Ultimate Cambodia: a guide to the cities and beyond

Phnom Penh and Hanoi, or Phnom Penh and Vientiane. Though I strongly recommend doing border-crossing tours throughout Indochina, you should now be able to spend two or three weeks seeing Cambodia thanks to the country's increasing infrastructure. Ultimate Cambodia: a guide to the cities and beyond

Those traveling between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap may easily extend their vacation to include stops at newly accessible national parks and vast expanses of silvery beaches, all of which you can combine into one cross-country trip. Distant temples that precede Angkor with Cambodia travel guide and My Way Travel.

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Several airlines will get you to Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields and the S21 Museum provide crucial background for the pre-Angkorian art displayed in Cambodia's National Museum. Pictures are displayed from when the Raffles Hotel Le Royal served as a Red Cross hospital.

The city is making progress while respecting its past. The Rosewood Phnom Penh, for instance, is located on several floors in the gleaming Vattanac Capital Tower and has contemporary suites. Visit Sora, the hotel's rooftop bar, after dark to enjoy the cityscape.

In the evening, you may take a tour with a local and try some of the local pilsners, wheat beers, and Indian pale ales that have made Phnom Penh famous in the craft beer world. If cocktails are your drink, you may spend the evening visiting various establishments.

An overland adventure to Siem Reap

Battambang, Cambodia's Kan Doeng Pagoda (Wat Kan Doeng).

From Phnom Penh, I recommend seeing the colonial city of Battambang for a night. But if you're in the mood for adventure, you can now hire a driver and guide to take you to Siem Reap via some of the less popular temples in the area.

Your first trip should be to the Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017. About an hour's drive north of Phnom Penh will get you there. In this area stood Ishanapura, the seat of the pre-Khmer Chenla Empire in the sixth century. As you visit the temples, you'll see how their design inspired later Angkorian constructions.

After traveling for several hours, you will reach Preah Khan Kompong Svay, an enormous Khmer structure that rivals Angkor in scale. Its isolated position means it sees few tourists, but (bonus) there is a private camp outside the compound where you may spend the night. As the sun sets, you settle down to a meal of Khmer delicacies, the flash of a bat's eye-catching your attention as you dine by candlelight.

Then, when night falls, you and your guide enter the temples and explore by the glow of a burning torch. I used my flashlight to see into the inner rooms and read the carvings on the walls. My guide told me that these were the forerunners of the Angkor sculptures.

Cambodia's out-of-the-way temples

Preah Vihear

Traveling to Siem Reap from the temple campout takes a whole day, but many more temples are on the route. I'd welcome every one of them; each of these relatively unexplored havens has its special appeal.

While the impressive architecture of Preah Vihear certainly draws visitors, the site itself is what drew you here. Few Khmer temples can boast of being built on a hill with a view of the flat agricultural plains of Cambodia and Thailand. For being closed to the public for quite some time due to an ownership dispute with Thailand, it is now open again and being looked for by a family living there.

You might also visit Koh Ker after visiting Preah Vihear. Prasat Thom, the temple complex, appears like a hill from a distance due to its many levels. At closer range, though, the frothy jungle vegetation above each sandstone layer helps to soften the overall profile.

King Jayavarman IV temporarily relocated the Khmer capital to Prasat Thom, designed to resemble a Maya temple. A metropolis designed to impress a new king lies in ruins, and you can explore its palaces, libraries, and temples.

Temples of Angkor and Siem Reap's food scene

Grasshopper Adventures' Angkor Bike Tour.

Finding new ways to explore the Temples of Angkor is a daily activity. But if I had to choose one activity, it would be a guided bike trip. It leads you away from the crowds and into the thick forest, where you may see sacred temples worthy of a spot in any travel book.

Skipped Over Angkor: You ride your bike up the historic city wall of Thom via the crowded south gate. This trail is cut with brush to keep you at least 5 meters (16 feet) from the cliff's edge. When we entered through the overgrown Gate of the Dead, it seemed as if we had stumbled across an unknown temple in the middle of Angkor.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, is Cambodia's economic and cultural center because of Angkor Wat and the other temples. Several famous Khmer cooks have gained prominence on a global scale.

You may get a feel for the city's booming culinary industry by going on a citywide tasting tour. You and your guide will ride in a tuk-tuk between four or five of Siem Reap's greatest eateries, sampling everything from local Khmer delicacies to French-inspired sample plates.

Southern Cambodia's national parks

The Kep National Park Giant Tree, Cambodia.

Southeast Cambodia was not considered a prime tourism location for a long time. Accommodations were scarce, as was much everything else. However, things have shifted thanks to two tent cities.

But I won't try to trick you into believing it's not distant. After traveling from Siem Reap to the closest airport in Sihanoukville, driving for two and a half hours, and taking a boat up the river for forty minutes, you will finally arrive in the middle of nowhere.

Even when the Big Five aren't there, there is still enough wildlife to observe. Botum Sakor National Park personnel will assist you in locating it (or will carefully remove it from your tent) in the park's surrounding woodlands. Only nine canvas tents, designed to evoke a safari, stand on stilts above the ecolodge's grassy grounds. There are comfortable mattresses, locally crafted furnishings, and a bathroom with running hot water inside.

However, the highlight of your trip is going on a guided hike or kayaking excursion with the forest rangers. Preal Tachan Station is a ranger station in the forest that you may visit to take part in a patrol. The ranger I was with could recognize a tokay gecko or white-breasted kingfisher from the slightest quiver of its tail, in addition to keeping an eye out for snares and inspecting camera traps.

The camp helps the Wildlife Alliance conserve the park by generating revenue.

Shinta Mani Wild

If you'd prefer to view nature while soaking in a freestanding, golden bathtub that your butler fills, Shinta Mani Wild is the opulent option. Along a 2-kilometer-long (1.2-mile) section of the river, Bill Bensley's 15-tent camp looks like a Hollywood film set. The airport in Sihanoukville is three hours away, while Phnom Penh is a four-hour journey.

It's an opulent stay, to say the least, what with the free spa treatments, personal butlers, and the most luxurious tents I've ever seen. However, the major goal of the camp is to provide jobs for locals, promote educational programs, and contribute to the Wildlife Alliance, much as Cardamom Tented Camp does. The national parks of Kirirom, Cardamom, and Bokor are conveniently close by.

Cambodia's vegetation takes center stage while the country's wildlife takes a back seat. Hike into the forest with Wildlife Alliance rangers and then zip line back to camp if you'd like!

Kampot and Kep: up-and-coming small-town Cambodia

Tonsay Island (Island of Rabbits) in Cambodia; a beach.

Kampot, a town on the coast, is an agricultural center that supplies most of Cambodia's pepper, has marketplaces stocked with dried fish and coconuts, and has yellowed French colonial architecture. Warm summer nights are perfect for strolling the markets and dining outside at one of the newly renovated Chinese shophouse eateries. Kep, a neighboring town, offers similar options, with the bonus of sand.

Visit La Plantation, an organic pepper plantation pioneering Kampot pepper's post-civil-war resurgence, regardless of where you rest your head.

An outdoor cooking session is available, in addition to the estate's eleven varieties of pepper and a stroll around the groves. While taking in the picturesque vista, you'll learn the ins and outs of traditional Khmer cuisine, from preparing beef lok lak and fish amok to pulping a coconut and pepper's significance in Khmer cooking.

Kampot's riverside guesthouse Rikitikitavi or Kep's seaside Knai Bang Chatt are also viable options.

Cambodian beach stay finale

Royal Sands

Cambodia has some of the softest squeaky-sand beaches I've ever seen. Many new beach resorts are springing up along the coast, but the most exciting activities may be on offshore islands. Sihanoukville is the entry point because of its airport and convenient road network.

If the beach is your first priority, go to Koh Rong's Long Beach, which stretches for 7 kilometers (about 4.3 miles). Teak and tamarind trees line the beach for kilometers between a little fishing hamlet and The Royal Sands resort. Each property at Royal Sands looks out over an ocean so warm that guests seldom use the resort's infinity pool.

Coral gardens filled with fronds encircle the island, which is a part of the Koh Rong National Marine Park. The park's most valuable inhabitants, nine endangered species of seahorses, may be found in several snorkel and dive areas only a boat ride away from Long Beach.

Alila Villas on Koh Russey, a little island, goes all out to ensure your most luxurious stay. This cutting-edge retreat comes from the pages of a glossy design magazine, complete with free yoga classes, an outdoor theater, and a restaurant using produce grown in-house.

Start planning your trip to Cambodia

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.

Start thinking about your experience. These itineraries are simply suggestions for how you could enjoy some of the same experiences as our specialists. They’re just for inspiration, because your trip will be created around your particular tastes.