Cambodia might be one of the smallest Asian countries, but it has a huge history that goes back to the Khmer empire which, during the Angkorian period, ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The country’s legendary Angkor temple continues to be regarded as national identity, but besides the temples, much of the country remains rural, untouristed and largely unexplored.
Cambodia’s sleepy towns with their rural lifestyle are a delight, with their faded colonial architecture while the countryside has beautiful landscapes, from the Mekong River and the great Tonle Sap Lake to the remote jungle hill-tribes and the high Cardamom Mountains. Down south, in complete contrast, the coast has idyllic beaches and magical islands.
Phnom Penh, the capital with French colonial influences, tries to be the expression of modern Cambodia, with its roof top bars, lively markets, good restaurants and high cuisine. However, Phnom Penn is also the place to get an insight of the Cambodian turbulent period of war. The former prison camps and the notorious Killing Fields are still gathering both, locals and visitors, who come to contemplate the dark side of Cambodia – the unimaginable suffering period that took place under the brutal regime of Pol Pot.
Siem Reap, a former backwater town, is the gateway from which to explore the iconic Angkor Wat, being just a bicycle ride away from the iconic temple. The small town has a bustling nightlife and offers a good gastronomy scene, as well as art galleries and workshops.
The sleeping beauty of Asia – this quiet, peaceful but at the same time powerful monument – Angkor Wat, never fails to impress. Hundreds of temples with their twisting cotton trees and multi-hued sandstone buildings are spread throughout the jungle. They have been there for ages and locals continue to come and worship their God there. They mingle with the visitors from all over the world who come to see this Eighth Wonder of the New World.
The coast of Cambodia has deserted islands, shining white sandy beaches, clear blue waters and a national park. More than enough tropical charm to convince. The Serendipity and Otres beaches, in the vicinity of the seaside town of Sihanoukville, are splendid. KohRong, with nearly empty white sand beaches and placid aquamarine waters, is an ideal place for sunning, collecting shells and crabbing. Ream National Park is home to spectacular mangrove forests, over 100 different species of birds, monkeys, and the endangered fresh water dolphin.
But what makes Cambodia really extraordinary is its cheerful, smiling people. Everyone has stories to share and in a good mood to interact with others. People are open, receptive, and glad to share some part of their little existence. You might find yourself learning to smile wider and to enjoy a more simple life when you leave this country.