Cambodia is a small country, but it is interesting because of its colorful history, its culture and vast natural appeals. It used to be the seat of one of the East’s most glorious early civilizations, the Khmer Empire of Angkor. It has suffered heavily in the hands of foreign powers and on its own since the fall of Angkor in 1431. Yet its legendary temples are still landmarks of national identity that bring hordes of international visitors to its shores.
To date, the remnants of the empire continue to inspire and grace the country. The Angkor temples remain to be the major draw, but colonial buildings, idyllic beaches and tropical islands, and a profusion of natural charms still abound. While the quality of life has not tremendously taken off like its neighbors, it has a trove of tropical gems that adventurous tourists would love. For the travelers tired of modern cosmopolis, Cambodia is a refreshing, largely unexplored destination.
Where do you start? Here are Touropia’s 10 Top Tourist Attractions in Cambodia
- Angkor Wat: Angkor Wat (meaning “City Temple”) is the most magnificent and largest of all Angkor temples and the top tourist attraction in Cambodia. These are King Suryavarman II’s legacy to Cambodia. Built around the first half of the12th century, the splendor of these temples has not diminished with the passage of time. The attraction, which “… reflects traditional Khmer idea of the temple mountain, in which the temple represent Mount Meru, the home of the gods in Hinduism” remains the foremost magnet for tourists.
- Bayon Temple: This part of Angkor is located at the center of the royal city. It features an aggregate of more than 200 colossal smiling stone faces, supposed to be a portrait of King Jayavarman VII (and Buddha). These were also built around the time when Angkor Wat was being built as part of its expansion.
- Banteay Srei: This temple is still part of the Ankor complex, but it is about 25 km (15 miles) away in the north. It is beautiful with its red sandstone construction and intricate wall carvings. It wasn’t built for a king. Rather, it was built by Yajnyavahara, a counselor of King Rajendravarman.
- Koh Ker: It was the capital of the Khmer empire for a very brief period from the year 928 to 944 AD. It is dominated by Prasat Thom Temple that looms above a jungle of trees at 30 meters (98 feet) with its gigantic Garuda, a half man-half bird mystical creature. It is the most distant among the temples.
- Kratie: This is a small town along the Mekong River. Its landmark is a huge marketplace lying in the midst of French colonial edifices. It is fast rising as a popular destination for backpackers. It boasts the Mekong River’s attraction – the fast diminishing Irrawaddy dolphins.
- Bokor Hill Station: Built in the 20s, the abandoned buildings used to be the French “retreat,” and later by the Japanese. These have an eerie, ghost-town feel to it. It is inaccessible, but adventurous tourists can join hiking tours arranged by local travel and tour operators.
- Silver Pagoda: Located within the Royal Palace compound in Phnom Penh, the Silver Pagoda houses many national treasures such as gold and jeweled Buddha statues. Among its most precious possessions are the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a miniature baccarat crystal Buddha from the 17th century and a gold, life-sized Maitreya Buddha festooned with astounding 9584 diamonds.
- Tonlé Sap: This “is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia and is of major importance to Cambodia.” It is home to a number of Cham communities and Vietnamese ethnic tribes.
- Sihanoukville: Locally known as Kampong Som, this port city is home to pristine white sand beaches. It is one of the most popular destinations in Cambodia when relaxation is the purpose.
- Preah Vihear: This “is a Khmer temple situated atop a 525 meter (1,722 ft) cliff in the Dângrêk Mountains, on the border between Cambodia and Thailand.” This temple was built in honor the Hindu god Shiva. Preah Vihear continues to be a disputed territory between Thailand and Cambodia.
Despite Cambodia’s tumultuous and tragic history, it offers this world an old-fashioned charm that is already a rare feature these days. If a sleepy town or city is what you are looking for, then Cambodia is for you.
Where do you start? There’s a huge number of exotic attraction and activities you can do in Cambodia, but the best place to start is and will always be Angkor Wat!