Cambodia is Asia’s fastest growing tourist destination. After about 35 years of non-stop war, this beautiful country is finally re-emerging from the darkness.
Since the time of the Vietnam war in the sixties, Cambodia has had to suffer “secret” carpet bombings by the United States, followed by the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge, a Vietnamese takeover, and a further 20 years of civil war.
Following U.N. peacekeeping efforts, the somewhat dubious election of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the dismantling of the Khmer Rouge, the country is now enjoying a period of stability and new-found optimism. It’s many wonders are now open to visitors.
Phnom Penh: Asia Meets Europe
The capital city of Phnom Penh (pop. 1 million) is a lively place these days. Cars and motorcycles careen through charming streets lined with many French style buildings dating back to its days as a French colony in the first half of this century. The center of city life is the riverfront boulevard, featuring many bars and restaurants with a big emphasis on French-style food.
One attraction worth visiting (though not for the faint-hearted) is the Killing Field Museum (Tuol Sleng), a former school taken over in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge and converted into a torture chamber. The National Museum is less grisly, with an emphasis on Ancient Khmer history.
The Temples of Angkor
The biggest attraction for most visitors are the temple ruins at Angkor, just a few kilometers from the colonial city of Siem Reap. Well preserved stone temple ruins dating back about 1,000 years cover an area of 200 sq. kilometers. Visitors can easily spend several days exploring here, taking in the thousands of exquisite statues and bas relief carvings that adorn the walls of seemingly endless temple buildings and chedis. A cruise on the Tonle Sap — Asia’s largest freshwater lake — is also a memorable experience.
A Word of Warning: Though Cambodia is now more peaceful than at any time in the last 30 years, visitors should still exercise caution – particularly in the capital. Confine tourism activities to the daytime, since the dimly-lit streets can be dangerous at night. In the more rural areas, stick to well-established pathways (or better yet, travel with a qualified guide), since there are still countless landmines left over from the war years. Hazards aside though, a little prudence is all that’s required to enjoy a safe and happy holiday in this remarkable country.
Cambodia Travel Destinations
Siem Reap is a small colonial town just north of Southeast Asia’s largest lake, Tonle Sap.
Phnom Penh, founded alongside the Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers, has been the capital of Cambodia since the mid15th century, after Angkor was abandoned.