The growth in Cambodian tourism is no real surprise. Asia has seen a huge number of tourists arrive in recent years and with the Angkor Complex in Cambodia one of the most photographed manmade attractions in travel, Cambodia is getting its share of visitors. There is much more to the Country that emerged from the misery of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s brief rule at the end of the 70s to once again reveal a hospitable people happy to welcome strangers. Whether you are considering visiting Cambodia and its neighbours in one long holiday, or whether your plans are merely to see Cambodia on this visit, you need to use a good Cambodia travel agency to advise you and put together a Cambodia travel package that includes its main highlights.
An Experienced, Quality Cambodia Tour Operator
Tourists visiting Cambodia every year have a treat in store. The Angkor Complex is amazing, and the photographs really do not do it justice. A good Cambodia tour operator is invaluable in your planning a Cambodia holiday. By all means, do your Internet research and certainly read about Cambodia on the Vivu Travel website. You can take advantage of its experience to learn more about the highlights of the Country and have them put together into a bespoke itinerary if you so wish.
Testimonials are always a good guide to the quality of the service that previous clients have received and you should read them to reinforce your selection of a Cambodia travel agent.
Cambodia’s ‘’ Must See’’ Destinations
Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire and the definite highlight is Angkor Wat which appears on the Cambodian flag. It dates back to the 10th Century when it was a Hindu Temple. It was not for another four centuries that it became a Buddhist temple. The site itself covers 4,000 square kilometres and not surprisingly it has UNESCO World Heritage status.
There is much more than Angkor Wat of course. Buildings were constructed over a period of several centuries, the 9th until the 15th. The Ta Prohm Monastery is one of the interesting structures because the forest that began to overgrow buildings has been left as an ‘’invader’’ into the construction. You will get plenty of time on any Cambodia tour package to explore Angkor and you should certainly ensure you see the Bayon in Angkor Thom and the 10th Century Banteay Srei Temple made of red sandstone.
Siem Reap is the closest city to Angkor and as a result it will always be included in all Cambodia travel packages. The Museum is worth a visit, as is the reclining buddha in Wat Praeh Prom Rath, one of several temples in Siem Reap. Wat Kerararam and Wat Damnak are two others to think about. It is likely that you will stay in Siem Reap during your Cambodia holiday and there are an increasing number of hotels and restaurants in the city because of the growing number of tourists.
Tonle Sap is a seasonal lake, the largest in Indochina towards the end of the rainy season when it is as much as 8 metres deep and covers around 15,000 square kilometres. It is not a quarter of that size before the rainy season starts and is only about 1 metre deep. The Lake is an important source of food right around the year, and because of its vast size and depth at its height, villages have houses built on stilts.
Unfortunately, Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, can be a sad place to visit but visit you must. There are stark reminders of all the people the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed.
The highlight is the Royal Palace and the two pagodas within the grounds which also include some typical Khmer architecture like the Trone Hall, the Napoleon III villa and the Royal Treasury. Wat Phnom, built in the 14th Century was constructed on an artificial hill so it dominates the skyline.
The sad things are the Museum which was formerly the prison where people were tortured and killed. The Killing Fields themselves are just outside the City where the memorial is effectively hundreds of skulls so no one will ever forget those sad times.
This was the Khmer Capital in the 10th Century. It is fairly remote, 120 kilometres from Siem Reap, up in the north of Cambodia but tourists enjoying a holiday in Cambodia can usually get there right around the year if they wish. Its 7-tiered temple in the shape of a pyramid is surrounded by jungle and in all there are 42 structures to look at in this archaeological site which can be visited as a day trip from Siem Reap with an early start.
Kratie is important because it sits on the banks of the iconic Mekong River which everyone should see when they visit Cambodia. The River is actually navigable all the way down into Vietnam from Phnom Penh. The river dolphins are a delight if you take to the river and the town itself has interesting colonial architecture as well as good local markets.
Cambodia is more than just history and culture. Mondulkiri is another remote area in Cambodia, a region of hills, valleys and waterfalls. The Province is in the east of the Country near the Vietnam border. It is sparsely populated with just 60,000 inhabitants but in square area, it is the largest of Cambodia’s provinces.
Its capital, Sen Monorom, is a base from which you can explore the lovely natural environment. There is a good chance of seeing elephants, water buffalo and perhaps even the glimpse of the reclusive leopard. The villages are interesting incidentally; life has not changed much over the years.
This hill station was founded by the French who wanted to escape the heat of the more low-lying areas in Cambodia. It is located in the south and was built in the 20s. It is a national park at an altitude of around 1,000 metres. The Popokvil Waterfall is spectacular, especially during the rainy season.
The flora and fauna are impressive although it is very questionable that there are still any tigers within the Park.
Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast is a manmade deep-sea port that has developed into a tourist resort. The sea is warm and blue while the sandy beaches are a delight. It is a great place to relax after a busy holiday in Cambodia.
Another option for ending your Cambodia tour package, especially if you are on a Cambodia family vacation, is the Island of Koh Rong in the Gulf of Thailand. Relax on the beach and swim in the warm sea but there is also a chance to explore the forests as well.
Cambodia Tour Package Styles
If you really want to get the best out of visiting a country like Cambodia, you should see its historical, religious and cultural highlights but also meet its people and take in the natural environment. Inevitably, on just a short visit, Angkor will be the main attraction but as you can see from the destinations mentioned above, there are regions which are largely undeveloped and there are no plans for that to change.
If you want an active holiday, trekking in these remote regions may be the priority in your Cambodia travel package with Angkor and Phnom Penh added. Tonle Sap and the coast both provide an opportunity for spending time on the water, while diving on the coast is available as well.
Even though the setting is very sad, historians will certainly want to spend time in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia cuisine has had little exposure outside its borders. There is so much Asian food around the world that there may be no room left. However, once you taste it you will love it as much as the locals whose greetings to each other, “Nyam bai howie nov?” actually translates into “Have you eaten rice yet?” The growth of tourism has meant that international cuisines are now readily available in tourist areas but you should really try the local food which is full of flavour.
There are similarities between Cambodian cuisine and that of its neighbours. Parts of South Vietnam were once part of Cambodia and of course both were ruled by the French for long enough for French cuisine to have an influence. The French baguette is popular throughout former French colonies.There are similarities between Cambodian food and Thai cooking though it uses less sugar and less chili. Coconut milk is also less common. Inevitably, rice is central to any family’s meals. There will be a large bowl in the middle of the gathering with three or four other dishes. One will be soup and as in Vietnam, fish sauce is one of the main flavourings used in cooking. It takes some getting used to in its individual form. A spicy paste made from lemon grass and galangal forms the basis of many dishes. Fish is a common ingredient, freshwater from Tonle Sap or the Mekong River. Sometimes it is dried incidentally.
Rice porridge is a typical breakfast. The national dish is also something consumed early in the day; nom banh chok is rice noodles with curried fish, lime, turmeric and lemongrass. As an alternative you may be offered pork or beef with vermicelli, shallots, beansprouts and green onions; kuy teav.
Street snacks are popular, and perfectly safe when the stall has a good turnover. Late in the day, you are likely to see spring rolls and barbecued beef into baguettes with a green mango slaw.
When to Visit Cambodia
You will rarely be cold in Cambodia. Temperatures are lower at altitude but Cambodia’s climate is described as tropical with temperatures rarely falling below 20C and an average around the year of 27C.
The most popular time to visit Cambodia is the dry season; that runs between November and March. However, from April onwards, there are fewer crowds and that is certainly an advantage when it comes to places like Angkor. Fewer crowds also mean low season prices and don’t think that the rainy season means hour after hour of rain. You may just get an afternoon shower and that can actually be refreshing on a very hot day.
The locals often call this the ‘’green season’’ which conjures up more positive thoughts, doesn’t it? Some of the months in the ‘’green season’’ are the hottest of the year. It will cool down closer to the beginning of the dry season.
A Few Final Tips on Cambodia
• The local currency is the Riel and the exchange rate is around 4.000 to the US $. Each of the provincial capitals have banks credit and debit card withdrawals. Credit cards are widely used in cities; you will be charged between 2 and 4% for using them
• You can bargain but be careful not to cause locals to lose face. Listed menu prices are not negotiable. Always bargain at major tourist sites.
• You can buy a 30-day visa on entry into Cambodia and it can be extended. Use your Cambodia travel agent for advice.
• Ask for permission if you want photograph people, especially in the countryside.
• Dress appropriately for religious sites and take your shoes off when requested at such sites. It is important not too show too much bare skin so cover shoulders and arms down to the elbow and don’t wear shorts, no matter how hot it might be.
• Don’t point in any way with your feet, either when cross-legged or with knees crossed when sitting. The feet are the dirtiest part of the body.
• Don’t touch anyone’s head for any reason.
• Bow forward slightly with hands together when you are introduced to a Cambodian. That is fairly formal and not always expected these days so just use common sense.