Sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam in south-east Asia, Cambodia has emerged as a popular tourist destination in recent times. It has risen out of the shadows of a war-torn past to become a sought-after destination for lovers of nature, culture, and history. The original homeland of the Khmer people, and rich with both Hindu and Buddhist influences, Cambodia is home to a range of fascinating sites and landmarks to see and experience.
Phnom Penh, the busy, bustling capital; Angkor Wat, a quietly astounding Wonder of the World; Choeung Ek, a heartbreaking reminder of the country's bloody history; Skuon, home to the slightly disconcerting (but fascinating) spider markets. These are some of the remarkable places and experiences you can expect on a trip to Cambodia. We've hand-picked our top ten.
No visit to Cambodia is complete without spending time in the crazy and wonderful capital of Phnom Penh. This bustling, lively city is full of wonders and treasures, both old and new. With traditional Khmer rooftops sitting side-by-side with newer buildings, Phnom Penh is a wonderful blend of the traditional and modern. The city sits on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, and is home to many important historical sites. You can also expect an animated bar and restaurant scene, as well as top-notch cuisine.
The Royal Palace is one of the most splendid and iconic buildings to be found in Phnom Penh. Golden and shimmering, the Palace is ornately designed, featuring a distinctive tower and Khmer-style roofs. Its main attractions include the spectacular Throne Hall, topped with the 59-metre high tower, as well as the Silver Pagoda, which houses several amazing treasures. This opulent building, also known as Wat Preah Keo or Temple of the Emerald Buddha, features a stunning silver-covered floor- five tons of silver in the form of 5000 tiles. Here you will also find several spectacular Buddha statues- one of gold, one of emerald, one of silver, one of bronze. The pagoda also houses many beautiful Khmer relics.
The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh is Cambodia's largest museum, and is the leading centre of culture and history in the city. It is an elegant building, constructed of terracotta, and featuring the distinctive Khmer-style roofs with the upward-sloping ends. You are welcomed by a pleasant courtyard, before entering the museum, where a stunning collection of artefacts and relics provides a fascinating insight into Khmer culture, tradition, and lifestyle.
The site of horrific murders carried out by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are a grim but poignant reminder of Cambodia's grisly past. The Fields are located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge was a ruthless communist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, carrying out horrific atrocities on the people during that time. Around 20000 Cambodians were executed at the Fields. The site now exists both as a tribute to those who died, and a stark reminder of the brutal past.
Siem Reap is a province found in the northwest of Cambodia. Its capital city, also called Siem Reap, is a resort town, and is the gateway to the ancient ruins of Angkor, which were the centre of the powerful Khmer Empire. This region is full of wondrous sights and fascinating landmarks. Be amazed at Angkor Thom, the ancient walled city that was the capital of the Empire. Walk along the iconic walkway at its South Gate, the enormous human faces etched into stone staring at you as you pass by. Marvel at the hundreds of carvings and depictions of human visages at the "face temple" of Bayon, located at the centre of Angkor Thom. Visit the mystical Ta Prohm, a huge crumbling temple that has gradually become one with surrounding jungle. And, of course, the legendary Angkor Wat is also found in the region- but that's a destination on its own.
Siem Reap City itself is a blend of old and new: see the colonial French quarter, museums and handicraft shops, cultural villages, dance performances, hotels, restaurants, and businesses.
Angkor Wat is one of the world's largest religious structures. This incredible complex is a true bucket-list destination- it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also one of the Wonders of the World. The temple was originally built in reverence to the Hindu god Vishnu by the Khmer Empire. It later became a Buddhist temple. Masterfully preserved, the site is rivalled by very few in beauty and grandeur. Vast and majestic, it is constructed from stone, and comprises a complex network of galleries, archways, walkways, columns, towers, chambers, and courtyards. Adorned with beautiful carvings and statues, the monument exudes a sacred, hallowed atmosphere.
One of the most sacred sites in Cambodia, Kulen Mountain provides an experience suffused with both nature and religion. Also known as Phnom Kulen, the mountain is located within a national park, home to dense forests and flowing waterfalls. The region is steeped in history, its significance going back to the time of the Khmer Empire. It is home to sacred temples, statues, and carvings. Visitors can climb to the mountain's summit, walking along the River of a Thousand Lingas, which features carvings of Hindu symbols and gods along its way. You can also take a dip in the pool at the waterfalls, an activity popular with locals. Here you will also find the sacred Wat Preah Ang Thom, an important place of worship, known for its enormous statue of a reclining Buddha.
Incey wincey spider... In Skuon, the famous nursery rhyme takes on a whole new meaning! Skuon is a Cambodian town found between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Its nickname is "Spiderville", due to the astonishingly high amount of the creepy crawlies that are found in the surrounding forests. The locals of Skuon are renowned for hunting and eating spiders. The deep-fried arachnids are considered a delicacy, and the spider markets of Skuon attract many brave tourists who dare to try this unusual dish. You can too, but only if you wish! It will certainly make for a good story to tell when you return home.
Many of the beautiful religious temples and structures in Cambodia are constructed from stone. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm, two of the most magnificent places to visit in Cambodia, feature huge stone edifices with intricate carvings. When you visit a stone-carving workshop in the Santuk District of Siem Reap, you are able to fully appreciate just how incredible these structures are. You see first-hand the skill and precision that is required to produce beautiful carvings out of stone. You may be able to try your hand at carving some stonework, which you will be able to take home with you- a lovely memento of a trip to Cambodia.
A visit to the Psah Chas of Siem Reap is a must when in Cambodia. Meaning "Old Market", the Psah Chas is a central attraction in Siem Reap, and many businesses identify their own locations in relation to it. Here you will a delightful variety of souvenirs and artefacts on sale, as well as an array of food stalls selling everything from fresh produce to traditional Khmer cuisine. Spend time browsing amongst the colourful stalls, mingle with the locals who come here to do their everyday shopping, and pick up some souvenirs and gifts to take back home with you.