Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer empire for a very brief period from the year 928 to 944 AD. In this short time some very spectacular buildings and immense sculptures were constructed. The site is dominated by Prasat Thom, a 30 meter (98 ft) tall temple pyramid rising high above the surrounding jungle. A giant Garuda (mythical half-man, half-bird creature), carved into the stone blocks, still guard the very top, although its partially covered now. Left to the jungle for nearly a millennium, Koh Ker was one of Cambodia’s most remote and inaccessible temple destinations. This has now changed thanks to recent de-mining and the opening of a new toll road.
Angkor Wat Archaeological Park
Home to world-famous Angkor Wat, this UNESCO heritage site stretches across more than 400 kilometers squared and contains hundreds of temples and structures dating back to the Khmer Empire era. The most popular are Angkor Wat, Bayon and its multiple faces and root-riddled Ta Prohm, which was the location for parts of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus
Dubbed Cambodia’s alternative to Cirque du Soliel, jaw-dropping performances blend theatrics, music, dance, acrobatics, and modern circus art to retell Khmer folktales with a modern take. Daily Phare performances take place in Siem Reap, with two or three shows a week in Battambang, depending on the season. Searching for Siem Reap Airbnb?
This is outback Cambodia and the endless red-dirt roads of the region, leading to ethnic minority villages, are an intrepid traveler’s delight. For those with an adventurous streak, the province is home to some of Cambodia’s best trekking, from spotting gibbons at Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, where overnight trips involve sleeping in hammocks and early rises to track buff-cheeked gibbons, to hiking in Virachey National Park, home to elephants, tigers, and sun bears. There’s more relaxing options on offer as well. The emerald water of Yeak Lom Crater Lake just outside of Ban Lung town is a tranquil swimming spot, while the waterfalls of Chaa Ong and Ka Tieng are fun diversions that provide more opportunities for getting wet. Ratanakiri is a nature-filled reprieve for travelers suffering from temple-fatigue.
Tonle Sap is Cambodia’s most important waterway and Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. As well as being an important source of food and a vital tool for Cambodian irrigation, the lake itself is home to 170 floating villages that depend on fishing for their livelihood, with homes built directly on the water. The houses, shops, churches, schools, and temples of these villages are built on rustic buoy foundations of lashed together barrels and bamboo, and all transport is by boat. They’re a fascinating place to spend a day exploring. One of the most interesting is the sprawling village of Kompong Luong, near the town of Pursat on Tonle Sap’s western shore, although the most popular village to visit is Chong Kneas near Siem Reap.
This pre-Angkorian temple site dates from the early 7th century when it was the capital of the Upper Chenla Empire. More than 100 brick temples dedicated to various Hindu gods sit within the forest here, many half-swallowed by mammoth tree roots. Archaeologically, the site is extremely important, containing some of Cambodia’s oldest surviving buildings, but you don’t have to be an archaeology buff to appreciate the ethereal beauty of this tree-wrapped site. The most important temples in the area are found in Prasat Sambor, Prasat Tao, and Prasat Yeay Peau, which all have remarkably clear carvings on their temple walls and plenty of ethereal ambience provided by twisting tree trunks and coiling vines. You can access Sambor Prei Kuk from Kompong Thom.