Cambodia is a tropical haven in Southeast Asia, with world-famous temples, majestic rainforests, and a distinct community of hospitable and friendly locals.
Having a land area of 181,035 square kilometers, the country’s list of sights and attractions to visit is endless.
There is something for the most adventurous backpackers, culture buffs, local cuisine aficionados, and those who just want to experience something new.
And as the land of ancient temples, Cambodia is also the perfect place for those looking for enlightenment and spiritual growth.
If you want the ultimate out-of-the-country trip, then set your sights on this place.
Here are the 15 best things to do in Cambodia:
Explore Cambodia’s Backcountry at Koh Kong
Koh Kong Province is an ideal destination for those who want adventures that are off the beaten path.
This destination has undeveloped forests, coastline, and interior that make for a true nature adventure.
The Peam Krasaop Wildlife & Mangrove Sanctuary is home to many local species, including native mangroves, dolphins, aquatic birds, and friendly monkeys who might take your belongings.
For those who want to explore the more rugged forests within the highlands, local businesses can take you through the wilderness and explore the rivers, waterfalls, and other spectacular sceneries.
The beaches sitting adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand make for a relaxing seaside trip.
You can go scuba diving with certified Koh Kong divers or simply explore the largely isolated beaches of Koh Yor.
Visit the Floating Villages in Tonlé Sap Lake
As the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, Tonlé Sap is an integral part of Cambodia’s economy and culture.
It is an important source of food for the communities surrounding it, and it serves as irrigation for the largely agricultural industry of Cambodia’s interior provinces.
You’ll have a fascinating experience exploring the banks of this lake, as there are more than 170 floating villages offering various produce, local products, and souvenirs for tourists.
These communities include Kompong Khleang, Chong Khneas, and Kampong Chhnang.
Home to a diverse species of wildlife, Tonlé Sap also offers many opportunities to see endemic birds and fish swimming in the lake's depths.
While touring the localities on a boat, don’t forget to mingle with locals and get to know their unique stories.
You’ll gain a new appreciation of these communities and all the practices they’ve adopted while living on the water.
Spend a Day at the World-Famous Angkor Wat
The first thing that most people might think of when they hear “Cambodia” is the ancient temples, particularly the beautiful structures of Angkor Wat.
This place is such an iconic emblem of the country that it has earned its place on Cambodia’s flag.
Often ranked in must-see ancient sites lists, the Angkor Wat is an ambitious temple that serves as a hallmark of human skill and might.
The historical park is around 162.6 hectares and was built as a Buddhist temple, becoming the world’s largest city during the medieval period.
Ancient Khmer royalty used it to show off their power, but today, it has been overtaken by jungles.
The sheer magnitude of the stone carvings will leave you awe-struck, with intricate architectural patterns, human and animal figures, and precisely balanced elements, making a monumental piece of art that is unlike anything else.
Tour the Beautiful Royal Palace
Situated in the bustling city of Phnom Penh, the Royal Palace is another architectural marvel that every visitor must see.
It serves as the residence of the Cambodian King, and it’s one of the most recognizable symbols of traditional artistry in the city.
Gleaming with gold tiles and alabaster walls, the various structures within the palace reflect the site's original purpose.
There are also magnificent Buddha statues, gilded throne rooms, and opulent filigrees that make the complex a marvelous sight to behold.
The manicured gardens surrounding the buildings are also picturesque sights that complement the complex's architecture.
Make sure to visit the towering stupas and see the details of the designs up close.
There are also murals that depict important past events—a must-see for art lovers and history buffs.
Remember the Past at Tuol Sleng Museum
The Tuol Sleng Museum is a former secondary school that once served as a prison during the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge.
While it may seem too grim for some, many tourists still visit the facility who want a glimpse into the country's unfortunate history.
The museum houses many artifacts, photographs, documents, and other reminders of the Cambodia Genocide, one of the most defining eras in the country’s history.
Several of the devices and structures that were once used to torture prisoners still stand today, including cells, waterboarding devices, and barbed wires surrounding segments of the facility.
They serve as reminders of the grim situation back in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge systematically captured and tortured citizens they saw as threats to their regime.
While visiting, take your time to get to know these individuals and learn their stories.
It’s one way of remembering the horrors of the past and making sure that it doesn’t repeat in the present.
See the Elephants at the Elephant Valley Project
Get up-close and personal with Southeast Asia’s famous elephants by visiting the Elephant Valley Project in Krong Saen Monourom.
This 1,500-hectare sanctuary serves as the home for rescued elephants and those who have “retired” from their working days.
With the rivers, forests, grasslands, and bamboo groves dotting the facility, the elephants are free to roam and live out their days in relative peace.
You’re welcome to explore the designated areas of the park and interact with an elephant or two.
You’ll see them play in the mud, bathe in the calm rivers, or feed on the jungle foliage.
Best of all, you’ll be supporting the efforts of one of the most trusted elephant conservation nonprofits in the country.
Enjoy the Cool Temperature at Preah Monivong Bokor National Park
Located in the idyllic Kampot Province in southwestern Cambodia, the Preah Monivong Bokor National Park is an elevated area with a cool climate and lots of beautiful sights to visit.
It is designated as an ASEAN Heritage Park, with many cultural and natural wonders scattered in the beautiful tropical landscape.
One of the most famous landmarks is the Bokor Hill Station, a French Colonial Era structure that now stands as a haunting sentinel in an otherwise isolated location.
The park is also home to Popokvil Waterfall and its swirling mists, the oddly shaped rocks of Wat Sampove Pram, and the Lok Yeay Mao Monument, a Buddhist statue overlooking the bay.
To get around the other historical and natural sites in the park, walking tours, and biking rentals are available at a fee.
Rest and Relax at Sihanoukville
If you want a more luxurious or bustling beach destination, then the city of Sihanoukville is a must-add destination in your itinerary.
Sitting right in the Gulf of Thailand, the city offers a tropical experience comparable to the Carribeans or the neighboring Indonesian archipelago.
The strips of golden beaches, turquoise waters, and balmy temperature make for the perfect sun-and-sand holiday.
Independence Beach and Sokha Beach offer a more luxurious experience, with renowned facilities and a peaceful ambiance that make any tourist want to stay for longer.
Otres Beach has huts and aquamarine shores that are perfect for stunning Instagram photos.
There are also restaurants and bars that offer refreshments and local cuisine for those who want to try Cambodia’s national dishes.
Spend a Peaceful Day at Battambang
The city of Battambang is one of the most idyllic and serene localities in the country, with vast rice fields, ancient temples, and a hospitable community ready to accommodate tourists.
While it stands as the second-largest city in Cambodia, it isn’t as commercialized and busy as Phnom Penh, making it a great destination for those who want an authentic cultural experience.
Temples, such as the Ek Phnom Pagoda, Wat Samrong Knong, and Phnom Banan, are within a few kilometers from each other, allowing for an amazing temple-hopping experience within a day.
One of the most iconic modes of transportation in the city is the Bamboo Train, which offers an open-air, breezy ride among the abandoned railways of the city.
These contraptions will take you through the jungles, with stopovers on scenic views and charming souvenir shops.
For those who have more time to spare, you can join one of the tuk-tuk excursions to Battambang’s rustic countryside.
You’ll find small villages, swaths of rice fields, picturesque sights, and swarms of bats during sunset.
Marvel at the Relics of Banteay Chhmar
The Banteay Chhmar is another well-preserved temple in Banteay Meanchey designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Slowly being consumed by the forests surrounding it, this mammoth Buddhist religious complex is home to ruined structures, stone reliefs, face towers, and other delicate structures that showcase amazing human skills from ancient days.
The murals and sandstone walls depict scenes of battle and everyday life from the reign of Jayavarman VII during the 13th century, turning your tour into an immersive experience in history.
Today, it’s one of the largest structures of its kind in the country, and it is said to be the least understood because of the relative state of the ruins and the complex imagery depicted on the buildings.
You’ll feel like Indiana Jones coming to this peaceful commune.
Try Local Cuisine at Phnom Penh
No trip to Cambodia is complete without trying the nation’s most famous dishes.
As a country with influences from maritime cultures of the Malay peninsula and neighboring China, Cambodia offers a rich menu that combines elements from these places.
One of the best places to try these local dishes is the bustling capital, Phnom Penh.
Within the restaurants dotting the streets of the city, you’ll find staples like fish amok, bai sach chrouk, kuy teav noodle soup, and samlor machu trey.
Dessert shops offer tasty dishes for those with a sweet tooth, including pumpkin custard, mung bean pudding, Khmer layer cake with coconut cream, and num banh duc, a pandan-leaf dessert.
If you want a truly local experience, try some of the street foods offered by vendors in stalls all over the city.
These include num ansom chekis, a rolled banana cake, chek chien or deep-fried fritters, and num ansom chek, a rice cake dessert wrapped in banana leaves and grilled on charcoal.
Cruise the Gentle Waters of the Mekong River
The Mekong River is another important body of water that serves as the lifeblood of the communities surrounding it.
Today, it is also a favorite tourist destination that allows visitors to view the different sights of Cambodia in a single path.
Chief of this is the Angkor Wat, which stands near the river.
However, there are also many temples and landmarks that are just as magnificent when viewed from the calm streams of the Mekong.
Within its banks, you’ll find floating villages and markets offering local produce, religious items, souvenirs, and other products you’ll find nowhere else.
Wildlife sightings also abound in the river, with the famous but endangered Irrawaddy dolphin occasionally showing off to lucky tourists.
Trek the Causeways of Prasat Preah Vihear
While the Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the country, the Prasat Preah Vihear takes the crown as the temple with the most dramatic setting.
Situated on the cliffs of the Dangrek Mountains, the temple was built to honor the god Shiva.
Today, it stands as one of the most sought-after destinations by tourists with its breathtaking views of the country’s flood plains and the intricate architecture of the temple.
Prasat Preah Vihear is often dubbed as one of the most complex temples in the region, with its refined designs and unusual stone sculptures that make it unique among the rest.
Commune With Nature at Phnom Kulen National Park
If you’re one who wants to try nature-related activities amidst the temples of Cambodia, then a stop at Phnom Kulen National Park is a must.
Majestic waterfalls, ruined temples, and jungles teeming with wildlife are just some of the things to expect while visiting the park.
One of the favorite landmarks here is the Kbal Spean, a valley filled with thousand lingas, or abstract representations of Buddhist gods.
Some of these intricate symbols are carved in stones underwater or behind small waterfalls, making for a truly magical and spiritual experience for all who witness them.
See the Rural Side of Cambodia at Ratanakiri
Need a break from the temples?
The province of Ratanakiri is the perfect getaway for those who want more exhilarating adventures.
With its dirt roads that lead to ethnic villages, highland attractions, and scenic parks, you’ll have plenty of options for whatever kind of trip you desire.
Virachey National Park is home to wildlife like tigers and sun bears, making it an ideal destination for those who want to see these exotic animals.
If you love water-related activities, then make a stop at the scenic Cha Ong, Ka Tieng, and Ou'Sean Lair waterfalls.
At Airavata Elephant Foundation, you’ll get to interact with elephants who are cared for by indigenous populations and placed in optimal living conditions.
The blend of ancient temples, lush jungles, and beachside attractions in the beautiful country of Cambodia makes it a perfect destination for those who want a one-of-a-kind tropical vacation.
Reference this list when making your itinerary so you won’t miss these top sites.