You haven’t experienced the full charm of Cambodia if you haven’t been to Angkor Wat. The largest religious structure in the world, the temple is a national symbol – it is in fact imprinted on Cambodia’s national flag – and stands as a reminder of the ancient Khmer civilization. It was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II as a state temple, a capital city, and a dedication to the god Vishnu.
Angkor Wat is a glorious visual. Surrounded by a huge moat, the temple boasts of classic Khmer architecture that will leave you in awe. This prime Cambodian temple is an eye candy that ushers you back to the past.
Upon entry, you will be welcomed by the Gallery of Thousand Buddhas and the statue of Vishnu dressed as Buddha. The bas-relief carvings on the wall, which are mainly depiction of characters and scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata, are so marvelous a sight you can’t take your eyes off them. And when you go out, be totally speechless as you look at the reflective pool that makes an exact image of Angkor Wat. The Angkor Wat reflection is particularly beautiful during the wet seasons, when the pool is completely filled with water.
Angkor Wat is located in Angkor Archeological Park, where several other Khmer Empire temples are preserved, including Bayon, Chau Say Tevoda, and Ak Yum. Angkor Archeological Park is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
You can’t visit Angkor Wat without going to Siem Reap. The capital town of the Siem Reap province, this charming town of small villages is the gateway to Angkor. Siem Reap tourism had started pretty stable long ago but spiraled down when Khmer Rouge wreaked havoc in the town. Today, when the political landscape is slowly recovering from the tragedies, Siem Reap is likewise arising.
The town now has numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops, but interestingly, the ancient atmosphere is not lost in the town’s transformation efforts. The Chinese-style architecture in the Old Market and in the Old French Quarter is very much intact, while Apsara Dance, a traditional Khmer dance performance, is held in different restaurants.
Siem Reap is obviously not just a place that leads you to Angkor because you can do lots of different things in this little town. You can leave the temples for a while and visit the Cambodian Cultural Village, have some countryside tours, and participate in dirt bike and adventure tours.
It was once named the “Pearl of Asia” and the “Paris of the East,” but the horrors of the wars snuffed out the light of Phnom Penh, the kingdom’s capital. Presently, however, the city is slowly tottering back by putting up several establishments – hotels, bistros, galleries, restaurants, spas, and shops – which will make it again one of the prime Southeast Asian destinations.
Visit Phnom Penh if you want to experience Cambodia’s version of urbanity and witness the daily lives of the locals. In Phnom Penh, you will see firsthand the chaotic and dusty streets, the scarcity of infrastructures, and the everyday stories of survival and recovery. But all these mesh interestingly with the historical destinations and different attractions.
The Royal Palace is one of the tourist destinations in Phnom Penh. It is the official home of the King and stands as a national symbol. When you pay a visit, make sure to observe proper decorum and wear clothes that don’t expose your shoulders and legs.
Part of the Royal Palace compound is the Silver Pagoda, where you can see the Emerald Buddha and other Buddhist objects. It is known for its silver tiled floor. The pagoda hosts several Buddhist ceremonies and is the meeting place of the King and the monks.
Other places of interest include National Museum of Cambodia, Tuol Sleng Museum, and Wat Phnom.
Prasat Preah Vihear
A UNESCO Heritage Site, Prasat Preah Vihear is a temple situated atop the cliff face of Dangkrek Mountains. This Angkor era temple mountain is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and was first constructed under Yasorvaman I. Further additions were made until the time of Suryavarman II, the same guy behind Angkor Wat. Prasat Preah Vihear is believed to be constructed 100 years before Angkor Wat.
Aside from its ancient architectural style, Prasat Preah Vihear is famous for its awe-inspiring carvings, galleries, and sanctuaries (gopura). The temple has five gopuras, which you have to pass through to reach the Main Sanctuary. At the Main Sanctuary, let your eyes feast on the sprawling and beautiful view of Cambodia 500 meters below. This view is indeed the reward for going through the steep climb.
Once a Cambodian capital, Koh Ker is a temple complex with more than a hundred temples. It was abandoned for almost a millennium, leaving most of the structures overgrown. But today, due to de-mining efforts and road construction, Koh Ker ruins are more accessible to tourists.
Koh Ker is home to several prasat (temple sanctuaries), with Prasat Thom as the principal structure. It is a 40-meter high and 55-meter wide seven-tiered sandstone sanctuary that provides magnificent views of the forest.
There is also Prasat Kahom (Red Temple), the second-largest temple sanctuary in the area. Such name was given because of the red bricks used to build the temple. Prasat Kahom is known for its carved lions, but although they are no longer in the vicinity, there are several other things you can see in the temple sanctuary like the naga-flanked causeway, galleries, ponds, and libraries.
Make sure to visit Prasat Thneng, Prasat Leung, Prasat Bram, Prasat Chen, and Prasat Neang Khmau as well.
Koh Ker is a three-hour drive from Siem Reap. It is pretty remote with only one small village located in a cleared forest. With basically just the jungles, the birds, and the temple sanctuaries, Koh Ker provides a unique, intimate, and silent temple experience.
Sihanoukville is located south of Cambodia. Lovingly nicknamed as Snooky, this seaside town was originally a port city put up by French and Cambodians in 1955. Although it went through hard times during the political turmoil in the 1970s, Sihanoukville is now known as a prime beach destination in Cambodia. In fact, New York Times dubbed Sihanoukville as “Asia’s next trendsetting beach.”
From the looks of it, Sihanoukville is indeed a heavenly beach destination. The beaches boast of clear water and sandy shore, while the lush forest, grass huts along the shore, and restaurants and bars complete the scenery.
Sihanoukville offers numerous beach activities, which include diving, snorkeling, and island hopping. Nightlife is also very active in this seaside town with its plenty of disco bars and karaoke joints.