Where can you go in Cambodia?
THE PHNOM PENH CAPITAL CITY
Most tourists make for the cosmopolitan capital, Phnom Penh, at some point during their visit. A pleasing, low-rise city graced with leafy boulevards, the capital offers the chance to take in the splendour of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, while the cream of ancient Khmer art is housed a stone’s throw away at the National Museum. The capital also boasts a vibrant riverside of pavement cafés and bars and is the best place in the country to shop, its colourful markets stocked with shimmering silks and intricate handicrafts.
THE HISTORICAL INSIGHT
The main reason that most people come to Cambodia, however, is to visit the world-famous temples of Angkor, just outside the engaging town of Siem Reap. Chief is the majestic Angkor Wat, but close by are the compact Banteay Srei, with enchanting bas-reliefs of demure divinities; Ta Prohm, clamped in the grip of giant kapok trees; and the intricately designed, slightly surreal, Bayon, carved with hundreds of faces. The pre-Angkorian temple Sambor Prei Kuk lies just to the northeast of the provincial town of Kompong Thom, while more intrepid travellers can escape the crowds and head for remote temples such as Preah Vihear, which clings dramatically to an escarpment on the Thai border, Koh Ker and Beng Mealea, all a day-trip northeast of Siem Reap.
After seeing the temples of Angkor, many people head down to Sihanoukville to spend a few days lazing on pristine white-sand beaches lapped by the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. The coast is peppered with islands and there is a nascent diving industry. Just outside Sihanoukville is the Ream National Park where you can putter downstream as monkeys play in the mangroves
and fishing eagles soar overhead. East of Sihanoukville, Kampot is a delightful town of mixed French and Chinese influences, with views to the brooding slopes of Bokor Mountain. Nearby is the beguiling seaside resort of Kep, with a minuscule beach and atmosphere of faded gentility. Its decrepit buildings are being restored, and the tiny town already hosts some of the country’s most stylish accommodation. Inland from here is Angkor Borei, third-century capital of Cambodia, accessible only by water for much of the year.
Northeast of the capital, the Mekong at Kratie is home to a graceful population of Irrawaddy dolphins. Getting out to the remote northeastern provincial capitals of Banlung and Sen Monorom takes more time and effort, but the natural beauty of this part of the country is unrivalled, the hillsides brimming with wildlife, dotted with scenic waterfalls and home to villages of the minority chunchiet tribes, and where you can trek on foot or by elephant.
The northwestern border crossing from Thailand at Poipet is an increasingly popular point of entry to Cambodia, while nearby Battambang retains some of the country’s most attractive colonial architecture and makes a convenient stopover on the way to Phnom Penh or an interesting side-trip from Siem Reap.