Kampong Speu © Nicolas Pascarel
For many adventurous travellers, the allure of an unspoilt and little-explored country is irresistible. Emerging from a violent past of human rights atrocities, war and political instability, Cambodia is steadily recovering and slowly emerging as a top destination on the Southeast Asian travel trail. The magnificent Lost City of Angkor is undoubtedly one of the most magical tourist attractions in the world and a bucket-list destination for many, drawing hordes of travellers to Cambodia.
Modern day Cambodia is the successor kingdom of the powerful Khmer Empire which ruled most of what is today Vietnam, Laos and Thailand from the 9th to 14th centuries. Although the country might not boast the same volume of famous attractions as some of its neighbours, the Cambodian people are incredibly friendly, providing a warm welcome for travellers and authentic glimpses into their culture.
This magnanimous national spirit is astonishing, given the suffering Cambodians endured during the three-and-a-half year reign of Pol Pot, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated two million people. The Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot's leadership, altered the face of the country. Overnight, cities were emptied and property destroyed, the economy was left in tatters, and so were the lives of countless families. This period between 1975 and 1979 represents a particularly dark spell in the nation's history.
The horrors of the Khmer Rouge are commemorated by fascinating museums and sites that are an important part of the Cambodian itinerary. Those who understandably may want to avoid the infamous and solemn Killing Fields will find that the country offers many more peaceful and cheerful diversions. Beautiful moments can be had in the tranquillity ushered in by Buddhist prayer, or while enjoying the charms of the French-flavoured capital city Phnom Penh. Travellers can drift past sleepy riverside locations on a traditional boat and or explore the illustrious ancient history at sites such as Angkor Wat.
The scenery is breathtaking, shaped by landscapes of lush green forests, jungles, banana plantations, agricultural fields and mighty rivers. People here live modest and simple, uncluttered lives, and the populace is largely rural. Visitors seeking fast and efficient transport, luxurious hotels or resort pleasures may want to look elsewhere. Infrastructure is basic and travelling between destinations can be quite an experience, which is part of the country's allure.
The country's world-class attractions, golden beaches and virtually untouched islands beckon the enterprising traveller, and make Cambodia a unique off-the-beaten-track travel destination.