Cambodia was largely out of bounds to tourists until recently, but now areas that were unsafe because of Khmer Rouge guerrillas and bandit groups have been returned to the control of the Cambodian army and virtually the whole of the country has become accessible. For many travellers, lured by the prospect of little explored and unspoilt regions, Cambodia has become a top destination on Southeast Asias otherwise well trodden tourist trail.
The Kingdom of Cambodia, with a population of ten million, occupies a modest wedge of land, almost completely hemmed in by its neighbours, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Its glory days began in the early ninth century, when the rival Indian influenced Chenla kingdoms united under King Jayavarman II to form the Khmer Empire, a powerful and visionary dynasty, which, at its peak, stretched from Vietnam in the east to China in the north and Burma in the west.
Most visitors to Cambodia head for the stunning Angkor ruins, a collection of over one hundred temples dating back to the ninth century. Once the seat of power of the Khmer Empire, Angkor is royal extravagance on a grand scale, its imposing features enhanced by the dramatic setting of lush jungle greenery and verdant fields. The complex is acknowledged as the most exquisite example of ancient architecture in Southeast Asia, and has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The flat, sprawling capital of Phnom Penh is also an alluring attraction in its own right. Wide, sweeping boulevards and elegant, if neglected, French colonial style facades lend the city a romantic appeal. However, theres also stark evidence of great poverty, a reminder that youre visiting one of the worlds poorest countries.
Those enterprising travellers who look beyond the standard itinerary of Angkor and Phnom Penh will be rewarded with a rich variety of experiences. Its worth stopping off for a day halfway between Angkor and Phnom Penh, at Kompong Thom, to make a side trip to the pre Angkor ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk. Here you can explore several groups of early brick built towers with scarcely another tourist in sight.
Miles of unspoilt beaches and remote islands offer sandy seclusion along the southern coastline. Although Sihanoukville is the main port of call, its easy enough to commandeer transport to nearby hidden coves and offshore islands, with only the odd fisherman or smuggler to interrupt your solitude.
Rattanakiri province in the north eastern corner of the country, with its hill tribes and volcanic scenery, is also becoming increasingly popular with visitors.
Neighbouring Mondulkiri is less well known, but equally impressive, offering dramatic alpinesque woodlands, villages and mountains.
In the central plains, Battambang, Cambodias second city, is a sleepy provincial capital, and the gateway to the old Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.
Getting around Cambodia is really no problem, although its often a less than comfortable exercise; the road system still leaves a lot to be desired and travel outside the main tourist routes can be slow and punishing.
Cambodias creates two distinct seasons.