A freelance writer and editor living in Melbourne, I'm an avid fan of film, television and literature.
Published October 13th 2012
Cambodia is a country full of contradictions. Its natural beauty and ancient history are scarred by the recent horrors of the Khmer Rouge, although the country is slowly recovering. Most people know about the awe-aspiring temples of Angkor, but there is so much more to discover in Cambodia; bustling cities, tropical beaches and amazing dining experiences.
Visiting the temples of Angkor is like stepping back in time, or visiting an alien planet. The first glimpse of Angkor Wat is simply breathtaking. It is the world's largest religious building, literally representing heaven on earth.
For something completely different, visit Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex. Its 216 immense stone faces watch you where ever you go. The building is like a maze; full of twisting corridors and stooped ceilings. It's a place full of mystery, and well-worth a long visit.
Another tourist favourite is Ta Prohm, known to many as the Tomb Raider temple, as it featured prominently in the movie. At Ta Prohm nature has taken over, with immense trees growing through the stone buildings.
Do yourself a favour and spend several days exploring the temples; it's definitely worth your while.
Phnom Penh is Cambodia's capital. It can be a shock when you first arrive; chaos reigns, with tuk-tuks, taxis, motorbikes and bicycles ruling the roads.
Once you adapt to the environment, the city has many amazing opportunities. It has some wonderful restaurants and bars, with great opportunities to try delicious Cambodian food.
Although it is an emotional and frankly depressing experience, going to the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields are an essential experience, showing the worst of Cambodian history. For something more cheerful, go to the Russian Markets and spend the day bargaining for treasures. Soak up some Cambodian history in the National Museum and enjoy the splendour of the Royal Palace.
Siem Reap is the base for your exploration of the temples of Angkor, but is a worthy place to visit in its own right. Less chaotic than Phnom Penh, Siem Reap is a leafy city with a beautiful river, although it can be rather touristy and less authentic than other places in Cambodia.
Siem Reap has a wonderful night-life, with excellent bars and restaurants. Explore the old market and the night market before enjoying a leisurely dinner and crazy night out (if that's your style).
From Siem Reap it is easy to visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum, an inspiring museum established by Aki Ra, who works as a de-miner in small Cambodian villages. Another great place to visit is one of the floating villages; Chong Kneas or Kompong Pluk are wonderful and peaceful places to visit.
Head down south to Sihanouville to enjoy sandy white beaches. There are several different beaches for different travel styles. Serendipity Beach is probably the best known beach; a backpacker zone where people come to party at one of the many bars along the beach.
For somewhere more quiet, Otres Beach presents an alternative to the late-nights of Serendipity. The beach itself is also a lot quieter and it's much easier to find a patch of sand to call your own.
While Sihanoukville is an amazing place to visit, with a great selection of food, you should be prepared for the concentration of hawkers along the beach.
For a truly relaxing experience, head to Koh Rong and stay in a Bungalow. There is something wonderfully indulgent about having the beach at your doorstep, and the best part is that there are no hawkers to bother you.
Go swimming, diving, snorkelling, hiking or simply lie on the beach. Once you arrive, you will not want to leave.
The only problem with Koh Rong is the rubbish; while some of the diving companies are trying to arrange beach cleaning days, the beaches have a habit of gathering rubbish from both Sihanoukville and Koh Rong village.