A country located on the ever-popular Southeast Asian backpacking trail, Cambodia has risen from a once very troubled past to become an increasingly popular place to visit. A glittering Royal Palace, mystical stone temples, acres of pristine coastline, steamy jungles and of course the world-famous Angkor Wat make up some of the beguiling Cambodian scenery. Throw in the intriguing Khmer culture, a good handful of idiosyncrasies, a party-lifestyle hedonism, and sizzling street food and you have one of the most intriguing travel destinations on the planet. Now you just need to know where to go, so from my many trips to this incredible country, I’ve narrowed down my all-time favourites to a list of 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Cambodia…
It’s not all the time you get to see one of the most iconic religious monuments on the face of the earth but Angkor Wat spread over 200 hectares is a sight to behold. Constructed around 1113-1150 A.D., the temple city was made to honour Vishnu the Hindu god and later in the 14th century transformed into a temple for Buddhists. It has also been a military fortification in its long existence. Angkor is just four miles towards the northern side of Siem Reap and well preserved. It blends architectural perfection with religious symbolism of the universe in proportion, balance and composition. You probably have seen it in a postcard somewhere or photograph online but viewing Angkor Wat in person is an experience nothing short of being sensational. It has a romantic beauty about it and to be appreciated or understood you might want to view it in person. From the raised terrace in sandstone welcoming you at the entrance and giant lions carved in stone edged on either side you realize you’re about to see something magnificent. On the upper level’s outer gallery bask in the open Khmer countryside and muse on the daring architects who executed the architectural phenomenon.
Sok San Beach
Whether staying at the beach resort or just getting around, Sok San Beach is an amazing wonder of white at midday with mesmerizing turquoise waters promising a great experience. The clean water and refined white sand offer some of the most beautiful landscapes in Cambodia. You can even get to Sok San Beach via the village of Koh Touch trekking in the jungle and immerse yourself in the light blue water usually with the most ideal temperature for a swim.
Tropical thrills and engrossing rainforest is what the Cardamom Mountains offer and getting has never been easier with improved community projects and enhanced access. The mountains are the home to endangered wildlife and ethnic minorities with dense forests off-limits to all, including tourists; sufficient pockets are open for all to explore. Gushing clear rivers, open plains, marshes and iconic mountains are fascinating enough with the wildlife alliance allowing visitors a chance to view some of the most endangered and incredible fauna. At Chi Phat you can live and immerse yourself in the local life while enjoying jungle treks, cookery lessons, waterfall swims, kayaking and biking in the mountains. Don’t forget the tented camping by Cardamoms, an eco-camp at the Botum Sakor National Park.
Without a doubt, rugged old villas and destroyed structures are visible in the seaside must-see stop of Kep but the reestablishment of the place as a top holiday stop is now in top gear. Tuk-tuks are available to help you get by or rent a bicycle or motorcycle and get yourself around. Kep offers a beach with cool and calm waters and superb sand with wooden lounge chairs all over the place. Kayaking and renting catamarans is normal here at the Sailing Club with oil, steam and Thai massage parlours available too. There’s so much to see here too, from Angkaul Beach, the Kompong Trach caves, colonial French villas, Kep Mountain to Kampot Pepper plantation. Seafood is all the range here such as freshly done Kampot peppercorn crabs.
One of the most beautiful places to visit in Cambodia and practically anywhere, Koh Thmei is a wonderful stop for anyone. The island is surrounded by the clearest waters you’ll ever see anywhere with a resort under German management. Think of pristine beaches, blue waters, and tropical magic and breathtaking landscapes. Perhaps because it isn’t a high traffic area the beaches are perfect for family fun activities and swims without worrying about kids getting lost. Snorkelling and scuba diving adventures are aplenty here, including tour boat rides perhaps to explore the magnificent reef area(if you’re lucky a dolphin or two will be visible). Bird watchers will find the 150 bird species around the place a marvel, especially canaries, parrots, cockatoos and sea eagles. If you’ve some extra time, tour the surrounding areas like Koh Rong Samloem or Koh Rong and the Ream National Park.
Phnom Kulen National Park
Right at the heart of Phnom Kulen National Park, you get to understand right away why King Jayavarman II would choose the place to pull the people away from Java and declare the independence of Cambodia. The park is made up of diverse sights, historical locations and must-see stops. These include a view of the Linga and Yoni, among other carved rocky figures, or a pass by the Sdach Kamlung terrace without forgetting a peek at the reclining Buddha rising 8 meters believed to be on the up to reach nirvana. Having a guide tagging along is glorious as all the legends, myths, history and enchantment of the place will come alive from a local. Kulen Waterfall offers a view out of this world while a tour of the Beng Melea Temple is a sure treat.
Just off the Sihanoukville coast is the Island of Koh Pos offering a rather quiet and flat beach. The area might not attract as many visitors as other Cambodian areas and remains rather undeveloped but it doesn’t stop visitors from trickling in. Koh Pos is perfectly visited by groups of tourists with their own itinerary and meals. It offers some of the most delicious seafood around Sihanoukville. Essentially, the island is a jungle habitat with lots of rainforest fauna from snakes, pythons, king cobras to monkeys. It might be a bit rocky but Koh Pos is an adventurer’s paradise in a place removed from the hustle and noise of most busy locations.
Right in the heart of the sleepy charming town of Kampot, it’s easy to see why visitors make a deserved stop. The traffic isn’t as busy as elsewhere in Cambodia and getting around by motorbike, bicycle or on foot is typical of the town. Even so, the lazy, hot afternoons will remind you of the gem of the place, ideal for such a time as that: the Kampot River. If wasting away in a hammock isn’t your idea of enjoying Kampot consider taking some time to visit the base of the Elephant Mountains where the attraction is situated. You’ll find locals and tourists enjoying the marvel of the river, strolling around or enthusiastically guzzling down cocktails at sunset or enjoying thrilling reads on a deck with occasional swimming breaks. The River is perfect for kayaking and swimming, perhaps right from one of the well-maintained guesthouses.
Preah Vihear Temple
A temple that sheds light on the spirituality of a disappeared empire, Preak Vihear has been around since the 9th century with some of the oldest surviving sections going back to the 10th century. It was declared a Cambodian property in 1962 by the International Court of Justice then disputed by Thailand though modern disputes are a reality. Visiting the superbly well-preserved temple site allows you to marvel at the exceptional architecture blending perfectly with the temple’s religiosity and natural surroundings. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, the staircases and pavements and sequences of sanctuaries will be a delight to experience. The materials and structures seamlessly express the outstanding site’s values and allow visitors the chance to bask in the exquisiteness of the decorated carvings. Don’t forget to take a bow at the unforgettable picturesque enchantment of the sprawling northern plains of Cambodia from outside the temple.
Kirirom National Park
Perched on the 700 meters high Kirirom Mountain, the park is well conserved with lots of waterfalls, pulsating orchids and pine trees with the freshest air you can imagine. Birdwatchers will find bird watching a rewarding experience around while rainy season or just after the rainy seasons incredibly offer the best time to be around. Tours are one of the best ways of exploring the lakes, pine flora and mountains while walking tours and lots of out-door activities are sure to keep you busy. Kirirom National Park balances fauna and flora with picturesque majesty; the kind of place to be with good friends to enjoy some shade and hammocks, Khmer food and natural wonders.
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