Cambodia is a small country with a big history. Now a modest player on the world stage, this was once the seat of one of Asia’s most magnificent early civilizations, the mighty Khmer empire of Angkor, whose legendary temples continue to provide a touchstone of national identity – as well as attracting millions of visitors every year. Away from the temples, much of the country remains refreshingly untouristed and, in many places, largely unexplored.
Cambodia’s sleepy towns and cities are a delight, with their faded colonial architecture and old-fashioned charm, while in the countryside a host of memorable landscapes await, from the mighty Mekong River and great Tonle Sap lake to the remote forested highlands of Rattanakiri, Mondulkiri and the Cardamom Mountains. Down south, in complete contrast, the coast serves up a beguiling cocktail of party-lifestyle hedonism, idyllic beaches and magical islands.
Compared to the far more populous and economically developed countries of Thailand and Vietnam that hem it in on either side, Cambodia remains an essentially rural society, and something of a regional backwater. The country’s provincial hinterlands appear to have changed little in generations, offering a refreshing throwback to an older and simpler era, with beautiful stilted wooden houses set amid a patchwork of rice paddies and sugar palms. And although living standards for most of the population are basic in the extreme, Cambodians as a whole remain among Asia’s most friendly and welcoming people.