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Get ready to catch your jaw when you behold some of the best places to visit in Cambodia, showcasing the mesmeric ancient architecture, wild tropical landscapes, and unique hidden gems of one of Southeast Asia’s most colorful and spellbinding countries.
Places to Visit in Cambodia
1 – Angkor Wat
Cambodia is a tiny country in Southeast Asia that’s not particularly well known to tourists, but it’s one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Cambodia was once the center of a powerful empire that pioneered progress in mathematics and science and built thousands of temples, including Angkor Wat — sometimes dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.”
It’s the largest religious monument in the world, and it’s one of Cambodia’s most famous attractions. It really has to be seen up close to be believed. In fact, it’s that people were able to build something so colossal with the primitive tools available 900 years ago. It’s one of those places that you have to visit at least once in your lifetime.
This unique temple is surrounded by a vast moat that was once used as both a water supply and defense mechanism against enemy invasions. So beyond sheer beauty, Angkor Wat has plenty of historical significance, too.
2 – Bayon
Most ancient Cambodian temples were built to worship Hindu gods, but there are a few exceptions, one of which is the Bayon temple. While the temple is smaller than Angkor Wat, it’s just as beautiful in its own way. It boasts a unique style of carvings and statues, with stone pillars topped by giant, smiling faces dotted all around the site.
Some historians believe that Bayon temple used to be covered in gold leaves in a style similar to the Great Dragon temple in Myanmar. If you’re visiting South East Asia, make sure you take the time to visit this stunning temple.
3 – Ta Prohm
If you’ve seen the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig, you’ll already be familiar with Ta Prohm – it’s one of the main locations featured in the film. Ta Prohm is a large, ancient temple that has been taken over by Mother Nature, and it’s a beautiful sight to witness.
The ruins are shrowded by sprawling trees and covered with vines, the greenery all enmeshed together in a way that makes you feel like you’re in another world. It’s one of the most popular temples in Cambodia and a must-see sight if you’re planning a trip.
4 – Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei is a relatively small ruin made from red sandstone, well-known for its beautifully preserved carvings and statues. It’s one of the most popular sights to see in Cambodia, for sure.
Many people believe that this particular temple was built by women, due to the intricate nature of the detailed designs that are characteristic of female carvers from the Angkorian era. If you’re in Siem Reap, you simply have to check it out.
5 – Boeng Mealea
Boeing Mealea isn’t visited by too many tourists on account of its remote location, but if you can make the trip, it’s worth it.
This is one of the largest and most stunning ancient ruins in the world, very much in a similar vein to how awe-inspiring the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru is.
Like Banteay Srei, Boeing Mealea has been completely overtaken by nature, and even though a lot of it has been left in ruin, you can still imagine the sheer scale of this ancient temple when it was occupied and thriving many centuries ago. Today, it has the eerie feeling of a ghost town and serves as a reminder that nothing human lasts forever.
6 – Sambor Prei Kuk
Sambor Prei Kuk is more than just a temple. It’s an entire ancient city made up of many temples built roughly between the 6th and 9th centuries that used to be the capital of Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province.
These ruins are known as the mother of all temples in Cambodia and are among the oldest in the world. Sambor Prei Kuk is the inspiration for the Angkorian temples, so make sure you visit if you’re passing through Kampong Thom province.
7 – Preah Vihear
This remote temple has been the cause of plenty of conflict between Cambodia and Thailand. Thousands have died fighting to protect this masterpiece of Cambodian architecture.
Preah Vihear is one of the lesser visited temples because it’s located at the top of a mountain, but if you can make the trek, you won’t regret it. Exploring this place makes you feel like medieval royalty overseeing a vast empire. Today, sadly, roughly two-thirds of the site is in ruin, but there are still a lot of well-preserved carvings and structures to awe at and feel inspired by.
Landmarks and Attractions
8 – Floating Village
Have you ever wanted to pack a bag and just move out to live by the sea? If so, the Floating Village in Siem Reap is a truly unique site and an absolute must-visit.
Everyone who lives in the village needs a boat to go anywhere, and all the houses are built in a half-submerged forest, where the water rises as high as five meters during monsoon season.
There’s simply no choice but to take a boat everywhere: the market, to school, or to worship. It’s a unique lifestyle that is super interesting to observe, and I highly recommend checking it out.
9 – Koh Rong Sanloem
Koh Rang Sanloem is the perfect place to get away from the stress of everyday life and relax with some swimming or sunbathing.
This gorgeous island on the south coast of Cambodia is lined with beautiful beaches, but so few people know about it. Hence, Koh Rong Sanloem is an amazing place to take a holiday for a fraction of the price you’d expect elsewhere.
Pristine white beaches, coral reefs, boat trips, and scuba diving – Koh Rong Sanloem really has it all! It’s one of my “must-visit” spots for a vacation to a spot of true Southeast Asian paradise.
10 – Kampot Province
Kampot is a sleepy coastal town in southern Cambodia, well-known for some of its delicious exports, including the Kampot pepper and Durian, with this polarizing fruit, due to its smell, being native to the area.
The countryside here has beautiful scenery, with secret lakes, caves, salt farms, and the gorgeous Bokor national park all waiting for you to explore. If you want to pack lots of sights and experiences into one trip, Kampot Province is an excellent choice for a day or weekend trip.
11 – Mondulkiri Province
If you love trekking and exploring forests, Mondulkiri is the place for you. This province is home to some of the last tribal groups in Cambodia, who still live as they did a thousand years ago.
There’s plenty to do in Mondulkiri, including an elephant sanctuary, gorgeous waterfalls with pools you can swim in, or even looking for gold and precious gemstones deep down in the mines.
It’s easy to hire a tour guide to help you navigate the mountain trails and sprawling forests, or for something more relaxed, you can take a food or cultural tour with your friends and family. There are countless places to visit in this province, so you’re bound to find something to interest you.
12 – Stueng Treng Province
Stueng Treng is a great place to visit if you’re a fan of observing wildlife. It’s home to one of the largest rivers in the world – the Mekong RIver. It runs right through the heart of the province and is an important source of water and life for many endangered animals, including elephants, monkeys, and otters.
One of the best things to do in Stuen Treng is to take a kayak tour to explore the flooded forest. You can spot everything from local fishermen to Irrawady dolphins – it’s pretty spectacular!
The local industry revolves around agriculture and fishing, and visiting is a great opportunity for you to become fully immersed in a wonderfully simple lifestyle and culture.
13 – Battambang Province
Battambang is a city filled with plenty of exciting attractions. You can hire a private bamboo train and travel by the vast rice fields, passing local farmers, cows, and buffalos. Or you can visit the bat caves and watch thousands of bats soaring out of the caves and into the sky.
I, personally, love travel through the countryside, either by motorbike or car. You get a real glimpse into local life that way, with locals inviting you to all sorts of events, including weddings, parties, and village ceremonies – the Battambang hospitality knows no limits!
14 – The Killing Fields
Sometimes in life, it’s important to get perspective. To better learn about Cambodia’s troubled past, Choeung Ek killing field is an important place to visit, where you can see the remains of 17,000 people cruelly slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.
Tragically, this is just one of hundreds of similar sites across the country. The Khmer Rouge regime claimed around 2 million lives in the 1970s, wiping out a quarter of the Cambodian population in less than 4 years.
Choeung Ek is about 15 minutes by tuk-tuk from Phnom Penh City, and I truly believe everyone who visits Cambodia should spend even just a little time here.
15 – S21 Prison
S21 was a high school building that the Khmer Rouge regime converted into a prison. It once held 18000 inmates, and sadly, only a few of them survived to tell their harrowing stories.
Innocent people were sent here and brutally tortured for months before being taken to Choeung Ek. S21 was unspeakably terrible, a visit to the prison followed by a trip to the Killing Fields will really help you better understand Cambodia’s dark history and give you the opportunity to spare a thought for the countless lives that were lost.
16 – The Royal Palace
Cambodia is one of the last remaining Asian countries to still have a monarchy, and the Royal Palace, situated in the capital city Phnom Penh, is very much worth a visit.
It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Southeast Asia, some believe even the world, and is home to many valuable historical artifacts. When you’re inside, be sure to visit the throne hall, with its giant silver Buddha statue.
Unlike some of the temples on this list, the Royal Palace has no restrictions on where you can take photos – so it’s a very Instagrammable trip to make. If you’re looking to learn about Cambodia’s history and culture, make sure this beautiful palace is on your list.
17 – War Museum
The War Museum is just 10 minutes from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. It’s an open-air museum where you can see plenty of military equipment from the Khmer Rouge era. There’s so much to see, including helicopters, fighter jets, Soviet tanks, BMPs, armed carriers, and all sorts of small firearms and missiles.
For the best historical insights, be sure to book a guided tour from a disabled war veteran. These guys will tell you everything you need to know about all the battles, and your money will go to a worthy cause.
18 – Mkak Dam
Mkak Dam is one of the lesser-known attractions for tourists because it is in a pretty remote location. However, this makes for a real local Cambodian experience because this place isn’t overrun with guides and tourists traps.
It’s located in a village south of Siem Reap, and hundreds of thousands of local Cambodians still flock there every year. In the rainy season, water levels surpass the dam and flood an area where people happily spend the whole day swimming and relaxing. It’s a gorgeous spot and an underrated gem I’d highly recommend.
19 – Phnom Kulen National Park
There aren’t many places in the world that leave me totally speechless, but Kulen National park is one of them. Phnom Kulen is where the Khmer Empire began its 600-year rule, and it’s also where you’ll find the beautiful Kulen waterfall.
Beneath the cascading water, there are 1000 beautifully carved lingas, said to bring fertility to the whole of Cambodia. You’re perfectly safe to swim in the waterfall, too – in fact, many Cambodians believe it to have healing properties that can mend broken souls!
If you climb the park’s mountain, at the very top, you’ll meet the giant reclining Buddha and receive a blessing from the monks who live there.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, be sure to also visit Kbal Spean, an abandoned temple that really is off the beaten track. You’ll need to navigate some winding roads to get there, so it may be a good idea to hire a guide to drive you there and back.
Places to Visit in Cambodia Summary
The ancient history and tropical geography of Cambodia make it truly one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful and fascinating places you can visit.
Whether you visit the top tourist attractions, such as the Royal Palace, or want to try to visit some of the off-beat gems, you will always be able to find someone in Cambodia that can aid you in getting to these places.
I really hope the awe, beauty, and history of Cambodia leave a lasting impression on you. This is one of the most unique and fascinating countries not only in Southeast Asia but the whole world, and both its man-made and natural beauty truly are something to behold.
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Contributor: Roeun Thoeun is a Khmer-English translator, interpreter, and proofreader from Cambodia. He has a wealth of experience as a tour guide and is deeply passionate about all things Cambodian travel, cuisine, and culture.