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An Introduction to Cambodia

Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia
Introduction to Cambodia

In spite of decades of suffering, persecution and poverty, the people of Cambodia love to laugh and you are sure to receive a warm welcome wherever you wander through this charming country. The Kingdom of Cambodia covers 181,035 square kilometres and bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south.

Most people travel to Cambodia to visit the magnificent Angkor Wat, located near the bustling town of Siem Reap. One of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor Wat is just one in a number of enchanting ancient temples in this area, while the capital city of Phnom Penh also has plenty to offer visitors.

Although this richly diverse nation is bordered on virtually all sides, there are still some pretty islands and beaches to explore in Cambodia, such as the beach resort of Sihanoukville and the nearby islands in Ream National Park. The mighty Mekong River flows through Cambodia from Laos to Vietnam and is a great way to travel through the country.

Cambodia’s natural beauty makes it a great place for trekking and there are plenty of dense jungles, unspoilt forests and paddy fields to explore, while the Cardamom and Elephant Mountain Ranges provide a spectacular backdrop.

Subsistence farming is the main occupation of this impoverished nation, and most people live in stilted huts in small village communities. Although the majority of people (about 95%) are Khmer, there are also about twenty different hill tribes, each with their own unique culture, believes and style of dress.

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by most people, while some people also speak French, Laos and Vietnamese, especially near the country borders. Although many people speak English in tourist areas and you will often be approached by people who want to practice their English, it is a good idea to learn a few basic phrases in Khmer.

Buddhism is the main religion in Cambodia, with about 90% of the population following either Therevada or Hinayana Buddhism. Worship is an important part of Khmer life and you will find a large number of temples scattered around Cambodia, although a large percentage were destroyed during the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia really comes alive during the numerous festivals and public holidays, and it is idea to time your trip to coincide with one of these festivals as the streets are filled with singing and dancing and people put on their best clothes and biggest smiles.

Southern Laos

Southern LaosThis beautiful region of Laos is a great place to explore for those with a strong sense of adventure and eye for beauty. Although you won’t find tourist towns like those in the north of the country, those who take the time to explore southern Laos will find an impressive number of pretty islands, dense jungle and magnificent mountains. (more…)

Ban Lung, Cambodia

Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia
Ban Lung, Cambodia

Known by the local people as ‘dey krahorm’, which means red earth in Khmer, Ban Lung is a modest town where you will find genuine people and friendly faces. This is a great place to use as a base while you explore the surrounding countryside and there are a number interesting attractions nearby.

Most people travel to Ban Lung to visit the nearly Boeng Yeak Lom. Also known as Yak Lom Lake, this is an impressive volcanic crater filled with freshwater. There is a well worn train leading from the town to the volcano and the trek takes about an hour each way. Take the time to fully explore the volcano and have a swim in the cool waters. Watch out for the legendary Yak Lom monster as you swim and visit the nearby culture centre, which contains some interesting information about the volcano and items made by the tribes people who live in the area.  

This is a great place for trekking and you can wander through the countryside, with its rich red earth and pretty villages. The scenery here is simply spectacular and there is plenty to hold the attention.

Scattered around Ban Lung are a number of small villagers where tribes people live, following the same cultural styles and general life styles that they have practiced for hundreds of years. Most of the tribes people gather at Ban Lung market to buy and sell goods, and this is a great place for people watching and to also pick up a bargain or two.

The market is also a good place to pick up a cheap, tasty meal. There are a number of food stalls scattered around the town as well as restaurants and hotels, making this a good place to stay for a day or two.

Around the market place you will find a large number of small shops selling colourful precious stone. The gems come from the surrounding hills and also more distant places such as Sri Lanka. Although you should be careful about buying, browsing through the multi-hued stones can be a good way to spend an hour two.

Savannakhet, Laos

Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos
Savannakhet, Laos

Located in the southern section of Laos, Savannakhet province is bordered by both Thailand in the west and Vietnam in the east. Many travellers pass this way on their way in or out of Thailand as the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge spans the mighty Mekong River, connecting Savannakhet with Mukdahan in Thailand.

Another way to reach the town is by boat from northern Lao areas such as Vientiane and Tha Khaek or from Pakse in the south. Travelling through Laos by boat can be very relaxing and a great way to see the countryside at a leisurely pace.

The name Savannakhet means ‘city of paradise’ in the Laos language and this is Laos’ second-largest city. This is a good place to pause for a while as the town has a lot to offer tourists and there are a good number of guesthouses, hotels and restaurants serving international food. You will also find plenty of Asian delights such as curries and spicy salads from Thailand and Vietnamese noodles.

Savannakhet’s close proximity to Thailand and Vietnam means that you will discover a number of different styles as you explore. Take a look around the city’s old Vietnamese temples, French colonial quarters and Buddhists temples. Among the most popular temples are Wat Inghang and Wat Xayaphoum, while the large Catholic church provides an interesting contrast.

If you are interested in the history of this unique area, take a day trip to Heuanehine or Stone House. This rocky house was designed by the Kham people and is thought by many to be one of the most important and interesting sites in the province. The house was built somewhere between 553 and 700 AD and contains a collection of Khmer artwork.er important site is the That Phon stupa, which was built around the same time as the Stone House. Unlike most of the religious shrines and temples in Laos, this stupa is Hindu in origin and dedicated to Phra Shiva and other Hindu deities.

Before you leave Savannakhet, drop by the Dinosaur Exhibition Hall in the town of Khanthabouly at the heart of the province. Here you will find a collection of dinosaur remains that were discovered by an intrepid French scientist in the 1930s. This is one of the few collections of dinosaur remains in Laos and they make an interesting break from exploring the country’s temples and jungles.

 

Udong, Cambodia

Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia
Udong, Cambodia

Also sometimes written as Oudong, Udong was Cambodia’s royal capital from 1618 to 1866 and is situated 40 kilometres northwest of Phnom Pehn. The name Udong means the victorious in the Khmer language and a number of kings have lived here during the city’s heyday.
Although often overlooked by visitors to Western Cambodia, the small city of Udong has a lot to offer travellers. This is a good place to take a break from the road for a day or two and relax and unwind in comfort, as there are some excellent hotels to choose from here.

Udong is surrounded by intense natural beauty, which can be seen by climbing to the top of one of the two ridges that overlook the city. visitors who stand here will be able to see all the way across Udong to the surrounding countryside, which is scattered with a number of interesting temples and shrines.

Those who enjoy temple hopping will want to start their trip at the small yet perfectly formed Arey Kaa Sap pagoda. Also of interest nearby are Phnom Vihear Leu and the commanding Ta San Mosque, which is one of the few Muslim structures that can be found in this part of the world and faces westwards towards Mecca.

Visitors who want to climb the 509 steps that lead the way to the very top of Phnom Udong will need to complete the task either early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon, as attempting this in the full heat of the day can be a hot and sticky affair, although climbers will be rewarded for their trouble by the unparalleled views that await them at the summit of the hill.

Make sure you take the time to fully appreciate Udong’s stunning sunsets, which are among the most colourful in the whole of Western Cambodia. A number of the city’s leading restaurants are strategically placed to offer visitors enchanting views while they dine in style on local cuisine, while those who are looking for something cheap and tasty to sink their teeth into will find an excellent selection of light meals and snacks at the local night market.

Chi Phat, Cambodia

Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia
Chi Phat, Cambodia

A popular destination with nature lovers who want to wander off of the beaten track, the charming village of Chi Pat can be found in the centre of the Cardamom Protected Forest. Chi Pat offers visitors a wide range of amenities such as accommodation and excellent restaurants, making this a great place to use as a base while exploring the area.

This is also a good place to get back to basics and retreat from the modern world for a while, as there is currently no running water here and electricity is often only available for a few hours a day. Nature lovers are sure to be in their element here, as they sit on the porch of their guesthouse and gaze at the freely wandering wildlife and listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees.

A large number of the local people here double as tour guides, and visitors to Chi Pat can take a walk through the Cardamom Protected Forest to discover a wide range of flora and fauna. Those with a little patience and good eyesight will be able to watch monkeys swinging through the trees and may also spot flying squirrels, lizards and hornbills.

Travellers who have a strong sense of adventure will want to take their turn at riding along one of the aerial ziplines, while canopy walks offer visitors the chance to take in the Cardamom Protected Forest from a bird’s perspective.

Or why not ride the rapids along the Stung Proat River for the ultimate thrilling experience. Those who prefer to explore independently can also hire a bicycle and cycle through the forest to destinations such as the local elephant rescue centre and waterfall.

Khmer people love to eat and despite the village’s remoteness there are a number of places where you can find a good meal. There are plenty of cheap food stalls in the covered market, while beside the river are a couple of restaurants beside a pool hall.

Getting to Chi Pat is simple and adventurous, as buses regularly complete the four-hour road journey from Phnom Penh. Travellers will be deposited at the side of the road, where they then take a three-hour boat ride up the river, which is the perfect way to see the surrounding countryside.

Battambang, Cambodia

Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia
Battambang, Cambodia

The second largest city in Cambodia, Battambang makes the idea base to explore the surrounding attractions. Situated to the northwest of Cambodia, Battambang is full of interesting buildings left over from the French colonial era and has a pleasantly relaxed feeling that entices many travellers to extend their stay for a day or two.

Battambang takes its name from the legend of an ancient Khmer king, who is said to have calmed the city’s rebellions with his battambang staff. As you wander through the city streets you will see a statue representing this event as well as a number of interesting statues depicting mythical animals and religious characters.

There is plenty to see and do in Battambang. Start by climbing the hill of Phnom Sampeu to enjoy spectacular views of the city and explore the hill’s caves, stupas and monastery. Near the hill is Wat Banan, which is dubbed a mini Angkor Wat and contains a large Buddhist shrine. Just to the west of the city, Wat Ek Phnom has also been constructed in Angkorian style, while Wat Baydamran is home to hundreds of fruit bats.

Situated 70 kilometers north of the city of Battambang in northeastern Cambodia, Bantaey Chhmar is a pretty temple complex built by Jayavarman VII as a tribute to the death of his son Indravarman and four generals in battle. Dating back to the 9th century, this is a great place to explore on a day trip. A mighty battle took place on this site in 1177 when it was invaded by the Cham people. Those interested in the areas unusual history can find the story engraved on the stone ways that surround Bantaey Chhmar. The complex has been overgrown by forest, giving it a mystical quality and it features large Avalokiteshvara faces which are reminiscent of the Bayon temple near Siem Reap.

Head out of Battambang to discover the ancient wooden houses of Watkor, which is a very pretty village. Other nearby villages worth exploring include Kompong Seyma, and Ksach Puoy. These villages offer a real insight into traditional Khmer life and you will still find people engrossed in skills such as weaving and basket making.

An interesting way to explore this area is by riding the bamboo train known as the norry. The Wat Poveal Museums is a good place to learn more about the Khmer arts, while just 44 kilometres from the city is Pich Chenda, a very pretty nature and wildlife preserve.

Walk along the bank of the Sangker River in the evening and you will discover a large number of small food stalls selling traditional Khmer food and also delicious French bread. This is a great place to get a cheap meal and perhaps wash it down with a beer or two.

A great way to travel to Battambang is by boat from Siem Reap. This scenic journey takes you slowly through the countryside, past floating villages and fishermen along narrow canals and waterways.

Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia

Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia
Krong Koh Kong, Cambodia

Situated in south-western Cambodia, many people pass through the town of Krong Koh Kong on the way to or from Thailand. This is a good place to stop for a while and explore the surrounding countryside.
Krong Koh Kong can be found close to the mouth of the mighty Kah Bpow River and this entire area is famed for its intense natural beauty. One of the best known and loved natural features here is Koh Kong, which is a tiny tropical island that features pristine sandy waters lapped by cool, clear waters. Naturally, this is a popular spot to stretch out and soak up the sun for a while, and it is easy to simply stay here and drift away for a day or two.

The Thai border is located just a few kilometres away from Krong Koh Kong, and this makes the perfect place to take a break from the rigors of travel and gather your strength before hitting the road once more. Another popular spot in this part of the world is Bak Khlong Beach, which is famous for its sandy beaches and restaurants that serve freshly caught seafood prepared to local and Western tastes.

If you’re looking for entertainment, Koh Kong Safari World has a good collection of animals and has regular live shows, although it’s doubtful whether the interests on the animals on display are the primary concern here and animal lovers may want to stay away.

Real nature lovers should head instead to Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, where you will see an impressive collection of wildlife such as sun bears, leopards, elephants, gaur, banteng and sambar. Another area of great natural beauty is the Botum Sakor National Park, where you will find a number of pretty waterfalls.

Other interesting diversions in the area include a small ice rink and some quaint Cham Muslim villages, where you can learn more about the traditional Khmer way of life.

Kep, Cambodia

Kep, Cambodia
Kep, Cambodia

Often overlooked by visitors to southern Cambodia, the sleepy town of Kep is a great place to spend a little time. The town is surrounded by the intense natural beauty of dense jungle, rolling hills and stretches of golden sand, and nature lovers are sure to be in their element here.
Known as the ‘Riviera of Asia’ when it was established at the turn of the 20th century by French colonists, Kep served as a vibrant beach destination for several decades, before the Khmer Rouge arrived in the area and turned things on their head. However, Kep is slowly and surely being restored, and this is the perfect time to visit the area.

Those who can bear to tear themselves away from the beach for an hour or two will want to take in the stunning views from the summit of Kep Hill. To get there, visitors simply need to wander along a gently looping trail through the jungle, perhaps pausing to gaze at wildlife such as playful monkeys along the way.

The pretty tropical Rabbit Island is situated five kilometres off the coast of Kep, and can be reached by hiring a boat. Those who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life can spend the night in a tiny wooden hut on the island before returning to Kep the next day.

Water sports such as snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities among those who visit Kep, and a large number of companies offer to rent out equipment, while those who like messing about on the water should rent a speedboat or a catamaran from the Sailing Club.  

Kep is a great place to eat, with fresh seafood being top of the menu. Fresh crab is particularly popular here and Kep to offer to tastiest crab in Cambodia. There are a good number of restaurants and bars here, most offering a variety of international dishes as well as traditional Khmer cuisine. Grab and good meal and a drink or two and watch as the sun slowly slips behind the horizon. Pure perfection.

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia
Kampot, Cambodia

The enchanting colonial town of Kampot is the perfect place to spend a little time for those who want to unwind for a while. Famed for its intense natural beauty and featuring natural attractions such as cool caves, tropical islands complete with pristine sandy beaches and waterfalls, this is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life for a while.
Most people travel to Kampot in order to visit the stunningly beautiful Bokor National Park. With 1,581 square kilometres of forest to explore, the national park is certainly the highlight of the region, but there are plenty of other things to see and do here.

Visitors will want to allow at least two days to explore Kampot, and wandering through the streets past pretty colonial French buildings is a popular pastime with visitors. Many of the main bars and guesthouses can be found along the banks of the Tuk Chou River, which is the perfect place to simply sit and soak up the atmosphere for a while as you gaze at the backdrop of Elephant and Bokor mountains.

There are also plenty of things to see and do just on the outskirts of the town, and those who are interested in culture will want to explore the Cham fishing villages, while riding the Teuk Chrreu rapids is sure to appeal to thrill seekers. Those who prefer to slow the pace a little can also opt to take a cruise on the Tuk Chou River to see the surrounding scenery and perhaps explore the caves and waterfalls that can be found near the edge of the water.

A large number of companies in Kampot offer to hire out bicycles to visitors, and cycling through the countryside is a popular activity with independent travellers. Cyclists can pause at the local pepper plantations to receive a guided tour before hopping back on their bikes to explore once more.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you return to the restaurants that can be found on the banks Tuk Chou River in the evening to dine in style on freshly caught seafood and perhaps enjoy a glass or two of beer or the local moonshine.