The Perfect Vacation Awaits You In Cambodia
Having worked its way to the top of more than a few bucket lists, Cambodia is one of our favorite places on the planet, and it never leaves our own list.
Our love affair with this dazzling country started many years ago. We have witnessed its amazing transformation from a backpacker’s paradise to a world-class destination for all types of travelers. With every trip back, we always find something new and seemingly more of everything, especially tourists.
Cambodia’s awe-inspiring temples are the main reason most people travel here and no introductory visit to this country should be made without visiting the Angkor temple complex near Siem Reap. Seeing the most popular temples of Angkor Wat and Bayon for the first time is quite an emotional experience. You will be mind-blown by the majesty and will marvel over what they must have looked like during the height of the Angkorian empire in the 11th to 13th centuries.
Still, Cambodia is the gift that keeps on giving, and her many treasures do not end with the incredible complex of temples. It is when you venture out from the usual touristic sites that this amazing country and its people will work their magic on you and steal your heart away.
We strongly feel that Cambodia is not a place to run through as if your hair is on fire. Slow down and allow yourself to experience the serendipity that this wondrous land evokes. Siem Reap makes for a perfect base from which to explore for a more than a few days and immerse yourself into the culture of this fascinating country, but don't just stop here, there are more incredible experiences to be had.
No matter your goals, Cambodia can and does deliver. There are beautiful natural environments for nature lovers, incredible architecture from the ancient world to the modern, and an intriguing history to learn about. You'll find beautifully calm places to decompress and others where thrilling adventures await. One of the greatest things about Cambodia is how far your tourism dollars can take you. If you are after a luxury experience, Cambodia is well equipped to satisfy even the most discriminating travelers.
Last words on why you need to go and it is our favorite thing about Cambodia; the Khmer people. You will be enchanted by their friendly spirits and find them to be incredibly endearing. If you want to blend in with the locals, wear your favorite Hello Kitty or Spider Man comfies as you will be in the world's largest pajama party. Seriously.
Cambodia's Highlights For Travelers
Siem Reap is a must for first timers to Cambodia and again, we feel two or three days here is simply not enough if you wish to have an immersive experience. If you spent a week here, it would still leave plenty of things to see and do and there are more temples than you will have the time to visit. Visiting lesser known temples is highly suggested as you may be lucky enough to have them all to yourself and if you really want to dig in, you should visit the site where it is said the birth of the Angkorian Empire began, Phnom Kulen. Another great reason to spend more time here is to break up your temple visits over several days to avoid temple burn-out. There are plenty of diverse things to do and trying to cram it all in is impossible, unless of course you just move in.
Situated along the junctions of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, Phnom Penh is a chaotic city with a charm all its own. Our favorite place to base is along the riverfront where you can walk or grab a tuk tuk to get around to many of the must see sites like Wat Phnom. We love to find a café to sit outside and just watch life go by, especially after experiencing the local markets, which are the best way to get to know our favorite SE Asian city.
While certainly not a highlight, most people come to Phnom Penh to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, better known as The Killing Fields. These are both somber experiences and we recommend NOT going as part of a tour, devoting a day to it, and learning about the history through further study. Going on your own is easy enough and will allow you to deal with the realities of genocide in your own way. Spending a quiet evening in a city oasis might be in order as the day can be emotionally draining, and it will certainly have a profound effect on you, if not life changing.
Cambodia's Coast & Tropical Islands
There are more than a few wonderful places to go on along the coast and just off shore. One of our favorite places is Kep, not far from the border with Vietnam. There are quite a few chic boutique resorts with a small town vibe. Lazy days meandering around the crab market or walking along the shore are just a great way to unwind. Kep was once considered the Riviera of Indochina and there are some incredible examples of architecture from bygone days though many are in ruin.
Cambodia's islands are also amazing and we've been amazed at their development. We feel very lucky to have been among the first to discover these once best kept secrets. Koh Rong is the largest of Cambodia's islands and is now very popular and for good reason. The beaches are amazing, the water is sublime and the vibe is very chill.
Mondulkiri is the largest province in Cambodia yet is the most sparsely populated. This is nature at its best. There are numerous waterfalls, mountainous forests, hills lush with vegetation, and an incredible flora and fauna. Around 80% of the local population in Mondulkiri is made up of ten tribal minorities. The majority of them are the Chunchiet from the tribe of the Phnong, also known as the Bunong. While these are indigenous peoples, Cambodia's government does not recognize them as such. They are considered ethnic minorities. Preserving their culture that is under constant threat is something we are very passionate about and we encourage you to learn more about the Phnong.
Most people will head to Sen Monorom to visit the elephants and this can be an extraordinary experience, if done ethically. There are many incredible opportunities for ecotourism in Mondulkiri. Any savvy birder would tell you that the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is a must do. Another amazing experience is the Jahoo Gibbon Camp that is part of the sanctuary. Sen Monorom is a sort of sleepy town itself but don't worry, some of the best coffee on the planet is right here and if you are a coffee lover, you'll appreciate this for being an all-natural flavor where you do not need sugar or cream if that is the way you usually take yours.
Getting Off The Beaten Path in Cambodia
The Best Times To Go To Cambodia
The when to go to Cambodia is a very important consideration. Most of the information out there tells you to go between November and April. Our opinion, the last couple of weeks in October is the ideal time to go to Siem Reap and elsewhere in the country. The temples will have greenery around them, the weather at the beaches will likely be perfect, the water levels are ideal for boat trips, and while the locals everywhere think they are having a cold snap, you will find it comfortable.
More importantly, this is a great time to avoid the gaggles of selfie-stick wielding tourists in tour busses who will surely ruin just about every view at the temples and could cause you to wonder why you've come here at all. By February, everything is fairly bone dry and the landscapes are brown with a blazing hot sun. During this time of year, things will be more pleasant toward the coast.
Though prone to flooding in some areas, and if you do not mind a short-lived downpour here and there, the rainy season has certainly its advantages. May through October is the wet season, with the heaviest rains usually occurring in September and into early October. During these months, there are far less tourists.
If you like photography, the rainy season can be a no-brainer. You will have the chance for dramatic skies and won't have to use your tripod as a weapon to fend off the selfie stick army. If you must go during the high season, book well in advance and consider areas outside of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to focus on as most tourists will stick to these two locations.
We visited most recently in busy January, and suggest places like Mondulkiri, Kep, and Battambang have fewer tourists and are wonderful places that will give you a diverse sampling of Cambodia's charms.
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