What to see in Cambodia. 10 things to do in Cambodia
November 2016 (updated: 17.03.2022) 13
Cambodia is a country where surprises, discoveries, portions of surprises and experiences await you. Many people make the mistake of thinking that the only thing to see in Cambodia is Angkor Wat. In addition to the heritage of the Khmer empire, which everyone in Cambodia is proud of, there are a dozen other things to see in the country.
Cambodia is often not just amazing, but also shocking. You can see a well-kept, green stretch of street and even a skyscraper (the only one in the country, I think). And here just around the corner you’ll see beggars sleeping on the pavement and children digging in dumpsters.
What to see in Cambodia and how to spend time
The most interesting places are located in three cities in Cambodia – Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. This is the route of choice for many travelers. They fly to Bangkok, for example, and then take a flight or bus for a few days in Siem Reap, then a couple of days in Phnom Penh, and then relax on the beaches of Sihanoukville.
A second popular route in Cambodia is to fly to Phnom Penh (or Ho Chi Minh City), then go to Siem Reap, then go to Sihanoukville after that.
So, here are 10 interesting places in Cambodia that are worth your attention. All of these cities and activities can easily be seen on your own. Here is an interesting itinerary of Cambodia attractions for a standard 2 week trip. Let’s go!
We will start in order with the “top” city on the map – Siem Reap, then move to Phnom Penh and finally visit Sihanoukville. It’s up to you to choose in what order you feel more comfortable to see the sights of Cambodia on your own.
★ Angkor Wat
This is the number one place in all of Cambodia and one of the most interesting places in all of Asia. Travelers from all over the world are eager to visit Angkor and experience the former greatness of the ancient Khmer civilization. And you will not be an exception. Angkor will outshine all the temples you’ve seen before it.
If you avoid all sorts of “highly touristy places”, then we advise you to break your principles and definitely see Angkor. You will thank us later!
What else can I see in Siem Reap, except Angkor? Take a tour to Tonle Sap Lake!
Tonle Sap Lake
Get a glimpse of life on the lake. Houses on the water, the life of people who live in houses on the water all their lives, mostly due to lack of means to make a full livelihood. See that while you’re dreaming of a luxury suburban home, someone is dreaming of food on the table and running water.
And in the evening, be sure to have a cultural program.
The traditional Khmer dance will immerse you in another world. Their poses and hand movements, curving fingers, which girls learn since childhood, will not leave anyone indifferent.
From Siem Reap move to the capital – the city of Phnom Penh. To get acquainted with the city will be enough to allocate no more than 2 days.
Phnom Penh. Museum of Genocide
If you are seriously interested in the history of the country, I recommend you visit this place. The former Tuong Sleng Prison will open your eyes to the tragic history of the life of these people. Events that happened in the 70s during the Khmer Rouge rule led by Pol Pot. A visit to this difficult place will also be remembered for a lifetime.
What else to see in Phnom Penh? The Royal Palace, the waterfront, the historical museum and numerous temples. Read our article – Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Our emotions, impressions and what we saw in 2 days
Next we move to the sea coast of Cambodia.
You can not stay longer than 2-3 days in Siem Reap, and do not allocate more than 1-2 days in Phnom Penh, but come to the resort town of Sihanoukville definitely need more time. At least for a week. After all, surely curious, what he is, a beach holiday in Cambodia? What are the beaches of Sihanoukville famous for? What to see and how to spend your vacation in Sihanoukville. Our blog has many articles on this topic, because we have already stayed in Sihanoukville twice for a month at a time.
Try Cambodian barbecue
In the cities of Cambodia, where there is little to no tourism, you will always find the famous and such a favorite, both with the Khmers themselves, and with all nationalities of the world – barbecue. Steaks with potatoes, lettuce, meat, fish, shrimp and more. The whole pleasure costs an average of $3 to $4 for a small portion. A small one is like the photo below. To come to Cambodia and miss the opportunity to have a feast of the stomach is simply unforgivable. The best barbecue is in Sihanoukville.
Under the barbecue take a bottle of Chilean wine for $10. Cambodia has a duty-free zone, so the prices of alcohol are very low.
Koh Rong Islands.
You must be stunned that there are islands in Cambodia? There are. And not some trashy islands, but very beautiful and definitely worth spending a few days or even weeks on them. Definitely worth to go at least 1 day. I promise that after the island of Cambodia you will dramatically change your opinion about the country as a whole.
Our reviews of the islands of Cambodia and how to get to Koh Rong by yourself read the article – Koh Rong Samloem
Not just any restaurant, but a restaurant with snakes. You sit down at a table with snakes crawling under the glass. We were impressed. We haven’t seen restaurants like this where you can literally dine in the company of snakes anywhere else. So you should go to Snake House not for the food, but for the spectacle at your table. The restaurant is also equipped with several terrariums not only with snakes, but also with crocodiles and several other animals.
From Sihanoukville there is an opportunity to go to see the following 2 interesting attractions.
Excursion to the Bokor Plateau tops the list. Until recently, Bokor could not even be found on the map. Located plateau high in the mountains. In addition to the abandoned Bokor Casino and the view in front of you, you will swim in a waterfall.
Riem National Park.
I know that those who come to remote corners of our planet are always looking for unexplored places and little-trodden trails. And hiking through the jungle, dining at the locals’ hut on the river, sitting on the floor, exploring the lands not at all cloying for the seasoned traveler will only do you good. Riem Park is one of these places in Cambodia.
Bottom line: What to see in Cambodia
As you can see, the list is very short. In our opinion, these are the most worthwhile attractions in Cambodia, which are worth seeing on their own or with a tour. You can see most of our list even in a week in Cambodia.
If time allows, you can expand your Cambodia trip program by visiting the cities of Battambang, Kep and Kampot. Also interesting tourist destinations, although not required to visit.
Ideally, of course, allocate more time to this country, so that at the end of the trip you have a full vacation at the sea, at least a few days. You have not yet seen what wonderful beaches of Sihanoukville? Then take a look!
Read also: Insurance in Cambodia. Where and how to buy it →
It doesn’t matter if you’re a backpacker or if you’ve been backpacking for years. Do not bypass Cambodia, there really is something to see here!
After doing at least five things out of ten, you can surely tell yourself and other travelers: “I’ve been to Cambodia. I have a better idea of the country. After all, I didn’t limit myself to one Angkor Wat, but traveled to different places and saw so many new things that I couldn’t have even imagined.”
Countries of the East have always been an attractive fairy tale world for the European, alluring and mysterious. A peculiar culture, interesting local customs, way of life, unusual for a foreigner – all this attracted thousands of travelers here. The ancient land of Cambodia is no exception, whose sights annually undergo a real pilgrimage of tourists from different parts of the world. In this article we have collected the main attractions of Cambodia, which will be interesting for everyone to visit.
What to see in Cambodia?
The main and most interesting sights with descriptions and photos.
Among the impenetrable jungles of Cambodia is located the ancient capital of the Khmers – the city of Angkor. About 200 m2 area are majestic ancient temples – the pride and symbols of power of the ancient rulers.
A bit of history
In the valley of the temples there are traces of the reign of the great kings – Jayavarman II, Indravarman I, Yasovarman I, as well as their crowned descendants.
In the heyday of the capital about one million people lived here (for comparison: the capital cities of Europe at that time were inhabited by 30-50 thousand permanent residents). The temple buildings, found by archaeologists in the early XX century, almost completely lost their original appearance and began to decay. From the days of former grandeur (the heyday of Anchor accounts for the period from 802 to 1430 BC) remained only the outer limits and parts of the interior decoration with frescoes on the stone walls and statues in the main halls.
The reconstruction of Angkor began by anastilosis – the restoration of the lost appearance only with the materials with which the original construction was carried out. Masters have been able to do the impossible – almost all the buildings have regained their former appearance, shocking the minds of modern man with its scale, elegance and talent of the creators of temples.
What can you see?
Travelers visiting Cambodia, tend to necessarily get to this ancient city. The first among the attractions of the ancient capital architectural monument – the temple of Angkor Wat, its outlines resembling a lotus flower. It is a complex of 5 towers and 3 galleries, surrounded by a moat almost 2 meters wide.
Tourists explore the Bapuon Temple, which has been restored to look like a giant jigsaw puzzle, the Bayon Temple Complex, decorated with scenes from the daily life of the natives, the Elephant Terrace, with pavilions and a platform for the presence of the king and his entourage, and the Terrace of the Leprosy King (the stone figure on a hill has natural damage, so the statue looks like a person with leprosy).
Of particular significance for fans of ancient religions is the temple on Mount Phnom Kulen, because according to the calculations of its creator, it is located in the center of the universe – a place designed for Shiva.
2. Royal Palace of Cambodia
All the dazzling splendor of royal Cambodia gathered in the Imperial Palace. Its shining roofs rise above the rest of the buildings in the historic district of the capital. Tourists can see not the entire territory of the palace, as the royal family resides here to the present day and their peace is carefully guarded.
The palace was built in the second half of the 19th century on the site of the old city quarters. The complex of impressive size is located in the middle of lush gardens, and it takes almost half a day to see it.
The subject of particular interest in the Royal Palace of Cambodia are several attractions: the Throne Room (the main room of the palace for official receptions and ceremonies involving the king), the Royal Treasury, which displays the regalia of the royal family and many gifts from foreign heads of state, as well as Villa Napoleon II, built during the French colonial rule.
However, the true gem of the palace’s attractions is considered to be the original tower, which is almost 60 meters high. The structure is crowned by an elaborate roof of gilded tiles.
3. Silver Pagoda
Among the main attractions of Cambodia stands out the Silver Pagoda, or Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. It is a whole complex of different buildings, among which is a unique pavilion with the royal tomb, as well as the pavilion, which keeps the sacred footprint of the Buddha himself.
In the center of the pagoda itself stands a majestic statue of Buddha. It was cast from solid crystal, so the divine statue is often called the “emerald”. Among the many other statues of Buddha, nestled in front of the face of the central deity, is a unique figure cast in gold. For its decoration used diamonds of different sizes – a total of more than two thousand. The crown of the golden Buddha is adorned with a dazzling 25 carat gem.
The floor covering is silver ingots, on the walls are murals on the theme of the sacred epic of Ramayana, in the walls are more than 1,500 exhibits of cultural and archaeological heritage.
4. Angkor National Museum
Travelers going to see the ancient Angkor, be sure to visit the National Museum of the historic capital of Cambodia, which has 8 of its galleries on an area of more than 20,000 square meters.
The building was erected on the national architectural traditions – the museum is decorated with characteristic towers in several tiers and a kind of gate at the entrance and exit. The museum is private and equipped with the latest technology. Tours of the rich historical past are held on video and radio equipment, with the help of tactile screens. The rooms are equipped with powerful air conditioners, so visiting the halls for many hours is not tiring at all.
Each of the 8 galleries is an exhibition dedicated to one of the periods of the centuries-old history of the country. Before the tour begins, a short film about Cambodia’s historical past is shown.
5. National Museum of Cambodia
A magnificent bright burgundy building of the National Museum is located next door to the Royal Palace. Museum exhibition includes unique historical, cultural, artifacts, interesting archaeological finds. In the halls you can see the original leper king statue, a bronze sculpture of Vishna from the 11th century, a depiction of two giant monkeys fighting, a fully assembled royal ship. The museum’s four pavilions house the world’s largest collection of Khmer culture.
Local guides are proud to show tourists an amazing exhibit – a beautifully made in the XIX century casket. It contains leaves of evergreen betel, laid out in the form of a bird with a human head.
In the evening in the museum garden you can see the dance show – the girls in national attire perform apsar – old Cambodian dance. This attraction of Cambodia is a must-see.
6. Bokor National Park
There are more than two dozen national parks in Cambodia. One of the largest in size is the Bokor Park (officially – the national park Pre Monivong), rightly recognized as a true natural wonder of the small eastern state.
On a huge area in the Elephant Mountains are untouched jungle and vast savannah. Among the natural attractions here are the magnificent two-tier waterfall Popokvil, the second highest mountain Kyamtai and the high plateau Bokor Hill, surrounded on all sides by clouds.
The park contains many remnants of Cambodia’s colonial past. The first object on the way up the mountain tourists are half-destroyed chambers of the former royal villa Black Palace (Black Palace). Not badly preserved casino building, which looks like a castle of the European Middle Ages. The gloomy moldy corridors, rooms covered with cobwebs, damp and cold evoke a desire to quickly leave the darkness of the empty halls.
The active Buddhist temple of Sampau Pram attracts visitors to see the vast area around it from its highest point.
The territory of the park is a habitat for rare animals: powerful gibbons, graceful leopards, tigers, Asian black bears, which are strange to Europeans. It is also home to the largest colony of wild elephants in the Asian southeast.
7. Genocide Museum in Tole Sleng prison.
There are many tragic pages in the history of Cambodia. One of the bloodiest is the time of the Pol Pot regime. Years of Khmer Rouge terror took the lives of many thousands of Cambodians, turning the country into a huge concentration camp.
The secret S-51 Tuol Sleng prison was set up in the center of the capital, in a local school building. Old people, women, and children were held here for years in inhumane conditions. If a person entered the gates of the prison, he had no chance of survival. In a few years almost 30,000 innocent people died in the prisons, only seven managed to survive.
Documentary evidence of the tragedy, instruments of torture, and testimonies of Tuol Sleng prisoners who survived by a miracle, made up a museum exhibit set up in the former prison. The museum’s most gruesome exhibit is a map of the country. Its material was the skulls and bones of people who died in the torture chambers.
The four-tiered Praahvihea complex is a real gem among the architectural sights of Cambodia, a complex of temples dedicated to the god Shiva. The historic buildings are well preserved since the IX century – the temples and sanctuaries are located on a high plateau, away from civilization. The location on a considerable hill saved the temples from human and natural destructive influences.
The history of the Preahvihea begins in the IX century – the reign of Yashovarman I, and then during several generations of emperors the complex was rebuilt and expanded.
It is better to start the tour from the northern side, the main entrance to the sacred territory. After climbing a wide and very high staircase, the traveler reaches the axial beginning of the complex – it is 55 marches with platforms. Stone sculptures have been installed to mark each site, and the framing is made up of ceremonial galleries. The complex is “guarded” by stone lions of impressive size.
From the central courtyard of Nagaraj travelers pass to the next staircase, made of a solid stone block. The stairs are decorated with seven-headed snake carvings also made of stone.
During the pilgrimage visits of the King of Cambodia to the temples, the Preah Vihea Palace became the monarch’s residence.
9. Wat Phnom
A small hill with a pagoda Wat Phnom located on its top – the place of the foundation of Phnom Penh, which later became the capital of the state. The current temple at the beginning of the last century was rebuilt from the original sanctuary erected on the site of the miraculous discovery of several statues of Buddha and a bronze figurine of Vishnu by the widow Penh. Hence the city’s name, phnom (translated as “hill”) and Peñ (a woman’s name). Today it is the main temple of the Cambodian capital.
Among the attractions are a vihan with a soothsayer hidden inside, a sanctuary with the remains of King Ponya Yata, who moved here the capital of the state from Angkor and the altar of the widow Peña.
On the territory of the temple lives a lot of monkeys, constantly trying to steal something from the gaping tourist, and loving treats. Especially popular is the exotic elephant ride near the temple.
10. Choeng Ek
Choeng Ek, Fields of Death is part of the memorial dedicated to the memory of the thousands who died at the hands of the Pol Pot executioners. Together with the legendary Tole Sleng prison cells, the giant mass grave forms an integral museum complex. After mockery and torture in the prison, prisoners were taken to the place of execution, where they were exterminated in the most subtle ways.
During the 4 years of barbaric rule of Pol Pot and his henchmen, almost 17,000 unfortunate prisoners were executed at Choeng Ek after being found guilty of having received a higher education or being caught in espionage ties with the USSR or the United States or for other “horrible” offenses.
The museum stands contain gruesome exhibits – the skulls of thousands of people exterminated here. After exhumation, all of the remains found were classified by age and sex – from children to deep old men.
The crimes of the Pol Pot barbarians are recounted in a documentary film shown in the museum.