Capital: Phnom Penh
Official language: Khmer, with 95% of the population speaking Khmer. Chinese and Vietnamese are also widely spoken. English is also widely spoken in Cambodia with an estimated 50% of the population being conversational in English.
Currency: Cambodian Riel
Firmly established in the Asia travel circuit, Cambodia is not just a reserve for trailblazing backpackers anymore and has so many hidden gems that lie ready to be discovered by travelers from across the world. It is home to the ruins of the ancient Khmer Empire, which once even ruled over parts of Thailand and China. From the war relics of the Killing Fields to the awe-inspiring natural surroundings, Cambodia might be small, but the opportunities for adventure are larger than life.Beneath the awe-inspiring landscapes and the happy local faces, Cambodia is still a place where politics are volatile, poverty rife and struggle wounds are still healing. The temples of Angkor might be your conclusion of Cambodia, but that’s just one part of their story. What lies ready to be discovered includes the chic capital of Phnom Penh, jungle filled mountains and some of the most breathtaking beaches, all unspoiled and ready to be uncovered.
We won’t deny it…the Khmer Empire that once ruled Cambodia, parts of Thailand and China is one of the main reasons why this country is so famous. But apart from that, there are also other elements that add to its fame such as the exotic food, the paradise-like beaches, and the tropical jungles with their abundance of wildlife and a forested hinterland with an array of tribal villages. Cambodia has emerged, going from a poor nation with a bad history, to becoming one of the friendliest tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.
It’s one of Southeast Asia’s smallest countries doesn’t mean that it can’t compete in the big gun category when it comes to travel worthy destinations! Cambodia could easily stand out for its Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Or it could be famous for its many war relics that have become somewhat independent tourist attractions. One of their biggest attractions to this day is the remains of the Khmer Empire, with its mighty temple complexes, boasting one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Cambodia in its essence is a journey unlike any other, and every single aspect of this small yet majestic country makes it unique and incomparable to neighboring countries.
Must see places in Cambodia
Cambodia’s capital is alive with colors, sounds and sights that are unlike any other city in the country. Expect to see lots of Tuk-Tuks and street food vendors around. Nestled among grand French colonial houses you can spot the array of pagodas. When the time for sundowners comes, head down to the Foreign Correspondence Club on the banks of the Mekong River for an awe-inspiring sunset view.
This is the formal capital of the Khmer Empire and probably one of the largest and most spectacular religious sites worldwide. Construction of Angkor began in 879AD and was completed in 1191, only to be uncovered in 1860 by the French after lying concealed for many years. Angkor Wat, the central complex, is Cambodia’s most iconic sight.
Situated on top of a 525 meter high cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, Preah Vihear has some spectacular Khmer temple architecture on display. Constructed during the 11th and 12th century as a dedication to the Hindu god Shiva, it’s the subject of a long running territorial dispute between Thailand and Cambodia.
Tonle Sap Lake
This majestic lake is home to dozens of floating villages and leads you to Battambang, which is one of Cambodia’s most engaging cities.
With the same beauty yet much less crowded, the beaches of Sihanoukville are the main reason why you’ll want to head here. There are six beautifully sandy white beaches to choose from where you can soak up the sun and island atmosphere for the day.
Desert island paradise…found! You’ll have to travel out with a small local ferry from Sihanoukville to get here, but with 23 pristine beaches to choose from, it will be well worth the cruise. The island offers an abundance of hiking, diving and snorkeling opportunities as well as cheap cocktails and delectable Khmer cuisine.
An ode to French colonialism, Battambang was once the biggest rice-producer in the country. On offer here is some of the best French colonial architecture and the brilliant small town feel that many places in Cambodia holds.
By no means is this a large scale tourist attraction, but the quaint little village of Kratie located on the banks of the Mekong River is a destination you cannot afford to pass by. Dominated by the central market place and the old French colonial buildings, it’s the home of the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
Once the brief capital of the ancient Khmer empire, Koh Ker used to be one of the most inaccessible temple destinations, but today has become the best place to view some stunning ruins. On offer here is Prasat Thom, which rises out above the jungle surrounds t 30 meters tall, and a giant Garuda, a mythical creature carved into the stone blocks to guard the top of the area.
With an abundance of natural beauty, hill tribe villages and an unspoiled ecosystem, Mondulkiri is the place to visit when you need to travel a little off the beaten track. One offer here is the Boo Sra Waterfall, the Sen Monorum Waterfall, the Chrey Thom Waterfall, the Riverside and Plantation of Pine trees.
Things to go in Cambodia
Party until sunrise in Siem Reap or Sihanoukville
Drinks are cheap, and alcohol is sold by the bucket at times. There’s always plentiful supply of food and the beaches are pretty awesome. Welcome to Cambodia, now it’s time to party. These two islands are the party spots of Cambodia, and all you need is a little sense of fun to get it going.
Shoot ‘em up
If firing guns if your thing, you’ll have lots of fun in Phnom Penh - for a price! The shooting range near the Killing Fields will let you fire just about any weapon of your choice ranging from handguns to AK47’s and even rocket launchers…as long as you have heaps of cash to settle the fee!
Sample the local delicacies
They say they taste like chicken…if you don’t think about what you’re eating! Fried tarantulas is something Cambodians love to snack on, so if you’ve got the guts for it, why not try it out?
Go mad at the markets
Phnom Penh is one of the best spots to shop up a storm (day or night) at the local markets. On offer here is some of the freshest produce and best street food vendors selling their products. The best part is that after you have bought your meal you can sit down on a picnic blanket and enjoy your meal.
Man up and visit the genocide museums
If you really want to understand Cambodia, this is something you have to do. Phnom Penh has the S20 museum, and then there’s also the Killing Fields Museum.
Best time to visit Cambodia
Tourists visit Cambodia between November and April
Cambodia has a monsoon-like climate and the real monsoon season runs from May through to November. For travelers, the most pleasant time to visit the country is between November and April, when they have their dry season. Cambodia has an average year round temperature of around 27°C.
Did you know?
- Balut - Fertilized duck egg is probably one of the most famous Cambodian dishes. These eggs are eaten raw. You should be aware that these “delicacies” come complete with the baby bird beak, bones and even feathers, so it might be a dish left to the bravest of souls.
- Crispy fried spiders - Here’s another one for those who dare to taste it. Fried spiders are a Cambodian delicacy.
- Amok Trey - This dish consists of fish that has been cooked in a thick coconut curry sauce, wrapped up in banana leaves and steamed.
- Kralan - For the sweet tooth, this desert dish has to be tried. It’s a sticky rice dish that gets wrapped in bamboo and in then flavored with sugar and grated coconut.
If you’re visiting Cambodia during the rainy season and plan on hiking around a lot, you should be aware that leeches are plentiful, so take the right precautions and do routine leech checks.
April - Khmer New Year
Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei is traditionally celebrated on the 13th of April and marks the Cambodian New Year. It marks the end of the harvest season and a time for locals to relax before the onset of the rainy season. The 3 day celebration sees a lot of traditional Cambodian games, song and dance.
May - Royal Ploughing Ceremony
This festival celebrates the beginning of the sowing and planting season in Cambodia. Taking place at the National Museum, this festival sees the Kind ploughing the fields and the Queen sowing the seeds behind him. Royal oxen are then fed with foods such as rice, beans, wheat, water and wine, and then the royal soothsayers will interpret what the oxen have eaten. Their interpretations then predict a series of events such as rains, drought and good harvests. It’s a colorful display of Cambodian traditional clothing as the locals gather to see what the new planting season will have in store for them.
End September to October- All Souls Day
This festival runs for 15 days from the end of September into October and is probably one of the most significant cultural celebrations in Cambodia. The locals all gather to bless the dead and offer food to the monks, which is an offering that the monks have to give to the “hungry ghosts”, something called one of the ‘six modes of existence’ in the ‘Wheel of Life’ in Buddhism.
November - Water Festival
This festival celebrates the beginning of the fishing season as the Tonlé Sap changes its flow. This is a thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the locals with fertile land and abundant fish supplies.
- Hygiene isn’t something that’s very high up on Cambodian locals’ list of priorities. To avoid getting ill from food always eat food that’s freshly cooked and very hot to eliminate any bacteria.
- The tap water isn’t necessarily safe for consumption, so wherever possible try to stick to bottled water.
- Never point your foot at locals or touch them on the head, as this is considered an insult.
- Women should always keep their shoulders covered and are not allowed to wear shorts when visiting the temples.
- Always get permission to take photos of the locals, especially the monks.