Cambodia is a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the ugly. From gleaming skyscrapers and SUVs to bamboo shacks in the rice fields and grinding poverty, this is a country that pulls at the heartstrings as it awes the imagination.
As far as Asian cities go, Phnom Penh is pretty small in size, but there is nothing small about the development that is taking place day by day here. Gleaming new malls and office buildings are beginning to vie for space with French colonial villas, and entire lakes are being filled in to accommodate apartment complexes. Fortunately you can still find solace on shady tree lined streets, in the gardens of modest boutique hotels and atmospheric wooden restaurants along the banks of the Mekong River. Must see sights here include the chilling S-21 museum where thousands of Khmers were imprisoned and tortured before being carted off to the Killing Fields to meet their demise. The Killing Fields are a stark reminder of the horrors of war and an important monument to the deceased. Much more pleasant experiences are strolling the grounds of the Royal Palace, brushing up on some ancient history in the National Museum, and watching brightly painted boats race down the Mekong during the Water Festival.
Many people only see Siem Reap on a holiday to Cambodia, as this is where the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex resides. This is the pride and joy of Cambodia, an ancient Hindu temple with enough stone carvings and bas-reliefs to make your head spin. Stroll through the massive hallways of Angkor Wat, marvel at the power of nature in Ta Phrom, where giant creeper vines have encased entire temples, and tour the red sandstone statues and walls of Banteay Srey. While the temples are the main attraction, Siem Reap also has a slew of fantastic restaurants and bars to explore as well as unique boutiques, art galleries and shops.
Cambodia’s beach town of Sihanoukville is home to long stretches of golden sands, the calm waves of the Gulf of Thailand, scads of cheap guesthouses and hotels, thumping parties right on the beach, and a myriad of restaurants, bars and entertainment options. Catch some rays in a lounger on the beach, sample tasty lobsters with black pepper sauce from the roving beach vendors, or party until dawn at one of the many seaside bars on the beach. And if you get bored, you can always crawl into a giant plastic ball and hurl yourself down a hill at the zorbing joint, test your luck at the casino in town, or visit some reptilian wildlife at the Snake House, where pythons rest under glass tabletops in the dining room.
You would never know that Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city from looking at it. This sprawling town is spread out on the banks of the gently flowing Sangker River, and is one of Cambodia’s most holy spiritual centers. From the striking statue of Neak Ta Dombong Krownew in the centre of town to the cliff top temple of Wat Phnom Sampov to the Angkorean style ruins of Wat Ek Phnom, there is no shortage of spirituality in this northern city. French colonial architecture is still abundant here, and the sleepy town is a great spot to take some time out in. A picturesque way to get to Battambang is by the slow boat from Siem Reap, which passes lush riverside greenery and scenes of rural life on its way.
Kep has often been called the prettiest of all the towns in Cambodia for its rugged jungle covered mountains that pour into the sea, lovely seaside promenade, and quaint guesthouses with lush gardens and ocean vistas. The town is famous for its excellent crab that can be ordered cheaply from a string of wooden restaurants that straddle the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. This is a fabulous place to sit back and relax, as the vibe is super laid-back.
The riverside town of Kampot is a picturesque town for its old colonial buildings, pleasant tree lined streets and miles of surrounding countryside covered in vibrant green rice paddies. Just outside the town are mountains, waterfalls, pepper farms and a series of caves that contain mystical temples to the gods of the mountains.