The Pearl of Asia, Cambodia’s many charms are too often overlooked in favor of the neighboring nations of Vietnam and Thailand, both of which are far more regularly frequented by tourists. With its glimmering cities, lush tropical countryside, and magnificent pagodas, Cambodia is a true hidden gem in Southeast Asia — but the nation is unlikely to remain under the radar for very long. Here’s our curated guide to four places not to miss.
The Cambodian capital is the perfect place to learn more about the country’s ancient and modern history — from the extravagance of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda to the Buddhist monuments of the National Museum and the Khmer Rouge memorial at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. The latter is essential to visit not only to show respect for the lives lost in the Cambodian genocide but also to allow survivors a space to tell their stories. Later, dine al fresco on traditional Khmer cuisine beneath the string lights in the courtyard of Malis, and grab a nightcap at Sora Skybar, a chic whisky lounge featuring live music and panoramic views of the city.
Where to Stay: Raffles Hotel Le Royal
First opened in 1929, the Hotel Le Royal is a bastion of old-world elegance in the city’s heart. Check out the ancient Angkor lithographs and enjoy a nightcap in the famously chic Elephant Bar — which is worth a visit even if you’re not a hotel guest. Order the Phnom Penh Sling with Elephant Bar Dry Gin for a local experience.
Siem Reap is a vibrant city of hidden temples, colonial architecture, and traditional markets. But, the first order of business is a trip to Angkor Wat. It’s often said that if you visit Cambodia but don’t visit Angkor Wat, you haven’t indeed visited Cambodia. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Angkor Wat is the largest temple on earth. Adorned with ancient carvings and Apsara dancers, it is the pride and soul of Cambodia. Later, dine on French and Cambodian cuisine at Khéma Angkor and check out the colorful nightlife along Pub Street — the bright lights and live music are reminiscent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Where to Stay: Mane Hariharalaya
Stay beneath the thatched roof of a traditional Khmer House at this lakeside oasis and immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding countryside — the boutique property is located on 20 picturesque acres of rice paddies and ancient forests.
The Mekong River is an entire universe unto itself. Originating in the Tibetan Plateau in China, the Mekong snakes through Southeast Asia and is the third-largest delta in the world. Sunrise over the Mekong is nothing short of spectacular, and travelers can expect to watch dragon boats racing across the water in the early afternoon. Be sure to check out Silk Island and Bamboo Island on your journey down the river.
Where to Stay: AmaDara
The best way to experience the vibrant tapestry of cultures and traditions that exist along the Mekong is to explore by riverboat. The AmaDara by AMAWaterways is a classically gorgeous ship with elegant decor inspired by the surrounding region and a mahogany sundeck and rooftop pool, perfect for escaping the heat of a lazy afternoon on the Mekong. Virtually all of the on-board crew hail from Vietnam or Cambodia and are excellent (and extremely friendly and knowledgeable) ambassadors to the region.
Kampong Cham is famous for its French colonial buildings and colorful pagodas alongside the Mekong riverside. Visit Wat Nokor, a centuries-old Mahayana Buddhist temple that was built in the 11th century and features vivid depictions of the life and times of Buddha on its sandstone walls. Afterward, travelers should ride a tuk-tuk around the city, and adventurous visitors should sample the Cambodian street food, particularly of the insect variety — crickets, tarantulas, grasshoppers, and more await.
Where to Stay: Hanchey Bamboo Resort
Just 12 miles outside the city of Kampong Cham, this 20-room hideaway features bamboo bungalows and bamboo eco-cottages tucked away in the idyllic countryside. This luxury eco-retreat serves Khmer cuisine and boasts daily wellness and adventure activities, from yoga classes to motorbike tours, tuk-tuk rides, and more.