As Cambodia emerges as a mainstream tourist destination, it is becoming increasingly possible to explore the country in comfort, away from the modern developments of Siem Reap.

As home to the truly incredible Angkor Wat, it is not really surprising that many tourists overlook the rest of Cambodia. Backpackers have been exploring Cambodia beyond the Temples of Angkor for some time now and have paved the way (quite literally) for those who prefer an air-con bus to the back of a jarring lorry. It is now possible to encounter the delights and lessons of this beautiful, intriguing country without the hassle and grime.

Phnom Penh

The bloody tale of Cambodia's recent history is laid bare with bleak, profound clarity in the Tuol Sleng Museum. Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge massacred nearly 2 million people (over 20% of the population) in the name of extreme Maoist agrarianism. The museum began life as an ordinary high school but was turned into Security Prison 21 in 1975. Photographs of the tortured bodies of prisoners are displayed in the same blood-stained rooms the liberating Vietnamese army found them in. Weapons and portrait photographs of the thousands of victims of this brutal revolution are also on show.

About 15km (9 miles) away are the Killing Fields, the site of the prison's extermination camp. The remains of almost 9,000 people have been exhumed from mass graves here and human bones litter the ground. Over 8,000 skulls are displayed in the Memorial Stupa. A visit to these sites is a harrowing, sobering experience, but one that is essential to begin to comprehend modern Cambodia.

The south coast

The untouched beaches and forested mountains of Kampot province provide welcome relief from the city's traumas. Bokor Hill Station in Bokor National Park is a relic of the French colonial era; the abandoned buildings include a hotel, casino and church. On clear days the view stretches across the forest to the coast. On cloudy days, mist swirls eerily around the station. Nearby, the two-tiered Popokvil Falls are a beautiful place for a dip.

For a coastal break, avoid the relatively developed Sihanoukville and head to Kep for spectacular sunsets, a rich history and some of the best seafood in South-East Asia. Kep, originally an elite French resort, did not fare so well during the Khmer Rouge's reign. The ruins of French houses are still scattered along the shoreline and may be explored at leisure. While Cambodians have been holidaying here for years, foreign tourists are only just beginning to catch on, and a few up-market hotels have opened along Kep's unspoiled beaches. For pure luxury try Knai Bang Chatt (website: or for something a little more affordable check out The Beach House (website:

The Mekong river

The unusual residents of the sleepy riverside town of Kratie are the main attraction to the north of Phnom Penh. Kratie is the best place in Cambodia to see endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. Thousands used to swim in the Mekong but irresponsible fishing and pollution have driven the population down to about 100. Happily, 10 young dolphins were discovered in October and the chances of seeing them are pretty high.

It is worth spending a day or two in laid-back Kratie itself to soak up the faded colonial elegance and wander along the riverfront sampling local specialities from stalls in the evening. Depending on how squeamish you are, it might be wise to steer clear of one of the regional specialities, deep fried spider!

The northeast

To really get off the beaten track, go trekking in remote Ratanakiri. Expect lush jungle, waterfalls and remote ethnic minority villages. The Yaklom Hill Lodge (website: is one of the few hotels in the area. Nearby, the crystal clear waters of Boeng Yeak Lom volcanic lake are superb for swimming. The lodge offers guided half-day, day and overnight treks into the surrounding jungle and communities.

Virachay National Park (website:, Cambodia's largest protected area, boasts elephant, tiger, sun and black bears and freshwater crocodile. There are even rumours of isolated rhinoceroses. Park rangers can arrange hikes ranging from two days to the seven-day Extended Wilderness Trek, which reaches spectacular Phnom Veal Thom, a virtually inaccessible montane grassland.

Central Cambodia

And if the call of the mighty Angkor Wat is still too strong be sure to stop off at the floating Vietnamese village of Kompong Luong en route. The village, complete with restaurants, schools, police stations, temples and karaoke bars for its 10,000 inhabitants, drifts on the southern edge of Tonlé Sap Lake; its exact location depends on the season and currents. It is a great place to people-watch with a beer in a floating bar.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.