There aren’t many better times to head to Southeast Asia than the winter, and one country you simply cannot miss off any itinerary in that part of the world is Cambodia.
This exotic, historic, and enchanting nation has some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, a wonderfully warm and dry climate from November through to March, and the perfect blend of bustling cities like the capital Phnom Penh and quiet, exotic islands.
A little rougher around the edges than its near neighbor Thailand, many travelers think that Cambodia can help you capture the feeling of what traveling around Southeast Asia was like in the ‘good old days’.
While I’m not quite old enough to have a proper opinion on that claim, I can tell you that Cambodia is a place that can easily capture your heart.
Here’s why you should check it out this winter:
Island Hopping Paradise
While Thailand tends to steal the limelight in terms of beautiful beaches and tropical islands, there is an underrated and less-discovered world of similar destinations in Cambodia.
Cambodia’s relatively short coastline faces the warm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, and while there are some cool attractions on the mainland such as Preah Monivong Bokor National Park, the offshore islands are where to get the real Cambodian beach experience.
Koh Ta Kiev is a romantic and secluded island for those who wish to get away from it all, while Koh Rong has more of the traditional party vibe that you may expect from Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, Koh Thmei offers a nature escape with a beautiful mangrove forest and nearby Ream National Park.
World Famous Attractions
It’s hard to think of Cambodia and not think of its world-famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
This historical icon is so synonymous with the country that it’s even on the national flag.
Located in the north of Cambodia, close to the city of Siem Reap, this is one of the world’s most important archaeological sites and covers an area of around 400 acres in total.
It was built by the ancient Angkor civilization and comprises multiple temples and ruins, the most prominent of which are Angkor Wat itself, Angkor Thom, and Bayon Temple.
Many tourists rush to get there early each morning to avoid the crowds and catch the sun rising over the main temple complex each day.
For a relatively modest fee, you can hire a guide and tuk-tuk for the day, who will show you everything you want to see, take you for lunch, and make sure you have the right ticket where the money benefits the restoration and preservation of the ruins.
Affordable And Adaptable
Cambodia is an affordable country to visit, in many cases cheaper than nearby Thailand and Vietnam.
According to Lonely Planet, a hostel bed can cost as little as $10 a night, while a self-catering apartment can average about $30 a night.
Food and drink are very cheap, especially if you sample the local street food – but even middle-of-the-road restaurants offer great value.
Transport is also very affordable with tuk-tuks being the cheapest, and buses and taxis also not setting you back too much.
One strange thing about Cambodia is that despite having its own currency, the Cambodian Riel, U.S. dollars are widely accepted by many establishments.
In fact, it’s not unusual to pay for something in dollars and get the change in riels, just remember to keep the latest conversion in mind so you don’t get short-changed.
At the time of writing, it was about 4,100 riels to one dollar
A Brand-New Airport
Visiting Cambodia could become easier in the future, especially as the country recently opened a brand new airport near Siem Reap, as reported by local media.
Siem Reap Angkor International Airport (SAI) is expected to be able to handle around 7 million passengers per year, a 5 million increase from the old airport.
It also has the capacity for further expansion because it is situated further away from both Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temple complex, with more land around it.
While you probably won’t be able to catch a direct flight from North America to here, it will at least mean there are more connecting flight options available for future trips.
This airport will also make it easier to use internal flights to get around Cambodia – while the buses may be cheaper, the journeys can sometimes be a little hair-raising!
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com