Phnom Penh was largely destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge and is slowly being restored to its former glory. Also known as Riverside, Sisowath Quay is a pretty avenue running along the banks of the Mekong River and is an interesting place to walk in the evening when dozens of stalls set up selling everything from good meals to cheap souvenirs.
According to popular legend, the city was founded in the 14th century by an old woman named Penh who discovered a tree with a handful of Buddha images wedged in a niche. She recovered the images and had a hill – phnom in the Khmer language - built to contain them. The city grew from there into the sprawling metropolis it is today.
A tour of Phnom Penh should lead you straight to the Royal palace with its Silver Pagoda and temple of the Emerald Buddha. Also known as Wat Preah Keo Morokat, the entire floor of the Silver pagoda is covered with over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kilo. Inside is the Emerald Buddha, which was crafted from baccorant crystal and is one of Cambodia’s most famous images.
Opposite, the National Museum is home to some impressive Khmer sculptures, including many pieces previously at Angkor. This is a good place to get a feel for the ancient art work and various styles. Climb a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay for spectacular views and to visit Wat Phnom with its resident monkeys.
To get an idea for the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge, many people take a day trip to the Killing Fields, which are located at Cheoung Ek, about 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Now peaceful, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge killed several thousands of their victims and visitors can explore the Buddhist stupa which is filled with human skulls.
Another gruesome reminder is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which is the actual school building that the Khmer Rouge leaders converted to a prison. The museum contains a number of graphic photographs detailing the brutality and handwritten accounts by a few of the survivors.
On a lighter note, taking a cruise on the Mekong River is a great way to see the area, and many tour companies offer sunset dinner cruises. Before you leave Phnom Pehn visit Mekong Island and watch the traditional weaving.
In additional to the city’s many bars and nightclubs, evening entertainment is provided by the French Cultural Centre, who show regular movies.
The Khon Kaen National Museum, Khon Kaen City Museum and the Art and Culture Museum are all great places to spend a couple of hours and learn about the area and its people.
To the centre of the city, the beautiful 100-hectare lake known as Beung Kaen Nakhon (Kaen Nakhon Lake) is a great spot for a picnic, whilst the nearby temples of Wat That and Wat Nong Wang Muang and definitely worth exploring.
Khon Kaen is the centre of the north-eastern silk industry, and the Sala Mai Thai silk village 55 kilometres to the west makes a great day trip. Here you will see top quality silk dyed in a wide range of colours and made into a multitude of different products, and in the traditional weaving households you can actually see the silk being skilfully woven.
Khon Kaen is a province with stunning natural beauty and it features a couple of great national parks. Phu Wiang National Park was recently made famous when dinosaur remains were unearthed there, whilst the Nam Nao National Park contains the region's highest mountain
peak - Phu Pha Jit, which measures a colossal 1271 metres. It is possible to camp in the grounds of both national parks for just 30 baht, which makes a very cheap and picturesque option, although not so much so during the monsoon season!
Next door to the park the Phu Kiaw Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to leopards, tigers, elephants and many other beasties.
Also not to be missed is the unusual Ban Khok Sa-Nga Cobra Village, where the local snakes are highly revered. Here you can witness the love and trust shown by the villagers to the mighty snakes as well as daily cobra shows.
Another great day trip is Prasat Peuay Noi (also know as Ku Peauy Noi), where you will see the region's largest Khmer temple.
Khon Kaen celebrates its local skills and traditions with the Silk Fair and Phuk Siaw Festival, which last for 12 days in late November. The Phuk Siaw Festival is specially intended to preserve the unique Phuuk Siaw (friend bonding) tradition and is marked with much merry making and folk dancing.