Phnom Penh & Around
For most visitors, this region is all about the enigmatic Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, a chaotic crossroads of Asia's past, present and future. If you can pull yourself away from the poolside or escape the lively bars, then exploring the sights around the capital will reward.
Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ): 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.
Cambodia's South Coast (ឆ្នេរខាងត្បូង) provides the antidote to temple-hopping tick lists. The beaches draw most folk here, but stick around and you'll see this region is more than its sandy bits. The Koh Kong Conservation Corridor's emerald-green vistas offer trekking potential that is only now being tapped into, providing a host of nature-filled adventures.
Looking for temples without the tourist hordes? The remote temples of Northwestern Cambodia are a world apart. While hilltop Prasat Preah Vihear is the big hitter, the other temple complexes – wrapped in vines and half-swallowed by jungle – are all fabulous to explore. In the region's heart is Tonlé Sap, one of the world's most fish-rich lakes and a birder's paradise.
Sure, Sihanoukville (ក្រុងព្រះសីហនុ) would never win first prize in a pretty-town competition, and much of it is now dominated by casinos and tacky commercial centres. But despite the rapid and mostly unwanted development, it has remained the jumping-off point for the best of Cambodia's white-sand beaches and castaway-cool southern islands.
Battambang Province (ខេត្តបាត់ដំបង; Bat Dambong) is 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.
Kampot Province (ខេត្តកំពត) has emerged as one of Cambodia’s most alluring destinations thanks to a hard-to-beat combination of easy-going seaside towns and lush countryside riddled with honeycombed limestone caves. The province is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest pepper.
There's something about Battambang (បាត់ដំបង) 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.
Popular Ratanakiri Province (ខេត្តរតនគិរី) is a diverse region of outstanding natural beauty that provides a remote home for a mosaic of peoples – Jarai, Tompuon, Brau and Kreung minorities, plus Lao. Adrenalin activities abound. Swim in clear volcanic lakes, shower under waterfalls, or trek in the vast Virachey National Park.
Koh Kong City
Sleepy Koh Kong (ក្រុងកោះកុង) 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 Cardamom Mountains and coastline, shoo away the sleaze.
Mondulkiri Province (ខេត្តមណ្ឌលគិរី), the original wild east, is a world apart from the lowlands with not a rice paddy or palm tree in sight. Home to the hardy Bunong people and their noble elephants, this upland area is a seductive mix of grassy hills, pine groves and rainforests of jade green.