When to go? November – March (High season) / July – August (Shoulder season)
Currency? Cambodian Riel
What top 10 list can be complete without the capital city of the county? Phnom Penh has been the capital since the French colonisation and it’s been a popular destination ever since with all of it’s spectacular architecture and attractions. Although the city itself can be an assault on the senses with the wide array of aromas from the markets, fumes from the traffic zipping through their narrow laneways and the high decibel levels, it’s made quite the return from the aftermath of the Vietnam War keeping up with other popular cities around the world with their cafe culture, bars, nightlife and world class food scene.
Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor
This city is believed to be destined for great things, visitors come from far and wide to see the Temples of Angkor and experience all that Siem Reap has to offer. The city has reinvented itself as the epicentre of chic in Cambodia luring all manner of visitors from backpackers looking to party, world class dining options covering a range of cuisines, cultivating a cultural arts scene and those wishing to shop. This is the type of place one needs to spend some time to fully experience what it has to offer.
Sihanoukville (South West Cambodia)
Beach towns have always been a natural attraction for backpackers and Sihanoukville is no exception. With relatively easy access to other resort style islands nearby in the Gulf of Thailand, it makes perfect sense to prioritise Sihanoukville as you relaxing destination where you can enjoy fresh seafood from the ocean in the beach umbrella or straw roof eateries, you could also try snorkelling or scuba diving and take advantage of the laidback lifestyle.
This is the second largest city in Cambodia for a reason, it’s one of the best preserved towns built in the colonial style. This riverside town is home to approximately 250,000 and a number of charming French shops. Battambang makes a great home base for exploring the nearby temples of Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom as well as the nearby villages. It wasn’t until recently that this town became a tourism hotspot and it looks like it will soon be on the way out again due to the Highway Number 6 going from Poipet to Siem Reap, which is going through a lengthy upgrade process.
Down in the Southwest of Cambodia you will find the Kampot province near the base of the Green Elephant Mountains and Bokor Hill Station. Compared to the other places mentioned so far you may find this place extremely quiet. This is a great place to take trips and tours to Kep Beach, Rabbit Island, to visit pre-Angkorian ruins and caves, go jungle trekking, countryside bicycle tours, bamboo train rides and experiencing the local nature for reasonable prices. Most visitors decide to visit Kampot simply to see the old French Colonial architecture and to taste the local fruits (the area is really famous for it’s peppers).
Nestled in the hills beyond the rice fields at the foot or the mountains you will find the beautiful town of Mondulkiri. Filled with natural beauty, thickly forested mountains, gushing waterfalls and rolling hills make up the spectacular landscape of the region. Currently the area is heavily undeveloped but does have the potential to be one of the best eco-tourism spots in Cambodia because of it’s location and natural surroundings. You will find that there are a few different languages used hear such as Laos, Vietnamese, Khmer and that of the local hill tribes which combined with the region being undeveloped gives a real sense of being off the beaten track.
This sparsely populated province is renowned for it’s natural beauty and wealth of natural resources. The surroundings include hills, mountains, a level plateau, watershed lowlands, crater lakes, rivers and waterfalls, some areas have dense forestation which is home to a flourishing wildlife population. For these reasons this region also has the potential to increase their eco-tourism and make a positive impact on the world.
Compared to the rest of the country, the French architecture in the city of Kratie itself was largely left alone. The main attraction of the region are the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins who make their home in the Mekong River north of Kratie, there are about 15 left in existence. Comparing Kratie to the other locations on this list, you might find that this is a quiet, slow-paced town which makes it perfect for you to spend a night or two simply taking a break from your holiday schedule to unwind and relax.
Prasat Preah Vihear
Surrounded by attractive countryside, close to the Dongrek Mountains and near the Thai border this temple has had an interesting past which continues to drive tourism in the region. The 300 year construction has been recorded and offers a great insight into many aspects of the Angkorian period.
Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is quite popular around the world, most people would have had something from the region, but Khmer cuisine is still relatively low key in comparison. The national dish, Amok, is made with baked fish, lemongrass, chilli and coconut but you will also find that seafood and fresh fish dishes are in abundance. Similar to the other asian countries, street food is quite popular and comes in a variety of dishes including noodles, congee, deep-fried tarantulas and roasted crickets, all of this combined with local herbs and spices creates the authentic Cambodian taste. While you’re in Phnom Penh make sure to take the opportunity to sign up to a Khmer cooking class and learn the secrets to cooking Cambodian style dishes that you can replicate at home.