The Erstwhile Khmer Empire
Get a taste of ancient Southeast Asia on your trip to Cambodia. The erstwhile Khmer empire boasts of stunning landscapes, pristine beaches and exotic temples. The top places to visit in Cambodia attract tourists and travelers with varied interests. There’s a mix of both the old and the new that will leave you in total awe. Whether you are visiting the iconic Angkor temples or the sophisticated and contemporary, capital Phnom Penh.
Bordered by Thailand to the northwest and Vietnam to the east, Cambodia is a land of elusive wildlife and tropical adventures. Traverse the timeless landscapes of this mighty realm of the Gods by visiting popular tourist spots in Cambodia.
Besides being the land of black peppercorns, Kampot is a scenic riverside promenade that has a number of colonial structures. Also, the quaint riverside town provides a gateway to the French hill station of Bokor National Park that has mesmerizing views and a pleasant climate. And needless to say, it is one of the most famous tourist places in Cambodia too.
View ancient ruins at the Kampot Kampong Trach caves, go boating on the river and watch glistening waterfalls in this idyllic location.
View well-preserved French colonial buildings at the little charming town of Kratie that lies on the banks of Mekong River. Enjoy a magical sunset at the Mekong River here and also watch the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in action. The French buildings here are definitely among the top places to visit in Cambodia.
Don’t miss: Take a boat ride along Mekong River to view the dolphins in action
The spot where the United States fought its last battle in the Vietnam War is now a land of sunny beaches. Relax at the shores of these less populated beaches and enjoy watersports like snorkelling and kayaking. Spend the day at a beach shack on any one of these pristine six beaches here to enjoy a fun holiday.
Don’t miss: Try windsurfing at the quiet and serene Otres Beach.
4. Siem Reap
The Siem Reap river and the rice paddies make this town much more than just a stopover to witness the Angkor temples. Siem Reap has vibrant night markets, silk farms, traditional craft shops, fun road tours through rice paddies, bird sanctuaries, fishing villages and boat tours on Tonle Sap Lake. This should definitely be on your list of the top 5 places to visit in Cambodia.
Don’t miss: Rejuvenate yourself at the oldest Buddhist temple at the Wat Bo village. Also don’t forget to watch Apsara dance performances and visit Pub Street that are the best of Cambodian tourist attractions.
5. Koh Ker
Explore the innumerable temples at Koh Ker that lies to the northeast of the Siem reap town. These are one of the famous Cambodia tourist spots. The temple complex here is around 3 km long and consists of a number of temples and is considered one of the places to see in Cambodia.
Start with the sandstone Neang Khmao temple that is shaped like a stupa and lies on a small hill. Other temples worth visiting here are the main complex of the Koh Ker temple, the Pram temple, Chen temple, the Preng well and the Kuk temple. According to local legend, if you drop a coconut at the well at the Koh Ker temple it will appear at the pond near Neang Khmao temple.
Don’t miss: The 30 m Prasat Thom complex that rises majestically over the surrounding jungle.
6. Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh still retains its charm as the leafy capital city of Cambodia with its palaces and wats. Located at the conjunction of three grand rivers- the Tonle Sap, the Mekong and the Bassac river, this city now houses a number of hotspots like cool cafes and bustling bars. It is one of the top Cambodia tourist places.
French colonial houses lie nestled besides roadside pagodas here and makes this city one of the topmost places to visit in Cambodia. View some unique Khmer artifacts at the National Museum or visit the Phsar Reatrey to pick up some handcrafted souvenirs.
Don’t miss: The beautiful complex of the Royal Palace with its golden spires is a must see Cambodia tourist attraction.
One of Cambodia’s greatest tourist attractions, the Angkor Wat temple lies in Angkor and is one of the largest religious monuments to behold. Regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat is a definite must visit on a holiday to Cambodia. It lies to the south of Angkor Thom that is also one of Cambodia’s tourist spots. It pulls a huge crows as it is one of the sites where Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider movies were shot.
Angkor Wat has a 650 feet wide moat, a stone gateway with guardian lions, a seven headed naga and the Mt Meru tower. Around 300,000 workers and 6,000 elephants were used to construct this temple whose sandstone blocks were brought all the way from the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen.
Don’t Miss: The outstanding Ta Prohm Buddhist temple ruin that is the ideal place to capture picture perfect shots and is surrounded by towering trees.
8. Koh Rong
Those looking for adventure will love the beautiful island paradise Koh Rong that has a number of beaches like the Koh Toch beach. It is among the top Cambodia tourist attractions. A lot of activities on these lovely beaches makes Koh Rang one of exciting places to see in Cambodia.
Here, you can go snorkeling and see diamond fish, seahorses, sergeant fish, parrot fish, jumping fish, diamond fish, blue-spotted ribbontail rays, and squids. If you are a hardcore water sports lover, go diving and kayaking. Also, pay a visit to the rope adventure park where you can go zip lining. To witness some abundant wildlife head over to Police Beach that has a butterfly farm and mini zoo.
Don’t miss: Lonely Beach and Coconut Beach are perfect spots to view bio-luminescent plankton.
9. Koh Tonsay
Koh Tonsay is also known as the Rabbit Island as local inhabitants believe that the island resembles a rabbit. This island provides the perfect break from the regular grind as it is a peaceful abode lined with coconut palms and is one of the top tourist spots in Cambodia.
There is a lot to do here – relax on a hammock on the sandy shores of the 600 m long main beach, go swimming, enjoy some delicious local seafood and interact with the friendly locals at this rustic island. There are also comfy beach shacks where you can unwind and chill.
Don’t miss: Go snorkelling at the main beach or take a trip to the nearby Koh Pos or snake island.
Located in the eastern part of Cambodia, Mondulkiri is an interesting place to visit in Cambodia due to its abundant wildlife and natural beauty. As you step foot into this province, you will be greeted by rolling lush hills, thick forests, glistening waterfalls and flora and fauna.
Get a taste of the traditional culture here by visiting the hill tribes who stay in Phnong houses and use big jars and traditional gongs for various purposes. The Bou Sra and Chrey Thom waterfalls as well as the Memang Gold Mines area are must see tourist places in Cambodia.
Don’t Miss: Experience the adrenaline rush by enjoying a Mayura Zipline ride that goes over the Bou Sra falls.
Charming locations, quiet beaches and friendly people make Kep one of the best places to see in Cambodia. Take a lazy stroll along the shiny white shores of the Kep Beach, view the bottomless statue and enjoy some delicious fare from the seafood vendors here. And do try some delicious crabs at the Crab Market while sitting under quirky umbrella trees. A walk at the Kep National Park that is filled with waterfalls, elusive monkeys, the Stone House and Little Buddha is recommended.
Don’t miss: Enjoy an evening filled with good food and good instrumental music at the Led Zepplin Cafe at the Kep National Park.
Poipet is the land of casinos and karaoke bars where the locals join in with the tourists to enjoy a fun time. Explore the beer gardens here or enjoy some Khmer coffee at the local shops here. The Kingdom Gate at the border between Thailand and Cambodia is an embodiment of Cambodian architecture with its stone engravings.
Don’t miss: The Grand Diamond City and Tropicana casino resorts are a fun way to destress on this holiday in Cambodia.
The festivals in Cambodia and Theravada Buddhist ritual are irretrievably linked together. Even the Khmer Rouge and the rise of western culture could do little to suppress the practice of Cambodian festival celebrations. The citizens find this time a great way to bond and rejoice over the shared understanding of Cambodian culture, values and traditions. People from all the nooks and corners of Cambodia flock the capital to witness the display of organized fireworks which accompany the festivities. Cambodia festivals and holidays are decided based on the Khmer lunar calendar.
The Major Festivals In Cambodia
Given below are some of the major events and festivals of Cambodia which are greatly influenced by Buddhism, ancient royal traditions and cultures and Hinduism.
1. Cambodian Independence Day
This day’s celebration marks the independence of Cambodia from 90 years of French rule. It is celebrated at the Independence Monument and the event is presided by the ruling king of Cambodia, with Cambodians from different professions coming together every year to rejoice over their independence.
Date: 9th November 2018
2. Choul Chhnam Thmey or Khmer New Year
This is one of the biggest festivals in Cambodia during which Cambodians with Khmer roots stop working for a whole 3 days and return to their homes to celebrate the end of the traditional harvest season. It is a time when the farmers, who have toiled the whole year in their farms for harvesting food, take some leisurely time off. The Khmer community celebrates this day by uniting with their family members and performing many purification ceremonies, visiting their temples and having fun playing traditional games.
Date: 14th April 2019 to 17th April 2019
3. Preah Reach Pithi Bonn Chrot Preah Neang Kol or Royal Ploughing Ceremony
This is a significant ceremony of ancient royals which marks the beginning of the rice-growing season when the preparations for the farming activities begin. This was formerly initiated by the Khmer king and since then it has been celebrated annually. The traditional event is held by the King of Cambodia. A representative of the King of Cambodia starts the ceremony by ploughing with the royal oxen which marks the start of a good harvest season.
Date: 22nd May 2019
4. King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday
This day is very important for the Cambodians as it reminds them about the outcome of Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot when a government with limited powers was absent. This day is celebrated on the event of birth and coronation of King Norodom Sihamoni, who is the current monarch of Cambodia. The celebration continues for three days every year.
Date: 13th May 2019 to 15th May 2019
5. Pchum Ben or Ancestor’s Day
Pchum Ben means “to gather together a ball of food” and this day, also known as the “Hungry Ghosts Festival” and “Festival Of The Dead” is the day when the Cambodians pay respect to all their 7 generations of ancestors. It is believed that on the first day of this festival, the gates of the hell are opened and all the ghosts are let out, some of them being ancestors to the people. The celebration involves a food offering ritual in the pagodas with the expectation that the merits earned by offering food to the monks will reduce the sins of the ancestors.
Date: 27th September 2019
6. Magha Puja Day or Meak Bochea
This is the most important festival of the monks in Cambodia and hence tops the list of Cambodia festivals. On this day, monks all over Cambodia celebrate that time in history when Lord Buddha delivered his sermon to the 1250 monks who had spontaneously gathered at Rajagaha Valuwan Vihara, which is the place where Lord Buddha had retreated. This marks the beginning of all the religious festivals in Cambodia. The Theravada Buddhists gather in a procession in Dhammakaya, which is a temple in Khlong Luang, and meditate & pray in the morning followed by circling the central altar twice with incense sticks, candles and flowers under full moon night sky.
Date: 19th February 2019
7. Water Festival
Water festival in Cambodia is a magnificent and traditional event which take place at Phnom Penh. The Cambodia Water Festival history dates back to 12th century of Angkor period when the Naval Forces had battled for securing Cambodia. It is a mark of respect for these Naval Forces. It is celebrated night and day with all the Cambodian citizens, peasants and foreign travellers gathering in the capital. A boat racing event takes place during the celebration which formerly was a battle training conducted by the naval forces.
Date: 21st November 2018 to 23rd November 2018
8. Vesak Bochea
This is a single day celebration of the three major events in the life of Buddha which are, Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and his passing into nirvana. On this day, Buddhists in Cambodia pray to Lord Buddha and donate food and clothes to the local monks in the area. This is majorly celebrated in the areas where there is a strong following of Buddhism. The date of the celebration is on every year’s 6th month’s full moon night in accordance with the Khmer lunar calendar.
Date: 22nd November 2018
9. Angkor Festival
The events of this festival are a delight to watch. Many dignitaries and sometimes the King himself attends this event. Performers from every part of Asia put together a performance showcasing their talents. The performances are based on the great epic stories derived from ancient myths. The performers look wonderful wearing their own national costumes recreating historic stories with musical and rhythmic backgrounds. This creative storytelling event takes place in one of the most exquisite locations, Angkor Wat.
Date: In November/December 2018
10. Sea Festival
Sea festival in Cambodia is celebrated every year in the month of December on any of the four Cambodian coastlines. This event which first took place in the year 2011, organizes many sports event for the visiting tourists including, motorboat racing, swimming, Cambodian martial arts, half marathon, and beach volleyball. The event celebration begins before the new year, starting at dawn and continuing till dusk. Sea Festival, which is the popular festival in Cambodia is a joint venture of Ministry of Tourism, National Olympic Committee of Cambodia and Ministry of Fine Arts & Culture. The 6th Sea Festival is scheduled to take place in the Kep Province in Cambodia.
Date: 22nd December to 24th December 2018