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Travel guide for Cambodia

CAMBODIA – THE KINGDOM OF WONDER

Cambodians are proud of their country, their history and their culture. As the birthplace of the great Angkor Empire and as home to the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat, locals love their unique and special heritage. Besides the captivating landscapes and the inherited hospitality of the people keep visitors coming back for more.

Language

Cambodia’s official language is Khmer, and this is spoken by the majority of the population. Unlike the languages in Thailand, Vietnam and China, Khmer is non-tonal. The roots of written Khmer derive from a South Indian alphabet.  About 50% of the Cambodian population is literate.

Religion

Religion is a very important part of everyday life in Cambodia and is present throughout the country. There are a vast number of temples with lively ceremonies and rituals occuring daily. Although many religions exist in the country, including Islam, Christianity, and tribal animism, over 97% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism.

Culture

As a deeply Buddhist country, the philosophy of being caring and compassionate forms part of daily life in Cambodia. Family comes first, second and third, with life revolving around the home. Families also tend to be large, with siblings, aunties, uncles and other distant relatives coming together during large celebrations.

Festivals

Cambodian Independence Day

This day’s celebration marks the independence of Cambodia from 90 years of French rule. It is celebrated at the Independence Monument and the event is presided by the ruling king of Cambodia, with Cambodians from different professions coming together every year to rejoice over their independence.

Khmer New Year – End of the harvest season

During the Khmer New Year celebration, Cambodians will stop working for 3 days and return to their homes to celebrate the end of the traditional harvest season. The Khmer community celebrates this day by uniting with their families and performing many purification ceremonies, visiting their temples and having fun playing traditional games.

The Cambodia Water festival

This magnificent and traditional event takes place at Phnom Penh and dates back to 12th century of the Angkor period. It is a mark of respect for these Naval Forces who battled to secure Cambodia. The highlight of the celebration is the traditonal boat race.

Royal Ploughing Day

Royal Ploughing Ceremony held in the fourth month of the lunar calendar is a traditional agricultural festival held under the leadership of the royal family. It marks the beginning of the traditional rice season. The farming ceremony is held in front of the National Museum near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.

Cuisine

Cambodian cuisine may be lesser known than the world-renowned dishes of neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, but it’s just as delicious.

Fish amok

Fish amok is held in esteem as Cambodia’s signature dish, and the creamy curry can be found in abundance along your journey through Cambodia. Diced fillets of freshwater fish are smothered in coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce and palm sugar. Cravings anyone?

Kuy teav

This popular street food dish is how most Cambodians start the day. Kuy teav — or noodle soup — is made from pork or beef bones and rice vermicelli. The flavorsome broth is topped with fried shallots and garlic, bean sprouts, green onion and aromatic herbs. Voila!

Chicken and banana flower salad

Refreshing and light, this salad is the ideal way to stave off the midday heat. Slices of chicken breast are served amid crunchy banana blossom flower, fried shallots, garlic, chillies and lemongrass, with fresh lime squeezed on top. Sound exciting? It is!

Crab and pepper

With the crabs caught daily and flogged at the bustling Crab Market, a range of crab shacks and restaurants include stir-fried crab and pepper — usually Kampot pepper — on the menu. Craptastic!

Siem Reap

Besides being the starting point for tours to the world-famous temples of Angkor, the city of Siem Reap offers a lot of own great attractions. These include among other things the bustling Old Market (Phsar Chas), the brutal War Museum, the Royal Gardens and the exciting Angkor Night Market.

 Angkor Wat  – the jaw dropping beauty

There are few places in the world that can match the overwhelming scale of Angkor’s buildings. It is one of the most archaeologically significant sites in Southeast Asia. There are numerous temple complexes and remains of the various capital cities of the Khmer Empire. It takes several days to explore the numerous ruins in this densely forested area. Take your time.

Bayon Temple

In the center of the large walled city, Angkor Thom, Bayon is the impressive main temple. Well known for its towers with meter-high faces carved out of stone. The Bayon Temple differs from the others in Angkor by several special features.

Terrace of The Elephants

The Terrace of the Elephants is a striking 350-metre-long and 2.5-metre-high ornamental wall which, as the name suggests, is mostly decorated with carved elephants. It was built in the late-12th century as a viewing platform, from which King Jayavarman VII looked over his victorious returning army.

Ta Prohm

The Ta Prohm building complex is an abandoned temple complex in Cambodia consisting of a temple, monastery, other smaller buildings and the surrounding wall with corner towers and gopurams (entrance pavilions). It is located about two kilometers northeast of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Ta Prohm Temple of Angkor Thom in Cambodia

Preah Khan

The Buddhist temple complex Preah Khan (“Holy Sword”), located in the Cambodian province of Siem Reap, is probably the relic of a makeshift Angkor capital. The relatively well-preserved complex from the late 12th century is one of the most diverse and important flat temples in the cultural area.

Ta Som

Although it is one of the smaller temple sites in the Angkor Archeological Park, it is definitely worth a look. As with neighboring sites Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, very little restoration work has been done on Ta Som. These sites remain in a state of semi-ruin with the trees and other native vegetation allowed to grow over and through the walls of the temple.

Banteay Kdei

In stark contrast to the often overwhelmingly crowded and popular Angkorian ruins, Banteay Kdei is peaceful and quiet. Its name means “Citadel of Chambers”, which is apt; the ruins are a fascinating maze of chambers that are a delight to explore.

Phnom Bakheng

Phnom Bakheng, the state temple of the first Khmer capital in the Angkor region, survives as one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. The Temple of Phnom Bakheng was constructed between the late ninth and the early tenth century by Yasovarman I as the centerpiece of his new capital, known as Yasodharapura. Perfect spot for sunset!

Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea (Khmer ប្រាសាទបឹងមាលា, lotus basin) is a Hindu temple in Cambodia and forms one of the most dazzling centers of the Khmer empire Angkor. The complex has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992.

Kampong Phluk

Kompong Phluk is a collection of three floating villages totaling somewhere between 2000 – 3000 residents. It has the largest mangrove forest in the region and the greater Tonle Sap lake is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, that contains unique plant species, fish, and animals. Cruise along fishermen.

Battambang

This stopover city between Siem Reap and Phnom Pehn, is well worth a visit. It offers some beautiful pagodas and a very beautiful environment that invites you to go on some day trips. Enjoy the peace and quiet after the hectic Siem Reap. Highlights include a ride on the bamboo train and a visit to the bat cave.

Phnom Pehn

Due to the rapid development of Cambodia, the capital is changing rapidly from year to year – but it still manages to stay authentic and lively at the same time. The city is one of the most beautiful destinations in Cambodia. Famous spots include the Central Market, the Royal Palace and the Sky bar.

Beach

Cambodia’s coastline and islands are astoundingly beautiful, and you can find one to suit whatever your vibe is

Sihanoukville

The coastal town is famous for having some of the best beaches in Cambodia, making it the getaway destination of choice for the city dwellers of Phnom Pehn. There’s quite a lot of variety among the things to do in Sihanoukville, the beaches are delightful and the nightlife is vibrant.

Top Souvenirs

Silk

Cambodia has a rich silk-weaving history, with evidence found on some of the etchings that adorn the walls of Angkor Wat. The past few decades have seen great efforts to revive the ancient handcraft. The communities offer free daily tours of their silk farm. Make sure you buy Combodian silk instead of imported fakes from Vietnam or China.

Stone cravings

Cambodia has a rich history in stone and wood carving. Just take a look at Angkor Wat and other ancient temples, where intricate carvings decorate the walls. Across the country, you can watch carvers creating stunning works of art. This looks terrific in every home.

Kampot pepper

There’s no way you can leave Cambodia without a pouch of Kampot pepper in your suitcase. Used by top chefs in kitchens across the globe, the premium pepper is organically grown in Kampot – where the soil is super fertile – in green, black, white and red varieties. Buy the real deal on a local farm.

Palm sugar

The Cambodian countryside is studded with sugar palm trees. In fact, they’re so common that they are the country’s national tree. They make blocks of palm sugar, which is then used as sugar, or transformed into a variety of other items.

Travel tips

  • Everything is in US dollars. Even though Cambodian Riel are the local currency, no one — not even the locals — use it.
  • Make sure to cover your knees and shoulders in temples. As Buddhism is the primary religion here, it’s offensive to the culture to not cover up, especially if you’re a woman.
  • Plan to explore Angkor Wat for at least two days. The UNESCO World Heritage site covers many temples sprinkled around a huge area. Take your time!
  • The easiest way to explore cities/towns in Cambodia is via tuk-tuk. They’re generally inexpensive, especially when compared to taxi’s.
  • Pay the tuk-tuk driver only after you arrived at your destination. Otherwise you could get scammed.
  • Don’t buy from children. It fuels the cycle of poverty and encourages more families to send their children onto the street for a decent pay-day.
  • Don’t drink tap water. Stick to bought water bottles or a bottle with a filter.
  • Make sure to pack along plenty of water and sunscreen), as it’s extremely hot, humid, and sunny.
  • Get up early to beat the crowds and avoid activities during the hottest hours of the day

Visa

For most visitors to the Kingdom, a visa is obtainable upon arrival at the International Airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. You can also obtain a visa at an international check point border from Thailand, Vietnam or Laos. Tourists also can get their visas prior to their arrival through an online E-Visa or through a Cambodian Embassy/Consulate.

Conclusion

Cambodia is a country rich in culture and customs, and it is often the people and their traditions that capture visitors’ hearts. Explore the whole archeological park, it’s an incredible experience and you won’t regret your time in the Kingdom of Wonder.

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