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Did You Know … ?

  • Cambodia has the only flag that incorporates a building in its design (Angkor Wat).
  • The Tonle Sap River changes direction during monsoons because the water rises higher than the lake at its source.
  • Today’s King Sihamoni is the first Czech-speaking monarch since Ferdinand I of Austria (abdicated 1848).
  • Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious temple complex, covering 276 acres.
  • Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot banned money religion and traditional Cambodian dancing.

A nation in recovery

Cambodia, wrapped on three sides by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in Southeast Asia, has seen the rise and decline of several kingdoms. The most notable was the Khmer Empire (ninth to 15th centuries) which made Angkor its capital and left a rich legacy of religious temples on a scale not seen anywhere else.

The Khmers fled to Phnom Penh in 1431 in the wake of military reverses; their capital and its temples were lost to the jungle until their rediscovery in 1860. The biggest, best-preserved temple is Angkor Wat. This temple complex is the reason many tourists even bother with Cambodia, but there are countless other temples and pagodas, plus the traditions of a long-established way of life — festivals, dance, styles of dress and, especially, Buddhism — that also make this a compelling destination.

Some portion of visitors come to take the pulse of the land that suffered the most from the Indochina wars, particularly after foreign (read: American) troops left in the mid-1970s.

Cambodians, most of whom are Buddhists, are a gentle people. The fact that a small fraction of them, led by Pol Pot, from 1975 to 1979 killed 1.5 million to 1.7 million of their countrymen seems like a poorly imagined piece of fiction. But fiction it is not, and tourist attractions include gruesome reminders, especially Phnom Penh’s Tuoi Sieng Museum, a schoolhouse used as a prison-slaughterhouse, and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields outside the capital.

At Siem Reap, there is a land mine museum with a mission: educating and protecting Cambodians and tourists because of the buried explosives that can still explode in the countryside.

Cambodia has a fascinating history, much natural beauty and a friendly population, but it remains a destination for those who are willing to travel without blinders in order to connect with their hosts and their story.

In addition, although life is much improved since the 1970s, crime is a problem, including ordinary street crime and thefts of bags by drivers of moving motorcycles. Tourists should be cautious in crowds, whether at tourist sites, nightspots or elsewhere. As noted, the risk from land mines cannot be ignored either.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Steel yourself for visits to Phnom Penh’s Tuoi Sieng Museum, once used by the Khmer Rouge as a prison-slaughterhouse, and other sites associated with this most horrific passage in Cambodia’s past.
  • At coastal Kep, take a boat trip to Rabbit Island to swim and snorkel.
  • Join a cycling tour across the country, winding up at Angkor.
  • In the Ream Marine National Park, take a boat trip along mangrove swamps and a fishing village.
  • Food offered at street stalls is cheap and often good; give it a try. Also, eat durian, the fruit that smells so bad it cannot be carried into your hotel.
  • Join an excursion to the sparely populated northeastern province of Ratanakliri, where three-quarters of the people are members of minority groups. Visit hill tribe villages, a rubber plantation, coffee orchard and more.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Travel from the capital to Siem Reap by crossing the country’s largest lake, Tonle Sap by hydrofoil. It is a five-hour journey providing a window on numerous floating villages built on reed mats.
  • Take a multiday cruise on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers aboard a replica of colonial river steamers. These luxury journeys are operated by Pandaw River Cruises.
  • Run in Angkor’s half-marathon.
  • Visit the market at Kampong Thom. In addition, the town and surrounding province of the same name are home to more than 200 ancient temples.
  • Celebrate the traditional new year, in mid-April, at a festival called Songkran. The event, observed across Southeast Asia, is notable for the water fights in the streets.
  • Relax on the beaches of Sihanoukville, but get around in this port city on a motorbike.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Devote two or three days to a thorough tour of Angkor Wat, the temple.
  • In addition, become better acquainted with Cambodia’s glory days as the heart of the Khmer Empire by touring the walled citadel of Angkor Thom, also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at the former Khmer capital, Angkor.
  • Shop for Cambodian artifacts. Look for well-priced gold and silver jewelry.
  • See Phnom Penh’s National Museum and 19th century Royal Palace.
  • Watch a demonstration of the traditional Cambodian dance style. The art was nearly destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
  • Visit the Chong Koh village, which is known for its silk weaving industry.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Tourism of Cambodia at