The devastation of the war changed the face of Cambodia significantly, but the country’s fledging tourist industry has a lot to offer. Great bargains abound, along with wonderful food and friendly people. The country’s greatest treasure of course, and that which most tourists come to see, is Angkor Wat—but the adventures does not end there.
Kratie along the Mekong
Like much of Southeast Asia, Cambodia features French colonial architecture throughout the country and has a definite European influence to it. One of the best places to see the French influence, standing alongside Khmer styles of architecture, is in Kratie, adjacent to the Mekong River. Kratie is a popular destination not just for the architecture, but also for the unusual Irrawaddy freshwater dolphins that live in the Mekong. These rare, endangered creatures are a delight to see, and Kratie features several modern, comfortable resorts and excellent restaurants. Accommodations throughout Cambodia will be generally affordable, ranging from primitive backpacker rooms or shacks, to more comfortable Western-style hotels in the larger cities.
Temples Deep in the Jungle
Angkor Wat at Siem Reap is the centerpiece of Cambodian tourism and it shouldn’t be missed. You may have visited ancient temples throughout Thailand and other parts of Asia, but none compares to the grandeur of Angkor. Actually a series of temples, Angkor Wat is located amidst the dense jungle. Here, and throughout the country, be careful to stay on the marked paths and in the main tourist areas, and avoid trekking out alone into unmarked jungle terrain. There are still live land mines that can cause horrific damage, a sad fact attested to by the scores of limbless beggars you will encounter at the land crossing between Cambodia and Thailand.
Phnom Penh’s Markets
In the capital city of Phnom Penh, tourist opportunities abound, and the government has made great progress towards re-invigorating this great city. While the countryside and border areas are dotted with street bazaars which are always fascinating, Phnom Penh’s New Central Market offers a good sampling of the country’s wares and handicrafts in a comfortable setting.
The Killing Fields
Those that are interested in war history must take a look at two places in Phnom Penh, the Tuol Sleng Museum, and the Cheung Ek killing field. Reminiscent of a visit to Poland’s still-standing concentration camps, the killing field still stands as a tragic testimony to one of the most brutal regimes ever to exist.
Slow and Bumpy Ride
Transportation is still a bit spotty in places, and the best way to get into Phnom Penh is to fly. Public transportation is available, and tour buses are somewhat more comfortable, but the roads are often bumpy and travel is slow. Outside of flying, the most comfortable way to get from the Thai border to Phnom Penh is by private taxi, although if you’re on a budget and don’t mind a little discomfort, you can take a bus or one of the private pickup truck transports that carry groups in the back.