We have visited Cambodia twice, and both times we left with the feeling that we were leaving one of the most welcoming and interesting countries in all of Southeast Asia. And that his story is not the happiest. But the Cambodian people knew how to overcome one of the most atrocious genocides of humanity and today the country welcomes the traveler with a huge smile and a lot of attractions to discover. If you are planning a visit, we are going to tell you the best 15 things to see and do in Cambodia.
1. We always say that Cambodia is much more than Angkor, but we cannot deny the evidence: all of us who visit the country do so with the idea of knowing what, in its day, was the largest city in the world. And it does not surprise us. The impressive Angkor Wat, the faces of Bayon, the temples trapped between the roots of Ta Prohm… Each corner of Angkor is truly amazing. Its negative side is the “children of Angkor” who, instead of being in school, hang around the ruins trying to sell souvenirs to tourists. It is the other side of the coin. Here we tell you how to visit Angkor.
2. To visit Angkor you will have to base yourself in the city of Siem Reap. It is not the friendliest in the country, but it is a good place to spend a couple of nights. The hotel offer is huge and you can find real hotels with a swimming pool for little money. There is an interesting night market, quality restaurants where you can try gastronomic specialties (lok lak and amok are our favorites), buy souvenirs such as the typical checkered scarves, stroll through its narrow streets and begin to make friends with the new country.
3. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom penh, and this is not a pretty city either. But we recommend visiting it for a couple of reasons. The first, to greet the mythical mekong river (better from a boat at sunset). And the second to learn more about the dark past of the country, the years of Pol Pot and his genocidal madness. The best place to do it is S-21, an old school converted into a high security prison and where inmates suffered excruciating torture before being murdered. It is not an easy visit. But you have to know history to avoid repeating itself. Here we tell you about our passage through Phnom Penh.
4. South of Cambodia there are beautiful beach areas, and its epicenter is Sihanoukville. It is a coastal city with all the comforts, with cool beaches (don’t expect paradise), cheap beer and a great atmosphere. You will pass through here yes or yes if you want to travel to an island that, in its day, was our never-never country …
5. We talk about Koh rong. The first time we visited it, we felt like a couple of castaways on an almost deserted island (in total we would be 20 tourists). We enjoyed ourselves as dwarves and even planned to set up a little hostel on the seafront (but we didn’t have a hard time haha). When we returned after three years, the thing was no longer (in our eyes) so paradisiacal: welcome to mass tourism my friend. The island is not prepared for all the consumption that there is and garbage accumulates in many corners, there is more party tourism and the atmosphere is not what we remember. But the postcard beach and crystal clear waters are still there!
6. If your roll is somewhat quieter, you can choose to visit its sister island: Koh Rong Samloen. Accommodations are a bit more expensive, but probably worth more. By the way, if you are lucky, these islands have an indescribable natural phenomenon: the luminous plankton.
7. And if you want to add unforgettable bathing experiences, you can swim in the very crater of a volcano. Of course, you have to move east and visit the Yeak Laom volcanic lake. It is located in the beautiful province of Ratanakiri.
8. The second largest city in the country is Battambang, but the atmosphere in this case is much more rural and relaxed. You can see colonial houses, markets, pagodas and temples, and even attend a circus show, but a good one. A while ago you could ride the famous bamboo train, unfortunately not anymore.
9. In the Battambang surroundings there are some excursions That may be worth it if you have the time. The ancient Angkorian era ruins of the temples of Ek Phnom Y Phnom Banan, the latter on top of a mountain. See thousands of bats in Phnom Sampov, one of the sacred mountains and also known for its “caves of death”, where the Khmer Rouge threw their victims. And also related to this tragic episode in Cambodia, you can visit the Wat Samrong Khong, a detention center and death camp near Battambang. To do these visits you can negotiate a tuktuk (about $ 15-$ 20) or rent a scooter and do them at your own pace (about $ 7 a day).
10. The visit to the floating villages of Tonle Sap LakeIt is a good option if you are on your way between Siem Reap and Battambang. There are more than 100 floating villages, so we think the ideal is to spend a few days in the area and get to know some unknown towns (such as Phoum Kandal and Chong Kos), as well as the more touristy ones (Chong Kneas, Kampong Khleang and Kompong Phluk). But if you only have one day, there are tours like this that depart from Siem Reap. Curiosity: did you know that the Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia?
11. If after your passage through Cambodia you plan to travel to Vietnam, we recommend you stay a few days in Kampot, the pepper capital of the world. Although it has no special charm, we found it to be a pleasant little town, thanks mainly to its French colonial heritage. And of course, it is the perfect place to put your boots on with the local specialty: pepper crab! The best thing is to rent a motorcycle and explore its surroundings until Kep. Tip: don’t miss the Bokor National Park where you can take a good dip in the beautiful Popovkil waterfalls.
12. Although a very original way of get to vietnam it is cross the Mekong aboard a ship. There from cruise ships from 3 days / 2 nights ($ 300-600) to less cute boats that take you for about $ 25 / $ 40 to Chau Doc, a border town in Vietnam. One thing is clear: it will be cheaper for you to arrive by bus.
13. In Cambodia we eat one of our favorite dishes: the amok, a chicken or fish curry, cooked in banana leaves and with coconut milk and lemongrass that will make you lick your mustache. Our second love is the lok lak, beef cooked in the wok and with sweet soy sauce, served with rice and a fried egg, to die for! And the best thing is that you can accompany it with pitchers of frozen Angkor beer, for 0.50USD! (Yes, in Cambodia two currencies are used, the riel, the national currency and the US dollar).
14. We did not go but we fully trust the criteria of the guys from Conmochila, so we advise anyone who wants to visit a elephant rescue center of the real ones, far from any tourist circus, go to the Elephant Valley Project. It is something we would love to do on a hypothetical 3rd visit to Cambodia. More information.
15. Did you know that Cambodia is one of the few places in the world where you can see Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins? Specifically, you will have to go to Kratie.
15 + 1. Returns: it is impossible to fulfill this list of essentials in Cambodia on a first trip. Also, who says NO to meeting Angkor again or having a few cold beers while eating an amok in a paradise like Koh Rong?
Have you visited this country? Do you know more things to see and do in Cambodia?
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