Cambodia is a wonderful country in South-East Asia that has been steadily increasing in popularity over the recent years. It’s honestly no wonder why. The county is full of incredible history and stunning natural beauty. There are some absolutely breath-taking things to see in Cambodia and the people are literally some of the friendliest people you will ever meet!
We stayed in at Araya Angkor Residences in the centre of Siem Reap. When we arrived the entire reception lobby greeted us with a chorus of ‘Hello’s’ and ‘Welcome home’s’! They then invited us to sit on a huge sofa, brought us a drink and took out bags up to our room for us! To say it was a warm welcome would be an understatement. The hotel was also utterly gorgeous and well worth the affordable price we paid to stay there!
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Cambodia is home to the infamous Angkor Wat. It’s a stunning temple and one of the main reasons a lot of people come to the country in the first place. But, despite that being the most common thing to see in Cambodia, don’t let it be your only reason for visiting this delightful country. Cambodia has so much more to offer than just Angkor Wat! Here are 7 bucket list things to see in Cambodia and why you should add it to your 2020 travel bucket list!
Be Amazed by the Temples
Of course, I had to start with the temples because, as I’ve said, it is the main draw for the majority of tourists. If you’re looking for someone to tell you that Angkor Wat is over-rated, well you’re reading the wrong post because I absolutely loved it.
The amount of detail put into Angkor Wat was incredible; the carvings were so ornate and intricate and the size – it was HUGE! It took us well over 2 hours to walk around and I could’ve happily spent more time there. It’s not surprising because it’s actually the largest religious monument in the world!
Because Angkor Wat is the best thing to see in Cambodia, I booked our visit as part of a group tour. I figured it would be the most interesting and easiest way to learn a lot about the temples. If you do decide to go, I cannot recommend Journey Cambodia enough. The guides are super friendly, really informative and quite funny as well which made the 4:30am start slightly more bearable!
On that note, if I was to say that one thing about Angkor Wat was over-rated, I’d say it was the sunrise. If I went again, I probably wouldn’t go so early. Or, I’d just avoid the peak season.
It was SO busy!!!
I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people crowded around a lake at the crack of dawn! It made it incredibly difficult to get a good picture. Luckily by 7am a lot of the crowd had dispersed in search of breakfast (or, most likely coffee), or had moved on to exploring inside the temple. So, I went back to the lakeside and was able to snap this:
It doesn’t quite have the stunning pink glow of a lot of the Angkor Wat Sunrise pics you see on Google, but there were too many heads in the way! It seems that once people started realising how beautiful the sunset was, everybody and his dog decided to visit at that time. So, if you’re hoping to visit early to void the crowds, well, you won’t!
You may have more luck with sunset though. So, you could try that if you do want to get the famous photograph!Have you been dreaming of Cambodia? Full of incredible history and stunning natural beauty these are the 7 beautiful, bucket list things to see in Cambodia!
Tomb Raider Temple
Aside from Angkor Wat, Cambodia in total has a whopping 8000 temples! 3000 of these are ancient temples and 5000 are new. Our guide told us that Angkor Wat took over 30 years to build. The King at the time wanted to show his power by building as many temples as possible. As a result, a lot of the temples he built after that took considerably less time and considerably less care to build.
The second most famous ancient temple in Cambodia is called Ta Prohm or more commonly known as Tomb Raider Temple. The temple is now completely overgrown and almost part of the jungle itself as much of the ground and the walls have been uprooted by a few huge Spung trees.
We visited this temple after leaving Angkor Wat and it was literally incredible. It was also incredibly busy, but I honestly wasn’t surprised. However, this once again made it unbelievably difficult to get a good photo! Luckily, our tour guide was really helpful and agree to take a few pics for us. Mind you, we did have to queue with a bunch of other tourists in order to take the photo, but if you’re already there, what do you have to lose?
Bayon Temple and Banteay Srei
There are thousands of other temples in Cambodia but the other two that caught my eye were the Bayon Temple and Banteay Srei. The Bayon was another huge complex. The thing that made it stand out was the huge smiling Buddha faces on every pillar! Definitely one of the best things to see in Cambodia, our guide told us that there were over 300 Buddha faces in total carved onto the grey rock.
In contrast, Banteay Srei was made of much more pinkish stone. It’s also a lot further from the centre of Siem Reap (about 20km from the main Angkor Wat temple). So, you’ll probably need to go on a second day’s temple-hopping if you do want to see it as well. The temple is also known as the Lady Temple and was built and dedicated to the King’s mother. Banteay Srei was even more intricately carved than Angkor Wat. The detail was incredible and some of the carvings were really deep.
Visiting places like the Angkor complex always leaves me in wonder. It’s incredible what people were able to achieve hundreds of years ago without half the technology that we have today. If you are only looking for one incredible thing to see in Cambodia, then let it be the temples. You 100% won’t regret it.
Embrace the Way of Life
If the temples aren’t enough to draw you to this magnificent country, then the other thing that took me by surprise when visiting Cambodia was their way of life. Everything is so much simpler there than life as we know it.
We stopped at the prettiest little village on our way to Tonle Sap lake. They had little huts made from bamboo and slept in hammocks. There were wild sunflowers everywhere and they were raking up the soil to grow crops.
It was so peaceful walking around and I felt so connected to nature and it made me think. In England, that would’ve been done with a tractor and plough. Then the crops would’ve been harvested with more heavy, noisy machinery or factories. The sunflowers wouldn’t have had a chance to grow, or they’d have been grown in bulk to make oil.
I almost preferred it like that. The simplicity was so nice.
I know, in the end, I would’ve missed things like my bed or my laptop or the convenience of life as we know it. But it’s nice to know the whole world hasn’t turned into robots just yet and it’s one of the most eye-opening things to see in Cambodia!
Learn About the History
When I say history, I’m not speaking about Angkor history (although I’d happily talk about Angkor Wat again!). I’m talking about the darker side of Cambodia’s history which resulted in the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. The enormous death toll brought on by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 resulted in millions of deaths. It was one of the worst crimes ever to be committed.
Thousands of intellectuals were taken from their homes and executed or forced into manual labour in the countryside as the Khmer Rouge wanted to create a new agricultural society. However, with the removal of all these people, the capital of Phnom Penh became a ghost town and most hospitals and surgeries collapsed. Those that weren’t executed died of malnutrition, overwork or poor living conditions.
In total, over a quarter of the population was wiped out during this time. Today, you can visit the mass graves or Killing Fields, along with a Security Prison in Phnom Penh to pay your respects. It’s one of the most moving things to see in Cambodia. The country is still coming to terms with its painful past. Slowly but surely it’s beginning to flourish; with the help of the larger tourism crowds drawn to Cambodia and all of its newly listed UNESCO sites.
Sail on the Tonle Sap Lake
The most famous attraction in Siem Reap, outside of Angkor, is Tonle Sap lake. It’s the largest body of freshwater in Cambodia and it’s celebrated by the locals in November as it fertilises a lot of their crops. As well as this, the lake is also home to many floating villages. This goes back to the way of life again as these villagers are literally living on the water. They have floating schools, floating temples, a floating celebration hall for weddings and ceremonies and even a floating police station!
It was fascinating to boat around the lake and see the local people. But, if you do want to visit yourself, I strongly recommend using a tour service to do so. A lot of the floating villagers are quite poor and scams are quite common on the lake for tourists.
Even before you book a tour, I’d recommend checking the company is legit. Nevertheless, it’s well worth a visit and most certainly one of the most interesting things to see in Cambodia.
Ride a Train made of Bamboo
Another of the most famous things in Cambodia is the notorious bamboo train that hurtles around Battambang at speeds of up to 40km/h! Also known as Nori, the train is perfect for anyone looking for a rather white-knuckle experience in Cambodia and would rather skip the ATVs!
The train used to run all the way to Phnom Penh and back. But, over time, the line became completely broken and overgrown. Now it just runs 7km to the neighbouring villages but still makes for a pretty thrilling ride. The Cambodian government have also been claiming that they are going to get rid of the train for a few years now but so far it hasn’t happened! Riding the bamboo train is definitely a wonderful thing to do in Cambodia, but be careful because there are a few scams that happen on the trains.
Sample Street Food
If you’re a fan of Thailand’s street food culture, then you will absolutely love it in Cambodia. There are two main markets, the Old Market and the Angkor Street Market. Both are full of delicious food and wonderful handmade products. So, if you have more than one night in Cambodia, I suggest checking both of them out for dinner! You can also find some street food on Pub Street, which is another Cambodian must-see.
Cambodian food is well worth trying and the traditional Khmer cuisine is quite scrumptious! As well as the standard noodle and rice dishes, you’ll also find more interesting foods like spiced frogs or spit-roasted baby crocodiles. If you’re feeling extremely adventurous, they also have an assortment of deep-fried bugs, tarantulas or scorpions!
One of the more extreme things to see in Cambodia and certainly not for the faint-hearted! It’s safe to say I decided to give that one a miss and try traditional Cambodian noodles and Khmer red curry instead. It was amazing! I also recommend trying the fish amok, one of the most popular Khmer dishes and a green mango salad which is super refreshing but also zesty and packs a pretty big punch!
Travel Around More of Asia
Even though this doesn’t relate directly to Cambodia itself, the country’s is in a perfect location. Sandwiched between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos make it the ideal base for exploring the rest of South-East Asia. You can easily travel between countries by bus or sleeper trains and wake up the next morning at the Thai or Vietnamese border. There’s also plenty of low-cost airlines that fly directly into the neighbouring countries.
So, you should definitely add Cambodia to your 2020 bucket list and you might even find yourself going on an amazing Asian adventure!