Cambodia is one of Southeast Asia’s hidden gems. Nestled between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, many backpackers will skip over this amazing country, but here are six reasons the Kingdom of Wonder should definitely be on your bucket list:
1. It’s absolutely beautiful
While Thailand's islands are (rightfully) well-known for their perfect sands and crystal clear waters, Cambodia’s neighbour certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on beautiful beaches. The islands off Cambodia’s south coast are stunning, particularly Koh Rong Samloem, which I visited on the Ultimate Cambodia trip. The island has long stretches of pristine white sands, and is surrounded by calm blue waters, making it the ideal place to top up on a tan, or to explore surrounding bays by kayak. The island is also completely off the grid, with no Wifi or phone signal, so the perfect place for a digital detox, too!
Inland, Cambodia has even more to offer. The temples of Siem Reap and towns like Kampot have jaw-dropping scenery, vibrancy, and colour. Catch orange-clad monks crossing ancient temple courtyards, cruise down a forest-lined river at sunset, or explore an abandoned church and casino at the top of a mountain – you’ll be hard pressed to leave Cambodia without pictures that will make your friends jealous!
2. There’s loads to do
While Cambodia is certainly a laidback place to relax, if you do want to get active while you’re away, you certainly won’t be short on things to do.
The sleepy town of Kampot in the south of the country is home to a riverside water park; an arcadia filled with attractions like slides made of bamboo that jet you into the river, and a ‘blob’– a giant inflatable sack that your travel buddies jump on while you lie on it to launch you high up in the air, and plenty of other things to get the adrenaline racing!
You’ll also be able to kayak around perfect islands, fish in the middle of coral, paddleboard along rivers and explore ancient temples, making Cambodia the perfect adventure destination.
3. It’s cheap
While Southeast Asia is known for being kind on backpacker’s budgets, Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in the regions.
You can get yourself some delicious local food for $2-3 (Cambodian curry is particularly tasty), with western food costing about the same in restaurants. Rewarding yourself with a cold drink (or two) in the hostel after a hard days exploration won’t break the bank either; beer is usually only $1, with happy hours on Pub Street in Siem Reap offering beer for as little as $0.50.
Similarly, you can get souvenirs to remember your time in Cambodia for wallet-friendly prices, too. The markets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap offer every souvenir imaginable, and with a bit of haggling, you can get all you need for great prices. Get that bargaining face on!
4. It’s still off-the-beaten-track
Cambodia is nowhere near as visited as Thailand and Vietnam, so while the amazing beaches of its neighbours can be clogged with tourists, you can have entire stretches of similarly perfect sands to yourself in Cambodia.
Islands like Koh Rong Samloem can only accommodate up to 120 people, and while Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most visited attraction (with over 2 million visitors last year), surrounding temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed) are much quieter, making it feel like you’re the first person in years to explore them while you wonder around.
5. It’s history is fascinating
Cambodia is perhaps best known in the western world for its more recent and dark history, with the genocide during the reign of the Khmer Rouge Regime during the 1970s. Visiting the Killings Fields and S21 prison in Phnom Penh is a must, and although the experience is harrowing, it makes you realise how well the country has done to rebuild itself after the terror only a few decades ago. Almost every Cambodian you’ll speak to will have been personally affected by the Khmer Rouge, and while some will be happy to speak about their experiences, it’s usually best to let them bring up the subject. Despite this, Cambodians' are incredibly welcoming and friendly, and English is widely spoken, so with a smile, you’ll soon make friends.
Cambodia also has a rich ancient history, with the country being filled with ancient temples. The main destination for which is Siem Reap, home to the world-famous Angkor Wat, and over 1,000 other temples to explore! Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat should definitely be on your to-do list, but don't forget about other temples in the area – they are just as beautiful and worth exploring, particularly Ta Prohm, which is surrounded by thick jungle, and dominated by a huge fig tree growing through the centre of the temple!
6. You can see it all in a couple of weeks
Long gone are the days where you would need to quit your job to explore Cambodia. The 12-day Ultimate Cambodia trip is the perfect way to explore the country. You’ll get to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, visit the Killing Fields and S21, and relax on the amazing beaches of Koh Rong Samloem and Sihanoukville, all in under two weeks!