I don’t work for the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, but after reading my Top 9 list, you’ll probably think that I do. I can’t help it. After an extended visit with my own family, I’m tremendously enthusiastic about traveling to Cambodia. It may not be on your bucket list now, but after you return, you’ll wonder why you didn’t go sooner.
1/Stretching your dollar
More so than in Thailand, your U.S. dollar goes far in Cambodia. Hotels, transportation, and food are all very reasonably priced. For example, our hotel stay at the Golden Temple Hotel cost $125/night for two separate rooms, which included: (for four guests)
Daily full breakfast buffet Lunch at temple site Khmer dinner Khmer massages Welcome drinks and snacks Unlimited bottled water Complimentary tour arrangement
In addition, the hotel had a fantastic pool, spa (with additional, 1-hour massages for $7), and the most attentive service that we have ever experienced anywhere in the world! Click here to readmore.
And the bargains were not limited to this one hotel. We hired a car to drive us 200 miles from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap - a trip of more than 5 hours - for $85!
And to top it all off, there’s no need to calculate in a different currency. The Cambodian economy runs on American greenbacks. So don't bother to change your money at the airport.
2/Super friendly people
Cambodians are genuinely friendly and eager to share themselves as well as their culture with you. In Siem Reap, we were on a first name basis with the hotel staff; nearly all of them grew up in poor rural villages and were now supporting their families back home. As you get to know the people, you’ll find that nearly everyone has a personal connection to the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during 1970s. Some lost their entire families, yet they push forward.
3/Best croissants ever
I’m serious. Perhaps it’s something picked up from French colonists, but Cambodians make the best croissants that I have ever tasted, equal to those in the cafes of Paris. And they’re a whole lot cheaper! Try the Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap or The Kabiki in Phnom Penh.
4/Beautiful resorts & beaches
Tourists flock to Thailand’s beaches in Phuket and Koh Samui, but located on the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia offers tropical paradises, as well, at a fraction of the cost. Enjoy the white sand beaches dotted with luxury resorts or head to one of the idyllic islands just off shore.
Nearly any adventure available in popular Southeast Asia destinations can be found in Cambodia, too. If you want to volunteer with elephants, you can in Cambodia. I highly recommend the Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom. It’s worth the extra effort to get there. Or if you want to go ziplining, you can with Flight of the Gibbon through the jungle of Angkor Park in Siem Reap.
The ancient Khmer city of Angkor in Siem Reap is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The complex is huge, and the temples are spread out in many different locations, including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm, a jungle temple featured in the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. My kids enjoyed these ruins far more than the popular Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru. Click here to read more.
7/History worth remembering
I was a young child when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia. They then proceeded to murder a quarter of the country’s population, 1.7 million people. Until visiting Cambodia, I had very little knowledge of the genocide that occurred in the “Killing Fields,” nor did my children. Some may argue that these acts were too gruesome for children to learn about; I beg to differ. As my 13-year-old son observed as we left Choeung Ek, a killing field outside Phnom Penh, “I’m glad that Cambodians preserved this site, so it can remind people of what happens when a group has absolute power.” A visit to Choeung Ek is a moving experience, and the audio tour is among the best that I’ve ever heard. Also, the former prison of Tuol Sleng, or more commonly known as S-2, is worth of a visit. Click here to read more.
8/Making a difference
During your travels in Cambodia, you and your family have several opportunities to work with socially-responsible travel companies and businesses that are trying to make a difference in people’s lives. Haven Restaurant in Siem Reap trains and employs underprivileged young adults from orphanages and rural communities, while serving outstanding traditional Cambodian dishes. Artisans Angkor is a company, also located in Siem Reap, that trains poor villagers in ancient Khmer arts and crafts, including silk making. And Beyond Unique Escapes is a travel operator that offers “Day in the Life” tours where travelers can work side by side with village families improving their quality of life. The company also invests part of its profits in village projects, like water filters, water wells, and schools. The day that we spent in the village of Kompheim was the single best travel experience my family has ever had. Click here to read more.
9/Cambodians want you here
More so than in any other country that our family has visited, we truly felt welcomed in the Kingdom of Wonder. Cambodians want tourists to visit. These people have been to hell and back. They’re ready to recover – physically, financially, emotionally – but they need help. By offering an unbeatable value, Cambodians hope to attract more tourists and add better paying jobs. It’s a dream worth supporting.
Editor Shellie Bailey-Shah and her family spent 72 days traveling around the world during one summer. Cambodia was her favorite destination on the trip.