Cambodia has a surprisingly diverse range of terrain, ranging from rice paddies and sugar plantations to remote jungles, mountains and beaches.
Life in Cambodia has always revolved around two bodies of water: the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake. Tonle Sap, which simply means ‘Great Lake’, is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake and a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Cambodia is the most ethnically homogeneous nation in Southeast Asia, with more than 95% of its 15 million citizens being ethnic Khmers, and it remains a predominantly agrarian society with 80% of the population working in agriculture and fishing.
Cambodia’s troubled recent history saw over 1.5 million Cambodian people murdered, worked to death or killed by starvation during the horrific years of Khmer Rouge power in the 1970s.
Phnom Penh, once known as ‘The Pearl of Asia’, has been Cambodia’s capital for most of the last six centuries. Having recovered from the dark legacy of the Khmer Rouge era, it is today a vibrant economic centre, with a population of two million, yet it has retained much old world charm in its French colonial architecture and traditional ornate temples.
Rich in history, the city offers many cultural highlights including the National Museum, the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. To truly understand the country’s history and the people’s mindset, a visit to the Tuol Sleng Prison is a must. Also known as S-21, this former school became a torture centre and has now been preserved as a museum.
On the outskirts of Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields, an area where some 17,000 men, women and children were murdered and dumped in mass graves. Not for the faint-of-heart, these sites are sobering reminders of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality—and of the rest of the world’s failure to intervene.
Siem Reap in the north-west is a charming provincial town that provides a gateway to the magnificent ancient Temple ruins of Angkor. It also offers activities such as watching a traditional Cambodian “apsara” dance performance, participating in a Khmer cuisine cooking class, or exploring the peaceful countryside on horseback, bicycle or quad bike. The rural outskirts offer plenty of interesting activities such as visiting craft villages, workshops and silk farms, A visit would not be complete without a boat trip on the massive freshwater Tonle Sap lake – part of which is a sanctuary for water birds of all kind.
While most visitors come to see the marvels of Angkor Wat, Cambodia offers plenty of natural beauty for those willing to explore. Bordering the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia offers untouched archipelagos off its southern coast that are scattered with unspoilt islands where soft sandy beaches are lapped by pristine waters.
The country experiences a tropical climate with two main seasons, and the best time to travel largely depends on your preferences and the experiences you seek.
Cambodia has two distinct seasons:
Dry Season (November to April): The dry season is the most popular time to visit Cambodia. It runs from November to April and is characterized by sunny days, lower humidity, and minimal rainfall. The weather is generally pleasant, with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 35°C. This period is ideal for exploring Cambodia’s iconic temples, such as Angkor Wat, as well as other historical sites and cities like Phnom Penh. The dry season is also excellent for enjoying outdoor activities, such as boat cruises on the Tonle Sap Lake or relaxing on the beautiful beaches in Sihanoukville and Koh Rong.
Wet Season (May to October): The wet season in Cambodia spans from May to October. During this time, the country experiences higher humidity and frequent rainfall, particularly in the form of short, heavy showers or afternoon thunderstorms. The wet season brings lush green landscapes, and the temples and historical sites are less crowded.