Where to go in Cambodia
Where to go in Cambodia
Our guide on the best places to visit in Cambodia
Siem Reap is Cambodia’s leading destination and sees the vast majority of its international arrivals. Angkor Wat is the big draw – and with good reason; the ‘mother of all temples’ is a genuinely breath-taking experience – but there is so, so much more to the city than just this one temple. The wider Angkor Archaeological Park would take days to explore properly, with many of its magnificent ruins seeing little to no visitors throughout the average day. But there’s much more besides temples: a three-day visit to Siem Reap can take in zip-lining, hiking, contemporary art tours, food tours, circus shows, wildlife adventures…and that’s without indulging in the city centre’s excellent dining and shopping.
Should you plan a longer trip to Cambodia – and we’d always encourage you to do so – there’s much to see and many adventures to be had. Buzzing nightlife in Phnom Penh, alluring rural scenery around Battambang, laidback coastal walks in Kep and Kampot, wild nature tours in Tatai and Kirirom, rugged wildlife encounters in Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri…the question is not what to see, but what to leave out!
Cambodia also offers dazzling tropical beaches, easily competing with anything on offer in Vietnam or Thailand. A handful of light-touch luxury developments on Cambodia’s pristine off-shore islands have seen completion in recent years, and in doing so have elevated Cambodia to Asia’s most complete and compact luxury tourism destination.
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Best places to go in Cambodia
Our guide to Cambodia’s principal destinations is below. You’ll find there’s a lot to see and a great deal of variety on offer! Please speak to our specialists if you’d like more information on any of these locations.
Siem Reap is often described as the perfect destination for first-time visitors to Asia. The Angkor temples are the main draw – and with good reason – but you’ll also find great shopping in the central markets, turning into a buzzing nightlife and dining scene after dark. This contemporary, cosmopolitan city – the second largest in Cambodia – also offers art tours, food and drink activities, outdoor adventure, epic day trips, and a wide array and ever-growing array of outstanding high-end accommodation.
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s bouncing capital city. Vibrant, lively, welcoming, and a photographer’s dream – if you enjoy a busy tropical city then this is definitely the place for you. Sitting at the confluence of the Bassac, Tonle and mighty Mekong rivers, Phnom Penh has many stories to tell: its Angkorian, French, and Khmer influences are visible in its eclectic architecture and historical sites. Following years of bubbling under the radar after the collapse of the Khmer regime, Phnom Penh is currently experiencing huge growth and investment, and now firmly competes with Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok as a base for both work and play.
Around 4 hours’ drive west of Phnom Penh, Battambang is Cambodia’s third largest city, and you’ll find it a more compact and laidback sister to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. In the centre you’ll find a mix of semi-restored colonial shophouses, long tree-lined avenues, and of course the usual moto-fuelled mess of streets around its sprawling central market. A short drive outside of the city finds you immediately in rich rural scenery: Battambang this is a fine base for rural mountain-biking, hikes, and nature tours, and also makes the start point of an epic day-long boat ride across Tonle Sap to Siem Reap.
In the heyday of the French Kep was a cool coastal escape, the perfect setting for weekend jaunts down from Phnom Penh. The town has grown since, centred around its busy crab fishing industry, but retains a laidback seafront atmosphere and is a fine place to kick back for a day or two. If you’re up for exploring the town is backed by a beautiful national park which has a couple of excellent trails and several sunset viewing points; the intriguing colonial market town Kampot is also just a short drive away. Kep houses several old colonial mansions, some of which have been converted into attractive boutique hotels.
Kampot, a short 30-minute drive from Kep, is a charming riverside port known for its quaint shopping streets lined with photogenic shophouses and its surrounding pepper farms. Kampot pepper enjoys WTO Protected Geographical Indicator status, putting it on a par with champagne or Scotch beef; a visit to a pepper farm, including a tour and an excellent lunch, can be easily arranged locally. We also recommend a trip up to Bokor National Park, a 1000m summit above Kampot. Formerly a French hill station, Bokor was completely abandoned post-independence, and now has a somewhat eerie quality with several derelict hotels and mansions.
Koh Rong is Cambodia’s paradise island. It is picture postcard stuff: pristine white beaches, swaying palm trees, and azure waters. Not too long ago the island was barely developed, home to a couple of small villages making a subsistence on fishing and farming, but in recent years has seen a mini boom in tourism development. The island is large enough that upmarket properties feel suitably isolated: enjoy the stunning beach, let the resort indulge you, or choose from an array of enticing activities, such as snorkelling and diving, kayaking, island-hopping tours, or treks and mountain bike tours of the island’s jungle interior.
Located around 4 hours’ drive north of Phnom Penh, set on the banks of the Mekong river, Kratie is eastern Cambodia’s largest city and a gateway to the red earth and rugged nature of Ratankiri and Mondulkiri provinces. The riverside setting is its key selling point: the city centre is suitably mellow and there are numerous cafes and restaurants from which to enjoy gorgeous Mekong sunsets. From Kratie travellers can arrange river tours out to the see the elusive Irrawaddy river dolphins, or press on further north for nature adventures around Sen Monorom, or tribal encounters around Ban Lung.
Cambodia's National Parks
Cambodia’s southern frontier encompasses tropical mangroves, dense jungle, and the rugged Cardamom mountains. This area has almost no local population and is a base for exploring the wild, untamed side of the country. A handful of excellent lodges – the Four Rivers Floating Camp in Tatai, Cardamom Tented Camp, and Jurassic Park-esque Shinta Mani Wild – offer comfortable accommodation from which you can partake in exhilarating nature tours. This part of the country is a long 7-8 hour drive from Phnom Penh, but enticingly Thai islands Koh Kut and Koh Chang are just 3-4 hours’ away by road and boat.
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