Angkor Wat rises from the jungle and its image flies everywhere on the Cambodian flag. This country has been hard-hit by years of civil war, but is a rising star in Asia’s tourism portfolio along with its South East Asian neighbours Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. There’s plenty more than temples rising from the jungle … just in case they weren’t enough.
Cambodia sits on the coast of the South China Sea, bordered by Thailand to the west and Laos and Vietnam in the north. The large Tonle Sap freshwater lake, fed by a branch of the Mekong River, dominates the centre of the country.
The remains of the old capital of Angkor are the most popular tourist attraction, and the location of these temples near the borders with Laos and Thailand make this a popular first stop in Cambodia. Access is easy, from a local base in Siem Reap.
There’s no getting around the damage done by war here, with the notorious Khmer Rouge, an ultra-communist regime, responsible for around two million deaths in under four years during the late 70s. Landmines still dot the countryside, although they have been mostly cleared from places tourists are likely to visit. Because of this, it’s always best to have a local guide when venturing away from the main paths.
A lot of tourism revolves around exploring the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and the wars that preceded and followed their control of the country. While it can be grim, it’s an important part of understanding Cambodia.
Siem Reap is a small town filled with tourists and a large Cambodian population who have moved from the surrounding countryside to get their share of the tourist dollar. Although the main reason to visit is easy access to the Angkor Wat historical park, the town has a good market and excellent night market with varied goods, some of surprisingly good quality.
The Artisans d’Angkor project maintains training in local crafts and runs a mentorship programme allowing graduates to continue improving their skills when they move back to their home towns. You can tour the workshops, goggle at the amazing pieces they create and take their free shuttle bus to their silk farm and weaving centre about 16km out of town.
Siem Reap is also home to many NGOs working with landmine victims and war orphans, and campaigning to reduce the amount of child prostitution in Cambodia. There are plenty of opportunities for visiting, short-term volunteering and donating directly to the schools and programmes.
Getting to and from Cambodia
Flights to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are possible from other Asian cities: budget flights leave from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. If coming from further afield, it’s almost always cheaper to fly long-haul to one of these hubs then hop into Cambodia.
There are land borders from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam although the easiest are those between Bangkok and Siem Reap, and between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. Coaches from Vietnam can easily be booked and in most cases the same bus will take you all the way through.
The journey from Siem Reap to Bangkok is a little more complicated with several changes of transport, but is relatively straightforward. The trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap is apparently fraught with scams, be especially wary of minibus rides from Bangkok and ask around before booking anything.
Cambodia travel resources
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