Top 3 Places to Visit in Cambodia

Top 3 Places to Visit in Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia encompasses 25 provinces and boasts 435 kilometers of stunning coastline. Since my first visit to the country in August 2005, I have embarked on explorations of all its provinces, with the exception of Tbong Khmum and Pailin. Over the past 16 years, I have meticulously documented these experiences through thousands of photographs and hundreds of blog entries. Vivid memories have been permanently etched into my mind, from daring cobra blood food adventures in Sihanoukville in 2006 to my exhilarating inaugural ride on Battambang's renowned bamboo train in 2007. I have also marveled at the crystal-clear depths of a 48-meter crater lake in Rattanakiri. However, despite the enjoyment I found in these places, they do not currently occupy my top three favorites beyond Phnom Penh.

3. Angkor Archaeological Park
Claiming the third spot on my list is the awe-inspiring Angkor Archaeological Park. Covering an expansive 400 square kilometers, this park is home to Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world and the park's main attraction. As one delves into the rich history of the Khmer Empire, they will encounter hundreds of temples scattered across the lush jungle landscape. After a day of exploring these architectural marvels, the vibrant nightlife of Siem Reap's Pub Street area awaits, with its abundant array of pubs and restaurants. My initial visit to Angkor left me with an everlasting imprint that remains unparalleled to this day. It remains one of the top three most memorable moments of my life. Surprisingly, it was not the sight of Angkor Wat's renowned towers or my journey to the sacred Bakan within the temple that etched this memory into my soul. Nor was it getting lost among the towering trees engulfing Ta Prohm. Rather, it was at Phnom Bakheng, the park's highest point, where thousands gather every late afternoon to witness the world's most magnificent sunset.

Envision a multitude of individuals from various nations and of all ages converging upon this single location. As the sun descends across the verdant landscape, the sky transforms into a spectacle of pink, red, and orange hues. An air of anticipation permeates the atmosphere. Couples hold hands, and families capture precious moments with their cameras. When the breathtaking 20-minute show reaches its conclusion, accompanied by a chorus of "awws" and "wows," the crowd of thousands bursts into a standing ovation. Throughout my 40-plus visits to Angkor since 2005, I have yet to encounter another experience that rivals the magic of Phnom Bakheng. The park continues to serve as a wellspring of motivation. Once or twice a year, and more frequently if work-related obligations allow, I embark on a pilgrimage to Angkor Wat to reinvigorate my spirit, reflect on life, and rediscover inspiration. Angkor remains my refuge from the bustling rhythm of Phnom Penh.

Now, what could possibly surpass the enchantment of Phnom Bakheng within the Angkor Archaeological Park to secure the second spot on my list? To comprehend the answer, one must first understand the kind of person I am. While I greatly appreciate cultural and heritage sites like the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, the Great Wall in Beijing, and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon—each of which I have had the pleasure of visiting—my preferred destinations tend to offer tranquility away from tourist crowds and the excitement of bar-hopping. Typically, these places are characterized by abundant water and natural beauty. In Cambodia, two such destinations reign supreme on my list.

2. Sleepy Kampot
Securing the second position is the delightful coastal town of Kampot, serenely nestled in the southwest region of Cambodia. Over the past five years, the area has witnessed a surge in popularity, with new nature-oriented bungalows sprouting up along the meandering Kampot River almost on a weekly basis. This picturesque town has evolved into a haven for eco-friendly activities, encompassing biking, hiking, and camping. Adventurous souls flock here to partake in exhilarating experiences such as zip-lining, canoeing, and other water-based endeavors. Personally, I find solace and tranquility in the city's peaceful atmosphere, the warm hospitality of the locals, and, not to mention, its tantalizing cuisine. Kampot province, in particular, is renowned for its international products, including peppercorns, durians, and delectable seafood, with the crab occupying a special place of prominence.

Photo by Raksa Uy

1. Koh Rong Sanloeum
Claiming the coveted number one spot on my list is Koh Rong Sanloeum, often referred to as KRS. KRS stands as the younger sibling of Koh Rong, renowned as the "party island" famous for its Full Moon parties and other lively events (although this description may be slightly exaggerated, in good humor). In stark contrast, KRS embodies a complete juxtaposition, where tranquility reigns supreme amidst turquoise blue waters and velvety white sands. It provides the perfect setting for indulging in some much-needed "me time" or a blissful getaway with a special companion. While the island may not boast an extensive range of water-related activities beyond snorkeling, swimming, and boat tours, this simplicity is precisely what I seek—a chance to detach from the digital world and immerse myself in a paradisiacal retreat.


NOTE: This piece was originally published on April 9, 2021.

© 2024 Phatry Derek Pan