Holding the title of the world’s largest religious monument, glorious Angkor Wat is a spectacle to be seen whatever time of the day it may be. However, watching the sun peek from behind the temple’s iconic towers is a pretty special experience and well worth waking before the crack of dawn for. But don’t expect to have the temple to yourself, as this is peak time, when tens of thousands of other early birds flock to the temple to capture this magical moment.
There’s something truly special about watching a city twinkling below. Thanks to the recent addition of Rosewood Phnom Penh to the capital’s hotel scene, the city can now be viewed from sky high. Perched on the 37th floor of the 39-storey Vattanac Capital Tower is the five-star hotel’s Sora skybar, which offers unparalleled panoramic views across the rising capital and beyond. Open from 5.30pm, guests can take in the sunset and watch Phnom Penh light up before their eyes. Simply stunning.
Beach bums are doing themselves an injustice if they miss Koh Rong Samloem. Why? Because the relatively undeveloped tropical island is home to isolated beaches that are postcard-perfect, soft powder-white sands, and breathtaking crystal-clear waters. If you’re looking to kick back with sundowner cocktails, then for the best sunsets head to – yep, you guessed it – the aptly named Sunset Beach.
Being at one with nature in the heart of the tropical jungle is another pretty amazing, and unique, experience to treasure. As Southeast Asia’s largest remaining rainforest, the Cardamom Mountains are also home to a swathe of rare and endangered flora and fauna that make any visit here special.
Perched atop Phnom Sampeu in Battambang is a quaint pagoda and viewing platforms that boast exquisite panoramas of the province – dubbed Cambodia’s rice bowl – sprawling below. The site is also home to several other spots, such as the macabre Killing Caves, where thousands were tossed to their deaths through a hole in the ceiling by the Khmer Rouge. The bat caves also sit at the base and are a must-see at dusk when hundreds of thousands of bats spiral into the sky.
Hiring a kayak and lazily making your way along the network of tributaries and waterways off Kampot River comes with many rewards. Kayak through mangroves and pristine countryside and past small fishing communities and temples to get a glimpse of rural Cambodian living and be amid calming nature.
Formerly a French colonial hill station resort, where the country’s elite would go to escape the chaos of urban life, Bokor Mountain in Kampot is a testament to Cambodia’s past. The crumbling hotel at the peak was until recently a highlight, with visitors able to explore the eerie shell and enjoy the incredible views out across the Vietnamese island, Phu Quoc. However, it recently reopened as Le Bokor Palace, meaning it’s off limits to those who aren’t guests. Despite this, a drive up Bokor still brings with it visits to waterfalls, Buddhist statues, a crumbling church, a refreshing breeze and tonnes of great spots to snap another photo for Instagram.
After stuffing your face with crab – after all, that’s what Kep is famous for – burn off the calories with a walk through Kep National Park. An eight-kilometre path snakes through thick tropical jungle that is dotted with pagodas and vantage points, taking in the smattering of villages and farmland that stretch to the sea. Signs clearly mark off-shooting paths for those wanting to head deeper into the national park.
If you want to have a World Heritage ancient temple pretty much all to yourself then that isn’t going to happen at Angkor. Try getting off the beaten track and heading to remote Prasat Preah Vihear, a series of impressive structures built between the 9th and 12th centuries by several kings. The site has a chequered past and was at the centre of conflict for decades. Sitting on the edge of the Cambodian-Thai border, ferocious fighting between the two countries over ownership of the sacred site pursued until recent years. In 2015, the destination was deemed safe and taken off many foreign offices’ watch lists. While military presence remains strong, the temple is well worth a visit.
Standing in the heart of the jungle that dominates the northeastern province of Mondulkiri is a special experience in itself. Throw a few elephants into the mix and you’re onto an almost priceless high. Elephant Valley Project offers visitors the chance to get up close to the magnificent mammals, while learning more about the negative effects of elephant tourism. The sanctuary offers a permanent or temporary respite for over-worked and neglected elephants, who can kick back, relax and enjoy life in their natural habitat. Visitors can spend the day watching the beasts wallow in mud, wash themselves in the river and stomp through the jungle.
Dubbed Cambodia’s own Switzerland, Kirirom National Park sits a two-hour drive from Phnom Penh, and its cooling pine forests boast temperatures that dip a good few degrees below that of the capital. This makes it a great escape. A few eco-projects dot the area, offering the chance to delve into local life. Accommodation is offered in the form of tents, villas, cabins and homestays. Hire a bike and cycle through the woods, take a dip in the waterfalls or simply chill while surrounded by nature.
Looking for more places to visit in Cambodia? Check out our list of 10 Genuine Alternatives To Cambodia’s Tourist Traps.