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Top 10 Things to Do in Cambodia – Travel Blog

Posted by: Ms.Jessica on 2015-09-05 09:50:08

Cambodia is certainly not lacking in charm and allure. From the stupendous achievement of Angkor Wat and its well-known offshoots to the natural splendour of Tonle Sap Lake, one of the world’s largest freshwater lakes, this part of the country is a fascinating and rewarding place to visit. We can all learn lessons from Cambodia’s bitter past and nowhere more so than at the Tuol Sleng Museum.

From war to peace – perfect peace – at tranquil and secluded Bamboo Island, while another relatively peaceful spot is Battambang in the country’s ‘rice bowl’. Try your luck at the casinos in Sihanouksville and finally sample the culture through the performing arts in Phnom Penh’s Chatomuk Theatre.

1. Angkor Wat Complex in Siem Reap

Angkor Wat Complex in Siem Reap, Cambodia

UNESCO World Heritage site near Siem Reap – Angkor Wat is the most famous ancient temple site in Cambodia, and visiting the ancient Angkorian temples is the reason most visitors come to Cambodia, and to Siem Reap. With its five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters into the sky, it is truly a monumental, and awe inspiring sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was at one time the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of any visit to the temples of Angkor. The ruins of Angkor Wat are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and the entrance to the park is located about 3km north of modern-day Siem Reap. There are no hotels within the park grounds, and most visitors to the ancient temples stay in Siem Reap, using it as a base from which to make daily visits to the temples. The most significant temple ruins are found 6 to 25km north of town, with the closest major temple being Angkor Wat. The Roluos Group of temples are 13km east of Siem Reap.

It is best to arrange your tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park with a reputable tour agency and a knowledgeable tour guide. They can assist with purchasing the admission pass, and arrange the transportation you will need. There are also guidebooks available, which will help in understanding the history of the temples.

History of Angkor Wat

The magnificent temple ruins of the Angkorian-era from the 9th to the 13th centuries, including Angkor Wat, Bayon and many other ancient temple ruins of the Khmer Empire are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The Park, just north of the town of Siem Reap, is more than 400 square kilometers in size, and is a World Heritage Site. The temple ruins within the Angkor Archaeological Park are what remains of the thousand year old Angkorian-era capitals and temples of the ancient Khmer Empire. The name “Angkor” comes from the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire that encompassed much of Southeast Asia from 800 and 1400CE, and also refers to the capital cities of the Empire. The Khmer Empire held great wealth and power, and dominated the area of present day Cambodia, as well as much of Thailand, southern Vietnam and Laos militarily, economically, and culturally. Most of the structures seen today were constructed between the 9th and 12th century CE., and represent the height of Khmer art, architecture, and culture. The Khmer kings constructed magnificent temples, and huge waterworks, and at its zenith, the capital city at Angkor was populated by more than a million people. Angkor Wat was constructed from the early to mid 1100s by King Suryavarman II at the height of the Khmer Empire’s political and military power. It was built in the shape of an enormous temple-mountain, and reportedly took some 50,000 artisans, workers, and slaves to complete. It was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, and is the world’s largest religious building. King Suryavarman II built it as his state temple, although the temple has a west facing orientation, and some scholars have theorized that it was actually his funerary temple. Whatever its original purpose, Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most awe-inspiring and breathtaking architectural accomplishments of all time. When one first visits Angkor Wat, the impact is breathtaking, and just seeing photos do not prepare one for the reality of this majestic structure. Approaching along the causeway, at first the architecture and outline against the sky makes it appear almost two- dimensional, like a huge, real-life postcard. However, as one gets nearer, the detail and intricacy become increasingly apparent.

Other temples built in the same time period and in the same style, are Thommanon, Banteay Samre, Wat Atwea and Beng Melea. It is speculated that Beng Melea may have been a model for Angkor Wat.

Highlights and Features of Angkor Wat

• The temple itself is approx. 1 km square and consists of three levels. • The inside and outside walls of the temple are adorned with bas-reliefs and carvings. The bas-relief carving on the exterior walls of the lower level are especially exceptional. • There are carvings of almost 2,000 Apsaras (celestial dancers) and are some of the best examples of Angkorian carving. • Just about every surface in the maze of chambers and courtyards is decorated with carved bas-relief scenes of, wars, everyday life, and Hindu legends. • Angkor was the spiritual centre of the Khmer Kingdom until it was abandoned after being sacked by Siam in 1431. • The exterior wall surrounding Angkor Wat measures 1300 meters x 1500 meters. • The surviving stone structures seen today are only a part of what used to exist at Angkor. There was also an enormous, thriving city of wooden houses, markets, shops, palaces, and public buildings. Unfortunately, the city has long since disappeared through the ravages of time and war. • It was the French who established the Angkor Conservancy in 1908, and they were first to restore the temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm. • Although Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple, it has been a Buddhist temple since the 14th century when Buddhism became the dominant religion. • On the south wall are scenes of heaven and hell, and depictions of the Hindu ‘Churning of the Ocean Milk’ are on the east wall. • The interior of the temple is not as heavily carved as the first level exterior, but it still contains a great many excellent carvings of Apsaras and scenes from Hindu mythology. • The main tower on the third level is the top-most part of the tour of the temple, and this tower contains four Buddha statues with each statue facing a different point on the compass.

• It is believed by some that it will bring good luck to pay respect to the four Buddha images before leaving the temple.

Good to Know & What not to Miss

• The amazing structure as a whole is best viewed in soft light. The best lighting conditions are after 14:00, and other than sunrise viewing, the first visit should not be made in the morning. • Guided tours usually start with the bas-reliefs that cover the first level exterior wall, and which are perhaps the most beautifully done, and follow them around the temple in a counterclockwise direction. • A popular location for sunrise viewing is the northern reflecting pool. You will need to get there early before sunrise starts, as the most beautiful colors are just before the sun breaks over the horizon. • When the sun comes up behind Angkor Wat, it will give a silhouette of the distinctive shape of the towers of Angkor Wat against a beautifully coloured sky.

Opening Hours: Angkor Wat is open from 05:00 to 18:00. Other temple sites close earlier: Banteay Srey closes at 17:00, and Kbal Spean closes at 15:00.

Temple Admission Passes

To visit temples and other sites within the Angkor Archaeological Park, you must have a valid admission pass, called an ‘Angkor Pass’. Admission passes are purchased at the main entrance located on the road to Angkor Wat, and one-day passes can be obtained at the secondary entrance gate on the road from the airport. The cost of the passes are $20 for a one-day pass, $40 for a three-day pass, and $60 for a seven-day pass. A three-day pass is valid for any three days within a one week period, and a seven-day pass is valid for any seven days within a one month period. For three-day and seven-day passes, a passport-sized photo is required when buying the pass. For those without a photo, they will take your photo for free, but it can take awhile if there are many visitors buying passes. If you visit Angkor for only one day, you will only be able to take cursory visits to see the most famous temples (i.e. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom) but not much else. A three-day visit is enough time to explore the main temples, and some of the minor sites, and have some time to explore a few temple sites in depth. A seven-day itinerary will allow you ample time to thoroughly explore all the main temple ruins, visit many of the minor sites, and have time to visit a remote temple site.

You will need to always carry your temple pass with you because you will have to show it each time you enter the park, and when entering major temples. If you don’t have a valid pass while inside the park, or when visiting a temple, you can be subject to a fine. A regular temple pass is not required for remote sites, but some sites have their own admission fees: Phnom Kulen ($20), Koh Ker ($10), Beng Melea ($5).

Guides to the Temple

A guide is not required to visit Angkor Wat, or to any of the other ancient sites, and a self-tour can be done with a good guidebook, but you will get much more out of your visit to this magnificent treasure with the explanation of a competent guide. Because of the sheer size Angkor Wat, and the extraordinary number of bas-reliefs, depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology, and the thousands of apsara carvings throughout the temple, it is highly recommended that you have a knowledgeable guide. Guides can be hired that speak languages other than English (i.e. Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, German, French, etc.)

What to Bring & How to Dress

Because of the heat and humidity in Cambodia, and because the tropical sun can be quite fierce, you should wear light clothing that will still protect you from the sun. Remember that you will be walking around in the sun for the better part of the day, and you are well-advised to bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. In the rainy season you will need a raincoat, and/or an umbrella. Those who are really into temple exploring, will want to also bring a notebook, and a flashlight. For sunrise and sunset tours, the use of mosquito repellent is highly advisable. Since you will be walking over uneven and rough terrain, and climbing up and down steep and narrow steps, a pair of sturdy walking shoes is essential. Open-toed sandals are acceptable as long as they are the type that fasten around the heel. Flip-flops and high-heels are a definite no go.

Vendors in the Angkor Archaeological Park complex, and at temple entrances, sell items such as guidebooks, snacks, souvenirs, and postcards.

How to get to the Temples

There are two basic ways visitors get to the temples. One way is by a tour organized by a tour company, the other way is a do-it-yourself tour. Most all tours to Siem Reap include at least one visit to the Angkor temples. For independent travelers, hotels and guesthouse all offer tours to the temples.

Depending on the size of the group, transportation can be by bus, mini van, or tuk-tuk. For real hard-core independent types, you can visit the temples on the back of a motorbike. In recent years, cycling to, and around the temples has become increasingly popular. It may not look like it on the map, but the temples are a bit too far apart to comfortably visit them on foot. Although for intrepid hikers who have the time, several temples can be visited in this way.

Temple Itineraries

The Angkor Archaeological Park complex encompasses some 400 square km., and contains dozens of temple ruins. The ancient temples and other sites exhibit several different architectural and artistic styles, and range from those sites that are in good condition to those sites that are in ruins and at which there is not much there. Most visitors have only a limited amount of time to explore the temples, and to make the most of your visit, you will need to a temple itinerary. The scope of the itinerary will depend on how much time you have, your personal interests, and your budget.

We provide several comprehensive temple itineraries of varying lengths, and designed to suit your interests. Please see the suggested itineraries below.

2. Phnom Penh Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda

Phnom Penh Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda, Cambodia

The Khmer-style Throne Hall was built in 1866, to serve as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and foreign dignitaries, as a venue for the performance of court ceremonies and rituals and as a symbol of the Kingdom. South of the Throne Hall are the Royal Treasury and the Villa of Napoleon III, built in Egypt in 1866, for the opening of the Suez Canal, and was later presented to the Cambodian king as a gift.

The famous Silver Pagoda, originally constructed of wood in 1866, was expanded in 1962 by King Sihanouk who had the floor inlaid with 5,329 solid silver tiles, hence its name. Inside the Palace grounds, traffic noise is thankfully blocked off by the high walls and the various Royal buildings sit in tranquility amidst the manicured tropical gardens.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace

The most revered image is the Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal and dating back to the 17th century. Behind it, another Buddha statue was cast in 1906, utilizing 90 kg of gold, and decorated with 9,584 diamonds. Cabinets along the perimeter contain gifts presented to royalty and dignitaries. Along the inside of the recently restored 600-metre external wall is a colourful mural depicting scenes from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. The settling of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh was a comparatively recent event in the history of the Khmer and Cambodia. Historically speaking, the seat of Khmer power in the region was near Angkor, north of the Great Tonle Sap Lake from 802 AD until the early 15th century. After the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th century, it first settled in Phnom Penh in 1434 and stayed for several decades and by 1494 it had moved on to Basan, and later Lovek and then Oudong.

• Location: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard between 184th Street and 240th Street.

3. The Bayon in Siem Reap

The Bayon in Siem Reap, Cambodia

UNESCO World Heritage site near Siem Reap – Aside from Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon may be the best known and most photographed of the “other” temples. Ta Prohm is popular because of its lost temple in the jungle atmosphere, overgrown with trees and vines, and Bayon is famous for its huge enigmatic, carved stone faces.

The Bayon Temple is the dominant feature inside the walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm is not far outside the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. Both are Buddhist temples, and were constructed by King Jayavarman VII; Bayon in the late 12th century, and Ta Prohm from the mid 12th century to the early 13th century. These two magnificent examples of Angkor temple architecture should not be missed. See below for details of these two ancient structures.

Bayon Temple

The two must see ancient Angkorian temples are Angkor Wat and Bayon. The huge enigmatic stone faces of Bayon have become some of the most iconic and recognizable features associated with the ancient Khmer Kingdom and its architecture. The Bayon Temple is at the centre of the great walled city of Angkor Thom, which is at the heart of the Angkor Archeological Park. Bayon has some 50 towers, with four huge carved faces on most of them. Each of the four faces are four metres high and oriented toward the four points of the compass. The faces all have the same strange smile and closed eyes, creating a mysterious and serene countenance, representing an all-knowing state of inner peace, and perhaps a state of Nirvana. There is debate as to who the faces actually represent, and some theories put forward say that they are the face of a Bodhisattva (Buddhism’s compassionate and enlightened being), or a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Bayon was constructed as Jayavarman VII’s state-temple, and it represents the height of his massive building program. Bayon is rich in decoration, and the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level are outstanding. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall are of scenes from a sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. However, it is not known if they represent the Cham invasion of 1177AD, or a later victorious battle for the Khmer. There are also interesting and extensive carvings of scenes from everyday life, including market scenes, religious rituals, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. Of note are the unfinished carvings on some walls, which were probably not finished due to the death of Jayavarman VII. Subsequently, Bayon underwent several additions and modifications under later kings, and some of the bas-reliefs on the inner walls were carved at a later date under the Hindu king Jayavarman VIII. The terrace to the east of the temple, the libraries, the square corners of the inner gallery, and parts of the upper terrace appear to be additions that were not part of the original structure. Since the Bayon Temple was constructed in stages over a span of many years, it appears to be somewhat of an architectural jumble. When seen from a distance, at first it can seem like a rather formless jumble of stone, but on the inside, there is a maze of galleries, towers and passageways on the three different levels. The best time for photographs is when the sun is rather low near sunrise and sunset. • Location: Central Angkor Thom. • Construction Period: Late 12th century C.E. • Religion: Buddhist. • Built by: King Jayavarman VII.

• Building style: Bayon.

Ta Prohm Temple

The temples of Angkor Wat and the walled city of Angkor Thom are perhaps the most famous and best known of all the ancient temple sites. To the east of Angkor Thom is the third most important, and one of the most photographed of all the ancient temples due to its dramatic scenery. Ta Prohm is a quiet, and sprawling monastery, and unlike most other sites, it has only been partially cleared of overgrowth, and has been intentionally left more or less the way it was originally found. Some walls and doorways of the ancient structure were left overgrown and gripped by huge trees and other foliage. Flocks of parrots in the trees add to the atmosphere, and give the visitor the feeling of discovering a temple lost in the jungle. With this image in mind, it is not hard to imagine what the French naturalist Henri Mouhot must have felt when he ‘discovered’ the temple in 1860. The monastery was one of King Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects, and was dedicated to his mother. It is estimated that at one time this vast 600-room monastery and the surrounding area had a population of over 70,000 people. The temple is 145 metres by 125 metres, It was home to high priests, monks, assistants, dancers and laborers, and was very wealthy with great stores of jewels and gold, and controlled an estimated 3,000 villages. It contains a maze of courtyards and galleries, and is well worth spending some time to explore its many dark corridors. Ta Prohm was used in both the movie and game of ‘Tomb Raider’, and has some of the best temple-in-the-jungle photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is similar in general design to the temples of Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei, which were also built by Jayavarman VII at a later date. Preah Khan was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father. Ta Prohm is an excellent example of the monastic complex style temples, and is a must to be included in any visit to the temples. • Location: One km east of Angkor Thom. • Construction Period: Mid 12th – Early 13th century C.E. • Religion: Buddhist. • Built by: King Jayavarman VII. • Building Style: Bayon.

• Best Time to Visit: Early morning when it is not as crowded.

4. Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap

Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The temples of Angkor Wat and the walled city of Angkor Thom are perhaps the most famous and best known of all the ancient temple sites. To the east of Angkor Thom is the third most important, and one of the most photographed of all the ancient temples due to its dramatic scenery. Ta Prohm is a quiet, and sprawling monastery, and unlike most other sites, it has only been partially cleared of overgrowth, and has been intentionally left more or less the way it was originally found. Some walls and doorways of the ancient structure were left overgrown and gripped by huge trees and other foliage. Flocks of parrots in the trees add to the atmosphere, and give the visitor the feeling of discovering a temple lost in the jungle. With this image in mind, it is not hard to imagine what the French naturalist Henri Mouhot must have felt when he ‘discovered’ the temple in 1860. The monastery was one of King Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects, and was dedicated to his mother. It is estimated that at one time this vast 600-room monastery and the surrounding area had a population of over 70,000 people. The temple is 145 metres by 125 metres, It was home to high priests, monks, assistants, dancers and laborers, and was very wealthy with great stores of jewels and gold, and controlled an estimated 3,000 villages. It contains a maze of courtyards and galleries, and is well worth spending some time to explore its many dark corridors. Ta Prohm was used in both the movie and game of ‘Tomb Raider’, and has some of the best temple-in-the-jungle photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is similar in general design to the temples of Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei, which were also built by Jayavarman VII at a later date. Preah Khan was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father. Ta Prohm is an excellent example of the monastic complex style temples, and is a must to be included in any visit to the temples.

• Location: One km east of Angkor Thom. • Construction Period: Mid 12th – Early 13th century C.E. • Religion: Buddhist. • Built by: King Jayavarman VII. • Building Style: Bayon. • Best Time to Visit: Early morning when it is not as crowded.

5. Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap

Floating House – Tonlé Sap Lake in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. During the dry season the lake drains into the Tonle Sap River which flows into the Mekong River. But in the rainy season (June to October), the huge amount of water in the Mekong causes the Tonlé Sap River to reverse its flow.

The combination of water flowing into the lake, and the backup of the Tonle Sap River swells the lake to 5-times its size in the dry season. This increase in size floods the surrounding floodplain and forests, creating an incredibly diverse and rich eco-system.

Tonle Sap Floating Villages

There are actually several so-called floating villages located on, and around the Tonle Sap Lake (Boeung Tonle Sap) and they are all somewhat different. The Tonle Sap Lake is the largest feature of the map of Cambodia, and is an important natural resource in terms of fishing and wetlands. In the rainy season, the Mekong River backs up into the lake, and it swells to more than 5 times its size in the dry season, flooding the surrounding forests and plains. Of course the best time to visit ‘floating villages’ is during the wet season when the water is high. You can try a ‘do-it-yourself’ tour, but it can be a hassle, and there are stories of people having problems trying to do it themselves. The four main ‘floating’ villages are listed below.

Chong Khneas

The floating village nearest to Siem Reap, it is the one most visited by tourists. In the wet season, it really is a floating village, with houses, shops, schools, etc. all bobbing on the water. Even though it is somewhat ‘touristy’, it is still interesting, and worth seeing. Stops usually include a souvenir and snack shop, and the Gecko Environment Center.

Kampong Phluk

This is not actually a floating village as the houses are built on tall stilts. In the dry season, the village is high and dry, with the tall stilted houses lining the road. When the water level is high, the stilts are submerged, and the houses seem to ‘float’. This is also the place where you can take boat rides through the flooded forest. It is visited by relatively few tourists. Home-stay is available.

Kampong Khleang

Being far from Siem Reap, it takes about 2 hours by boat from the Phnom Krom boat landing. There is an outer floating village, and an inner tall stilted village. It has the largest population of all the villages on the lake. Visited by few tourists.

Prek Toal

A somewhat smaller floating village, it is the starting point for bird watching tours to the Prek Toal core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. (see Bird Watching) This is an important habitat for many endangered bird species. There is a Biosphere information canter, and a water hyacinth weaving center. Overnight stay is possible, but is not well organized, and may not be suitable for all visitors.

Good to Know

The best time to see the lake is when the water level is high, and floating villages are truly floating, and trips to the flooded forest and wildlife reserves are interesting. Trips to the bird sanctuaries are best from December to April. In the dry season, the lake becomes very shallow, and large boats sit on the bottom of the lake. During this time, villages on stilts are left high and dry, and floating villages move out onto the lake. Also, forests are dried up, and some bird sanctuaries cannot be reached.

• Near Siem Reap.

6. Tuol Sleng Museum & Choeng Ek Memorial in Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng Museum & Choeng Ek Memorial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia’s tragic past can be seen less painfully through the perspactive of time and its war museum, if not the most cheerful place in the world, can be extremely instructive in terms of coming to grips with what actually happened during those terrible years.

No less instructive is the burial and execution grounds at Choeng Ek where thousands of exhumed skulls are on display.

Tuol Sleng – S21 – Museum

Tuol Svay Prey High School was originally built as a secondary school in 1960, during the reign of Preah Batnorodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge converted it into a torture and interrogation centre to extract ‘confessions’ of anti-government sentiment. Many victims were women and children incarcerated along with the ‘suspected’ father. Documents recovered indicate that over 17,000 persons had been imprisoned there between1975 and 1978, of whom only seven are known to have survived. The others, once the ‘confession’ had been extracted under torture, were transported to Choeung Ek for execution. Records show that the highest figure was on 27 May 1978, when 582 persons were sent to their death. The museum was established in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion, and the Khmer Rouge’s meticulous photographic records of their victims are exhibited as tragic testimony to those who suffered and died in their hands. Tuol Sleng reopened in 1980 as a historical museum memorializing the genocidal crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is open to the public and thousands of Cambodians and foreigners have visited it, bizarrely attracted to the testimony of man’s inhumanity to man. The life of a prisoner was extremely difficult. Upon their arrival, the inmates were photographed and required to give detailed information of their background extending from their childhood until the date of their capture. Then they were then required to strip to their underwear, after which all of their possessions were confiscated. After being read a list of prison rules, the prisoners were taken to their cells and shackled with chains fixed to the walls or the concrete floors. The prisoners slept directly on the floors without any mats, mosquito nets or blankets and were not allowed to move unless they asked for permission.

• Location: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh.

Choeung Ek Execution Area

15km southwest of the city centre is one of the many sites of Khmer Rouge mass executions. The exhumed skulls of some 8,000 souls, arranged by sex and age, are displayed behind glass panels in the Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988. Although some were killed and buried at Tuol Sleng, most victims were driven out to Choeung Ek at night by truck.

Some were made to dig their own graves before being clubbed to death with any heavy instrument available. In addition to those exhumed, another 43 pits have been left undisturbed and the final shocking total can only be guessed. The pleasant orchard setting does little to dispel the horror engendered by this grim sight, as Choeung Ek is just one of thousands of recorded mass grave sites throughout the country, and is by no means, the largest. On May 9th each year a memorial service is conducted at the stupa, in memory of the estimated 1.7 million people who died during the genocide.

7. Bamboo Island in Sihanoukville

Bamboo Island in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

A few days on Bamboo Island, off Sihanoukville’s coast, comes highly recommended. The boat ride takes about half an hour and once there you will find that only about 30 people live on the island. On its north-facing crescent beach Bamboo Island has three bungalow resorts, two restaurants and two bars and is very, very laid back. Unlike on the more frenetic mainland, there are no hawkers and the bungalows are right on the casuarinas-lined beach itself.

There are a few day-trippers but come nightfall the island is practically deserted. Electricity is provided by two generators for the early hours of the evening but after that it’s back to the moon and the stars for light.

Bamboo Island Activities

You won’t find TV or internet or even roads on Bamboo Island but what you will find is warm, blue, crystal-clear water, perfect for swimming, soft golden sandy beaches, lush natural surroundings, and a lot of peace and tranquility that you won’t come across in many other so-called ‘relaxed’ destinations. This is serenity at its best. You’ll find footpaths throughout the island, so you can explore the jungle covered interior. There is a volleyball net on the beach.

How to get there: A ferry departs from Ochheuteal Beach at 10:00 and departs from the island at 16:00 the traverse takes roughly 45 minutes.

8. Battambang & Surroundings

Battambang Museum in Cambodia

Battambang is somewhat of an ode to French colonialism. The city lies in the heart of the Northwest and until the war years it was the leading rice-producing province of the country. The 100,000-person town offers not only one of the best preserved examples of the French Colonial era, but also the small-town feel you expect to encounter in Cambodia as a rule. The true bonus however is the village life that is a mere stone’s throw away, be it by motorcycle, jeep or boat. The combined effect makes Battambang well worth the detour it requires to visit. For centuries, Battambang was part of Siam and was used as its eastern commercial hub. The French have left a strong mark on the town’s architecture, resulting in a pleasing colonial effect. The town is the gateway between Thailand and Phnom Penh but still retains a sleepy atmosphere not conducive to people looking for nightlife and fine dining.

Rather, people use the town as a base for visiting the nearby temples of Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom. Some 293 kilometres from Phnom Penh, Battambang is in the heart of Cambodia’s ‘rice bowl’ and even though it is Cambodia’s second-largest city it has a marked rural feel to it.

9. Sihanoukville Casinos

Sihanoukville Casinos in Cambodia

Sihanoukville is not exactly southeast Asia’s answer to Las Vegas but it does offer a few venues for those who enjoy to throw the dice and play footsie with Lady Luck. Presently there are four hotels offer gamblers their favourite games: blackjack, roulette, baccarat, gaming machines, and poker. Sihanoukville’s (and Cambodia’s) longest-running casino is the Holiday Palace Casino (in which you could stay during our five days Cambodia Paradise Beach Tour Package), across from Victory Beach while the aptly-named Fortune Casino (formerly the Golden Palace Casino) has undergone a complete renovation and is the largest gaming venue in town. Meanwhile, the new kid on the block is Kampong Som City. Another gaming venue in which to try your luck is the Sokha Vegas in the Sokha Resort, Sihanoukville’s premier seaside resort.

• Location: Holiday Palace Casino, Fortune Casino, Sokha Vegas in the Sokha Resort.

10. Apsaras Dance Performance

Apsaras Dance Performance in Cambodia

Apsara Dance draws its inspiration from the mythological court of the gods and from its celestial dancers, the Apsaras. The dance took on its own unique form adding movements and meaning, during the reigns of Jayavarman II and Jayavarman VII as well as in the Angkor era. By the 13th century, the dance was assuming a Khmer identity rather than Indian – the source of its roots. It combined gentle movements with loud, traditional Khmer music during its performance. In that era, Apsara dance was performed solely for the benefit of the upper class, and particularly for the king.

Apsara dancers’ fingers are extraordinarily elastic; so much so that they can bend their fingers backwards almost to the wrist and training starts when they are so young that their bones are still supple.

Apsaras Dance Shows

Several restaurants and hotels in Siem Reap present Apsara Dance Shows, and Apsara Dance Dinner Shows are included in many tours. Most shows include the four genre of traditional Khmer dance: Apsara Dance, Masked Dance, Shadow Theatre, and Folk Dance. These are abbreviated dances for tourists, and unfortunately there is usually little, or no explanation as to the origin and meaning of the dances. But they are still interesting and worthwhile to see. Below are a few of the venues offering Apsara Dance. • Opening Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday – Dinner 19:00/ Show 20:00. • Duration: 1 hour. • Location: Wat Damnak area. • Type: Shadow Puppet Theatre and Traditional Khmer Dance. • Remarks: Seating Indoors. • Dinner type: Khmer set menu or a la carte. • Note: No show during May & June. • Tel: +855 (0)63 964 940.

• Price Range: Set menu + show $20.00, Show only $7.00.

Apsaras Dance Shows

Phnom Penh is not as active as Siem Reap when it comes to Khmer performing arts. However, some of the performing arts schools in the city are open to the public during the day, allowing visitors the opportunity to observe dancers in training. Among these, a must-see is the Sovanna Phum Art Association. Started in 1994 by a group of students, cultural shows are staged every Friday and Saturday night at 19:30. These include shadow puppet theatre, classical Apsara dancing and folk and mask dances. On sale at the gallery at the theatre are shadow puppets made from leather, musical instruments and more. Another fine theatre to visit is the Chatomuk Theatre at Sisowath Quay.

• Location: Sovanna Phum Art Association at 111 Street 360 (corner of Street 105) and Chatomuk Theatre at Sisowath Quay./.

Tours in Cambodia

• Impressive Cambodia – 7 Days/ 6 Nights
• Charms of Cambodia – 5 Days/ 4 Nights
• Angkor Magnificence – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Highlights of Cambodia – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Cambodia Spotlights – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Siem Reap to Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Tour in Siem Reap & Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Highlight Ancient City – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Classic tour in Phnom Penh – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Siem Reap & Angkor Wat tours – 2 days/ 1 night