Cambodia is fast emerging as a popular destination for intrepid travellers in Southeast Asia. As its neighbour, Thailand, becomes more developed, Cambodia offers a less-explored tranquillity, with many of the same attractions: pristine beaches, lush jungle, waterfalls and rivers and an overriding friendliness and calm. The main draw in Cambodia remains the stunning ruins at Angkor where more than 100 temples from the Khmer empire sit among forests and farmland. Of these, the most popular is Angkor Wat and many tourists book flights to Cambodia to visit this site alone.
While the country’s ancient past is spectacular, its more recent past is less appealing. The rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge between 1976 and 1979 was a devastating time for the Cambodia and one from which it is still trying to recover. During this short time nearly two million people were killed and the country’s infrastructure all but devastated. Most tourists pay a visit to the Killing Fields as a mark of respect to those lost and the country’s struggle to get back to prosperity.
It is a struggle that has already shown huge results, and none more so than in its booming tourist industry. Travellers arriving from Cambodia flights have a huge choice of activities to enjoy. The beaches on the Gulf of Thailand are as beautiful as any to be found in Thailand itself (and far less crowded). The towns of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are lively, throbbing, sophisticated cities where modern day life is vibrant and cheerful, taking place among stunning ancient monuments.
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Cambodia is extremely hot all the time. Make sure you pack light clothing and lots of sunscreen. The wet season occurs from May to October. The dry season lasts from October to April and can be the best time to visit, especially in December and January. When April approaches, the temperatures start to rise to a scorching heat.
When to fly to Cambodia
November to January, in the dry season, is the time when most tourists arrive in the country.
From February through to April is still the dry season, so you don’t run any risk of rain, however, the temperatures can become very high. If you don’t mind the heat – and quite a bit of dust – visit during these months.
The rainy season is May to October and transport can be difficult because of flooding, not to mention that you’ll get wet. Parts of the country are still good to visit – Angkor Wat is green and verdant – and there is no dust.
Getting around Cambodia
Domestic flights are available and are the quickest way of covering distances. There are two train lines, and services are available though slow. Bus is the cheapest and easiest way of covering short to medium distances. Roads are bad, however, and bus drivers hasty. Perhaps the most pleasant way to travel is by boat, taking advantage of the many waterways throughout the country.
Cambodia insider information
- Angkor Wat is the biggest tourist attraction in the country. The largest and best preserved temple at the site, it is, however, only one of the many temples in the Angkor area. Travel can be dangerous around the various sites, due to unexploded mines, but be sure to visit more than just Angkor Wat. It is easy to spend three or four days exploring the site – with the help of a guide. When visiting Angkor Wat itself, try to arrive for sunrise or sunset, (the former being the best and least crowded time) and see the rays of sunlight breaking over the moat and temple.
- Siem Reap is the nearest town to Angkor Wat and therefore has become a popular stop-off point with travellers. There is an international airport here, as well as many hotels, restaurants and shops. Don’t miss the open air market, conveniently located in the district with the most bars and restaurants. You can pick up souvenirs, or food such as fresh and dried fish and vegetables. It’s a bustling centre for the town.
- Phnom Penh is the country’s capital city and was known in the 1920s as the Pearl of Asia. For a journey back in time to the ambience of those days, visit the Raffles Le Royal hotel which was first opened in 1929. The hotel boasts a clientele of “globetrotters and adventurers, writers and journalists, royalty and dignitaries”. The hotel was refurbished and reopened in 1997 and has since been voted one of the best hotels in the world. Prices, naturally, are high, but if you're on a budget, it’s possible to visit just for a meal.
- Far less famous than the beaches of its neighbour, Thailand, the southern coast of Cambodia is still well worth a visit. The areas around the towns of Kep and Sihanoukville are the most popular. Laze on the white sand beaches, go snorkelling or scuba diving or take a boat trip to the nearby islands – all in relative peace and quiet.