Few travelers are immune to Cambodia’s beguiling charms, which are made all the more poignant by the country’s resilience in recovering from its dark past. All kinds of travelers, from backpackers to luxury tourists, continue to flock to see legendary Angkor Wat, but this iconic attraction is only the beginning of Cambodia’s beauty. From pristine beaches and untouched jungles, to stunning architectural feats, here are some of the most beautiful places in Cambodia that you need to visit.
Courtesy Trey Ratcliff/Flickr
Siem Reap’s legendary temple complex needs little introduction. This attraction is the single impetus for many travelers to visit Cambodia. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, before being converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. Be sure to check out the temple’s thousands of apsaras carvings, or nymphs, each of which is astoundingly unique. While the eponymous Angkor Wat is the most impressive and well-preserved of the temples in the complex, it’s worth checking out some of the lesser-known temples where you can appreciate Khmer architecture minus the crowds.
Angor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Courtesy MAITE ELORZA/Flickr
Koh Ker is an intriguing archeological site dating back to the area’s brief stint as a Khmer capital from 928 to 944 AD. Although the site was neglected and abandoned for centuries, the jungle encroaching on these ancient monuments only adds to their sense of mystery. Once inaccessible, Koh Ker can now be reached in a day-trip from Siem Reap via a new toll road. The area consists of more than 42 structures, but one of the highlights is Prasat Thom, a seven-tier sandstone temple pyramid. Standing 98-feet tall with a mythical half-man half-bird guarding the top, this unusual temple looks more similar to Mayan ruins than typical Khmer architecture.
Koh Ker, Cambodie
Courtesy Sergi Hill/Flickr
Koh Rong is easily one of the most beautiful islands in the Gulf of Thailand, with white sands and turquoise-green waters that could go toe-to-toe with any of Thailand’s own tropical paradises. In the evening, you might catch a glimpse of bio-luminescent plankton creating a haunting illumination in the dark night-time waters. In addition to the sandy beaches lining the coast, the island’s interior is filled with relatively pristine forests where you’ll find birds and other wildlife. Although diving, snorkeling, and trekking can all be arranged, the island is still fairly peaceful and undeveloped.
Koh Rong, Cambodie
Courtesy James Antrobus/Flickr
Koh Tonsay is simple, untouched and secluded. It’s only a 20-minute boat ride away from Kep, but it feels completely removed from civilization. The island is dotted with a few rustic bungalows and open-air restaurants, making it the perfect place to lose a few days lounging in hammocks, swimming, and strolling along the tree-lined beach. The island’s name comes from its shape, which locals say resembles a rabbit. It’s possible to walk all the way around this rabbit-shaped circumference in a single day. With no television, Wi-Fi, or air-conditioning, Koh Tonsay is one Southeast Asia’s few remaining island paradises.
Koh Tonsay, Krong Kaeb, Cambodia
Occupied by the Khmer Rouge early in their campaign, Kratie managed to escape the destruction that occurred in the 1970s. As a result, worn but beautiful French colonial buildings still stretch along the town’S charming riverfront, which also happens to boast some of region’s the most spectacular sunsets over the Mekong River. In addition to providing a glimpse of Cambodia’s tranquil, rural landscape, Kratie is known as one of the best places in the country to spot freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong River about 9 miles north of town.
Courtesy Oliver Townend/Flickr
Mondulkiri is a wild, sparsely populated area of Cambodia, dotted with rolling hills, jungles, waterfalls and valleys. The region is home to some of the country’s most rare and endangered wildlife, including leopards, water buffalo and elephants. Almost half of Mondulkiri’s population belongs to the Bunong minority group, who hunt for most of their food. It’s a fantastic region for visiting traditional villages and interacting with elephants in their natural habitat. The cool climate, stunning scenerY and wildlife-viewing opportunities make it a perfect area for trekking and hiking.
Courtesy Ethan Crowley/Flickr
Beautiful might not be the first word to come to mind when one thinks of Phnom Penh, but with lovely colonial buildings and a picturesque riverside promenade, the city really is just that. Phnom Penh’s beauty shines even brighter when you recognize how this hardy city has emerged from the damage of war to reinvent itself once again as the ‘Pearl of Asia’. From the glittering Royal Palace and crowded markets, to sophisticated contemporary bars and restaurants, Phnom Penh’s loveliness is complex and reveals itself slowly to visitors.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Courtesy Damien @ Flickr/Flickr
Set in Bokor National Park, Popokvil Waterfall is a stunning two-tiered waterfall, which looks particularly gorgeous during the rainy season. Although the appearance of the surrounding rainforest has been somewhat marred by the construction of a huge casino on the hill summit, the area is still quite pretty. The waterfall takes its name from an expression meaning 'swirling clouds’, perhaps in reference to the ever-present mist that surrounds it. It’s a great place to stop for a refreshing swim and, if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of the threatened animals that live in the area, such as pig-tailed macaque and the Malayan sun bear.
Popokvil Waterfall, Cambodia
Courtesy Frank Starmer/Flickr
Preah Vihear is a striking Khmer temple, dramatically set on 1,722-foot cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains. The views from the top expand over lowland Cambodia, with the peak of Phnom Kulen watching silently in the distance. Spread over more than 2,000 feet, the temple’s five Gopuras are comprised of four levels and four courtyards, all of which are decorated with intricate carvings. Constructed mainly between the 11th and 12th centuries, the temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. Set on the border between Cambodia and Thailand, ongoing territorial disputes between the two countries have closed access to the temple from the Thai entrance.
Preah Vihear, Cambodia
Located 16 miles north of Sihanoukville, Ream National Park encompasses more than 81 square miles of natural beauty. The park includes mangrove forests, miles of unspoiled beaches, two islands, coral reefs, and tumbling waterfalls. More than 200 bird species inhabit the park, including endangered species like the white-bellied sea eagle andBrahminy kite. The park is an ideal spot for forest treks, boat trips, or simply admiring the scenery. Like many of Cambodia’s untouched natural attractions, Ream National Park faces constant threat from developers, so it’s best to visit sooner rather than later before serious changes begin to take place.
Ream National Patk, Cambodia
By Jessica Dawdy
Jessica Dawdy is a Canadian freelance writer who is slowly working her way around the world. She has lived in seven different countries over the past three years, feeding her ever-expanding appetite for food, language and culture. Follow her travel and expat adventures at Ways of Wanderers