The Kingdom of Cambodia sits in the southwestern part of the Indochina peninsula and bordered on the Southeast by the Gulf of Thailand. Like many of its Asian neighboring countries, Cambodia offers a wealth of destinations ready to welcome adventure seeking visitors.
The country is arguably known worldwide for the architectural grandeur of the Angkor Wat Complex. Cambodia’s tourism is booming as each year the Asian country warmly welcomes 2 million foreign tourists. Tourism is becoming one of the country’s most important industries as more and more people are becoming aware of the charms of Khmer empire that shows the locals unique and ancient way of life.
Religion and history geeks will be in their element in Cambodia, with the great Khmer Empire continue to be at the center of national pride. From wondering around the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and discovering more about the rulers who created them to the Kingdom’s shift from Hinduism to Buddhism, as well as violent past, Cambodia holds a strong and fascinating history.
The Enchanting Siem Reap
Ever since Angelina Jolie swung through temple ruins in Cambodia as the brave adventurer Lara Croft in the Hollywood film Tomb Raider, the place has been swarming with tourists.
Temple Town, as expatriates call Siem Reap, is dusty, hot, and flat, but creative and buzzing with life. Artists, poets, writers, bloggers and photographers have tried to live in the city as close to the amazing ruins of Angkor. Now the city is flourishing with new restaurants, bars and hotels opening seemingly every day. The town now dependent on tourism is welcoming and lovely, with the serene Siem Reap river flowing languidly between vast old trees, especially in the former French Quarter.
10 Best Things To See and Do in Cambodia Siem Reap
Travelers nowadays are seeking out more authentic experiences and Cambodia has this by the bucket load. There are plenty of opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant local scene.
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- Watch Sunrise. See dawn break over one of the world’s breathtaking morning sight at Angkor Wat. Many are amazed at the huge pile of tourists showing up at 5:30 am. April is the best month for capturing that sunrise shot — when the sun crests the horizon right behind the main shrine’s dome and to maximize your chances of a haze-free day.
- Attend a traditional Khmer dance performance. Apsara dance is at the heart of classical Khmer culture presented only for the royalties, but it was spread throughout Cambodia and to Thailand after the Khmer Rouge regime. A lovely way to experience Cambodian culture, Apsaras, according to Hindu mythology is beautiful female creatures that visit Earth from heaven to entertain both gods and kings with their enchanting dance. Depicted on the many wall carvings of Angkor Wat, many tourists choose a package of dinner with Apsara dance offered at some local hotels and restaurants. Get reviews and recommendations as price and quality vary widely.
- If being hoisted off the ground in a basket is your kind of adventure, book a hot air balloon ride. The Cambodian hot air balloon experience is priced reasonably for the thrill and joy you get that’s beyond belief. You will be treated to a panoramic view of mountains and temples.
- A visit to the famous site of Angkor offers a chance to see temples unrivaled in scale and grandeur in Southeast Asia. Cambodia’s biggest draw is undoubtedly Angkor Wat. A big part of Cambodia’s rich heritage, Angkor is also the heart and soul of the country. It was declared a world heritage site by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in 1992 the most extensive urban complex in the pre-industrial world. Every ruin is intricately carved and impressively constructed. Constructed between AD 802 and 1432, this was the world’s biggest city during the medieval age and the vast powerhouse of the Khmer kings. A dream spot for a hardcore shutterbug, the temple of Angkor Wat itself, the world’s largest religious building, is only one sliver of the site in total, and the extensive tracks of temples deserve 3 days to explore if you want to understand the scope of the Angkorian period’s architectural feats. This marvelous tourist spot is home to a series of stunning structures and religious monuments.
- Situated in the south end of central and the liveliest of Siem Reap is the Pub Street. Pub Street is Siem Reap’s culinary and nightlife party hub, much like Bangkok’s Khao San Road. By 5 pm, the street is close to motor traffic so people can walk freely. So grab a $1 beer or inexpensive cocktail drink, while enjoying great music in any of the street’s restaurants and bars.
- Go shopping. The city’s most famous shopping spot is Angkor Night Market covering hundreds of stalls selling a wide range of clothing, jewelry, and handicrafts by local communities and non-governmental organizations. This outdoor market found in downtown Siem Reap, was established in 2007 in an effort to help preserve traditional Khmer handicrafts and enhance the lives of Khmer community. Look forward to shopping unique products available such as shadow puppets, silk paintings, and intricate stone carvings embellished in silver or brass. Recommended for selling environment friendly products is the ‘Angkor Recycled’ shop, which offers a wide range of wallets, bags, purses, and pouches that are made from recycled materials. Realistically speaking, you will also find a dash of mass produced made in China goods that are a requisite of all markets in Southeast Asia too. Having a browse through all the stalls is a popular and enjoyable activity, with shops, bars and restaurants catering to every price level.
- Hop on a Tuktuk ride. Tuk-tuks are Cambodia’s local taxis, and the easiest way and unique way to get around Siem Reap. These two-wheeled carriages pulled behind a motor are a breezy way to travel and are marginally safer. It’s also a great way to view your surroundings. A year ago, a few tuk-tuk mobile applications have reached the roads of Cambodia, giving an easy option to go places. The same style to taxi app Uber, passengers download the app, find their location, set the destination and wait for a driver to respond. Prices are set low so it takes away the hassle of negotiating fees and wondering about with directions.
- Have lunch at New Hope Restaurant, Siem Reap. You will not only enjoy one of the best meals you’ll have in town, but you’ll feel good to know that this is a trade school for former sex workers, an elementary school for at risk kids and a local free medical clinic. The former head chef of a Siem Reap 5 star hotel runs the training restaurant,and her expertise shows. Plan to stay for a site tour and to meet the kids. They are so smart and engaging, you just want them to have a better life.
- Fish Massage. To prepare for the next day’s adventures after a long tiring day of temple trekking, give your worn-out feet a little TLC from little fish feeding from your dead skin. Spa centers offering massages and reflexology can be easily found at any hotel.
- Take a Khmer cooking class. If you’re hooked on Cambodia’s delicious curries, take a traditional cooking class and you’ll be able to satisfy your cravings after leaving Siem Reap. Local cooks will guide you to neighboring markets and classify all the not so ordinary ingredients you’ll need to create your masterpiece dish. Cambodian cuisine is simple but flavorsome, comprising ancient Khmer dishes, fresh fish from the Mekong, and an abundance of Asian spices. Immerse yourself in Siem Reap’s culinary heritage food tour as you enjoy a cooking class in a typical Cambodian village, learn the secrets of Khmer cooking from a local chef, and tuck into a delicious 3-course lunch of traditional Khmer cuisine.
Cambodian CuisineIn the Khmer diet, freshwater fish and rice play big roles because of the abundance of both. The Mekong river and the Tonle Sap, a huge lake connected to the Mekong are Cambodia’s two main supplies of natural fresh water. Food in Cambodia takes influences from a variety of countries. For many years, Cambodia was under the French colony and has also been a home of many Chinese immigrants, therefore both French and Chinese foods are widely found. In the west of the country, the cuisine is, naturally, influenced by the food of neighbouring Thailand while in the east the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine are more evident.
A well known Khmer dish is the fish amok, which is white fish steamed in a banana leaf and topped with coconut cream. Also worth to try are beef lok lak and the mass of noodle and rice dishes that are eaten on a daily basis. Explore the flavors of Cambodia through a range of food tours and cooking classes that are available to take visitors on a gastronomic journey of the Kingdom’s taste. The more adventurous can sample popular snacks such as deep-fried tarantulas, crickets and other grub.
What to Do and Where to See Outside Siem Reap
There’s more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat. The country’s capital, Phnom Penh, is home to the Royal Palace, National Museum, boat cruises and the Silver Pagoda, which has a floor with over 5000 silver tiles. A visit to the Killing Fields offers a grim history of the country where mass graves were discovered from the period of 1975-1979 when the Khmer Rouge was in control and Cambodians were made to starve, dying from over work or were killed.
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Sihanoukville offer pristine beaches with clear waters and golden sands without the overcrowding problems experienced by some of Cambodia’s neighbors. The area of Sen Monorom in Mondulkiri province is a great camping spot for adventurers who plan to explore the Bousra waterfall which is considered as one of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls. For a fun experience, try to watch a circus. Phare, the Cambodian circus blends contortion, juggling, acrobatics, balancing and aerial arts with theater and modern dance forms
Tourists can reach Siem Reap by traveling to Phnom Penh, the capital city. Alternately, you can fly to Bangkok, Thailand, to which fares are typically lower, and ride a bus over the border into Cambodia.
Most tourists coming to Cambodia prefer the speedy comfort and convenience of air travel, but many backpackers choose entering through the border crossings from Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The cooler but not-too-wet months between November and January are the ideal time to visit Cambodia. November til May is the country’s dry season while November to February is when tourists flock because of cold weather. The late spring, before the rainy season picks up, sees fewer tourists.
Bring light cotton clothes and a hat to beat Cambodia’s heat. Strong shoes are recommended you will need to walk a lot as you’ll be exploring loads of Angkor temples. Bear in mind that when visiting religious monuments like temples and pagodas, it is wise to wear something modest.
Visit CambodiaWith this Asian country full of wonder, it’s fairly easy to understand why the citizens of the ancient city of Angkor considered their leaders to be gods. The massive stone temple complex and the thick green jungle that surrounds it are just beyond beautiful.
Learning about Cambodia’s distressing history is not only responsible, it’s also an effective way to lift up the country. Almost two million people died from starvation, disease, torture, and execution under the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Five minutes in the country and the tension between the horrific history and the admirable efforts to rebuild is impossible to miss.
Monuments marking massacres and celebrating ties with allies stand solemnly in parks and in the middle of traffic circles, paying homage to the countless citizens who were ripped from their lives, stripped of their dignity and families, and ultimately killed or left to die. Despite their tragic history, Cambodians’ gentle nature is naturally happy, friendly and kind people. Listen to people’s stories – from your tour guide, waiter, receptionist, tuktuk driver and service staff. Cambodia is known as the “Land of Smiles” and truly lives up to its moniker.