Cambodia is often overlooked in favor of its heavy hitting neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, but the Khmer Kingdom is an amazing holiday destination. With gorgeous beaches, delicious cuisine, a burgeoning economy and genuinely friendly people eager to welcome tourists, Cambodia should be your next Asian holiday destination!
Awe inspiring temples
The iconic, sprawling complex of Angkor temples was voted the world’s No. 1 site by Lonely Planet and it’s not hard to see why. Exploring the world’s largest religious site is an otherworldly experience but be prepared to battle the crowds; last year over 2 million tourists visited the 1,000 year old temples! Don’t miss Ta Prohm, aka the Tomb Raider temple, or Bayum (below).
Chilled Out Siem Reap
The nearest town to the Angkor Temples, Siem Reap is a laid back traveller’s hub. Skip tacky pub street and spend your time scouring the markets for souvenirs, exploring the meandering streets and sampling Cambodian cuisine. For an uber-chilled stay, try yoga retreat Angkor Zen Gardens and relax by their salt-water pool.
I adore this graceful, riverside city with its mix of colonial and Khmer architecture. It doesn’t buzz like Bangkok but it has a relaxed charm that will draw you in. Walk the city and seek out the cool independent design boutiques popping up around 19th and 46th street. Check out the local hipsters and international digital nomads at Digby’s. Have delicious Cambodian food for dinner but for desert, head to a French expat spot like Le Cylco for chocolate mousse and red wine.
Sundowners at the Foreign Correspondents Club
The FCC is a Phnom Penh institution; a stunning colonial era building that used to be THE meeting place for journalists and aid workers. Now, it’s an atmospheric evening spot with good food and a decent cocktail selection. Go early to grab a seat at the front and enjoy the riverside views.
Beach Life in Sihanoukville
Forget Thailand’s overcrowded shores, Cambodia has beautiful beaches aplenty. Head to Sihanoukville and stay at Otres beach; it’s low key and has a great variety of accommodation options. Our top Otres pick is Italian enclave Papa Pippo. With stylishly simple beach bungalows, proper coffee and friendly vibes, Papa Pippo is the kind of place you come for days of easy going, barefoot beachside relaxation.
Support Social Enterprise
Its relatively recent violent past means Phnom Penh is an NGO town with lots of Western and Asian aid agencies creating social enterprises; small businesses that aim to provide a service but also help the greater good. There’s so many to choose from but my top picks include shop and café Daughters of Cambodia, which employs former sex workers and the excellent restaurant Romdeng, staffed by former street children.
Thai and Vietnamese dishes are so common now, they’re practically staples of Western cuisine. But Khmer Cuisine is still somewhat under the radar, despite being fresh, delicious and having an impressive depth of flavour. Must haves include the national dish, Fish Amok and deliciously spicy Beef Lok Lak; seafood lovers shouldn’t miss out on Kep Crab.
To witness the resurgence
Cambodia has emerged from a brutal recent history of genocide, war and poverty to become a forward looking, emerging economy. It still has its problems, with notably high poverty levels, but Cambodians are resourceful, aspirational and genuinely friendly. The economy is starting to thrive, tourism is booming and Cambodians want to welcome you to their country. Go see for yourself!
About the Author: Louise Hogan is blogger and nomad who works in social media and digital advertising. From the West of Ireland, she has lived, worked and travelled in Asia, the Middle East and East Africa. She blogs at: http://www.recoveringhumanitarian.com
Follow Louise on Twitter @lahogan4 and Instagram @recoveringhumanitarian
Photo: Creative Commons/Khanh Hmoong 2013