Cambodia might be one of South East Asia’s smallest countries, but it is superlative in stature. Though the nation was brought to its knees under Pol Pot's destructive regime in the 1970s, it has recovered sufficiently to become one of the highlights of South East Asia. It’s a beloved spot for backpackers, who can enjoy 50-cent beers whilst overlooking some of the most awe-inspiring historical remains on the planet. While, the striking magnificence of the Angkor Temples has long been the main draw for budget and luxury travellers alike, as has the country’s ancient Khmer heritage, wild jungles, steamy cities and a past that's equal parts inspiring and saddening.
Approximately 2 million tourists visit the country each year. Uber cool bars and decadent hotels have popped up in Cambodia’s main cities Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to serve this growing industry. Meanwhile, the up and coming beach town Sihanoukville offers a laid back Asian beach vibe, golden sands and opaque waters to those seeking solace, away from the chaotic cities.
Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, is one of the region's most absorbing cities - a laconic waterside feel offset by rampant nightlife and a proud local culture. In recent years the city has evolved into a somewhat arty hub, with its boutique fashion store shops and galleries, yet the authentic buzz remains. A simple street walk offers a unruly, yet beguiling, scene of rickety tuk tuks, wayward moto drivers and vendors selling everything from Balut – fertilised duck egg – to bowls of spiders, both popular street food.
Elsewhere, beaches and lashings of tropical adventure all help keep visitor numbers healthy. The intrepid may seek out the hill tribal region of Mondulkiri or Rantanakiri, the sleepy conservation village of Chi Phat, the isolated temples of Preah Vihear and Banteay Chhmar, and the lesser travelled areas of Kampot or Kep.
Cambodia’s national parks are also a must visit. The country is filled with minerals, exotic fauna and over 240 reptile species, 850 freshwater fish species and 212 mammal species, including 16 globally endangered mammals such as Indochinese tigers, Asian elephants and freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. Wildlife specialists frequent the region to monitor these incredible creatures, while eco-tourists take part in activities and tours to help maintain funding for various conservation projects.
Other tourist sites include both world-wonder-worthy ancient temples at Angkor Wat and, in stark contrast, the Killing Fields - exhibiting the atrocities that took place under Khmer Rouge. Somehow, through Cambodia’s traumatic history, which included years of torture, colonization, carpet-bombing, pillaging and poverty, Khmer people remain some of most gentle, happy and friendly sorts on earth.