Cambodia Pictures, Asia 2017-06-13T13:20:49+00:00

Cambodia Pictures Guide

Cambodia

Cambodia’s main tourist attraction,  vast Angkor Wat (Buddhist/Hindu temple) and dozens more magnificent structures in the Angkor Archeological Park between 6 to 30 kilometres of Siem Reap. Photo by Samgarza.

In fact there are plenty of tourists out there, including myself, who would put other temples at the top of the Angkor Greatest Hits list, though Angkor Wat sports the biggest land area.

Why holiday in Cambodia?

preah kahn, girl-tree, angkor,cambodia

Preah Khan, Angkor.

The jungle scattered and sublime Khmer temples of Angkor are indisputably one of the world’s greatest ancient attractions, but note that Angkor Wat is just one of many structures in the 400 sq km Angkor ‘Archeological Park’ (AP).

Apart from temples you could also visit the French-built capital, Phnom Penh, for fine food, mediocre museums and not much else; Sihanoukville region for some culture-free beach time on soft white sands; and Banlung for nature and ethnic people.

Generally the Cambodian people – even the tuk tuk drivers – are charming and friendly while local cuisine is excellent and good value and a cool Angkor beer is divine!

Downsides

• Temperatures range from hot and humid to absurdly hot and humid. Christmas 2016 (the coolest season) daily temperatures ranged from 25C to 33C daily with 80% humidity. Even Cambodians were sweating!

• City sidewalks – especially Siem Reap – tend to be used for parking by cars and motorcycles with total disregard for pedestrians, so you can expect to be dodging from uneven sidewalks onto the road for a few metres, back to the sidewalk for a few metres, road again, and so on.

• The great temples of Angkor are not only disabled-unfriendly but we would also advise anyone with leg problems – dodgy knees/ankles/hips – to avoid this as a holiday destination.
The great temples are mainly in stepped pyramid levels with strangely inconvenient stair heights, but also lower levels – galleries for example – are always separated by doorways with 30-50 cm sills. You step up onto the sill, then down (not over). In Preah Khan I felt like I was in a hurdle competition, endless up/down, up down….

• Cambodia is the world’s most land mined country with  millions of land mines and unexploded ordnance around the countryside. The Angkor and Phnom Penh areas have been cleared thanks to both international and domestic organizations’ de-mining efforts, but always seek a local guide going off for a walk or crossing the border and never stray off paths.

Length of stay

Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: Phnom Penh 2 days; Siem Reap (Angkor) 2-3 days; total 5 days
Recommended: 2 weeks, Phnom Penh – Siem Reap (Angkor, Tonlé Sap Lake) – Sihanoukville, or other towns.

Cambodia main attractions

***Angkor Archaeological Park

Angkor Wat level 3 lines, Cambodia

Lining up to visit Angkor Wat level 3, about 1 hour’s wait in very hot sunshine, January. Level 3 (the top) was one of our least exciting Angkor experiences so if you’re short of time or have malfunctioning legs give it a miss! Level 2 was no big deal either, come to think of it, though easy to get to. Level 1’s superb, interesting and occasionally bizarre wall carvings are the main attraction.

Angkor Wat opens at 9am, but the first stop for new visitors  is the massive ticket office on the way to Angkor Wat to buy the Angkor Pass.

Angkor Archaeological Park is the destination for 99.99% of travellers. In fact those who are short of time can (and do)  just fly in for Angkor and not bother about  the rest of Cambodia. To be honest Phnom Penh is missable and the beaches, while good (except for Sihanoukville obviously!), are not wildly better than places around the world – unlike Angkor which is unique.

Angkor Wat (and grounds) is by far the busiest temple complex in the Angkor Archaeological Park but others have plenty to offer in terms of different styles, sculptures, environments and all with far less visitors. Angkor Wat is just one of many hundreds of temples in the 400 sq km complex that is Angkor Archeological Park.

Siem Reap's 'Pub Street', Cambodia

Siem Reap’s ‘Pub Street’, a very lively block stretching from the Old Market south, busy with all kinds of eating and drinking experiences.

These range from stalls selling fried ice-cream (looked awesome but I couldn’t try it as I was in non-dairy mode), deep fried scorpions and  generic burger restaurants to  very stylish cocktail bars and street music by mine-damaged local musicians.

An ideal base for the country’s prime attraction, Angkor Park, which is situated just 6 km north of the town, Siem Reap is developing fast and becoming a lively and  popular destination.

In spite of the rough sidewalks, lack of pedestrian crossings (just wander across the road flapping a hand!)  and random parking, Siem Reap has a nice laid-back air with little crime in evidence but lots of big smiles and wai (a kind of bow/prayerful hands).

Siem Reap offers an excellent choice of accommodation, from a few dollars budget hostels to a thousands dollars a night lavish spa resorts. There are varied and interesting dining options particularly just north of the Old Market area where the streets are traffic-free at night and awash with cool cafés and odd restaurants.

**Phnom Penh attractions

Royal palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Part of  the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

Most tourists visit Cambodia to see Angkor, but this busy and not very attractive capital city is just about worth a couple of days. It has a couple of  impressive sights, an interesting street life and the riverfront is laid back with trendy shops, restaurants and cafes.

• The Royal Palace. The residence of King Sihanouk contains a magnificent sight, the Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo) and its gold and jeweled Buddha statues, especially the two most outstanding, a 17th century crystal ‘Emerald Buddha’ and the gold Maitreya Buddha covered by over 9500 diamonds.

• Prison 21 (Tuol Sleng Museum), the former high school turned prison for the Khmer Rouge victims, more than 14, 000 met their death there.

• Wat Phnom, a hilltop pagoda, was the origin of the city and is one of the most important spiritual places in the country.

• The National Museum of Arts, an imposing Khmer style building in red brick built by French shows extensive Angkorian crafts (picture top left).

• The Central Market (also known as New Market) and the Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Poung) are worth visiting.

• The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Memorial), 17 km from the city centre were the final destination for the Khmer Rouge victims.

riverside traffic and walkway, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Tonle Sap riverside traffic and pleasant walkway, Phnom Penh.

Cambodia Beaches

koh rong samloem island pier, cambodia

Koh Rong Samloem pier and main beach, half an hour by fast boat from Sihanoukville.

Sihanoukville, 230 kms southwest of Phnom Penh, is the hub for getting to some spectacular white powder-sand beaches.  Sadly Sihanoukville’s own beaches – though large and golden sandy – are tiresomely commercial and poorly maintained while the town is a mess of half-built, poorly-executed structures gaily entangled by heavy black cables. The streets ring with the endless mating call of the ballcap-crested-tuktukmon: “Mister, where you go, where you go?”

Otres 2 beach bar, Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Otres 2 beach bar, near Sihanoukville.

It’s pretty clear where every foreign tourist is going – elsewhere! Either take a short tuktuk ride down to Otres 1 if you’re young/backpacker/neo-hippy/poor/sociable. Or Otres 2 if you’re affluent/family/like a bit of luxe style in your life. Alternatively take a 30 minute/1 hour boat ride to Koh Rong (more developed) or Koh Rong Samloem (less developed).

**Koh Ker

Thanks to recent de-mining and a new road, this once remote, inaccessible temple complex of 42 structures, is becoming a popular outing from Angkor. The star monument is Prasat Thom, a 40 m high, Mayan pyramid looking temple. It is located 100 km northeast of Angkor, 2-3 hours by car from Siem Reap. It worth spending a night even though a day-trip is doable. Photos

**Kratie

Known for its spectacular sunsets over the Mekong River, Kratie is booming as a place for a break during an overland trip between Phnom Penh and Laos’ Champasak. The star attraction here is to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong.

**Kampot

A laid-back riverside town with some fine but shabby French architecture, Kampot offers great views across Bokor and Elephant Mountains which form Bokor National Park (also known as Preah Monivong National Park).

This is mostly jungle and home to varied wildlife including endangered tigers. It’s supposed to be free of land mines but stick to well-beaten paths. Bokor is easily accessed from Kep (30-60 minutes by road depending on the transport).

**Banlung

This small town is used as a base to explore Cambodia’s largest national park, Virachey, that lies between Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri Provinces. The park encompasses rainforest, mountains, lakes (particularly Yak Lom crater lake), waterfalls and ethnic mountain tribes.

** Battambang

A laid back little city with well-preserved colonial architecture and picturesque rustic scenery used be a hidden gem but has now graduated to ‘off-the-beaten track’ tourism.
There are some little-known but superb Angkorian temples out in the countryside, including Wat Ek Phnom, Wat Banan and Phnom Sampeau. Battambang is 45 minutes flight from Phnom Penh, or 3. 5 hours by shared taxi, or 5-6 hours by bus or a 18-24 hour heroic train journey.
There is a stunning boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap though it’s rather slow, taking 5-7 hours depending on the weather and water conditions, compared to 2 hours by road. More.

Best weather

The best time to visit Cambodia is during the cool, dry months November – February. November- mid December especially benefits from pleasant, dry, warmth and vegetation that is still verdant after the rainy reason, but remember that the Christmas/New Year period will be crowded and pricey.

Cambodia has a tropical climate and four seasons

Hot & rainy, June-August
Cool & rainy, September, October
Hot & dry, March-May
Cool & dry, November-February

The most uncomfortable time to visit is the ‘green’ season June – August, when it’s hot, wet and humid. Going in the late wet season is not a bad idea from September and October with less heat, less crowds and lower prices. At this time the beauty of Angkor is reinforced by lush greenery.

Activities

Floating village of Chong Kneas in Cambodia

Floating villages of Chong Kneas and Tonlé Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia.

Apart from Angkor sightseeing, activities are still relatively limited and primitive, though Cambodian tourism is rapidely developing and booming.

• Hiking, elephant rides with guides and boat trips along Tonlé Sap River and Mekong River are possible at various locations.

• Snorkelling, diving, beaches and nature walks are on offer at Sihanoukville coastal town (see beaches above).

• Eco-tourism at wildlife sanctuary and nature consavation area in the Cardamom Mountains and protected forest (the second largest virgin rainforest on mainland of South East Asia) in Koh Kong province. It is home to many threatened animal species including tigers and over 100 species of endemic vegetation.

• Rare Irrawaddy dolphin watching happens at Kratie along the Mekong River.

Visas

Visas are obtainable on arrival at the both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap International airports for most visitors.
Visas are also available for people crossing by land from Thailand at Poi Pet, Banteay Meanchey and Cham Yeam.
However, you need visas prior to arrival if you are entering from Vietnam at Bavet (Moc Bai in Vietnam) and Ka-Om Samnor (Chao Doc in Vietnam). Visa availability may vary at other crossing points, always check the latest situation before you go.

Accommodation

Typical mid range hotels in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Typical mid range hotels in Siem Reap, 8 minutes walk to the core of Old Market and Pub Street.

Hotels on a budget big or small  can be found easily in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or Sihanoukville area beaches including the Rong islands. Phnom Penh is quite foreigner-friendly and Siem Reap is replete with a wide range of hotels.

Food

Food
A wide range of excellent Southeast Asia cuisine – with a French twist – make eating out a great experience in the capital and Siem Reap.
Splendid seafood and plump mangoes are available from pretty fruit sellers at beaches in Sihanoukville.

Money

Take $US cash. No need to change money and you’ll pay much the same as paying with the local currency (Riel). Take a lot of small dollar bills.
Thai baht are also accepted.
Travellers cheques can be a problem outside tourist areas.
Credit cards can be used in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Battambang, but with an extra charge.
ATMs charge a flat fee ($6 in 2017) to deliver of any amount of US dollars at one time so don’t use the machine for small withdrawals.

Shopping and Tipping

Shopping
The usual souvenirs are only found in major tourist places such as Siem Reap or Phnom Penh with nothing elsewhere, even in Sihanoukville.
Popular items are silver jewellery, replica carvings, antiques and kramas (cotton scarves). Bargaining is essential.

Tipping
Not a tradition in Cambodia, but service personnel in any area with tourist connections will be expecting something. A small donation on visiting a wat (temple) is appropriate, especially if a monk gives you a guided tour.

Electricity
240v, flat 2 pins or sometimes round 2 pins.

Main festivals

April, Khmer New Year, 3-4 day festival with much spring cleaning and offerings for the new year.

Early May, Bon Chroat Preah Nengkal, (the Royal Ploughing Festival), an agrarian ritual for good harvests; takes place near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

Full Moon Day at beginning of November, Bon Om Tuk (the Water Festival), the country’s biggest and most important festival. Locals go bananas celebrating a natural phenomenon – the reversing of the current of Tonle Sap River- with boat races and fireworks. Nationwide but Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are the places to be.

For some precise dates, more suggestions and information see: Exotic Festivals

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