Bokor National Park, also known as Preah Monivong National Park, encompasses 982 square miles of evergreen rain forests south of Phnom Penh. The park is home to several endangered species, from tigers to Indian elephants to Asiatic black bears, as well as 300 species of birds. The park’s entrance has a visitor’s center. As with many other regions of the country, Bokor National Park may have landmines, so don’t stray from marked paths. Northeastern Cambodia was once home to more than 1,000 Irrawaddy dolphins, but after years of civil war, the population dropped to about 75 as of 2011, according to Lonely Planet. Visit the town of Kratie for the chance to see these dolphins in their natural habitat, the Mekong River, before they disappear for good.
No trip to Cambodia would be complete without an exploration of the country’s many temples. UNESCO describes the World Heritage site of Ankor (whc.unesco.org) as one of the most significant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses 248 square miles and contains the Temple of Angkor Wat, the Bayon Temple and the ruins of the Khmer Empire that dominated Cambodian culture from the ninth to 15th centuries. Built in the 12th century, the city of Angkor once was home to more than 75,000 residents and contains more than 1,000 temples and shrines. Visit the city of Battambang to view working temples. Wat Phiphetaram, Wat Damrey Sar and Wat Kandal are all located in the city center and, according to Lonely Planet, resident monks are often available to speak to tourists in the afternoons.
The capital city of Phnom Penh contains a wealth of attractions, from palaces to markets and museums. The Royal Palace looms above the city’s skyline. This complex of buildings and courtyards, which houses the king, is surrounded by high walls and gardens. Tourists can explore the Throne Hall, the Chan Chhaya Pavilion, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Silver Pagoda, which contains 5,000 silver tiles and numerous Buddhist artifacts. The National Museum of Cambodia contains art and artifacts from the Khmer culture, from household utensils to artwork that incorporates Hinduism and Buddhism in bronze, stone, wood and ceramic media. The Tuol Sling Museum is housed in a prison where the brutal Pol Pot regime held, tortured and executed more than 17,000 prisoners over a four-year period. Rooms contain thousands of photographs, artwork by prisoners and artifacts from the period.
Cambodia’s southwestern coast offers stunning beaches. Some of the most pristine are located in the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, which encompasses Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary, Botum Sakor National Park, Southern and Central Cardamoms Protected Forests and Koh Kong Island. Though some beaches in this protected region are lined with resorts, others are undeveloped. Visitors can swim, sunbathe, dive, snorkel, sail or hike in the corridor. The city of Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s only deep-water port, has six white-sand beaches. Take a scuba diving charter from Sihanoukville or a day trip to nearby Ream National Park.