Seeing the real Cambodia with Asia Paradise
Thank you for choosing Asia Paradise (AP) to organize your travel arrangements in the kingdom of Cambodia. This document will give you some more information about the country, the different destinations within Cambodia, useful facts for travelers, and a listing of the AP preferred hotels.
In Cambodia, AP has been very successful at offering tours which show a little bit more of the country then just the mass tourism places. We opened our first office in Phnom Penh in 2000 and have since added an office in Siem Reap. We believe it is very important to show you the unknown treasure of the real Cambodia. Of course we will take you to see the highlights, as no visitor should miss Angkor Wat, but we are also pleased to show you lesser known sites - something which is often promised but not always delivered.
Where to go in Cambodia?
Most visitors fly in to Siem Reap, visit the Temples of Angkor, and then leave the country. This is a real shame as the rest of the country is filled with fantastic natural beauty and historic temples. So, depending on how long you have and where your interests like, the guide below can help you plan your trip.
To truly experience Cambodia, you need to spend a few weeks traveling around. Natural attractions range from the northeastern jungles, to the lovely beaches of Sihanoukville, and the mighty rivers that cut across the country. Our staff and guides are enthusiastic about their country of residence and are more than happy to help you plan a journey perfectly suited to your needs. Whether you seek luxury travel, an adventurous journey, or a classic tour of Cambodia’s main sites AP knows the best program for your holiday.
When to go in Cambodia?
The winter months (October to February) are the best time to travel to Cambodia as the air is cool and the skies are clear. However, the dust at this time of year can be irritating and the crowds at the Angkor temples are at their highest numbers. March to May sees hotter temperatures and dry skies, and the heat continues in to June through August when the monsoon season starts. The rains, however, do not usually cause a major problem for travelers as they tend to be short- but hard- afternoon showers.
The Cambodian water festival in October is a lively affair with 3 days of dragon boat racing taking place in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and Buddhist New Year in April sees families gathering at temples to celebrate. Although both are spectacular events, several restaurants and shops are closed meaning slight disruptions may occur in your travel plans.
This is a guide to the best of the best of Cambodia. We’ve provided ideas for travel, sightseeing and accommodation with a few insider tips along the way
Most visitors to Siem Reap are there to visit the famed Temples of Angkor and who can blame them? These spectacular ruins from the 9-14th centuries are an adventurer"s dream. Located just 7km from the entrance gate, Siem Reap has become a popular stop on the tourist trail of Asia. Once a sleepy town full of farms and small shops, the increase in tourists over the past 15 years has brought an international feel to the town. Modern hotels, internet cafes, and international restaurants are a welcome treat after a day spent exploring the temples in the Cambodian heat. Yet, Siem Reap retains its small town charm and visitors who take the time to explore the town and its surroundings are rewarded with a deeper insight in to Cambodian culture and lifestyle.
Although a three night stay is the perfect amount of time for exploring the temples, however we strongly recommend a longer stay to truly experience Siem Reap and its many wonders.
Where to stay in Siem Reap?
Whatever your budget and whatever your accommodation needs, Siem Reap has something to suit your tastes. With over hundreds of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, selecting accommodation can seem like a daunting task. However, our team in Siem Reap is constantly researching and visiting hotels, both old and new, to stay up to date on the best options in town. Below is a selection of our recommended hotels for each category which we hope will make your decision easier.
A hidden gem in Siem Reap is Viroth’s, a small hotel with just seven rooms tucked on a quiet side street near the heart of the city. Trendy, relaxing, and intimate, Viroth’s made the Conde Nast Hot List in 2008.
An AP favorite, the Tara Angkor is a chic boutique hotel with quality rooms, welcoming staff, and a great location near the Temples of Angkor. Likewise, the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa is a graceful colonial building offering a refined atmosphere in the heart of Siem Reap. A bit trendier, the Hotel de la Paix features stunning Art Deco rooms accented by local art work and traditional textiles. The hotel also has a strong commitment to community development and its responsible travel outings are a great way to give back to the community.
For those seeking the ultimate in luxury, there is no doubt that Amansara is the place to stay. Housed in the grounds of a former royal palace and featuring top of the line service and facilities, the Amansara is redefining the face of luxury in Cambodia. La Residence D’Angkor is an ideal base for exploring the temples, with leafy green gardens, warm hospitality and luxurious rooms. New in 2009, The Sothea is emerging as one of our favorite places. With just over 30 rooms, the intimate feel and outstanding service (all rooms have a personal butler!) are sure to please even the most discerning of guests.
What to see in Siem Reap?
Of course, no visit to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to the Temples of Angkor. Over 100 temples lie within the Siem Reap province dating from the 9th-14th century. Passes are sold for 1 day, 3 days or 1 week and whilst you could spend a lifetime exploring, we recommend at least 2 full days for temple exploration. This will allow you to see all of the main temples, plus a few outlying ruins without racing around.
There are several options for getting around the temples. Car, bus, and van remain the vehicles of choice, but we recommend taking a day to cycle through the temples. Traveling by two wheels, either by regular bike or electric bike, gives you a unique perspective and an eco-friendly way to see the temples. Elephant Rides are available and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the days of the Angkorian kings as you meander through the woods and temples. A tethered hot air balloon is available near Angkor Wat which gives distant, but sweeping views of the temples and their surroundings. But the most exciting experience available is a helicopter flight around the area. Ranging in length from 8 minutes to a half day excursion, buzzing around the temples in a helicopter is an unparalleled experience.
Any itinerary should include Angkor Wat, the magnificent legendary temple. Bayon is another favorite with its mysterious faces smiling down on visitors, while the jungle covered Ta Phrom is an evocative blend of nature and architecture. Other temples in the vicinity worth seeing are Phnom Bakeng, Pre Rup, Baphoun, and Preah Khan.
If you have more time, trips further afield lead to less crowded temples and spectacular photo opportunities. Just 12 km from Siem Reap are the Rolous Group of temples, some of the earliest ruins in the region. The petite Banteay Srey features intricate carvings in pink sandstone and nearby Banteay Kdei is a hidden gem tucked away in the jungle.
Beng Melea sprawls across one square kilometer and remains covered in trees, roots, and vines. Constructed in a similar style to Angkor Wat yet overrun by nature, Beng Melea is a truly adventurous place to visit. Koh Ker, situated to the northeast of Siem Reap, is the remnants of the Khmer capital in the late 9th century and features a circular loop of about a dozen ruins.
Need a break from temple touring? Siem Reap has several other activities and opportunities for travelers.
A boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake should also not be overlooked. Each year during the rainy season, the lake swells to five times larger and the plethora of fish provide the livelihood for the lake’s residents. An AP favorite is the Paneman Boat, a large wooden cruising boat run by an eco-tourism company which provides an elegant ride along the water. A boat trip departing from Kampong Phluck takes you through the floating villages and ancient mangrove forests of the lake, a great way to see the unique lifestyle of the lake’s residents
Artisan’s D’Angkor is a unique organization working to preserve traditional Khmer arts and crafts. They have established two centers in Siem Reap. The location in town features a stone carving workshop where locals produce magnificent sculptures, while the silk centre is a bit further afield. Here you can see the entire process of silk creation: from the breeding of the silk worms, to the dyeing and weaving of the material.
Siem Reap’s small downtown turns in to a hive of activity as the sun begins to set. The small ‘Old Market’ closes down and tourists flood in to town to enjoy cocktails on ‘Pub Street’ and dinner in one of the many restaurants. Vendors have capitalized on this area’s popularity by establishing a night market at the south end of Pub Street. Cambodian crafts such as artwork, silks, carvings, and t-shirts are for sale in an open air market off a tranquil side street making it the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.
A traditional Apsara Dance performance is a great evening activity as the elegant dancers, elaborate costumes, and live music create an enchanting atmosphere. Another treat is a traditional massage at our favorite shop, Bodia Spa. Here you will be treated to a relaxing spa or massage treatment, using top quality natural products and traditional techniques.
Shopping and Dining
Siem Reap is a diner’s paradise with a vast array of cuisines on offer. Seemingly every week a new restaurant emerges from fine French menus to local crocodile barbeques! Madame Butterfly is a ‘can’t miss’ in Siem Reap. The food is authentic, delicious Thai and Khmer cuisine served in an understated, elegant restaurant - the perfect combination for a relaxing evening out in Siem Reap. Viroth’s also features fine Khmer dining in a nice setting while Meric at Hotel de la Paix is reinventing modern Khmer cuisine.
For a romantic table for two, there is no better place in Cambodia - if not the world - than a candle lit dinner at Sra Srang. Catered by the Amansara chefs, your meal is enhanced by the tranquil surroundings of this ancient baray. A romantic candle lit meal, delicious food, exquisite wine, and a tranquil setting - what more could you ask for?
Dinner at Prasat Kravan within the grounds of one of the Angkorian temples is an experienced unmatched elsewhere in the world. Guests experience a private Apsara dance performance and shadow puppet show whilst dining by candlelight in the grounds of a temple
Although overshadowed by the popularity of Siem Reap, Cambodia’s capital is slowly seeing an increase in tourist numbers. Often dusty and chaotic, the city might not showcase the charm of Siem Reap but those who scratch the surface are often surprised at what they find in Phnom Penh. With a host of new dining options, boutique shops, and trendy cafes, the city is undergoing a modern renaissance.
Spending a few days in the capital city, visitors will not only uncover the historic side of the country but also experience the true vibe of an emerging capital.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh?
Phnom Penh does not offer the sheer number of hotels that Siem Reap has, but there are still plenty of choices from small, charming, boutique style accommodation to luxury hotels.
Several small boutique hotels can be found in the city centre. Favorites include Villa Langka, Amanjaya, and The Pavillion, each of which offers tastefully decorated rooms, modern amenities, and reasonable prices. In the increasingly bustling capital, these hotels are peaceful retreats and havens of calm.
Newly opened, the Blue Lime and Kabiki are small hotels featuring fewer than 15 rooms and located just behind the Royal Palace. This new wave of chic boutique hotels promises to continue as tourists continue to flock to Cambodia.
The Intercontinental is the luxury hotel of choice in Phnom Penh. Although it is just outside the city centre, this hotel has all of the amenities and features that one can expect from the international chain. The Sokha hotel group will be opening another five-star property in 2009 that is sure to be added to our luxe list.
What to see in Phnom Penh?
Cambodia’s Royal Palace stands majestically in the city centre just off the riverfront area. Several buildings are open to visitors including the ‘Silver Pagoda’ whose floor is lined with solid silver tiles. Nearby, the National Museum is a fabulous old building filled with art and artifacts dating back to the pre-Angkorian era.
For a look in to the country’s tragic recent history, a tour of Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21) and the Killing Fields is a sobering reminder of the evils of the Khmer Rouge regime. Although not a joyful tour, visiting these monuments unlocks keys to understanding the development of this still developing country.
An hour or two spent touring the city in a cyclo is one of AP’s favourite tours. These three wheeled rickshaws allow you to sit in comfort with the wind blowing in your face as your driver pedals you through the streets. Along the way, stop at Wat Phnom, travel past the art-deco Central Market, and cruise the riverfront for a glimpse of the colonial buildings and local lifestyle of the people.
For those interested in architecture, walking tours give you a different view of Phnom Penh. Follow a detailed map or go with a guide and explore the contemporary and ancient buildings of the city.
Shopping and Dining
Phnom Penh is a shoppers’ paradise with everything from fake Louis Vitton handbags to fine silk household items. The crowded Russian Market is the place to test out your bargaining skills, while the art-deco Central Market features more local products mixed in with the souvenirs. For fine home wares and clothes, the shops on Street 240 are filled with luxurious goods and Street 178 is filled with art galleries selling traditional and modern pieces created by Khmer artists.
Several shops are affiliated with charities and by spending your money there, you will help alleviate poverty in the country. Shops such as Smateria, Rehab Craft, and ART Café sell high quality arts and crafts and the proceeds benefit local residents.
You can also dine for a cause in Phnom Penh as many restaurants feature charity connections. Friends is perhaps the area"s longest standing establishment of its type serving delectable tapas whilst supporting the country’s street children. The same organization has recently opened Romdeng which serves fresh, traditional cuisine.
For fine dining in the capital, look no further than Topaz. This long standing French Bistro is a favorite of expats and tourists, while the newer 192 is a formidable opponent. The casual atmosphere and great food at the FCC always draws a crowd, and a few doors down is the Spanish-inspired Pacharan which is always packed full of folks gathering for tapas and paella. For local cuisine, Khmer Surin and Malis top our list
Cambodia is a diverse country with mountains and beaches, rivers and jungles. Traveling through the rural areas is a great way to not only experience the variety of natural landscapes, but also unveils the lifestyle and genuine warmth of the Cambodian people.
Kampong Thom is located between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and is an excellent stopover for those traveling overland. Near this sleepy riverside town lie the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk, a collection of 7th century temples. Tucked in the forest, these ancient ruins can be explored on foot or by bike traversing small dirt paths which wind among the temples.
North of the Cambodian capital is the town of Kratie. This typical Khmer small town is located on the banks of the Mekong River and the endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins are frequently spotted. Kratie makes a great stop on the way to Stung Treng, another rural town located on the Laos border. This beautiful riverside town does not have much in terms of sightseeing, but the town provides a relaxing atmosphere and chance to experience the local culture.
Heading south of Phnom Penh, you reach the towns of Sihanoukville, Kep and Kampot. Each of these towns has a different allure - Sihanoukville is a coastal town with nice beaches and great day trips available. Nearby is Ream National Park where mangrove forests, a diverse selection of wildlife, and tranquil nature await. Kampot is a riverside town with colonial buildings and nearby caves and waterfalls. Still undiscovered, Kep is a favorite AP destination. A quiet beach, lush hills, and delicious seafood make Kep a great place to ‘get away from it all’ especially if you take a trip out to nearby Rabbit Island.
To the northeast, two provinces are worth exploring. Although the roads are not in the best conditions, the scenery is fantastic and the trip is rewarding. Rattanakiri province is located near the Vietnam and Laos borders and is home to a variety of Cambodia’s ethnic minorities. An endless amount of trekking opportunities, dozens of waterfalls, and great wildlife spotting can be done in Rattanakari. Also, the area is home to the beautiful Yeak Loam Lake, a volcanic crater whose clear waters are perfect for swimming. Mondulkiri province is further east and also showcases Cambodia’s natural beauty. Although the largest province in the country, it is one of the least populated and hill tribe trekking is the most popular activity for visitors.
Cambodia is an adventurer’s paradise. Cycling and trekking opportunities abound, both in the Siem Reap area and in all of the provinces. For a unique perspective on the temples of Angkor, we highly recommend spending a few days exploring the area. Our Temple Trek is a fantastic tour - trekking past temples and through the countryside, camping out under the stars, and meeting locals along the way. Short cycling day trips or multi-day trips around Siem Reap are great for temple exploration - the roads are flat and tree lined and seeing the ruins hidden amongst the forest is a beautiful experience. For a longer journey, Saigon to Angkor Cycling is a great tour, traveling by two wheels from Southern Vietnam across to Siem Reap.
After months of dedicated research, the Mekong Discovery Trail is a network of safe, ecotourism journeys through some of the least populated areas of the Mekong River. The 180km trail runs from Kratie north to the Laos border. Cycling this route is an eco-friendly way in which travelers can experience the beauty of the region. Along the way, you can participate in a variety of community-based tourism activities and make a positive impact on the villages and people of the area. Upon reaching the Laos border there many soft adventure activities are available to continue your travels along the Mekong.
Eating and drinking in Cambodia
Although Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is well known throughout the world, few know about Cambodian Cuisine. It derives its flavor from spices and herbs which are grown locally and sweet, sour, salty, and bitter are blended seamlessly. With the abundance of freshwater fish in the country, it comes as no surprise that fish is the most common meat used in Cambodian cooking with a wide array of vegetables accompanying the dishes.
A typical Cambodian meal consists of a light soup, a salad, a fish dish, and of course rice. ‘Must try" dishes include amok, a steamed fish dish accompanied by an array of herbs and spices bringing out the flavor of the fish without masking its taste. Another must try is samlor korko, a mixed vegetable and fish soup and char kdao, meat stir fried with basil, lemongrass and galangal.
During the hot Cambodian summer there is no more refreshing treat than a fresh fruit shake. Combining local fruits with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, these blended beverages are a traveler"s delight! Another sweet treat is sugar cane juice which is extracted by mashing the stalks of sugar cane. The resulting juice is then combined with a splash of lime, and is the perfect pick me up on a hot day!