From the unmistakable silhouette of Angkor Wat to the power of nature at the Ta Prohm, Cambodia is a country that will fill your heart with conflicting feelings making you re-evaluate how lucky you are. The smiles of the local people in the city of Siem Reap will not match with the poverty that you will experience during your exploration. You can relax with a massage and try the taste of the Khmer food that is mixing sweet and spicy notes. Make sure you try shrimps in coconut or lemongrass sauces and do not forget to buy a silky present for that important person back home..
Discover now the 10 tips that will make you wish to book a flight to Cambodia
1. Visiting the temples (good planning is a must!)
Temples are amazing at sunrise or at the break of dawn, however, it is not possible to visit everything just in those times. For this reason, you’ll have to face the hot and humid weather: no matter which season you decide to travel. The good news is that at lunch time there are a lot of places in the shades where you can enjoy some food and a drink.
If you choose summer, be ready to break a sweat or two whilst walking around the temples area. Climbing stairs to enjoy the amazing views from the top can be challenging. Do not forget to carry plenty of water with you and try to avoid the most torrid hours.
We recommend dedicating at least 2 days at the temples, the first one to visit the so-called Small Circle (unmissable!) and the second one to explore the outer area a bit further. Plan carefully to ensure you enjoy your visit and avoid the masses, there are so many different temples to visit!
2. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the star of all the temples. Most of the people visiting the area around Siem Reap will be there early in the morning (do not be at the entrance later than 9 am!).
If you are travelling to Thailand or Vietnam, consider making a stop to Cambodia for a couple of days: it is very easy to reach.
During our travel in Malaysia, we decided to fly to Siem Reap in Cambodia for 4 days and it was totally worth it.
The only regret we had was leaving before we could stretch out and explore other areas of the country.
Once you land among these amazing people it is indeed very hard to move on.
Bayon is an incredible ancient temple that has been recently re-discovered alongside the world famous and iconic Angkor Wat.
This temple is in the old city that became a destination for tourists after the whole area had been cleared of land mines that were placed in recent years, during the war.
It has not been long since the main temples have been declared completely safe and there is no risk for tourists, however, local people still recommend not to go off-the-beaten-path.
Even if you might feel adventurous because you are a savvy traveller, this time make sure you follow the advice.
In fact, the more you move further out the central area of Angkor Wat, the more you might be at risk.
4. Monks and local people
Cambodian people are simply amazing to meet and talk to: from monks to tour guides, to the rickshaws’ drivers.
Make sure you book a guide at least for the first day of the visit to the temples. It would be a shame to miss out all the colour about the construction of the temples, their history and the meaning and beliefs behind art and decorations.
We tend to visit alone and read about the places we explore, in Cambodia we chose to hire a guide. we discovered that locals are proud of their country, and will be open to sharing their difficult history with a wide smile on their face.
Reading on a book about the horrific past under Pol Pot and how they are getting along now, is not the same. However, if you wish to get ready for the travel and have an informed conversation with some of the locals, this is an intense book for those of you who want to learn some Cambodian history: Pol Pot – the history of a nightmare – Read it on Amazon.
Hiring a guide is also a great way to give back to the community: it is hard for local people to let their children have access to education.
Many guides are young parents who are trying to offer a better future to their children.
5. The power of nature at the Ta Prohm
Cambodian temples have shared their space with nature for centuries, completely abandoned to its power for a long time.
Temples like the famous Ta Prohm will make you speechless and will forever stay impressed in your memories. Its tree has grown from the inside of the building and found its way out by progressively collapsing the barriers.
Get ready to take tonnes of pictures and feel the wonder at every step and remember… these areas are sacred and tourists should dress at all times respectfully and avoid shorts or tank tops.
If you do not have long trousers, visit one of the many markets in Siem Reap and buy very light trousers for 5$ (haggle the price down from 10$ but do not push too far down). These trousers will not last long but this purchase is ideal for both visiting the temples in the hot and humid weather and helping the local community.
6. Banteay Srey
We warmly recommend spending 2 full days visiting the temples.
You should dedicate the second day to the exploration of the so-called Big Circle, with the unique Banteay Srey.
Located at circa 35km from the centre of Angkor Wat, it is a Hindu-temple dedicated to Shiva.
The name means ‘women’s fortress’ and the detail of the art and decoration are simply incredible.
There is no surprise that nowadays more and more visitors are now making the time to visit.
Being on the silk road, it is no surprise that Cambodia excels for the quality of silk products produced.
Silk represents a great resource to support the local community and economy as well.
It is a good way to bring back home a truly unforgettable memory of such an amazing journey.
8. Artisans d’Angkor
Artisans d’Angkor arranges visits to the silk labs. This is an easy and well-organised tour that will take you through all the stages of production.
You’ll go all the way from the silkworms to the traditional Khmer crafting techniques.
Educational but fun, yay! To arrange a visit: Artisans d’Angkor.
9. Khmer food
And what would be the meaning of travelling to such a distant country if tasting local food is not part of the experience?
Food in Cambodia is extremely tasty, mixing sweet and spicy notes and of course with rice as the star.
Make sure you try Fish Amok in a coconut based curry or shrimps in lemongrass sauces.
The typical spices are the kroeung: using many ingredients like cardamom, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and turmeric. Other native ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, cilantro, and kaffir lime leaves are added to this mix.
Fruit is rich and Ale’s favourite was the dragon fruit, from the outside red and apparently dangerous, from the inside sweet and refreshing.
Spring and summer rolls are going to be familiar with most tourists and always an amazing choice for a light lunch if you do not feel adventurous.
10. Tomb Raider at the Ta Prohm
We have spoken a lot about temples and, in particular, about the magic of Ta Prohm.
The story suggests that Angelina Jolie was travelling to Cambodia to adopt one of her children. When she visited the temples, she got enchanted by the site and decided for the film to be shot there. That was a key turn in the history of Ta Prohm.
The temples at Angkor were now back on the tourist route, after a long period of civil war.