Trip-Spiration: Explore Cambodia’s Magnificent Temples, Islands & More
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If exploring 150 square miles of temple ruins sounds like an epic adventure, head to Cambodia, where you can explore the impressive temples of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. But temple burnout is real… you’ll understand once you spend four days seeing pagoda after temple after ruin. Once you’ve had your fill of temple-hopping, there’s so much more that the country has to offer you. Here’s some “trip-spiration” for you next vacation to Cambodia — are you ready to start planning?
What To Do
Angkor Wat is an UNESCO World Heritage Site that you absolutely can’t miss when visiting Cambodia. Passes are available to explore Angkor Wat for one, three or seven days, and you may recall seeing the famous Ta Prohm temple in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie.
Although you shouldn’t miss seeing the sun rise over the famous temples with all the other tourists, try to get off the beaten path to see some of the less popular temples, like Preah Khan. Since pretty much everyone will be at the main temple, this one — and others — will likely be virtually empty, allowing you to explore on your own. Wandering through the rocks and around the jungle without another tourist in sight will be an unforgettable moment!
An easy way to visit the temples is to hire a private tuk tuk driver to take you around for the day. However, watch out for scams — an easy way to avoid being taken advantage of is to have your hotel arrange your tuk tuk, or make sure to write down the agreed upon price with the driver so you won’t be left stranded — or having to pay triple the price.
While Angkor is without a doubt amazing, it has become very touristy in recent years. Visiting during rainy season when less tourists are around is an option (though you may get drenched), or you can always head to the lesser-known Banteay Chhmar temple complex that’s close to the border with Thailand. This temple complex also dates back to the 12th century and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Cambodia isn’t just about hidden temples, though. It’s also home to the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonle Sap. If you want to pay the lake a visit, it’s best to take a full-day tour, so you can discover some of the lesser-visited villages.
Koh Rong is a magical island that will allow you to relax and recharge in the sunshine. The island has it all — secret, secluded beaches, a solid party scene and plenty of marine life for divers and snorklers. Although Koh Rong has plenty of conveniences for tourists, it still manages to retain its Cambodian charm.
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital. While its not the most beautiful Southeast Asian capital, it’s the place to be if you want to sample some amazing street food. Fish amok is one of the country’s most famous dishes — it’s comprised of fish with curry and lemongrass inside a coconut leaf. Street markets can be overwhelming, though, so if you’re not sure where to start, consider a street food tour, ensuring you’ll get an inside look at —and taste of — all the specialties.
Where To Stay
Although Le Meridien Angkor, a Category 2 property, is a little farther away from center of Siem Reap, it is on the way to the Angkor Wat temples, making it the perfect, quiet spot for those wanting to to escape from the busy town and explore the ruins. Rates start as low as $90 or 4,000 Starpoints per night. In contrast, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap is located near Pub Street in Siem Reap, close to all the action. Rates start as low as $153 or 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night. While Phnom Penh doesn’t have a lot of major hotel chain options (though there is a Sofitel, part of the LeAccor program), you can find a chic boutique property for under $100 per night — we love the Pavilion, an adult-only property with a serene pool.
If you’re coming from the US, you can fly to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore first… or really any large hub in the region. Then, you can hop on a short-haul flight to Siem Reap (REP). If you’re on a budget, try flying AirAsia, a low-cost carrier, or Bangkok Airways, a “boutique” airline. Check out our posts on the top ways to use points and miles to fly both first class or business class to Asia from the US.
Insider Tip: If you want to give back, skip orphanage tourism, which can have negative effects on the local community. Instead, eat at an NGO restaurant, which benefits the local community. These restaurants often train and teach low income teens and adults how to cook or serve, and also use part of their proceeds to benefit the community. Our favorite is the TREE alliance group, which has a restaurant — Marum — in Siem Reap, one in Phnom Penh called Romdeng, and others around Southeast Asia.
Featured photo by @kaakamakaaka via Twenty20