Where to Go
Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor: One of the world’s most magnificent sights, the temples of Angkor are Cambodia’s biggest draw cards. Choose from Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building; Bayon, one of the world’s weirdest, with its immense stone faces; or Ta Prohm, where nature runs amok. Buzzing Siem Reap, with a superb selection of restaurants and bars, is the base for temple exploration. Beyond lie floating villages on the Tonle Sap Lake and adrenaline-fuelled activities like quad biking and microlighting.
Phnom Penh: The Cambodian capital is a chaotic yet charming city that has thrown off the shadows of the past to embrace a brighter future. Boasting one of the most beautiful riverfronts in the region, Phnom Penh is in the midst of a boom, with hip hotels, designer restaurants and funky bars ready to welcome urban explorers. Experience emotional extremes at the inspiring National Museum and the depressing Tuol Sleng prison, showcasing the best and worst of Cambodian history.
Sihanoukville: Despite a reputation for backpacker hedonism, Sihanoukville’s real appeal lies in its beaches. On nearby islands like Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, resorts are creating a laid-back beach-bungalow vibe. On the mainland, it’s only 5 km from Sihanoukville’s grittier central beach, Occheutal, to Otres Beach, still mellow and sublime despite the long-looming threat of development.
Mondulkiri: Eventually the endless rice fields and sugar palms that characterise the Cambodian landscape give way to rolling hills. Mondulkiri in the wild east, home to the hardy Bunong people, who still practise animism and ancestor worship. Elephants are used here, but better than riding them is visiting them at the Elephant Valley Project, where you can experience ‘walking with the herd’. Add thunderous waterfalls, jungle treks and black-shanked douc spotting to the mix and you have the right recipe for adventure.
Kampot & Kep: These South Coast retreats form a perfect one-two punch for those looking to get beyond the beaches of Sihanoukville. In laid-back Kampot, take in the wonderful colonial architecture, explore the pretty river by paddleboard or kayak, and day-trip to wild Bokor National Park. Sleepier Kep offers its famous Crab Market, hiking in Kep National Park and hidden resorts to escape from it all. Crumbling half-century-old villas in both towns offer glimpses of a time when these were prime destinations for Phnom Penh’s privileged few.
Battambang: This is the real Cambodia, far from the jet-set destinations of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Unfurling along the banks of the Sangker River, Battambang is one of the country’s best-preserved colonial-era towns. Streets of French shophouses host everything from fair-trade cafes to bike excursions. Beyond the town lie the Cambodian countryside and a cluster of ancient temples.