17 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Cambodia
A lush and unspoiled tropical island chain full of natural wonders and beachside seclusion, Cambodia is as culturally rich as it is beautiful, with long-standing civil traditions.
While at times it can be difficult to navigate the city streets, a visitor to Cambodia should experience the best of the country's sights and activities. The national parks, temples, and wildlife of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville make for enjoyable day trips from the capital.
The well-preserved remnants of a beautiful and rich past reflect Cambodia's ancient heritage, with numerous archaeological sites, museums, and temples, some of which are world-renowned.
Phnom Penh, the country's capital, is a vibrant and bustling city, with the country's sights spread out along both banks of the river. Local visitors to the area, known as Khmers, have kept their traditional lifestyles with ease, and are warm and welcoming.
From bustling bustling Phnom Penh to more remote pockets in the country, there are also much-loved beaches, waterfalls, hot springs, and fascinating historic ruins to enjoy in Cambodia. Visit the country's top attractions with our list of the best things to do in Cambodia.
Although less well known than neighboring Thailand, Cambodia offers visitors a chance to discover what life was like in South-East Asia before modern economic pressures and tourism transformed the region. Around the capital city of Phnom Penh, the northern province of Battambang is particularly known for its authentic Khmer architecture and its ancient capital Angkor, which has a set of amazing temples built during the Khmer Empire (8th to 13th centuries AD). The temple of Angkor Wat is of particular interest and is the largest temple in the world. It features some of the best examples of classic Khmer architecture, and also features the towering prang (tower) of the nearby Churning of the Ocean of Milk temple. Other temples to visit include Beng Mealea, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, Preah Vihear and Thommanon, while nearby Battambang is known for its fine examples of wood carving, and is famed for its batik paintings. The Kampot region, on the east coast of the country, is known for its Chinese fishing boats. There are a number of daily flights to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap and Siem Reap has become Cambodia's second-largest city. Phnom Penh also has excellent connections to Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Melbourne, and Singapore.
Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap Lake, the longest in Cambodia, is located in the north of the country, in the provinces of Siem Reap, Battambang and Oddar Meanchey. It is fed by the Tonle Sap river, which starts in the Vietnamese border area. The waters of the lake rise and fall with the annual flow of the Tonle Sap river. Cambodia's largest lake is particularly popular during the monsoon season when water levels are high and the lake is more than 2,500 meters in length. It covers an area of more than 400 square kilometers and is fed by many tributaries. The lake is formed by limestone sediment and is rich in fish, including catfish, mudskipper, and freshwater shrimp. About 90 species of fish have been found in the lake. During dry season, when the Tonle Sap river is low, water level drops and the lake shrinks to a third of its area. The drop in the water level makes it easy to go around the lake without having to cross many swamps. The first villages to be built here were Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri.
Phnom Penh has always played a role in the history of Asia's smallest country. In 1950, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot came to the royal city and made it the capital of the new Cambodia. The land under the city's broiling sun at that time was vast and largely undisturbed, and therefore fertile. Many of the elegant pagodas built during the Khmer Rouge rule still stand and are worth seeing today, as are the temples that were ransacked and later converted into Tuol Sleng, the notorious "School of the Assassins," a state prison and torture chamber run by Pol Pot, which closed in 1979. The city has a variety of attractions, including Wat Phnom (Phnom Penh's most famous temple), which dates from the 16th century, and the Killing Fields. A memorial to the many victims of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge is also in the city. One of Phnom Penh's best-known annual events is the Water Festival (Dia Krouch Svay Preah), which is held every year between March and April, and offers great entertainment and food. The city has many art and antique shops, as well as a few French restaurants, cafes, and bars.
Battambang is one of Cambodia's less-visited provincial capitals and a good jumping-off point for seeing the Angkor temples. The town, with its distinctive 12th-century Khmer architecture, was built at the confluence of two of the country's great rivers. It's also the jumping-off point for visits to the beautiful Hell's Garden (Bod Sangaya) and small Indianized Angkorian city of Banteay Prei Nokor. Battambang is not far from Phnom Penh, a city of almost 2.5 million people and the capital of the country. The Royal Palace is situated within the city, and is an interesting place to explore. Nearby, there are some good caves and a small archaeological museum.
Kratie has been coined "Cambodia's little Kyoto" because it has developed over the centuries into a popular tourist destination due to its preservation of traditional architecture and culture. Sitting astride the Mekong River, its bustling downtown district of Svay Rieng has an impressive riverside royal palace, a bustling Chinese quarter, a number of museums and schools of traditional arts and crafts. It's one of the best places in the country to buy and sell, as the town's traditional workshops are still active and you can buy handicrafts, batik and lacquerware at great prices. The alluring River Khmer is a wonderful place to visit, with the trees lining the banks lush and green. At the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonlé Saarin River, Lake Khlong Ga is a popular weekend picnic spot for locals and visitors alike.
Kampot (pronounced Kambuot), formerly an important Khmer trading center, is known for the excellent Bokor National Park, where you'll find unspoiled rainforests, jungle, and a great view of the surrounding area, while the nearby Kep Park, which overlooks the Mekong River, is a superb location for bird watching. Kampot town itself is worth a visit for its mix of Cambodian and French architecture, interesting temples, and a colorful night market. It's also just the place to enjoy Khmer food and, while away the hours if you're not too active.
Sihanoukville has a bevy of beautiful beaches: north, west, south, east, even a few north-south beaches. All are easy to reach on foot, or by bicycle, taxi or hotel pick-up. Things to do in Sihanoukville include relaxing and unwinding on its beaches, which are lined with seafood restaurants, fresh fruit vendors, and local markets selling dried fish, crabs, and vegetables. During the day, tourists enjoy strolling the long boardwalk and browsing for souvenirs along the shops and beaches.
Cambodia has quite a few temples and archaeological sites, but the king's main residence in the Ratanakiri province is Phnom Ratanakiri. Its centerpiece is the stunning stupa constructed in 1829 by King Norodom Sihanouk. While you can hike through the lush jungle, the best way to see the temples is to take a tour with Mekong River Cruises, which take you past the ruins on their riverboat. You can also take a train to the provincial capital of Banlung or get there by bus.
Prasat Preah Vihear
Lying in the mountains of Cambodia's remote northern province of Oddar Meanchey, Prasat Preah Vihear is the largest (by area) and most magnificent Angkorian temple ever built. It is also one of the least known, having suffered destruction and looting since being abandoned more than half a millennium ago. Prasat Preah Vihear stands almost a kilometer above the surrounding countryside and is an imposing structure, measuring some 385 meters across, with a main temple surrounded by a wall more than six meters high and five meters thick. Inside are hundreds of statues, temples, and apsaras—paintings of celestial beings—carved into the towering ceiling. Around the temple there is a vast graveyard with more than 300 painted stones, one of which shows a musician sitting next to a huge tree. The ruins are now mostly in private hands, but during the 2006 conflict between the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government, vandals used a bulldozer to systematically level the temple. To help prevent further damage, Cambodia's government has built a visitor center and fence around the temple. Today, both locals and visitors enter the site, which is used for religious ceremonies in the nearby villages. It is also an important pilgrimage site, drawing hundreds of devotees each year, including many from China, Thailand, and Laos.
Lush and green, Siem Reap is Cambodia's archeological and tourist heartland and is home to over 1,000 temples. It's the primary destination for Phnom Penh residents as it's a 40-minute drive away. Siem Reap has slowly evolved from a quiet backwater town into an international shopping mecca, and travelers spend more time sightseeing in Siem Reap than at Angkor Wat, Cambodia's most-visited attraction. Charming English-run colonial guesthouses, and all-inclusive resorts are a bit more posh than those in neighboring Siem Reap, and include dinner and breakfast in their rates. Don't miss visiting Prek Toal, a hidden slice of what Siem Reap was like centuries ago, surrounded by rice fields and little-visited by the unwary. As well as the ruins, you can visit the Treehouse Resort, which offers an aerial view of the town below with a number of themed treehouses, while staying in style.
Sambor Prei Kuk
This beautiful jungle island off the coast of Cambodia's southeast coast was discovered in the 17th century by French explorers looking for the island where the U.S.S. Maddox was abandoned in 1982. What they found instead was a largely untouched world that has remained untouched for more than 300 years, its untouched splendors a contrast to modern Cambodia. Visitors to Sambor Prei Kuk on holiday in Cambodia's southeast must travel by boat across the Mekong River to a very basic dock, where you transfer to a speedboat to the island. There is no road to the village, which is located in a remote corner of the island, and all trips into town are by boat. The 14 islands surrounding Sambor Prei Kuk are a short boat ride from the mainland. There are no roads or hotels on Sambor Prei Kuk, so you should come here as part of a group or join an organized tour, or expect to camp on the island, which is surrounded by steep, jungle-covered mountains and lush riverine jungle. It's a living and working island with lots of rice paddies and buffalo. The villagers are simple but friendly and eager to share their culture and crafts. Visiting Sambor Prei Kuk will provide you with a glimpse of Cambodia at a time when it was isolated, and to visit is to see it before it's overrun with tourists.
Banteay Chhmar is the location of one of the oldest extant inscriptions in the Khmer language, the Pind Samkonik, or "Three Hieroglyphs of the High Precise Man." Dating to the late 6th or early 7th centuries AD, it is believed to be a form of Newar art, with some depicting the presence of Buddhist motifs. Built into the side of a hill, the Khmer temple Banteay Chhmar is a popular tourist site. To visit, take the four-hour hike to the ruins, returning along a ridge path with superb views of the Mekong River valley below. The temple can be accessed either through Chhmar village or the ruins of Wat Ratanakosin, the former palace of King Ang Chan.
Sihanoukville is a friendly, unspoiled beach town located about 200 km north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. Once a quiet fishing village, the resort now includes a number of hotels and restaurants and hosts an international surfing and diving club. The town is dotted with modern hotels but still has a sleepy feel about it, particularly at night. Spending time here is about relaxing in the sun, beach-hopping along the long, golden white sand shores and staying in one of the beautiful, seafront hotels. Tempting as it is to stay here a few days, there's so much to see and do that it's worth spending more time here. The most popular activities include visiting the Elephant Kraal, a small, leech-filled lake where visitors can view some of the island's captive elephants, and the ruins of the enormous 17th century great seer temple Wat Pha Kaeo, the largest temple on the island. You can catch a longtail boat or speedboat to nearby islands and beaches; one of the most popular is Hat Thom, an island with a large, white sand beach. Another popular destination, Ban Hua Hin, is about 50 km from Sihanoukville and home to a number of scuba diving and surfing centers.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong is a large island south of Sihanoukville, with pristine beaches that are one of the top destinations in the country. The island has a tropical climate, lush vegetation and many monkeys, some of which have learned to carry tourists on their back. Life on the island is largely centered around fishing and agriculture, although tourism is increasing and locals are participating in this growing industry. For many, the best thing to do in Koh Rong is to learn about local life. However, Koh Rong has a number of ruined temples from a time when the island was known as Koh Yao Noi (Red Boar Island). Several of these temples are privately owned and may be used as your base while you visit.
Located 120 km north of Sihanoukville on the Cambodian coast, Koh Kong has a long history of trade. Today, its ports are known for their fishing boats, while its sleepy streets and old French colonial buildings are lined with restaurants serving some of the freshest and most delicious food in Cambodia. Activities in Koh Kong include visiting the 150-year-old Angkor Thom, the island's UNESCO-protected pre-Angkor stone tower city that rises like a medieval fort in the middle of the lagoons; enjoying a trek up the Koh Kong mountain; shopping at the lively market, where women sell gemstones, spices, gold, pottery, woodcarvings, woven baskets, and more; and taking boat trips to the nearby islands of Koh Panyee, Koh Som, and Koh Plong for a visit to some of the island's remote, deserted beaches.
Stung Treng, 55 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh on the banks of the Mekong, has a fun-filled air with tree-lined streets and colorful bazars selling all manner of souvenirs and fragrances. In the town's main square, the People's Park is where villagers came to bring the handicrafts they had crafted for visiting dignitaries. The French-style bell tower is the focal point of the park. Stung Treng is one of the best places in Cambodia to see the morning market. If you like Khmer architecture and have time, visit the National Museum of Cambodia in the city center. Other tourist sights include the Truncheon Sq. near the People's Park and Sisowath Quay in the center of town.
Built by the Khmer Empire during the 7th and 8th centuries AD, Koh Ker is one of Cambodia's most ancient and impressive temples. The site, located 20 kilometers south of Phnom Penh, also includes several extensive excavated tombs that are among the oldest of their kind in Southeast Asia. Visitors to the ruins of Koh Ker find themselves in the heart of Khmer, even though they may not understand a word of the language spoken by the locals. At the entrance to the temple is a small museum with some sculptures and images of various Buddhist tales. Inside, you'll find the largest stupa in Cambodia, the Preah Tekar, or "hidden Buddha". Located next to the stupa is the Banteay Srei ("Glorious Temple"), the most magnificent and best-preserved temple at the site, featuring a number of mythical and religious figures and murals.