Cambodia is a scenic paradise from its white sandy beaches and azure seas to its mist covered mountains. The rich culture can be seen anywhere from the stony temples to the tribes in the mountainous regions. The elegance of temples in the Kingdom is incredible and cannot be compared to another place on earth.
If you’re planning a holiday in South East Asia, here are a few places and activities that will help you immerse yourself in the Cambodian culture.
The capital of Cambodia, also known as 'the Pearl of Asia', is a mandatory inclusion in your Cambodia holiday. Located in southwest Cambodia, it features the Independence Monument, which signifies Cambodia’s historic independence from France, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the site of the infamous Security Prison 21 set up by the Khmer Rouge.
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are also popular attractions in Phnom Penh. Constructed over a century ago they are still used to host events for the King’s visitors. Inside the palace travellers can marvel at the Throne Hall and the Moonlight Pavilion before moving onto the Silver Pagoda. This is home to many gold and jewelled Buddha statues including the Emerald Buddha and the life-sized gold Maitreya Buddha, which is decorated with over 9000 diamonds!
Siem Reap is a city you must visit. Cambodia’s history is marked by the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime and by the subsequent Vietnamese occupation. One unforgiving artefact of these decades of conflict is the millions of land mines still clandestinely littering the landscape. The Cambodia Land Mine Museum in Siem Reap was founded by a former child soldier and is a must-visit for a sobering experience that will leave you with a real and compassionate understanding of the country.
Lying just 5.5 kilometres north of Siem Reap, Angkor is one of the most spectacular Hindu sacred sites on earth. The construction of the highly-structured temple complex that was built in god Vishnu’s honour began in 879AD during King Suryavarman II’s reign and was finished in 1191. It stayed hidden for a long period of time until Henri Mahout, a Frenchman discovered the site in 1860.
The central complex features a detailed non-mortared central tower (66 metres in height) surrounded by four smaller towers. An 800-metre-long bas-relief stretches around the borders of the temple complex and is the longest on the planet. This is the country’s most beautiful sight that is particularly popular amongst tourists at sunset. The country is so tantamount with the temple that it dominates the national flag. Visiting this epic location will give you an opportunity to marvel at the ambitions of a monument built in the twelfth century.
Phnom Bakheng Temple
A tourist trap as it may be called, the Bakheng Hill (Phnom Bakheng) is an exclusive place to bask in the beauty of an Angkor Wat sunset. This temple is older than the Angkor Wat by over 200 years and view of the sunset from atop the ancient temple, plus other scintillating views make for experiences to be cherished. The popularity of the place is such that you might just be surrounded by many other tourists when you hike up the hill and watch the sunset.
The Kampung Phluk and Kampung Khleang river villages are definitely worth a visit. Kampung Phluk is the most intriguing – a huge village by the river where bamboo stilts are used to make houses. The stilts are known to rise ten metres high during the monsoons and lower down to a metre or two when it’s dry.
A day in the village can expose you to some excellent spas and massages, cultural entertainment and meditation. More energetic activities include boating or cruising and cycling.
Prasat Preah Vihear Temple
A world heritage-listed site, the Prasat Preah Vihear Temple is situated in the Dangrek Mountains in the far north of Cambodia. Acting as a border monument between Cambodia and Thailand the two countries fought over ownership until 1962, when the temple was awarded to Cambodia.
Offering visitors a magnificent view of Cambodia’s northern plains and surrounding Dangrek Mountains, the 800 metre-long temple is distinguishable by its many, varied architectural styles, thanks to its alterations by many past kings. Inside, one inscription depicts the Khmer king Suryavarman ll conducting sacred rituals and celebrating religious festivals.
If you’re heading into northern Cambodia, Koh Ker is just three hours from Siem Reap and is a must-see. It has only become a tourist attraction in recent years. Once the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928 to 944, this site contains an impressive collection of almost 100 temples, most of which were built by King Jayavarman IV and his son. The greatest of all, however, is the Prasat Thom Temple, which rises up 30 metres above the surrounding forests and leads to the overgrown Prang pyramid temple.
Never heard of it? While Cambodia is predominantly known for its incredible temples, it also has a range of beautiful beaches. Cambodian beaches encompass soft sands, crystal clear waters and amazing sunsets.
The waterside resort town of Sihanoukville features approximately eight gorgeous beaches alongside various resorts, hotels, restaurants and bars and is a great alternative to the more popular Koh Rong destination spot. Swimming, fishing and scuba diving are common here, as are day trips to explore the mountains, the temples and the national parks.
Whilst you are exploring Cambodia, make sure you check out the markets in the towns and cities. Even if you don’t adore shopping, incorporating a few market visits into your Cambodian holiday is a wonderful way to experience this unique South East Asian culture. We think that these six markets should not be missed...
Angkor Night Market
This market, the first in Cambodia, has enough attractions to fill the whole evening and it provides an authentic Cambodian experience, with around 240 Khmer-style huts that sell traditional, handmade goods.
The food court has a selection of dishes from around the world, and the Island Bar offers a variety of drinks inside a charming, traditional structure. For relaxation, you can indulge in a famous Dr Fish massage or visit one of the shisha bars. This market is located on River Road in Siem Reap and is open 4pm – 11.30pm daily.
The biggest and busiest market in Cambodia, Central Market in Phnom Penh is a tourist magnet and a Cambodian holiday would be incomplete without a stopover at this bustling bazaar. The products on offer are diverse, from local, handmade goods and souvenirs to electronics, jewellery, clothing, books and more. There is a massive variety of food and drink available, including fresh seafood.
The architecture of the market is also impressive; the building was constructed in 1937 and designed by French architect, Louis Chauchon. The market is open from 7am until 6pm daily.
Psar Tuol Tom Pong Market
Also known as the ‘Russian Market’, this market will appeal to anyone interested in artistic items. It is very popular with tourists, many of who are often looking for curious, unique gifts and souvenirs. The silk clothing on offer is especially amazing. Psar Tuol Tom Pong Market is located in Central Phnom Penh and is open daily.
Psar O Russei Market
Few things are more representative of a culture than its food, which is why Psar O Russei Market is said to encapsulate Cambodia. It is a place that locals visit to fill their pantries and you will be able to buy native foods here, with a focus on raw ingredients and fruits and vegetables. Clothing, jewellery, luxury goods and other items can also be found here. This authentic Cambodian market is located on the north side of Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh and is open 6.30am – 5.30pm.
Situated near Olympic Stadium, on Sihanouk Boulevard, Olympic market is an indoor, multi-story shopping complex. It is popular with the locals, who visit the market to buy clothes and accessories and travellers also love this market because it resembles a western shopping centre.
When lunchtime comes around, try tasting the Khmer savoury pancakes, or bánh xèo, which are cooked here in charcoal ovens. You’ll find Olympic Market in the Chamkar Mon District of Phnom Penh andi it is open daily between 8am and 5pm.
When a lot of people picture holidays in Cambodia, the image an outdoor food market at night often comes to mind – and chances are, that image is of Old Market. This is the premier night market in Siem Reap, densely populated by tourists and locals.
It is a great place to buy curiosity items and souvenirs, but if you want to truly experience a market dinner, head up to the north end, where a smorgasbord of meals and a delightful atmosphere await you. Old Market is located on Pub Street and Alley West, at the south end of Siem Reap and is open 7am to 8pm daily.
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