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Group traveller at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and sunrise tour

Why Cambodia Should Be On Your Travel Bucket List

Gap 360 Traveller at Rome Colosseum

By Emily Wickens

Last updated: 4th June 2024

Whether you're a seasoned traveller who has already done the classic Thailand and Vietnam routes, or it’s your first time travelling and you want to dip your toes into a new adventure, Cambodia is the place for you. With iconic temples, stunning sunsets, and a rich yet tragic history, Cambodia is perfect for anyone looking to travel off the beaten path. I recently just returned from Gap 360’s Cambodia Intro tour, and I can honestly say I have fallen in love with the country and its locals. Keep reading to find out where you should travel in Cambodia and why… 

Siem Reap: Temples, Pub Street and More Temples

Of course, if you're planning to travel through Cambodia, it’s no surprise that Siem Reap should be top of your travel plans! As the second-largest city in Cambodia, Siem Reap has plenty of activities to do, such as sunrise temple visits, nights out in the bustling Pub Street, tuk-tuk tours around the city and so much more. 

Angkor Wat Temple Visit: Sunrise Views

group travellers at sunrise at angkor wat in Cambodia

You cannot go to Cambodia without visiting Angkor (our Group Leaders' exact words!). This huge Hindu-Buddhist temple complex is made up of over 400 acres and is the world’s largest religious structure. Travellers come from all over the globe to witness the enchanting sunrise over the main temple, Angkor Wat. This impressive temple was built by orders from the Khmer king, Suryavarman II, in the early 12th century, and is now visited by over 2.6 million tourists every year. Although it sounds like it would be crowded, due to the size of the temple, I found there was still plenty of space to move around and get those classic Instagram shots! After heading inside the Angkor Wat temple, you can spot incredible carvings etched into the stone, including representations of eight different Hindu stories. Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple, but towards the end of the 12th century, the next king, Jayavarman VII, transformed it into a Buddhist temple and replaced many of the original artwork and carvings. 

When visiting the Angkor complex, it is highly recommended to travel around the area with a tuk-tuk guided tour. On the Gap 360 Cambodia Intro tour, this is all sorted for you, so it’s very easy to get around! You are also guided by a local tour guide who has incredible knowledge on the Angkor complex. It gets very hot when exploring the complex, so bring plenty of water, suncream and a hat! 

Bayon and Angkor Thom Temple Visit: Stone Smiling Faces

Group travellers on tuktuk in Cambodia at Bayon Temple in Siem Reap

Just an eight minute tuk-tuk drive from Angkor Wat, you can visit Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple. On the way, you will be lucky enough to travel through the South Gate (Tonle Om Gate) with large detailed stone faces on the top, looking out in each direction. It’s not quite known who these faces are, however, it’s believed that they may be modelled on King Jayavarman VII, Avolikiteshvara, or Brahma. 

After travelling through the gate, you will be met with the Bayon temple. Built by Jayavarmen VII in the early 13th century, this temple stands in the centre of the Angkor Thom city. You’ll spend some time exploring this ornate temple and learning about its history from your local tour guide. 

Ta Phrom Temple Visit: Temple Run & Tomb Raider

Ta Phrom temple in cambodia. Temple run and tomb raider

You may recognise this temple from the 2001 movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Ta Phrom is also nicknamed the Temple Run temple, due to its long stretches of walkways similar to the game. Just be careful if you decide to recreate the popular game, as there are lots of loose rocks and stones (I’m speaking from experience…). This unique temple has been taken over by tree roots since its abandonment, but now is one of the most iconic temples in Siem Reap, and is definitely worth the visit!

Pub Street: Bars, Karaoke & Clubs

Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap isn’t just all temples! During the night, visit the colourfully lit-up Pub Street. You will visit Pub Street on the last day of the Cambodia Intro tour with your group of new mates, and celebrate the night with great Karaoke (my go-to song was Teenage Dirtbag), and some really unique bars. 

Koh Rong Sanloem: Paradise Islands, Snorkelling and Dogs

Just off of mainland Cambodia, is the hidden island paradise of Koh Rong Sanloem. This chilled-out island is more peaceful than its neighbouring party island, Koh Rong, but don’t be fooled, it's got just about everything you could be looking for and more! 

M’Pai Bay: Chief’s Guesthouse & Relaxing

Koh Rong Sanloem island in Cambodia

When joining Gap 360’s Cambodia Intro tour, you will travel to Koh Rong Sanloem with a 30-minute fast boat from the mainland, porting off of Sihanoukville. This idyllic island paradise is the ultimate relaxation experience. With white sandy beaches, a clear ocean and plenty of bars to pick from, you will never want to leave! On the tour, you’ll stay on Koh Rong Sanloem and will be housed in the Chief of the island’s guesthouse at M’Pai Bay, just a 30-second walk from the beach! Don’t be surprised to see plenty of dogs and puppies running around on the sand and playing in the ocean. Most of the dogs have owners but will spend their time exploring the island on their own, before heading back home in the evening.

Snorkelling: Fish & Corals

Boat in Koh Rong Sanloem at snorkelling trip

Koh Rong Sanloem is well known for its stunning beaches, and its beauty continues in the water! Join a boat trip, included on the Cambodia Intro tour, around some of the best snorkelling areas on the island, and spot colourful corals and fish, including clownfish, sea urchins, butterflyfish, parrotfish and more. 

Phnom Penh: History, Markets and Tuk-Tuks

Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is full of markets, shining temples and history. You can easily spend 2 or 3 days here exploring its hidden treasures, along with learning about the recent history of the country. Although not included in the Cambodia Intro tour, if you arrive early, you can check out the Royal Palace, in particular the Silver Pagoda! This striking structure has classic Khmer architecture and pointed roofs. Inside the temple, you can find a series of Buddha statues made from precious metals and stones. 

S21 Prison and Killing Fields: Learn about the Cambodian History

S21 Prison in Cambodia Phnom Penh

Cambodia is a beautiful country for many reasons, but it has a very tragic recent history. On the Cambodia Intro tour, you will learn about some of the events and the Cambodian genocide that took place during the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge ruling between 1976 and 1979. It’s estimated that 1.871 million Cambodians died as a result of Khmer Rouge, or 24% of Cambodia's 1975 population. Now, the evidence left from the rein serves as a place to reflect on the events and to share the history with tourists. First, you will visit the S21 Prison and get a glimpse into the conditions prisoners were forced to live in. It’s believed that around 20,000 prisoners were kept in the prison during the Khmer Rouge regime, with only 12 surviving. Now, you can take a guided tour around the buildings, and perhaps learn some of the history straight from 2 of the survivors. 

You will then take a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, around a 30-minute drive from the S21 Prison. Many of the prisoners were transported here without any knowledge of their fate. Over 17,000 people were killed in these fields and buried in mass graves. Today, you can visit the Choeung Ek Memorial to pay your respects and learn more about the devastating events. 

Kampot: Pepper Plantations, Kayaking & Rivers

Although Kampot is a lesser-known destination in Cambodia, that doesn’t mean you should miss it! Kampot is best known for its pepper plantations and peaceful rivers to kayak along. 

La Plantation: Cooking Classes & Pepper

Group travellers in Kampot Cambodia at cooking class at La Plantation

Kampot is a well-known destination for its peppercorn growing! On the Cambodia Intro group tour, you will visit a locally-owned farm named La Plantation. This organic farm produces black, white and red pepper, along with many other spices and vegetables. They also offer a primary school to the local children in the community. After taking a tour of the plantation, you will join a tasting of over a dozen types of pepper, then use the pepper in a Khmer cooking class. You will be making dishes such as Beef Lok Lak, Fish Amok and a vegan Amok, and trust me, you’ll be craving them when you head back home! 

Preaek Tuek Chhu River: Durian Fruit, Seahorses & Kayaking

Group travellers on kayaking trip in Kampot Cambodia

Spend your afternoon slowly making your way down a short river, and find yourself under curving lush palm trees in the Green Cathedral, a short kayaking trip off the main river, Preaek Tuek Chhu. After your kayaking trip, you can grab a drink at Hideaway pub to watch the sunset and Bopha Prey Guesthouse for a tasty Khmer dinner. 

During your time around the river, it’s hard to miss seeing (and smelling!) the durian fruit. These spiky green fruits are well known for the strong odour they release when opened and their interesting taste. But, have you truly been to Southeast Asia if you haven’t tried it?! This fruit is well loved in Kampot, and even has a large stone statue dedicated to it on one of the roundabouts in the centre of the town! 

In the evening, you can opt to join a sunset boat cruise on the river. Make sure to look out for the large Seahorse fountain statue which spits out water from its mouth, a popular tourist attraction. 

 

Is Cambodia now on your bucket list? Pretty sure the answer is YES! Before travelling to Cambodia, I truly never knew about all of the incredible destinations you can visit. From its idyllic islands, bustling cities and ancient temples, it turns out that it’s Southeast Asia’s hidden gem! Want to experience this unique destination for yourself? Learn more about our Cambodia tours

Still want to hear more? Why not meet one of the Group Leaders on the Cambodia Intro tour to learn more about this awesome destination ⬇️

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