Phnom Penh (ភ្នំ ពេញ): the name can’t help but conjure up an image of the exotic. The glimmering spires of the Royal Palace, the fluttering saffron of the monks’ robes and the luscious location on the banks of the mighty Mekong – this is the Asia many daydream about from afar. Cambodia’s capital can be an assault on the senses.
Looking for temples without the tourist hordes? The remote temples of Northwest Cambodia are a world apart. While hilltop Prasat Preah Vihear is the big-hitter, the other temple complexes – wrapped by vines and half-swallowed by jungle – are all fabulous to explore. In the region's heart is Tonlé Sap lake, one of the world's most fish-rich lakes and a birder's paradise.
Kompong Som Province
Sandwiched between Kampot and Koh Kong Provinces, diminutive Preah Sihanouk Province (ខេត្តព្រះសីហនុ; also known as Kompong Som Province) is dominated by its main city, the dynamic port of Sihanoukville. Besides the surrounding islands, natural sites include Ream National Park, 18km east of Sihanoukville, and the Kbal Chhay Cascades.
Battambang Province (ខេត្តបាត់ដំបង; Bat Dambong), said by proud locals to produce Cambodia’s finest rice, sweetest coconuts and tastiest oranges (don’t bring this up in Pursat). It has a long border with Thailand and a short stretch of the Tonlé Sap shoreline. Battambang has passed from Cambodia to Thailand and back again several times over the past few centuries.
There's something about Battambang that visitors just love. Forget the fact that there's really not all that much to do in the city proper: the colonial architecture teetering into genteel disrepair, the riverside setting, the laid-back cafes – they all make up for it. It's the perfect blend of relatively urban modernity and small-town friendliness.
Kampot Province (ខេត្តកំពត) has emerged as one of Cambodia’s most alluring destinations thanks to a hard-to-beat combination of easygoing towns and lush countryside riddled with honeycombed limestone caves. The province is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest pepper. Durian haters be warned: Kampot is also Cambodia’s main producer of this odoriferous fruit.
Koh Kong Province
Cambodia’s vast and sparsely populated far southwestern province of Koh Kong (ខេត្ត កោះកុង) shelters some of the country’s most remarkable and important natural sites. Until relatively recently the entire province was effectively cut off from the rest of the country due to dreadful roads.
Koh Kong City
Sleepy Koh Kong was once Cambodia's Wild West with its isolated frontier economy dominated by smuggling, prostitution and gambling. Although remnants of its less salubrious past still cling on, today this low-slung town is striding towards respectability as ecotourists, aiming to explore the Cardamoms, shoo away the sleaze.
Popular Ratanakiri Province (ខេត្តរតនគិរី) is making a name for itself as a diverse region of outstanding natural beauty that provides a remote home for a mosaic of minority peoples. The Jarai, Tompuon, Brau, Kavet and Kreung are the Khmer Leu (Upper Khmer) people, with their own languages, traditions and customs.