A Cambodia vacation can’t really compete when it comes to Southeast Asian beaches – but Kep is a rare exception. This little fishing town is slowly being rediscovered after it was largely destroyed during the war, and its white-sand beach and idyllic islands are a perfect retreat. Visit the ruined colonial villas, as well as the surprising Art Deco buildings – designed by fans of Le Corbusier in the 1960s.
Cambodia has one dominant ethnic group and no long-necked women or nomadic hunter gatherers to fulfil any cultural clichés. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to discover. Khmer festivals – including New Year - are exciting events, and the growing number of homestays and community tourism projects reveal the little-known world of a warm, welcoming people
The gateway to Cambodia is often just seen as a departure point for the wonders of Siem Reap. But Phnom Penh offers a unique chance to discover real Cambodian life, with its hectic markets, crazy tuk tuks and gorgeous French colonial architecture – as well as its museums and palaces. Siem Reap is a town for tourists – but this is a town for locals, and people-watchers will be in heaven.
Sparsely populated, this far-flung province borders Vietnam and Laos, and the flat Cambodian landscape gives way to the rolling hills, waterfalls, mountains and dense jungle characteristic of the rest of Southeast Asia. It’s a dream for hikers and kayakers. You can also visit some of the local hill tribes for an alternative cultural experience; each tribe retains its own language and traditions.
It’s a testament to the temple’s ancient architects that no matter how many thousands of tourists pour into this UNESCO World Heritage Site each day, the sight of the sun rising over the stone towers never fails to excite and amaze. Visit during rainy season or cruise around by boat for an alternative view of these wild, jungle-clad ruins – and escape the crowds by doing so
Whether you sail here up the Mekong River from Saigon, cruise between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap or paddle through the floating villages of the Sangker, Cambodia’s rivers offer an offbeat view of both its culture and landscape. They’re also a tranquil alternative to the notoriously bumpy roads – and local ferries give the chance to natter to your fellow Khmer passengers.
The French left behind their bread, coffee and colonial architecture. The abandoned hill stations, faded casinos, rococo palaces and former hotels make for eerie yet photogenic stop off points as you travel through Cambodia’s countryside and small towns. Grander, restored examples are dotted throughout Phnom Penh, including the National Library and Hotel Le Royal.
Visiting mass-graves and sites of torture may not be on your average vacation wish list, but Cambodia’s past is still very present and the memorials are a sensitive tribute to the millions who were killed. Tuol Sleng – a former execution centre – and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields monument are distressing yet highly educational, and essential for those who wish to understand modern Cambodia and its people.
Yes, it’s hot in Cambodia, and of course you want a tan – but save stripping off for the beach or hotel pool. Cambodia is a conservative, Buddhist country – much of it without mass tourism – and scantily clad visitors will cause offence. Cover shoulders and never wear short shorts; in fact, ankles should be covered where possible too, especially when visiting temples on your Cambodian vacation.
With poverty and landmines contributing to fill orphanages, helping out seems like the right thing to do. However, in most cases, the opposite is true. A boom in volunteers has seen the number of orphanages increase as people realise there is money to be made in cute, grubby children – and a revolving door of volunteers means the child is abandoned again, and again. Read more here.
Angkor Wat is just one in a vast complex of ancient monasteries, stretching over 400 square km through the forest. The layout of the site and its complex water networks reveal that this was in fact a whole civilisation. Don’t just see the temple and leave – venturing further reveals ever more ruins, and you’ll be able to follow in explorers’ footsteps and rediscover your own hidden jungle temples.
Cambodia’s biggest beach resort is a mess of high-rise hotels, half-built plots, the commotion of construction and street hawkers trying to cash in on the tourism boom. This is not your dream Asian beach destination; head out to one of the unspoiled nearby islands, such as Koh Rong, for true rustic luxury on your Cambodian vacation: a hut, a hammock and a cocktail in hand.