The Kingdom of Cambodia has suffered a turbulent past but survived to emerge as one of the world’s most beautiful tourist destinations. In the heart of the Indochina loop incorporating Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, a visit here is best enjoyed by sampling a little of each country.
Adventure seekers will find hidden treasures galore in the Empire of Temples where monuments of astonishing scale and magnificence remain at the legendary Angkor Wat temples, the world’s largest Hindu temple complex, built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II. This is Cambodia’s primary visitor attraction and has become a symbol of the country, even making an appearance on the national flag. Its architectural splendour was close to being named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and indeed rivals the likes of Petra and Machu Picchu for sublime grandeur.
The Temple City is a sharp contrast from contemporary Cambodia within its capital Phnom Penh, which is a hub of vitality set in a stunning riverside location.
It is Cambodia’s unspoilt countryside which has visitors marvelling. The vast rural landscapes that time forgot where endless paddy fields and sugar palms are a spectacle to behold. Emerging as a popular eco-tourism destination, the Cardomom Mountains are integral to the expansive wilderness, home to a tropical paradise for wildlife.
THE MAJESTIC MEKONG DELTA
Carving its way across the country, the might of the Mekong River cuts a pathway which is the lifeblood of the region and which offers incredible cruise experiences to view freshwater dolphins, among other extraordinary wildlife. For relaxation the idyllic tropical islands that pepper the South Coast are perfect for solitude.
Cyclists are drawn to this part of South East Asia to experience first-hand the glory of the former Khmer Empire. Beginning in Bangkok in Thailand, once away from the bustling city streets, the route passes through Khao Yai, Thailand’s largest national park and straight into Cambodia to Angkor. Through the city of Phnom Penh and on to Vietnam via the Mekong Delta, where waterways and rice paddies must be traversed on the way to Saigon, strikingly contrasting to the tranquillity of the countryside.
Responsible tourism in this region is really helping local communities in particular giving them a financial incentive to protect their stunning natural environment which is much of what brings in visitors. Travel companies are working proactively with local projects and developing relationships with local businesses to allow travellers to experience genuine local hospitality and dining experiences, so helping the local economy and providing an infrastructure for prosperity where previously poverty was rife.
Certainly it is the people of Cambodia who will be remembered by visitors as much as the splendid sights. Despite unimaginable trials and horrors, the optimism of the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia is present in their genuinely welcoming smiles.
Jules Jones is a freelance travel writer who contributes regularly to numerous mainstream press, travel and holiday websites and blogs. She enjoys cycling holidays with her husband and four children who each share her wanderlust for the world. Her last adventure holiday in Asia saw her and her family cycling in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Xian, where highlights included the incredible Forbidden City, the magnificent Great Wall and the awesome Terracotta Army.