Cambodia is best known for the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, but Cambodia has so much more to offer. A small country, part of the Indochina peninsula, its coastline is brimming with sleepy villages and beautiful beaches. Cambodia is as historic as it is scenic so let’s take a look at the top then things to do in Cambodia.
1. Angkor Wat – Without doubt travelers should make Angkor Wat one of the top things to do in Cambodia. A temple complex and one of the most religious monuments in the world, Angkor Wat is located about four miles north of Siem Reap. Built in the first half of the 12th century, estimated construction time is 30 years by king Suryavarman II, and dedicated to the Hindu God, Vishnu. It is also one of the best-preserved architectural masterpiece of our time and its perfection in composition, balance and proportions perhaps makes it one of the finest monuments in the world. In terms of symbolism, Angkor Wat is supposed to be a miniature replica of the universe in stone and represents an earthly model of the cosmic world. To truly experience this wonder, one must absolutely see it in person.
2. Gibbons – Spotting Gibbons is a wildly popular activity in Cambodia these days and should be added to the top things to do in Cambodia. Imagine walking through the forest with your guide, looking for yellow-cheeked gibbons in their natural surroundings. This is a great eco-adventure if you enjoy sustainable travel.
3. Koh Rong – The island of Koh Rong is known for its magical plankton that light up at night. Just stir the water a little bit to see the plankton glow at night. You can also snorkel at night for a more immersive experience and watch the world around you illuminate as you move around the water. Koh Rong Sanloem is the little sister of the party island of Koh Rong. The most popular beach in Koh Rong Sanloem is Saracen Bay, where the sand is white and the water is aquamarine. Check out the lighthouse at the island’s northern tip for spectacular ocean views. Koh Rong is definitely on my list for top things to do in Cambodia.
4. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – A local high school in 1975 was converted into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21) which became the largest detention facility in the country. Since then, S-21 has now turned into a museum where you can learn about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. More than 17,000 people were held here and taken to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. The museum displays include rooms of photographs of the prisoners.
5. Bayon – Bayon is a Buddhist temple in Angkor Thom. A 12th century masterpiece, Bayon was the state temple of Jayavarman VII. It has 54 Gothic towers that are decorated with 216 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara and adorned with 1.2 km of bas-reliefs that incorporate more than 11,000 figures. The architecture shows the change from Hinduism to Buddhism and is another top thing to see in Cambodia.
6. Royal Palace, Phnom Penh – The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a complex set of buildings and is the royal residence of the King of Cambodia. Built in the Khmer architectural style, this richly ornamented palace was built in 1866 and is a striking structure near the riverfront.
7. Ta Prohm Temple – The Ta Prohm Temple was used as a location in the film Tomb Raider. It was built in the Bayon style in the late 12th and 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. As you approach this temple you can see trees rising from the ruins of this Buddhist temple predominantly surrounded by the jungle.
8. Tonle Sap is largest fresh water in South East Asia. Five provinces circle the area of Tonle Sap Lake and more than three million inhabit the area around the banks of the lake. 90% of them earn a living by catching fish and working in agriculture. The lake is an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. Around the edges of the lake you can see floating villages, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, and an economy that is deeply intertwined with life in and around the lake. The lake is located about 15km south of Siem Reap town and you can take an express boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh to dock at the village of Chong Khneas. Chong Khneas is the famous floating village at the edge of the lake and you can explore the different communities that live here from Khmer, Muslim, and Vietnamese floating households including the floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools etc.
9. Phare Cambodian Circus – The Phare Cambodian Circus is a series of performances by at-risk Cambodian youth. The circus uses dance and music and acrobatics to tell folklore stories relevant to the modern day. Funds from the show support education and social support programs to give children and youth a focus on employment skills and is a must on any list of top things to do in Cambodia.
10. Mondulkiri Project – Northeast of Phnom Penh lies an elephant sanctuary protecting forests and indigenous livelihoods. The indigenous Bunong people who previously relied on the forest have been marginalized as the Cambodian forests are also being threatened. The Mondulkiri Project employs Bunong people, teaching conservation skills and caring for rescued elephants and highly recommended as a top activity to do in Cambodia.