One of the most beguiling of Southeast Asian countries and long associated with the brutal Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has risen above its bloody history to become a compelling travel destination. Ancient Cambodia produced one of world’s greatest civilisations at Angkor. Your first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, is sublime. But the fabled Angkor Wat is merely one temple lying at the heart of a thousand others. The capital, Phnom Penh, retains a skyline punctuated by spires, turrets and pinnacles of royal and religious origin rather than by high-rise office towers.
Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are probably uppermost in the mind of the traveller, but to some extent they are a bubble, a world away from up-country Cambodia. This is the place to experience the rhythms of rural life and timeless landscapes of dazzling rice paddies, rustic villages and swaying sugar palms. The South Coast is fringed by tropical islands, with just a handful of beach huts in sight. The mighty Mekong River cuts through the country and is home to some of the region’s last remaining freshwater dolphins. The northeast is a world unto itself, its wild and mountainous landscapes a home for Cambodia’s ethnic minorities and an abundance of natural attractions.
Thanks to a history both inspiring and depressing, Cambodia delivers an intoxicating cocktail for travellers. Then there are the people. Cambodia’s history contains war and famine as a recent memory. The ongoing recovery is in no small way attributable to the resilience of the Cambodians themselves – seemingly always positive, tenacious and genuinely welcoming to travellers. Thanks to an unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism, they have prevailed with their smiles intact. No visitor comes away without a measure of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.