Cambodia Travel Guide


Cambodia Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: “The Kingdom of Cambodia is situated in Southeast Asia and shares its borders on the west and northwest with Thailand. The borders to the northeast are shared with Laos, to the east is the shared border of Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand is in the southwest. The geography of Cambodia is largely dominated by both the Mekong River, which is also called the Tonle Mekong and the Tonle Sap Lake. Experience the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the capital Phnom Penh. Explore temples and shrines and the jungle at the Kulen Mountains. Discover the Irrawaddy dolphins, distinctive cuisine and National Park and lakes with wildlife and birdlife. Relax with classical dance, art and markets.”

Holiday Highlights

Culture & History - Cambodia has slowly grown to become a favourite destination with world travellers. The reason behind this may be the religious fervour of the country, the cultural monuments or the delicious Khmer food. The country also has many things to offer for eastern as well as western mind-sets. Though the country is often referred to as the country of extremes, this may have turned into its favour when it comes to holiday touring.

With a strong Buddhist belief in the country, each monument and landscape is seen to have its Buddhist implications. This is a great destination for those interested in Cambodian architecture and dance, as the country represents characteristic traditional dancing styles and architectural eminences. You can join various events and watch traditional Khmer dances especially in the capital city, Phnom Penh and at Siem Reap.

Among the architectural masterpieces, Angkor Wat (city temple) is a popular sight. Rather, hundreds of temples depicting Khmer architectural style are visible across the country. For many people, the country offers a vibrant and mixed culture that embraces traditional and modern styles.

Festivals & Annual Events - If you want to enjoy certain annual festivities in Cambodia, you will be made welcome by this amazing country. Some of the festivals and annual events include:

- The birthday of King Sihamony is celebrated with great fervour from 13-15 May. You will watch how a modern yet traditional country celebrates its King’s birthday. The country’s firm belief in his king has made it very special for foreign visitors. The birthday celebrations are associated with massive fireworks at the riverbanks in front of the Royal Palace.
- 1 May is celebrated as Visak Bochea day because it is said to be the birthday of Buddha. If you are interested in the Buddhist philosophy you can watch how the culture of the country is their soul.
- If you plan to visit Cambodia early in April, you can participate in the regular celebrations held during the Cambodian New Year Festival. Celebrated for three days from 14-16 April, the New Year look can be seen virtually on every house of Cambodia. The vibrant people here rush to temples that are full of food and beverages. You can also participate in the various games played on the occasion of New Year.
- Another celebration is very close to the hearts of people here, that is, Royal Ploughing Ceremony on 5 May. This is truly a farmers’ country so that this ceremony heralds the onset of rains in the country and thereby warns its farmers to be ready to plough and farm rice. Still in the most traditional ways, the cows are given priority here to decide which crop will do the best next year. Such cultural events are very special for western tourists.
- Some other celebrations like the Angkor festival are famous all over the world. Different performers from the whole of Asia attend the festival in mid-December and showcase their talents and traditions. Different dramas from mythology like Ramayana are special attractions of this festival. Often the Royal dignitaries are the chief attendants of the programs.

Adventure & Activities - Cambodia offers much to adventure buffs who are looking for something a little off the (proverbial) beaten track:

- Bonn Om Teuk is the popular annual boat rowing contest held in Cambodia. It is held at the end of the rainy season in the Mekong River because during this time the flooded Mekong River begins to shrink to normalcy. Also this is the time when Tonle Sap River begins a reverse flow. Along with the typical boat races, there are hoards of other sports and games held during this time, thus creating numerous opportunities for the adventurous. There are also fireworks, games like cock-fighting, soccer, etc. Though the western sports like soccer, field hockey, rugby, volleyball, baseball, etc are gaining good popularity in Cambodia, the traditional sport of boat racing holds the name of national sports and is enjoyed immensely. Khmer traditional wrestling, Predel Serey etc are also famous forms of art in Cambodia. The whole atmosphere is like a carnival where everyone has something to enjoy.
- International Angkor half-marathon is an attraction for visitors from all over the world and thousands of people attend in a competitive spirit every year in December.
- Bokor National Park Holiday - Bokor National Park is a famous park in Cambodia situated in Kampot, at the southernmost tip of the Elephant Mountains, which can be reached by road. There are many waterfalls, a cool climate and wild animals like tigers and elephants with secluded ocean views through the dense park. Abandoned twice by the Khmer, the national park has a nostalgic flavour too. When thick mist surrounds the hill station, there is a mysterious feel throughout the area.
- Many adventure holiday tours are available to Cambodia. Among them are included many architectural feats, historical adventures for ancient history lovers, magnificent beaches for sea-adventures and adventures in sleepy rural villages. The wildlife of Cambodia is fascinating too and adventure holidays to the forest areas are amazing.
- There are some trips available that skilfully combine adventure as well as charity. Some tourist companies arrange cycling expeditions from Saigon to Angkor Wat. This way, you can raise money for your favourite charitable institute and at the same time enjoy the adventurous ride through picturesque villages. This includes an amazing ride through the country lanes and along the serene waterways. On the way, you will enjoy the grand hospitality of the Cambodian people that will help keep your spirits high.
- Similarly tour operators can arrange walks and treks to suit your budget and ability. For example, a trek across the pictureque Kulen Mountain is very popular. Also known as Lychee Mountain, this was the first site of the Khmer capital. You can be assured of adventurous expeditions through the lush jungles on the way and serene villages. Similar treks are also available in Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri regions.
- Water sports - there are some good spots for water sports in Cambodia. You can try adventure diving at Cambodia’s one of the finest beaches, Sihanoukville or Kompong Som. Many water sports are available here.

Entertainment and Nightlife

Along with its traditional and religious background, Cambodia is changing fast and has seen an increase of western entertainment and nightlife.

The capital city of Phnom Penh has become a visitor destination also for its nightlife and offers a wide range of disco clubs. If you arrive at the club at around 9pm, you can have a composed dinner and drinks after which the bands will entertain you. Clubs can be found which have good live bands and you can learn the basics of Khmer traditional dancing here.

For those who enjoy regional cinemas, Cambodian Cinema Talkies can offer you a wide range of cinemas. Earlier banned cinemas have been re-opened by the existing Ministry and you will find Cambodian people watching and exhilarating at their regional cinemas. With the introduction of western culture, nowadays even western movies are played here, however the regional films remain the hot favourites for these people.

The clubs and bars are mostly located in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, however, many street vendors are also there those sell liquor at half the rates.

Holidays In Focus

Culture and History

If you seek culture and history, Cambodia will not disappoint as it has both in absolute abundance. Even a visit to a small town can bring amazing surprises. The best way to experience this magical country and to ensure you see all of the sights is to travel with a specialist local tour operator. Their local knowledge will prove invaluable and will ensure you leave with wonderful memories and photographs. Just some of the amazing sights include:

Phnom Penh - Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia and is truly the cultural and commercial center of the whole country. Apart from the luxurious Royal Palace, there are many places for the inquisitive visitor here. For those who want to enjoy the golden-age of Angkor, the National Museum may be a good place to relax and it is just opposite the Royal Palace. You may also enjoy a pleasant evening at the riverside called Sisowath Quay. This is said to be the best place to enjoy your evening snacks from the roadside restaurants and get immersed in the carnival-like atmosphere in the air. Phnom Penh can be a very lively city with plenty of restaurants and bars and a thriving nightlife.

Angkor Wat – Visitors to Cambodia may come for many different reasons but they never miss the opportunity to see the classical old monument Angkor Wat, which is one of the greatest architectural achievements during old times. A temple of Hindu God, Vishnu, is honoured very much by all Cambodians. Angkor Wat will truly wow you and simply must be experienced first-hand as all the images you will have seen do not do it justice.

Battambang - This second largest city of Cambodia and has ruins of an old Angkorian temple called Phnom Banan and should be added to your travel wishlist. This will take one day if you also want to visit the surrounding mountainous areas which are full of greenery. After the temple visit you can watch the artists from the Battambang circus. It is like a cultural workshop of Cambodia that expresses the art of the region in a unique form.

Koh Kong – For those who are interested in enjoying the country life in Cambodia with a more relaxed pace, Koh Kong is said to be the place. The visitors appreciate the quaintness of the town and like to spend some quality time here. You can see the area by walking around while of course allowing time for the regional food and drink which is served in small local restaurants.

Kampong Som – A group of islands of Cambodia which can be visited whilst in the country. Visitors are rewarded with wonderful seafood and also take the opportunity to participate in the seashore activities.

Kratie – This is another town which is located at the edge of the Mekong River. If you are interested in sea life especially dolphins, this will be a great area to visit. More than sixty specimens of a variety of dolphins called the Irrawaddy are present here. You can also enjoy walking along the river in pleasant surroundings.

Kampong Speu – Another popular area for travelers, this is in central Cambodia. You can simply relax in the area which is lined by a natural river and many large trees. Another attraction here is a rocking bridge which connects Tang Tonle village and Ampe Phnom village. The whole region is great for avid walkers and trekkers who can enjoy the natural glory and wonder at the wildlife throughout the area.

When to Go

Cambodia enjoys a tropical climate and it is pleasantly warm all year round, making it the ideal year-round destination. The dry season is from November to May with November to February then classed as the cool season which is the peak period for travelers to visit. This period has temperatures in the mid to upper twenties C. The hot season is March to May with high humidity and temperatures rise up to 35C. The rainy season is from June to October, although many days could see only short sharp showers. Things could be quieter during this period as there are fewer visitor numbers.

Top Tips

- To get the most from your visit, ensure you use a specialist local tour operator with good local knowledge.
- Remember you are visiting a traditional country and both men and women will need to cover their knees and shoulders when visiting temples and other historical sites.
- Contrary to many other countries, a Cambodian visa can be applied for on arrival at airports. You must bring along a passport size photograph and your passport for that.
- Currency need not be a problem in Cambodia as US dollars are widely accepted.
- Visitors are reminded to stay away from any political gatherings.
- Avoid touching anybody’s head or pointing your feet towards a person which is considered an insult in local culture.
- While photographing Cambodian people especially monks, it is better to politely ask for their permission.

Classic Itineraries

- Capital Phnom Penh - Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and emerald Buddha
- National Museum, Phnom Penh with Khmer art
- Koh Kong Conservation Area
- Battambang history
- Koh Ker ruins
- Siem Reap culture
- Kampot town
- Bokor National Park waterfalls and colonial hill station
- Mondulkiri Province jungles
- Kratie, Mekong River with Irrawaddy dolphins
- Sihanoukville beach, seafood and nightlife
- Prasat Preah Vihear temple
- Ream National Park wildlife and mangroves
- Tonle Sap Lake birdlife
- Preah Vihear hilltop temple
- Wat Phnom – shrine to Daun Penh
- Sambor Prei Kuk Khmer ruins
- Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh markets
- Apsara, the Khmer dance
- Yeak Laom Lake and volcanic crater
- Mekong River Cruise
- Pre Rup Khmer state-temple
- Banteay Srei temple
- Kbal Spean riverbed carvings in the Kulen Mountains.
- Angkor Wat Khmer architecture
- Ta Prohm temple
- Bayon temple in Angkor Thom walled city

Festivals and Events

-April - Bonn Chaul Chhnam Khmer
-May - Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal - The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
-September-October - Bonn Phchum Ben - The Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh
-October - The King's Birthday - The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
-October - Bonn Kathen - Cambodia
-November - Water Festival on the Banks of the Mekong - Banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh
November - Festival of the Reversing Current (Bon Om Tuk) - Phnom Penh

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There are just two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Cambodia

- Angkor
- Temple of Preah Vihear

Public Holidays in Cambodia in 2014

What better way to get to know captivating Cambodia than by immersing yourself in one of the many lively, colourful and traditional festivals during 2014.

- New Year’s Day – 1 January 2014
- Victory Day – 7 January 2014
- Chinese New Year – 31 January 2014
- Meak Bochea, aka Full Moon – 14 February 2014
- Khmer New Year – 14-16 April 2014
- Visaka Bochea Day, aka Buddha day – 13 May 2014
- King Sihamoni’s Birthday – 13-15 May 2014
- Royal Ploughing Ceremony – 17-19 May 2014
- Pchum Ben Festival – September 2014
- Cambodia Independence Day – 9 November 2014
- Water Festival – 13-16 November 2014

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By Julie Bowman

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