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Captivating Cambodia: The Pearl of Southeast Asia

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It’s impossible not to fall in love with Cambodia. From the ancient cities to the majestic temples to the infectious kindness of the people, the country is known as the “pearl of Southeast Asia” — and yet it is too often overlooked in favor of neighboring nations such as Vietnam or Thailand. But once you visit Cambodia for the first time, you’re likely to return again and again. And luckily, with its rich history, fascinating culture, and lush tropical rainforests, Cambodia is a destination that rewards endless repeat visits. Read on for your guide to the underrated charms of Cambodia. 

Stay

The author poses for a picture in front of historic temples in Siem Reap

(Image provided by Katherine Parker-Magyar)

Raffles Hotel Le Royal

(Phnom Penh)

The historic Raffles Hotel Le Royal is a beacon of old-world elegance in the heart of Cambodia’s capital city. When the hotel first opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in Phnom Penh, and it maintains its majestic heritage today, blending its storied heritage with the ultra-luxurious amenities desired by modern travelers. The famous Elephant Bar features lithographs of ancient Angkor and the nation’s largest whisky collection. Plus, the bar’s namesake spirit, the Elephant Bar Dry Gin, offers a tantalizing taste of Cambodia. 

Mane Hariharalaya

(Siem Reap)

Nestled on 17 acres of rice paddies and old-growth forests, Mane Hariharalaya is a traditional, thatched roof Khmer House — but with a five-star twist. Located in Siem Reap, the boutique property is named after the ancient city and former capital of the Khmer Empire and offers the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in Cambodian culture while enjoying the natural beauty of this lakeside retreat. 

Eat

A delectable Cambodian noodle dish

(Image provided by Adobe Stock)

Malis

(Siem Reap / Phnom Penh)

Malis is a must-visit restaurant for all visitors — the high-end establishment has outposts in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and is dedicated to preserving the nation’s food heritage, serving as a testament to “Living Cambodian Cuisine.” Enjoy the gorgeous ambiance and order traditional Cambodian dishes, including the fish amok and the beef saraman. 

Khéma La Poste

(Siem Reap / Phnom Penh)

Khéma La Poste, located in an 1890s colonial building in Phnom Penh, is a perfect blend of both French and Cambodian cuisine. Adventurous travelers can continue their culinary journey by opting for some street food afterward, as well — crickets, grasshoppers, and tarantulas are tastier than you might imagine.

Drink

A golden temple in Phnom Penh

(Image provided by Adobe Stock)

Sora

(Phnom Penh)

If you’re craving some Lost in Translation vibes, look no further than Sora Skybar, a stylish whisky bar on the 37th floor of the Rosewood Phnom Penh.  Expect gorgeous views of the city from the cantilevered outdoor terrace while you enjoy live music, Japanese cuisine, and a chic ambiance — dress to impress, as the attire is certainly on the trendier side. To continue your nightlife adventure in the capital, take a tuk-tuk over to Pub Street (Cambodia’s version of Bourbon Street) for a nightcap or two before turning in. 

Explore

A picture of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world

(Image provided by Katherine Parker-Magyar)

The Mekong River

The Mekong is an entire world unto itself: The third largest delta in the world, a haven for ancient cultures and tradition — not to mention spectacular sunsets and dragon boat races along the river. Many Mekong villages are only accessible by water, and the best way to explore is by sailing along an AMA Waterways River Cruise. The AmaDara is the perfect vessel for exploration, with carved wooden furniture reflecting the region’s craftsmanship and providing a very Agatha Christie flair. 

Angkor Wat 

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument on earth, as well as one of the Seven Wonders of the World — and if you visit Cambodia, and don’t make a trip to Angkor Wat, then you simply haven’t visited Cambodia. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is on the currency, the Cambodian Riel, and the national flag. Split into three levels to represent earth, heaven, and the underworld, Angkor Wat is most magnificent in the early morning, when the sunrise bathes the temple and its surrounding moat in a transcendent pastel glow. 

Choeung Ek Memorial

Though safe to visit today, the history of Cambodia is indelibly marked by the horrific reign of the Khmer Rouge, which killed a quarter of the population between 1975 to 1979. The lives lost are memorialized at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields in Phnom Penh — and it’s a mandatory pilgrimage for every traveler. "We want people to visit the Killing Fields when they come to Cambodia to allow us to share our experience, so you can share it with the world,” says Cambodian guide Tek Leng. “We can't redo history but we can prevent it from happening again."

The Royal Palace

The opulent pagodas and courtyards of the Royal Palace contain centuries of history within its walls. Arrange to arrive for a monk’s blessing, then climb the steps up to the top of the Silver Pagoda, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to witness where some of Buddha’s ashes are buried. Afterward, take a five-minute walk down to the National Museum of Cambodia to learn more about the history of Buddhism.

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