10 Top Tourist Attractions in Cambodia

by Rithy Sarin
Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, in Cambodia

After experiencing the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge’s murderous regime, Cambodia is now slowly recovering. Land mines, poverty, and a collapsed infrastructure are still major issues. However, Cambodia is well on its path to recovery, and growing numbers of visitors are rediscovering the country’s charms once more.

Most visitors come to Cambodia to see the incredible Angkor temples, but the nation also boasts many other attractions, including beautiful beaches, historic colonial structures, and a wealth of wildlife. These are some of the best places for tourists to visit in Cambodia.

10. Preah Vihear

Near the international boundary between Cambodia and Thailand, on top of a 525-meter (1,722-foot) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, lies the Khmer temple of Preah Vihear. The location is the most impressive of all of the Khmer temples. The Khmer monarchs, Suryavarman I and Suryavarman II, who ruled in the 11th and 12th centuries, respectively, were responsible for the majority of the temple’s construction. The Hindu deity Shiva was honored with the construction. Several troops from Thailand and Cambodia died in 2009 due to the ongoing territorial conflict over Preah Vihear.

9. Sihanoukville

Located on the southern coast of Cambodia, Sihanoukville is a popular tourist destination and port city on the Gulf of Thailand. The area’s many uninhabited tropical islands and powdery white beaches are the main draws. Although Sihanoukville is a great spot to unwind, you should be prepared to fight the crowds if you travel during the peak season or on a holiday weekend.

8. Tonle Sap

Cambodia relies heavily on Tonle Sap, the biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The lake’s size changes considerably throughout the year. The Tonle Sap empties into the Mekong River in Phnom Penh during the dry season in Cambodia (November to May). When the annual heavy rains start in June, however, the Tonlé Sap reverses its course and a massive lake is formed. Several Cham and Vietnamese people live in the many floating settlements that dot the shores of Tonlé Sap.

7. Silver Pagoda

The Silver Pagoda, part of Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace complex, is home to priceless Buddha sculptures made of gold and jewels, as well as other national treasures. The Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a little statue made of baccarat crystal that dates back to the 17th century, and the Maitreya Buddha, a full-size gold statue encrusted with 9584 diamonds, are the most famous. In 1903–04, 40 Khmer artisans created a mural depicting scenes from the Ramayana story on the inner wall of the Silver Pagoda courtyard.

6. Bokor Hill Station

The French constructed Bokor Hill Station close to Kampot in the 1920s so that its citizens could escape the city’s oppressive heat. It was abandoned twice during the Japanese occupation of Cambodia in the 1940s and again during the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s. Bokor Hill Station and its derelict structures have taken on a haunting, ghost-town appearance in recent years. Until further notice, the route to Bokor will be blocked as of October 2008 owing to construction. It seems that separate access is not feasible. Nonetheless, local tourism agencies sometimes organize hiking trips.

5. Kratie

The village of Kratie, Cambodia, is on the banks of the Mekong River, and its main attraction is its central marketplace, which is surrounded by historic French colonial architecture. There isn’t much major tourism, but there are a lot of backpackers in town during the high season. There are dwindling populations of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River, and Cambodia is the best spot to witness them. In the upper Cambodian Mekong basin, the number of dolphins is predicted to range from 66 to 86.

4. Koh Ker

From 928 to 944, a short time, Koh Ker served as the capital of the Khmer Empire. Some very remarkable structures and enormous works of art were built during this time period. The most prominent structure at the site is Prasat Thom, a temple pyramid that rises 30 meters (98 feet) above the surrounding forest. Even though it is partly hidden, the highest peak is still guarded by a massive Garuda (mythical half-man, half-bird monster) carved into the stone blocks. Koh Ker, one of Cambodia’s most out-of-the-way temples, has been abandoned to the wild for over a millennium. Recent de-mining and the debut of a toll road have altered this.

3. Banteay Srei

Located 25 kilometers (15 miles) to the north-east of the main group of temples at Angkor, Banteay Srei is typically seen as a unique Cambodian site despite being technically part of the Angkor complex. Completed around 967 A.D., the temple is made mostly of red sandstone, which serves as an ideal canvas for the intricate ornate wall carvings that have survived to the present day. The only other significant temple in Angkor not erected for a monarch is Banteay Srei, which was built by Rajendravarman’s advisor, Yajnyavahara.

2. Bayon Temple

The Bayon temple, located in Angkor, is notable for its 200+ enormous stone faces that stare out in every direction. Angkor’s iconic smiling faces are often misidentified as King Jayavarman VII or a hybrid of the two figures, Buddha. The Bayon was constructed in the 12th century by King Jayavarman VII as part of his ambitious construction of the royal metropolis of Angkor Thom.

1. Angkor Wat

A must-see for every visitor to Cambodia, Angkor Wat (literally “City Temple”) is the biggest and grandest of the Angkor temples. The temple, commissioned by King Suryavarman II and completed somewhere in the first half of the 12th century, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most beautiful and well-balanced buildings. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a massive rectangular reservoir and climbs 213 meters in height via a series of three rectangular terraces to the central temple and tower (669 feet). The Khmer traditionally saw the temple as a mountain, with this configuration representing Mount Meru, the Hindu abode of the gods.

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