As Cambodia’s top destination, the iconic Angkor Wat Archeological Park attracts millions of visitors annually. The UNESCO heritage site stretches across more than 400 km and contains hundreds of temples and structures dating back to the Khmer Empire era. The most popular are Angkor Wat, Bayon and its multiple faces and root-riddled Ta Prohm, which was the location for parts of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie.
Phnom Kulen, or Kulen Mountain, offers a great day trip away from Angkor. The sacred site doubles up as a national park and is especially popular with Khmers during religious holidays, when offerings are left at the hilltop temple. The area is also home to two waterfalls for swimming, picnic areas, and Kbal Spean, an archaeological spot where The River of a Thousand Lingas is located.
Dubbed Cambodia’s alternative to Cirque du Soleil, jaw-dropping performances blend theatrics, music, dance, acrobatics, and modern circus art to retell Khmer folktales with a modern take. With each of the performers trained by Phare Ponleu Selapak, which offers free arts training to underprivileged youth, Phare’s daily performances take place in the award-winning troupe’s big top tent in Siem Reap.
Artisans Angkor is a Siem Reap-based organisation that has spent the last few decades training the country’s artisans in producing high-quality Cambodian crafts using traditional methods. These range from ceramics, silk and wood and stone carvings, to jewellery, silver plating and lacquerware. Visitors can take a free tour of the workshops in Siem Reap to see the skill that goes into each craft. Two free daily buses take visitors to silk farms on the outskirts of Siem Reap.
Cambodia Landmine Museum is the result of tireless work from landmine victim Aki Ra, who has contributed towards the huge operations to rid the country of explosives left over from the war. The museum houses a collection of mines, mortars, and other weapons, as well as telling the stories of some of the country’s countless victims.
The expansive Tonle Sap Lake is home to a series of floating villages that can be visited by tourists. Kampong Phluk is one of the more popular and is even home to a handful of homestays. Various tour companies organise day trips to the site from Siem Reap centre, where visitors can explore the flooded forests, sail past floating shops (depending on the time of the year), community halls and houses and meet the people who call Kampong Phluk home.
Situated close to Siem Reap’s Old Market, or Phsar Chas, Wat Damnak is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city. The colourful manicured gardens boast a bounty of shrines, statues and carvings, with the collection of intricate buildings that sit inside the pagoda all well maintained. The temple itself can be visited and the site is also home to a library crammed full of more books than any of the country’s public libraries.
Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) provides a place for rescued wildlife to rehabilitate before being released back into their natural habitat. Their spacious outdoor centre in Banteay Srei offers daily tours to guests, who can learn about their work and the species they have rescued, often from the clutches of the illegal wildlife trade. Animals include pleated gibbons, slow loris, silvered langur and pangolins.
Enjoy dinner while watching a traditional a show that takes in the graceful classical Cambodian dance of apsara at Apsara Theatre Restaurant. Set in a grand wooden pavilion styled to resemble a temple, dancers, singers and musicians bring to life ancient Cambodian tales while guests feast on a Khmer banquet. This tends to be a popular option with larger tour groups and can get full.
Situated on the way to Angkor Wat, Angkor National Museum is home to a swathe of artefacts that pay testament to Khmer civilisation and the Angkor Empire. Exhibits include the Funan and Chenla eras – which pre-dated Angkor – Angkor Wat, Khmer kings and Angkor Thom. Displays are also categorised by era, religion and royalty.