Welcome to Cambodia...
- Siem Reap: Home to Angkor Wat
- Phnom Penh: Country’s capital, with an impressive palace, an oasis within a bustling city with French Colonial architecture fused with modern sky scrapers on the Mekong River
Worth A Trip
- Song Saa: A beautiful private island resort with overwater bungalows and beach villas
- Aqua Mekong: The waterways along the Mekong Delta offer a virgin glimpse of rural life today
Home to the famous Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is Cambodia's top tourist destination attracting over 2 million annually to gaze at the majestic Khmer temples -- one of the most alluring sights in all of Asia. Built over a thousand years ago, Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples are awe inspiring and eerie all at the same time. For centuries, Angkor's soaring towers and elaborately decorated cloisters were hidden from the outside world as they were slowly but surely engulfed by the jungle during the empire’s demise.
Discovered in the 19th century by French explorers, Angkor Wat has catapulted Cambodia to the top of many bucket lists. This has been a mixed blessing though, as today Siem Reap is overrun with tourists. The old, small town now resembles Cancun with a strip of massive, Western style, mostly mass-market hotels and resorts lining the way from the airport to the famous temple structures. Clubs, bars and restaurants attract mostly backpackers, swarms of Chinese tourists and middle-market visitors. On a positive note, it has also attracted a huge contingency of artists who promulgate the growing music and art scene in the city as well as a great restaurant scene. And while you would think seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise would be a peaceful outer-world experience, it is often so overrun by tourists that you can barely get a photo without other people in it. And getting into the temple area itself if a feat as you push your way through hundreds of children and beggars taking advantage of foreign money and naïve hearts. Think the Taj Mahal in Agra, where people come for 1 night to see it, check it off their list, and move on.
Like Agra, there is more to see in Seim Reap besides Angkor Wat. In fact, Angkor Wat is just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed it is the most awesome and towering, but it is also just one part of this amazing temple island filled with many other temples and structures that are just as fascinating. Angkor Thom, for example, is the famous setting for Tomb Raider and even more fascinating to see in person with its overgrown tree roots asphyxiating the temple’s walls. Nearby, the Bayon Temple surprises people with its Sphinx like massive stone images. There are also several day trips and recreational activities to add to an itinerary in Cambodia…. So I would encourage more than a 1 day stint here. But you must prepare your client for what to expect. This is not a rural, authentic experience. It is also hot – often unbearably hot – even at sunrise. But despite all this, seeing Angkor Wat is really an incredible experience and something not to be missed.
WHAT TO DO
- See the famous Angkor Wat
- Explore the mysterious Angkor Thom’s temple emerging beneath giant tree roots plus the eerie Bayon Temple
- Visit the Banteay Srei and Artisans d 'Angkor
- Explore Ta Prohm temple
- Enjoy a traditional Apsara Dance show
- Private dinner in front of an Angkor temple
- Visit to a Cambodian orphanage
- Helicopter ride over Agkor Wat
- Architecture tour by cyclo
- ATV riding
DAY TRIPS & EXCURSIONS
- Boat ride on Prek Toal Lake visiting the Chhong Kneas floating village (apx. 1 hour drive)
- Visit Banteay Srei (apx. 45 mins), which boasts the famous “Citadel of Women”
- Hike Phnom Kulem Mountain topped with its famous Wat Swey Leu temple
- Cruise on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia
- Visit the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
- Journey to Koh Ker (3 hours drive), the former capital of the Khmer Empire, with towering temples and sweeping views, far from the crowds of Siem Reap
- Angkor Wat is best explored and viewed at sunrise
- Plan excursions early in the morning or early evening to avoid the intense heat and humidity. Afternoons can be spent poolside or the comfort of air conditioning.
- Extend your explorations with a three-day pass, which can now be used on non-consecutive days over the period of a week (be sure to request this)
- Many travelers to Cambodia find the visit to Siem Reap to be so inspiring that two days is simply not enough. It is certainly possible to spend five or six days in the area and have plenty to see and do.
Throughout the centuries, Phnom Penh served as the capital of various Cambodian regimes, from the ancient Khmer Empire to the French colonial administration, the horror-filled Khmer Rouge, and finally the modern-day government of Cambodia.
Today, Phnom Penh is a chaotic, lively maze of tumbling streets, tuk-tuks, bicycles, motorcycles, scooters and expensive luxury cars. Like their French Colonial sister cities in Vietnam, you can expect to see modern sky scrapers juxtaposed against the backdrop of poor hovels, dispersed among stately colonial French buildings and traditional Cambodian architecture. Beautiful monuments dot the city streets and its wide boulevards lined with beautiful trees. Nightlife here is legendary though the restaurant scene is good but not as sophisticated. The waterfront promenade is a wonderful place to walk at night or early morning before the heat of the day comes on too strong while the palace is just stunning and a must see. As nice as it is, Phnom Penh is not the most memorable city in Southeast Asia and while it won’t disappoint, it also won’t be a highlight. Thus, you should not avoid selling it but I would not go out of my way to weave it into a Southeast Asian itinerary. Oneor two days is sufficient, if for nothing else than to learn about the modern-day holocaust that occurred just a decade ago and how fragile the modern world still is to genocide as you are explored to the atrocities caused by the Khmer Rouge who killed over 2 million people in less than 3 years.
WHAT TO DO
- Visit the magnificent Royal Palace and silver pagoda
- Witness SD21 (Tuol Sleng Museum), the prison and torture chamber of the Khemer Rouge
- Explore the National Museum, which has the world's top collection of Khmer sculpture and art
- Visit the infamous Killing fields
- Visit Phnom Udong, the royal capital of Cambodia from the 17th to the 19th centuries
Song Saa is an eco-luxury private island located off the coast of Cambodia set on 2 small islands, one with a beautiful beach and the other with a lush rainforest. They are joined by a footbridge which protects the islands’ natural reefs and exotic marine life.
The resort features 27 palm-roofed villas, all with private pools and sun decks. About half are Overwater Villas that give you the feel of the Maldives in Southeast Asia. These even have an area of glass floor where you can watch exotic fish swimming in the water below. There are 4 two-bedroom villas so families are very common, especially wealthy Chinese families. I suggest avoiding the 11 jungle bungalows which have limited views and can be very buggy.
The resort concept is barefoot luxury and more similar to Six Senses or North Island than a One & Only or Four Seasons. Accommodations are beautiful but rustic in style. That being said, the common areas and the rooms are stylish and contemporary yet simple and eco-friendly. There is also a lot of little touches and attention to details. And while the conservation projects they do are interesting for the strong "eco" approach that they use for their marketing, the hotel does not sacrifice comforts like towel changes, extensive use of air conditioning and electrical power in general, including the use of ample running water. The staff is extremely nice and friendly, which makes you "forgive" a service level that is good but not great from a "technical" point of view considering the prices.
In addition, there are many private dining venues on the island, giving most guests complete privacy and a feeling that they are among the only ones there. During the day many guests hang out in their villas.
Song Saa is next to a larger island (Koh Rong) where you can witness local life including a small village right across the water. The drawback is that the villagers drop a lot of litter in the water and often it gets to the island, making it most unpleasant to swim in the sea. Nevertheless, a visit to Koh Rong is a highlight for many and the resort can organize a great picnic on the beach.