon shower. The problem comes because there are two monsoons, one affecting part of the country while the rest of the country is dry, and vice versa. The peak season in Cambodia is from October through the winter and there are these many highlights to enjoy.