Cambodia is a special place and if you have never been, you should make that trip as soon as possible. By far, the biggest reason people flock to here is to see the ancient temples near Siem Reap, and no introductory visit to this country should be made without seeing them. The first time you see Angkor Wat for yourself, you will be mind-blown and that won't change if you have the good fortune of seeing it a million more times. Cambodia truly is the gift that keeps on giving as her many treasures do not end with the incredible complex of temples. It is when you venture out from the usual sights where things really begin to slow down, and just when you think you have seen it all, this is when Cambodia will work its magic on you and steal your heart away.
The bad news is that Cambodia has climbed to the very top of far too many bucket lists. If you do not go at the right time, you will find yourself competing for space with selfie-stick wielding tourists dressed in identical clothing and we can assure you, this is NOT how you want to experience Cambodia unless you happen to be one of the previously mentioned.
Our love affair with this country started many years ago. We have watched the transformation from a best-kept secret, to becoming a country that now has areas that are in danger of being completely over traveled. The good news is that if you go at the right time, you can enjoy this country how it should be visited, slow, and easy.
Whatever kind of experience you are looking for, Cambodia can and does deliver. There are beautiful natural environments, incredible architecture from the ancient world to the modern, and an intriguing history to learn about. If thrilling adventures are in order, you'll find plenty of these too. One of the greatest things about Cambodia is how far your tourism dollars can take you and if you are after a luxury experience, Cambodia is well equipped to satisfy even the most discriminating. 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 and if you want to blend in with the locals, wear your pajamas!
Of course, Siem Reap is a must go destination and it is base camp for exploring the temples of Angkor. Most people spend just a few days touring temples and the nearby floating villages. These are great experiences, but we think that is not enough time if you want a more immersive experience. If you are going to run through Cambodia like your hair is on fire, you will be missing out! Siem Reap is a great place to break local temples up over a few days up and venture out to further away temples, enjoying the rural countryside and taking in some of the other activities in the area like hiking to Kbal Spean in the Kulen Hills where you can see carvings in the riverbed and caves there. There is also a waterfall with a shallow pool if you go between July and December while the water hasn't yet dried up.
Mondulkiri Province is a great place for those looking for adventures into nature. There are beautiful waterfalls like the Bou Sra Waterfall at Bousra Eco Park and the quiet laid-back pace in this area is so refreshing. For animal lovers, there are a few elephant sanctuaries here and we loved the experience we had. Walking in the jungle alongside these incredible creatures was beyond amazing and well worth making the trip. We do have our opinions about which operators are best. We won't publish them, but let us just say that we strongly urge you to do your homework. Always make sure you are doing business with an ethical operation and that you are not being misled.
Cambodia's coast is wonderful. For us, the beaches around Sihanoukville are great if you are looking for more of a party-type atmosphere. Sihanoukville has a well-established expat community and let's just say, they haven't improved the atmosphere here. We think that escaping to one of the islands for great beaches or heading to Kampot and Kep is far more enjoyable. With the islands you can rough it a bit and enjoy pristine everything or you can have an over the top luxury experience at Song Saa island.
When To Go
The when to go to Cambodia is a very important question. Most of the information out there tells you to go between November and April. We do not agree. The best time is likely Mid-October to Mid-November, when the rainy season is ending and just before the season starts. The temples will have greenery around them, the weather at the beaches will likely be perfect, water levels are ideal for boat trips and while the locals everywhere think they are having a cold snap, you will find it comfortable. Seriously, we have seen locals wear parkas during 80° plus weather.
If Siem Reap is the only destination, and you do not mind a short-lived downpour here and there, the rainy season has its advantages. May through October with September being the month with the most rain. Pick your lesser of the evils. Humid and considerably less tourists or hot and swarms of tourists? If you like photography, the rainy season is a no-brainer, but be prepared for possible flooding. 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, try to go in November or December before it really gets nuts in Siem Reap. By February, the heat starts to turn up and everything is brown and bone dry.
If you are going anywhere else in Cambodia there are a few different considerations. The beaches see more rain and if you are planning to visit, you might go here during the season as many people don't make it down that far, and it isn't far! Venturing into places like Mondulkiri and Kep and even in the extreme North, is completely fine during the high season. We have not encountered too many tourists in any of these places during the busier months. How long that lasts, we can only pray!
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