Cambodia, which shares borders with Thailand and Vietnam, may be renowned for its storied history, but there’s no reason to avoid it today. In fact, much the opposite. You absolutely should make this South East Asian country a destination on your bucket list. Here are five good reasons why:
1. Easy entry
Fly to the capital city, Phnom Penh, or to Angor, and you won’t have any trouble getting into the country. You can even arrange a visa when you arrive at the airport. If you like to be super organised, you can apply for one online, but really, it’s not necessary. Save the time and effort for planning your visit instead.
2. Angor Kwat
The temple of Angor Kwat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the largest religious monuments in the world. You’ll find it in Angkor Archaeological Park, in the northern province of Siem Reap. The temple, along with the Bayon, is one of the most outstanding examples of architecture from the country’s Khmer period, and Cambodians are immensely proud of it.
3. The Cardamom Mountains
Out in the west of Cambodia, the Cardamom Mountains provided refuge for the Khmer Rouge after the collapse of the regime under socialist dictator Pol Pot. That was back in the 1970s and even as late as the 1990s, there were still a couple hiding in them. Today, though, tourists can trek into the mountains and the rainforest, and admire the natural beauty of the scenery, which is home to crocodiles, leopards and elephants. You’ll be with a tour guide, though, so it’s perfectly safe.
4. The history
There’s a strong sense of history in Cambodia, and you’re never far away from reminders of the country’s painful past. The country moved on, but the scars still remain. You’ll see monuments that commemorate massacres or celebrate ties with allies and pay homage to those who died under Pol Pot’s merciless regime. Visit the infamous killing fields outside of Phnom Penh and the Tuol Sleng prison — also known as “S-21 ”— which is now a museum, and you might find yourself wanting to cry. You’ll be glad you made the time to visit, however.
Award-winning travel writer Ben Groundwater recommends exploring Phnom Penh itself, too, to get a real feel for the hustle and bustle of Cambodia.
5. Unspoiled beaches
Thailand may be stealing all the limelight when it comes to beaches in the region, but that’s to your benefit if you’re visiting Cambodia. While all the other tourists are cramming up the beaches of the neighbouring country and almost fighting for space, you can stroll barefoot in the sunshine along the fine, powdery sands of Cambodia’s more remote islands. You’ll hardly see a soul on Koh Thmei, Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Totang, whereas Koh Rong has something of a reputation as a party island.
It’s not just the beaches, but the nation of Cambodia itself which is relatively undisturbed by tourism. Only in more recent years has the country started to open up to visitors, who will gasp at tales of the horrors of its past, but also delight at the beauty of the rainforest, mountains and major monuments. You don’t want to miss this destination.