Cambodia map & highlights

If the epic temples give an insight into Cambodia’s grand past, then the paddy fields, rivers, coastline and stilt villages give a wonderful glimpse of its present. Pepper plantations, ox carts, open markets and colourful Khmer people are all part of the joy of traveling in this little-traversed country, and those simply flying in and out or tour bussing to Siem Reap will miss the most sparkling of Cambodia’s highlights. The country is not huge, so overland travel is entirely feasible – or take a boat for a different point of view. Do keep an eye on the safety situation before heading to border regions; frequent skirmishes can make them out of bounds to travelers.
Angkor Thom

1. Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom – meaning “great city” – is shielded by a moat and an imposing 8m-high wall, which protected its many monuments. Its central temple, the Bayon, celebrates all the religions of the Angkor kingdom, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Ascend to the terraces to get a bird’s eye view of the epic layout – this complex is far more expansive than nearby Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat

2. Angkor Wat

As the subject of photos and guidebooks around the world, you’d think Angkor Wat needed no introduction. However, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than just a jungle-clad temple; it’s the 160 sq km center of an empire dating back a thousand years, complete with complex irrigation systems, and far-flung ruins hidden in the forest which are just as worth exploring as its main showpiece.
Anlong Veng

3. Anlong Veng

Fans of remote, faded border towns should head up to Anlong Veng, whose main claim to fame is its morbid connections with Khmer Rouge fugitives, who chose this remote spot to hide out. Attractions are underwhelming yet strangely intriguing, including Ta Mok’s old house, the eerie lake he created and Pol Pot’s unglamorous grave. Alternatively, head out into the more cheering mountains nearby.
Cardamom Mountains

4. Cardamom Mountains

The evocatively named Cardamom Mountains have a less than fragrant past; the Khmer Rouge took refuge here after Pol Pot was overthrown and battles raged in the hills until the 1990s. Today, more enticing creatures lurk in the forests, including elephants, gibbons and leopards. There are also some lovely community tourism projects – visit stilted Khmer huts and fishing villages, with the commentary of a local guide.
The Killing Fields

5. The Killing Fields

Visiting mass-graves and sites of torture may not be on your 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 center – 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.

6. Kampot

The home of Cambodia’s most famous ingredient, Kampot is surrounded by pepper farms. Guided tours explain the history and cultivation of the spice, with the chance to buy some of the world’s finest pepper. Durians are also grown here – hold your nose! This riverside town does not have its own beach but the crab (with pepper, of course) is superb, and you can explore the coastline and islands to the south.

7. Kep

As beach fans flock to built-up Sihanoukville, we recommend escaping the bustle and bars and heading to the tranquil town of Kep. Sample the tasty pepper crab, relax on the empty beaches and take a daytrip to nearby Rabbit Island. And… that’s it. The beauty of Kep is that there’s very little here, so kick back and enjoy it.
Kirirom/ Chambok

8. Kirirom/ Chambok

Bordering the lush Kirirom National Park, Chambok is a wonderful place to get up close to Khmer culture and support conservation efforts in partnership with the local community. You can enjoy traditional meals with local Khmer families, take nature walks through the surrounding forest with its waterfalls and natural pools, and spend the night in the village, sharing stories with your curious Khmer hosts.

9. Kratie

A series of little towns and villages stretching along the Mekong, Kratie is a wonderful way to escape Cambodia’s beaten track. Wander through the villages and markets, trek the jungle, take ferries back and forth across the river and look out for Kratie’s most famous resident: the rare, freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. Only around 85 dolphins live here; Kampi village offers the best chances of sighting one.
Phnom Kulen Plateau

10. Phnom Kulen Plateau

Phnom Kulen was the site of the first Angkorian capital – predating Angkor Wat by 300 years – and it remains sacred to the Khmer people. The trek to the mountain, through tall forest and past waterfalls, is something of a pilgrimage, and the Preah Kral Monastery sits atop the monastery’s highest point. You’ll also pass the River of a Thousand Lingas – a sandstone riverbed fantastically carved with Hindu symbols.
Phnom Penh

11. Phnom Penh

The gateway to Cambodia is often just seen as a departure point for the wonders of Angkor Wat. 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.
Phnom Tamao

12. Phnom Tamao

There’s little chance to explore Cambodia’s wonderful wildlife – but this brilliant wildlife rescue center has sun bears, tigers, gibbons, Asian elephants and lions that have been rescued from captivity. There are breeding and release programmes to boost the species’ numbers in the wild. As well as having the chance to discover these unusual species, visiting Phnom Tamao also gives you the chance to contribute to their survival.
Preah Vihear

13. Preah Vihear

Predating Angkor Wat, this glorious temple with sits on a plateau overlooking the Thai border. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is composed of sanctuaries, courtyards and miniature linked by walkways and staircases. The stones are beautifully crafted, and well preserved thanks to their remoteness. NOTE: Border disputes periodically close this region off to travelers; check the FCO website for details.

14. Ratanakiri

Sparsely populated, this far-flung province borders Vietnam and Laos, where 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.
Sangker River & Battambang

15. Sangker River & Battambang

A gentle cruise along the Sangker River takes you past Khmer fishing communities and floating villages. It’s a local ferry, and villagers paddle up in canoes to board the boat. It’s a day’s journey from Siem Reap to Battambang, where you can visit elaborate temples and ride the unusual bamboo train – a makeshift platform powered by a motorbike engine along a disused railway line.
Sihanoukville (Kompong Som)

16. Sihanoukville (Kompong Som)

Cambodia’s most famous beach resort has had an explosion of development over the past few years. Although the beach itself is pretty, it’s not the place for a peaceful break as you’ll be surrounded by loud construction and louder party-seekers. Head instead to one of the unspoiled nearby islands, such as Koh Rong, for true rustic luxury: a hut, a hammock and a cocktail in hand.
Travel Team
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Cambodia sample itineraries

Temples & Sea (9 days)
Siem Reap > Angkor Wat > Angkor Thom > Phnom Penh > Killing Fields > Sihanoukville > Phnom Penh
Beyond Angkor (14 days)
Phnom Penh > Killing Fields > Siem Reap > Angkor Wat > Phnom > Kulen Plateau > Anlong Veng Town > Siem Reap > Sangker River > Battambang > Kompong Chnang > Phnom Penh > Phnom Tamao > Kampot > Kep > Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh & Angkor (11 days)
Phnom Penh > Killing Fields > Siem Reap > Angkor Wat > Phnom Bahkeng Temple > Beng Melea Temple > Tonlé Sap Lake > Battambang > Kampong Chhnang

Travel times in Cambodia

The following times give you a rough idea of the driving, flight and sailing times between the main Cambodia highlights.

Siem Reap – Phnom Penh:
6 hours by road

Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville:
4.5 hours by road

Siem Reap – Battambang:
6 hours by boat

Kep – Kampot:
40 minutes by road

Phnom Penh – Kampot:
3-4 hours by road

Sihanoukville – Kep:
2 hours by road

Phnom Penh – Choeung Ek:
40 minutes by road

Kep – Rabbit Island:
20 minutes by boat

Photo credits: [Page banner: Balint Földesi] [Intro: Julia Maudlin] [Angkor Thom: Andrea Schaffer] [Angkor Wat: Courtney] [Anlong Veng: Travelpleb] [Cardamom Mountains: Paxse] [The Killing Fields: istolethetv] [Kampot: eric yeargan] [Kep: fabulousfabs] [Kirirom/Chambok: Vanna] [Kratie: James Antrobus] [Phnom Kulen Plateau: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra] [Phnom Penh: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra] [Phnom Tamao: James Antrobus] [Preah Vihear: Lawrence Murray] [Ratanakiri: Lukas Bergstrom] [Sangker River & Battambang: Paul Mannix] [Sihanoukville (Kompong Som): Damien @ Flickr] [Sample itineraries: Christian Haugen] [Travel Times: ND Strupler]