What to expect from Cambodia

With Vietnam morphing from a backpacker mecca into a luxury honeymoon haven during the last decade, the adventurous travel crowd, always seeking fresh and less familiar alternatives, have started going on holiday in Cambodia, just over the border, instead.
Still barely recovered from the ghastly Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s, Cambodia as a destination is poignant and spectacular by turns. Its most famous attraction – Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building – is reason alone to visit, but it would be a huge shame to visit Cambodia & never step beyond Angkor. The people are incredibly friendly and hospitable. There are many temples just as fascinating but less well known than Angkor, often half-buried by jungle. Khmer Rouge relics like Battambang’s infamous Ghost Cave are interesting but immensely sad, while the country’s tropical ecology, with its diverse wildlife, is beautiful and quite easily accessible.

Its south coast is gorgeous too – beach holidays in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville resort were popular long before the Khmer Rouge rendered such luxuries impossible. Here you’ll find the country’s finest, albeit busiest, beaches, with long stretches of fluffy white sand, several little tropical islands and the Reap National Park, with its guided treks and river boat trips, close by when you need a little leafy shade.
Less well-known coastal towns like Kep, which once hosted the country’s elite during long summer months in the early 20th century, lack the pristine sands of Sihanoukville but are nonetheless beautiful for it. Faded French colonial architecture defines Kep, which is known for the excellent seafood sold at its beach-side shacks and restaurants. Nearby, you’ll find several Angkor era cave temples well worthy of attention.
Inland, Tonle Sap, the giant lake at Cambodia’s centre, provides crucial breeding grounds for much of SE Asia’s endangered birdlife. The lake flows into the Mekong River between November and June, but the flow reverses during rainy season. The influx of river water enriches the surrounding marshes and creates a huge, fertile wetland, allowing thousands of species – many rare or endangered – to flourish. Boat-trips to Preak Toal floating village, curious enough in its own right, will take you into the heart of Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, with every chance of encountering Great Egrets, Pelicans, Indian Cormorants, Painted Storks, Blue-Tailed Bee-Eaters, Brahminy Kites and a number of kingfisher species.

Getting around

There’s no railway within Cambodia, but it’s easy enough to get around by bus and, perhaps more scenically, by boat. The Mekong River flows down through north east Cambodia from Laos, past Tonle Sap and on to Vietnam. Its tributaries and other rivers penetrate deep into the Cambodian jungle. River boats are an ideal way to explore the wilderness without much intensive trekking – they also let you get very close to the wildlife without disturbing it.

Accommodation

The variety of places to stay in Cambodia is immense fascinating. You can choose from French colonial apartments in Siem Reap and Art Deco villas in Kep, to tents on rafts floating on the Tatai river,and homestays within tribal villages – you can even camp on the beach on Rabbit Island, whose tiny population of seven families are building a reputation for serving up sensational fresh seafood.

BIO

Suzie Saw is a freelance travel writer who has totted the globe with her family as a teen and then decided to carry on that adventure as she became an adult. See so many places and experiencing all the wonderful cultures has given Suzie a great outlook on life.

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