In Cambodia holidays you can truly embrace the magic of Southeast Asia; it’s a brilliant adventure travel destination, filled to the brim with enchanting temples, idyllic beaches and opportunities to immerse yourself in the country’s unique and colourful culture.
The legacy of the mighty and long-lived Khmer Empire is alive in the bucket-list Angkor Wat Complex, an unmissable stop on a tour of Cambodia, whilst the modernity of the cities such as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh offers the traveller all the usual hustle and bustle of Asia, plus excellent cuisine and cosmopolitan culture.
Located in the southern part of the Indochina peninsula, Cambodia shares borders with Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, making it the perfect destination for a multi-centre holiday to Southeast Asia. A majority Buddhist country, it is home to approximately 16 million inhabitants, whose smiles and warm hospitality is one of the aspects that make Cambodia such a brilliant place to travel to.
Away from the cities and tourist hot-spots, you have countless opportunities to experience the rustic charms of rural Cambodia, with its ethnic minority hill tribes, abundant agriculture and simplicity of everyday life. This is what makes a holiday to Cambodia an experience rather than a box-ticking exercise. Having long been on the radar of the more intrepid backpackers, Cambodia is looking towards the future with optimism as it’s now firmly on the map as a must-do travel destination.
History of Cambodia
The country’s fascinating history is one of the main attractions to explore on a tour of Cambodia, immortalised in the impressive monuments and the traditions of the people. The first settlements sprung up around 150 AD, in the fertile Mekong Delta region, and by the 9th-century the Khmer Empire was founded by King Jayavarman II.
At first, Khmer civilisation was based on agriculture and animist beliefs until Indian spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, were introduced by foreign merchants, sparking the construction of brilliant ancient temples such as Angkor Wat, thought to have mapped the cosmic world in stone.
A tour of Angkor Wat is not only the highlight of most visitors holiday to Cambodia but also the best way to contemplate the glory of the ancient Khmer Empire. By the 16th-century civil war and Thai invasion saw the decline of the empire's power, whilst increasing pressure from Vietnam to the east created a power struggle with Cambodia squeezed in between the two powers.
The 19th-century marked the retreat of Thai influence from the country but increased numbers of Vietnamese settlers and an influx of French missionaries resulted in Cambodia falling under a French protectorate in 1864. Although this was not a positive time for many everyday Cambodian’s, the French protectorate increased infrastructure in the country and gave the economy a boost, as well as leaving its influence on the country’s culture, something you’ll notice if you take a Cambodia holiday package, both in the colonial architecture and the national cuisine.
Cambodia gained independence in 1953, but the nearby Vietnamese War extended into the country, bringing bombings and conflict. A military coup in 1970 installed a right-wing, pro-US Khmer Republic who faced much opposition from Communism groups such as the notorious Khmer Rouge, marking the beginning of a dark period in the country's history. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 and began a campaign of terror and genocide against so-called enemies of the state, including ethnic minority groups and intellectuals.
Approximately a quarter of the total population was killed during the next three years, many at the fatal Killing Fields. On a package holiday to Cambodia, visitors have the opportunity to contemplate this horrific era on a number of tours and trips around Phnom Penh. Vietnam eventually took control of the country and peace talks began in 1989.
It was not until 1993 that the monarchy was reinstated and today the government is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. On a tour of Cambodia, it is eye-opening and fascinating to consider how far the nation has come after those tumultuous years in the not so distant past.
Nature in Cambodia
With lowlands, mountains, deltas and vast plains, Cambodia is an adventurer's dream, whilst on the other hand, its 443 kilometres of coastline along the Gulf of Thailand offers tropical beaches and paradise islands, perfect for beach-lovers. The climate is characterised by dry and wet seasons, with tropical monsoons.
The country’s verdant rainforests are home to a rich array of wildlife, as is the mighty Tonle Sap Lake in the centre of the country. The diverse nature of the landscapes and natural scenery of the country makes Cambodia tours an exciting experience for all lovers of the great outdoors.
The Cardamon Mountains in the west of the county are covered in lush rainforest, the largest remaining rainforest in Southeast Asia, home to rare and endangered wildlife such as the elusive clouded leopard and Indochinese tigers. Tonle Sap and its surrounding biosphere reserve are home to unique natural phenomena and charming floating villages.
Taking a boat trip on Tonle Sap is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region. If you’re looking for something more laid-back, head to beautiful Sihanoukville, a popular beach destination adorned with white sandy beaches and palm trees and Cambodia’s favourite paradise retreat.
Culture in Cambodia
On a tour of Cambodia, you’ll notice how religion is intertwined with the daily lives of almost all inhabitants. Modern Khmer culture is a fusion of traditional animistic beliefs and Buddhism with a touch of French influence too. Unique hill tribe cultures have their own cultural traditions adding to the fascinating tapestry of national culture in Cambodia.
Traditional Khmer architecture, dance and sculpture are beautiful relics of the country’s history; you cannot miss a traditional dance performance during a trip to Cambodia. Today, old and new sit side by side. The cities might feel modern but rural communities continue to live simple lives and keep their ancestors' traditions alive. Around the country, traditional dress is widely worn and has important societal and hierarchical importance indicated in different colours and patterns.
Embark on a journey to one of Southeast Asia’s most exotic destinations. Cambodia charms you with its mix of modernity and tradition and it’s impossible to not fall in love with the warmth of the people and the treasures of the ancient Khmer Empire.