“Modern” Cambodia is not so modern – although the country is small in size, it’s covered with quaint villages filled with colonial architecture. And then there’s the countryside with its highlands, sandy beaches, and pristine emerald forests. By far the most important river in Cambodia is the Mekong, which passes through the country for about 500 kilometres from Tibet to China. The Mekong is passable for ships from its delta in Vietnam as far as Phnom Penh. The largest and fresh water lake in Southeast Asia is Tonle Sap Lake. Here you’ll find many floating houses, where people fish for a living.
The central part of Cambodia is a fertile plain. Mountain ranges in the shape of a semicircle form a natural boundary with Thailand. In the West are the Cardamom Mountains, and in the Southwest you’ll find the Elephant Mountains. The Dangrek Mountain Range is in the north. The highest mountain in Cambodia is Phnom Aural in the Cardamom range, at a height of 1,813 meters. To date, these mountain ranges are comparatively densely covered with forest and are only sparsely populated.
Most importantly, Cambodia is filled with all the wonderful souls you’ll meet along the way. Despite the struggles of the Khmers throughout the years, you’ll find that optimism and happy spirits prevail.
Places to Visit in Cambodia
- Angkor Wat
- Phnom Penh
- Siem Reap
- Tonle Sap Lake
- Cardamom Mountains
- Ream National Park
Unique Things to See and Do in Cambodia
- Learn about the Khmers and their history
- Tour Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples
- Cruise down the Mekong River
- Hike Kulen Mountain
- Hang out on Otres beach in Sihanoukville
- See the floating villages at Tonle Sap Lake
- Visit the elephants at Mondulkiri
Cambodia’s history extends back into the Khmer Empire, in 802 AD, with Jayavarman II declaring himself as king. The Empire dominated most of Southeast Asia for 600 years, acquiring massive wealth and power, which in turn are reflected in Cambodia’s giant temples like Angkor Wat. Such temples are responsible for aiding the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism, thus shaping the culture of Asia even to today.
In more recent history, Cambodia came under French rule in 1863 before gaining independence in the 1950s. The Vietnam War devastated Cambodia, and the country was continuously bombed from 1969 to 1973. Things became progressively more violent from the 70s onwards: the king gave support to the Khmer Rouge people, an incredibly aggressive group that took siege of Phnom Penh in 1975 and then carried out the Cambodian Genocide until 1979.
Despite its complicated and violent past, you won’t find any of these attributes reflected in the Cambodian people today. Just the opposite, in fact – since the 1991 Paris Peace Accords and then some elections held by the United Nations, Cambodia elected Prime Minister Hun Sen whom is still in power today. For a country that’s long awaited peace, it makes sense that Cambodians are a gentle, mild-mannered people with strong hospitality values. While poverty and hunger is still widespread, giving back to the economy as a tourist has incredible benefits. You won’t forget your trip to Cambodia!
Getting Around Cambodia
Thanks to recent road improvements, it’s much easier to get around Cambodia nowadays. Lucky you! Your best and most comfortable option is by rental car. However, there are still some obstacles to watch out for. Travelling during the wet season can be difficult, and transport drastically slows down during public holidays (like the Khmer New Year).
Buses are the cheapest way to travel, and also are a surprisingly efficient and comfortable mode of transit. Often you’ll have to go through Phnom Penh if you’re travelling to less populated areas. Buses are all privately run. Minibuses are another alternative, and usually serve smaller areas. They’re less comfortable than regular buses, however. Another option: shared taxis and pick-up trucks. While they’re faster than buses and minibuses, you may find yourself crammed into the front seat with three other people.
Did you know…?
Cambodia LOVES its mopeds. There are 1.5 million people living in Phnom Penh, and 1.3 million mopeds. The streets are as chaotic as you’d imagine.
Did you ALSO know…?
Despite poverty, Cambodians are relatively debt-free. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodians were encourage to return to their homelands by the government offering them free property / houses.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Cambodia
Cambodia has a tropical climate that is warm and humid. In Cambodia, there are really only two seasons: dry season, and wet season. Dry season takes place from October to late April, and wet season lasts from May to September. You might be more comfortable travelling during the dry season, but the wet season has the hottest temperatures (especially in May and June).
October and December are the coolest months of the year, but still averages temperatures between 24 degrees Celsius to 26 degrees Celsius. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Note that tourism is at its peak during this time as well. Visitors do need not fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.
Ready to plan your visit to Cambodia? Check out these popular guides and trips.