We continue the world tour of the French-speaking world. This week, the Alliance française de San Francisco takes you to Cambodia! Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia known for its Angkor Wat sites and temples, its heavenly beaches and its Khmer culture. Because of the French colonial past, Cambodia has today 400 000 French speaking people
Planning to visit Cambodia? Discover our selection of must-sees to enjoy the many wonders of the land of smiles!
10 things to do in Cambodia
The temples of Angkor
Symbols of the country, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap are vibrant witnesses to the grandeur of the Khmer Empire, which dominated medieval Southeast Asia. Angkor ("the city") was the capital of the empire and at its peak had a population of 750,000, making it one of the largest cities in the world.
Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the most emblematic of the temples of the site. Considered as the eighth wonder of the world, it is dedicated to the Hindu deity Vishnu. We advise you to come very early to admire the sunrise on the temple. The view is splendid... Another remarkable temple, Ta Prohm is engulfed by vegetation. Cheese trees, which shelter gibbons and parrots, curl up on the ancient stones: it is as if visitors were discovering the place as it was left centuries ago.
The alliance between Khmer architecture and wild jungle brings a very special atmosphere. The site is huge and you can schedule your visit for 1, 3 or 7 days. To visit the temples in Angkor and avoid the crowds, feel free to explore the less famous temples of the Angkor complex.
To the northeast of the archaeological site of Angkor, Phnom Kulen is a massif which culminates at 487 meters of altitude. It shelters the sources of the rivers that bathe the ancient city. Its micro-climate makes it grow delicious fruits, famous in the whole country. It is a place of pilgrimage for the Khmers, who consider Phnom Kulen as a sacred place.
The visit of the massif allows to see archaeological vestiges which have the particularity to mix with the water of the sources. The river
of a thousand lingams is lined with bas-reliefs and Kbal Spean is an incredible carved riverbed. At the top of the mountain is a small
temple that houses a reclining Buddha. You can also bathe in majestic waterfalls, an opportunity to mingle with the local population, very
The Tonle Sap
The Tonle Sap is a river and a large lake located in the center of the country. Its flowing regime is unique in the world: the water empties and fills up according to the monsoons. During the rainy season, the Tonle Sap River changes direction and the surface of the lake is multiplied by four! The Cambodians celebrate then the festival of water, or Bon Om Touk.
But the great particularity of the Tonle Sap lake is that it is inhabited. Indeed, several communities, mainly Vietnamese, were formed and live in what is called floating villages. The shops and houses of these unusual villages move on the lake according to the seasons. Visiting Cambodia is an opportunity to discover them and to observe the curious daily life of their inhabitants.
Koh Rong Island
The Gulf of Thailand is home to several paradise islands attached to Cambodia. Among them, Koh Rong is famous for its dreamy beaches and festive atmosphere.
Sip delicious cocktails, enjoy a snorkeling session to admire the seabed, bask on white sandy beaches and swim in crystal clear turquoise water... What is the most beautiful beach on Koh Rong? Long Beach is a little more difficult to access than the others, but will offer you a real postcard landscape.
Nearby, Koh Rong Samloem is even more beautiful. Isolated and small in size, it is bordered by clear waters. The accommodation is more expensive, but you will enjoy a wild environment, and especially quieter than Koh Rong once the night falls.
The Cardamom Mountains are ideal for those who want to visit Cambodia through a great diversity of landscapes: jungle, pine forests, rice fields and green hills are on the program. By trekking or by motorcycle, the Cardamoms allow you to really get off the beaten track and sleep in the jungle, lulled by the song of birds and gibbons.
During the trip, you can stop in many local shops. Visit Koh Kong, a very pleasant town surrounded by deserted beaches. Koh Kong Bay on the Gulf of Siam is dotted with rivers and waterfalls.
In addition, Chi Phat village is a great experience to visit the authentic Cambodia. This community has set up its village to welcome tourists and let them discover their customs.
To visit Cambodia is also to discover its history and culture. For this, the capital is a destination of choice. Although it has a bad reputation in the eyes of tourists, it is full of treasures that offer visitors the opportunity to immerse themselves in Cambodian life. Its arteries blocked by thousands of motorcycles, its markets full of noises and smells, its many monuments that testify to the good or dark periods of the country's history... Better to let yourself be carried by the current to appreciate the city.
During your stay in Phnom Penh, don't miss to visit the must-see places, like the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. Nearby, the National Museum displays an impressive collection of Khmer artifacts and features traditional Khmer dance performances. The Tuol Sleng Museum is a must-see to better understand the painful period of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, you can lose yourself in the Central Market of Phnom Penh, the largest in the country.
This charming city is known for the famous Kampot pepper. It is a peaceful place for those who want to visit Cambodia, and it has kept a certain authenticity in spite of its tourist development. Its quiet streets are regularly animated to welcome different markets. A little secret for those who want to live a timeless experience, without tourists: get up at dawn to go to the fish market on the banks of the river, held by the Cham Muslim community.
Rent a bike or motorcycle to get lost in the city's surroundings. Visit the fish island with its beautiful fishermen's houses swept with red earth, the many water lily lakes, the salt marshes and the coastline which has a very special character.
20 kilometers from Kampot, in the Bokor Park, is a colonial ghost town that is well worth a visit.
Kratie is said to contain the Khmer soul. This small town in northeastern Cambodia is surrounded by the Mekong River. In this area, you may have the priceless chance to see the Irraway dolphins, which resemble beluga whales and swim in the fresh waters of the river. This animal is unfortunately endangered and it is becoming increasingly rare to come across it.
The city of Kratie has a particular colonial architecture. On site, you can visit the Buddhist temple Phnom Sambok which overlooks a hill
with lush vegetation. The steps to reach the pagoda are decorated with many large colorful statues of monks. Once at the top, you can admire
a magnificent panorama of the Mekong River.
Ratanakiri, or Rotanah Kiri, is one of the most beautiful and remote regions in the northeast of the country and is home to Virachey National Park. Its dense forests cover 80% of its area, which you can explore on treks and excursions, enjoying the welcome coolness of the region. This is an opportunity for nature lovers to observe Cambodia's rich biodiversity, particularly dense in this mountainous province. Discover its luxuriant jungles, its waterfalls, its wild animals, but also its villages sheltering a mosaic of ethnic minorities.
Admire the lake of Yeak Lom, a real jewel of nature: its translucent waters are set on a volcanic crater, and the Cambodians give it a sacred character. It would be inhabited by protective spirits... Moreover, do not forget to pass by Banlung, nicknamed the red city because of the characteristic color of its earth. The market is worth the detour, if only to meet its friendly inhabitants.
If you want to visit Cambodia while avoiding the more touristy areas, Pursat is a destination for you. A small country town known for its stone carvers and marble work, it is a great destination to meet Khmer people and discover new things outside the traditional tours. Don't miss to taste the delicious traditional Cambodian dishes. Not far from there, you can take a pirogue to sail on the Tonle Sap and visit the fascinating floating village of Kompong Luong, and why not spend the night there!
Another interest of Pursat is the Bamboo Train, on which you can take a short ride. It consists of bamboo platforms, loaded with goods, which move on rails with the help of a motor. A great opportunity to meet the locals while watching the beautiful Cambodian countryside unfold before your eyes.
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