i-escape blog / Cambodia travel guide / Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

For centuries travellers have been lured to Cambodia for the grandiose architectural ruins of the Khmer Kingdom. But with remote jungles, virgin white-sand beaches and bucolic villages, this beguiling country has more to offer than the temples of Angkor Wat. We’ve curated a travel guide to South East Asia’s most enigmatic destination, so you can experience real Cambodian life and culture.

Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is a bustling cultural hub infused with colonial grandeur and rich history. A perfect destination for those with an adventurous spirit, explore the Royal Palace, National Museum, Central Market and Silver Pagoda. In the evening, head to Amanjaya’s rooftop bar for a refreshing cocktail and stunning views, then escape to The Quay, a stylish hideaway by the riverfront.

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Must do

Pay your respects at S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng. This former high school has a macabre past, having served as the prison where the Khmer Rouge interrogated and tortured thousands of innocent Cambodians, before sending those who survived to the Killing Fields. It’s a chilling place, but an important reminder of Cambodia’s past.

Off the beaten track

Koh Dach is a picturesque island on the banks of the Mekong River, just a short boat ride from the capital. With an abundance of street shops, local workshops and a handicraft centre, art enthusiasts will be in their element.

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Siem Reap

Once just a small, sleepy Khmer village, Siem Reap now has a lively downtown area thronging with tourists and townsfolk. With its laid-back pace and the world-renowned Angkor Wat temples nearby, it’s no wonder Siem Reap is now a must for travellers to the country.

Base yourself at Belmond La Residence d’Angkor, a leafy retreat boasting an enviable position on the river. It has a luxurious spa that will leave you feeling rejuvenated after your otherworldly tour of the temples.

Must do

Book a night of unique entertainment at Siem Reap’s Phare Circus – you’ll be amazed by the raw energy and talent on stage. The show blends traditional and modern theatre, acrobatics, dance and contortion, all beautifully choreographed to serve a storyline linked with Cambodian culture. Don’t forget to book in advance during high season (November–April).

Off the beaten track

Take a journey through the beautiful rural landscapes outside Siem Reap to Baray, a route rarely travelled by foreign visitors. You’ll receive a warm welcome from locals as you make your way through the village towards Villa Chandara, a charming colonial house surrounded by rice paddies.

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Koh Kong

Home to the verdant Cardamom Mountains and fringed by an unspoilt coastline, Cambodia’s quaint Koh Kong Province is a dream destination for adventure travellers. The mountains are home to some of the country’s most exquisite rare plant and animal species, while the mangrove swamps boast gibbons and myriad tropical birdlife. Indulge in nature by staying at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, a tented ecolodge floating atop the River Tatai.

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Must do

Cruise aboard a local boat to the Tatai waterfall to bask in its majestic beauty. If you’re visiting in the dry season, it’s possible to swim in the naturally formed pools at the bottom of the cascade.

Off the beaten track

Experience your first taste of the Cardamom Rainforest on the Ta Kiev Mountain Trek offered by 4 Rivers Floating Lodge. You’ll begin your adventure through rice fields, perhaps meeting some of the few locals en-route, before walking to a small waterfall for a spot of lunch.

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Sihanoukville

While Sihanoukville won’t be winning any beauty awards, its surrounding coastline of white-sand beaches makes it an excellent launch pad to the private islands nearby. Take a 45-minute speed-boat ride to exclusive Song Saa, the ideal last stop on a tour of Cambodia and a relaxing antidote to hectic Angkor and Siem Reap.

Must do

Aquatic activities are a must. Grab a snorkel and marvel at the vibrant reefs, rainbow-hued fish and spotted rays in these protected waters. If you prefer to stay above sea level, jump in a kayak and paddle out towards the sunset for heart-stopping views.

Off the beaten track

Explore the islands of Koh Ouen and Koh Bong, or the ‘sweetheart’ islands, with a guide from the hotel’s conservation team. You’ll learn about the important work that goes into protecting the local species, habitats and ecosystems along the way.

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Travel tips

Located just north of the equator, Cambodia varies from warm to extremely hot throughout the year. Avoid melting away by visiting from mid-November to February, when it’s dry and relatively cool. The paddy fields are at their lushest during the rainy season (June to November) and it usually only rains for an hour or two.

To give your Cambodia trip an added boost, take advantage of the cheap flights from Europe to Thailand. From here, you can explore overland via the tropical islands, glistening temples and ancient ruins of this vibrant country.

Check out our collection of Cambodia boutique hotels.

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The i-escape blog / Insider's travel guide to Cambodia

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