A journey to Cambodia offers travellers a window into the soul of Southeast Asia. The magnificent temples of Angkor are unrivalled, and beyond the rich legacy of the ancient Khmer empire lie the buzzing capital of Phnom Penh, countless kilometres of unspoiled tropical beaches, the mighty Mekong River, a vibrant culture and some of the friendliest people in the region. Cambodia is full of surprises, so gear up for the adventure.
If you are planning a trip
to this gem, it is best to go during December and January when the humidity and
rainfall are relatively low. While this is also the peak tourism season and the
crowds will be thick, there is something to enjoy in the clang and clamour of Cambodia’s chaos. Time your
trip to take part in Chinese New Year.
Those keen to escape the
crowds can visit around October, as the rain tends to come in short, sharp
downpours and is easier to bear. Angkor is surrounded by lush foliage and the moats
are full of water at this time of year.
Plus October is the time of
P’chum Ben, the Cambodian day of the dead where offerings are made via monks
over several days in the form of food, drink, paper money, flowers incense and
candles. Occurring anywhere between October and November (depending on the
lunar calendar) is Bon Om Tuk, one of the most important events on the Khmer
culture. Bon Om Tuk celebrates the epic victory of Jayavarman VII over the
Chams, who occupied Angkor in 1177. This festival also celebrates the natural
phenomenon of the Tonlé Sap River reversing its current.
If you are planning to
visit remote areas, however, the wet season makes for tough travel. Preparation
is key for planning accommodation and travel routes (and perhaps a few backups)
Whether you start in Siem
Reap and travel south, or head north to Angkor, this is the ultimate
journey, via temples beaches and the capital.
Hit Phnom Penh for
sights such as the impressive National
Museum, with its excellent Angkorian sculpture collection and the stunning Silver
Pagoda. There is superb shopping at the Psar
Tuol Tom Pong and a night shift that never sleeps.
Take a fast boat to Phnom
Da, then go south to the colonial-era town of Kampot. From
here, visit Bokor
Hill Station, the seaside town of Kep and the
cave pagodas at Phnom Chhnork and Phnom Sorsia.
Go west to Shianoukville,
Cambodia’s beach capital, to sample the seafood, dive the nearby waters or just
soak up the sun. Backtrack via Phnom Penh to Kompong
Thom and get a taste of what is to come by visiting the pre-Angkorian brick
temples of Sambor
Finish the trip at Angkor,
a mind-blowing experience with which few sights compare. See Angkor
Wat, perfection in stone; Bayon, weirdness in stone; and Ta
Prohm, nature triumphing over stone – before venturing further afield to Kbal
Spean or jungle-clad Beng
This trip can take two
weeks at a steady pace or three weeks at a slower pace. Public transport serves
most of the route. Rent a motorbike for side trips to Kep and Sambor Prei Kuk,
and try out a remork-moto (tuk tuk) at Angkor. Have more money but less time?
Rent a car and set your own pace.
The article 'Classic Cambodia in two weeks' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.