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Like its neighbour Vietnam, Cambodia is a country that has endured a tragic war-torn past and recovered, victorious one might say, to be one of Asia's most beautiful and hospitable nations. With a rich culture, stunning natural scenery, a chaotic French-era capital, and some of the world's most awe-inspiring archaeological sites, Cambodia is an excellent destination for short breaks or combined journeys with bordering countries Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.

Phnom Penh, the nation's charismatic riverside capital, is the best place for travellers to begin their Cambodian itinerary. Once a haven for backpackers and adventure travellers, it now also caters to those seeking a more comfortable experience through five-star hotel stays and privately run tours. Buzzing with youthful energy, Phnom Penh's cafes, galleries and boutiques sit within ageing French-colonial mansions on broad tree-lined boulevards. With the exception of the Royal Palace (which is home to the country's beloved king), the Silver Pagoda and Wat Phnom, most of the city's charms are low-key and best discovered by wandering local markets and the riverside esplanade or boarding a tuk-tuk for a more passive presentation. While the nation's history can be felt and explored throughout the country, nowhere else is it felt more deeply than at the notorious Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21), and the neighbouring killing fields. Both are important memorials to the 2 million Cambodians killed under the Khmer Rouge regime, and visitors to Phnom Penh really should visit it.

South of Phnom Penh is the Khmer Kingdom's idyllic, peaceful and unspoilt south coast. Tropical beaches, mangrove forests and pristine islands are home to small fishing communities, sleepy colonial-era townships, and seaside resorts. The region's biggest 'plus' is that it has not yet been ruined by mass tourism and development, so visitors will be pleasantly surprised with the little pieces of heaven to be found here. While most of Cambodia's islands remain undeveloped, Song Saa Private Island offers barefoot luxury in a truly unspoiled paradise just 30 minutes by boat from Sihanoukville, Cambodia's beach capital and the place to sample fresh seafood, go scuba diving, or enjoy the thumping night life. Kep, Cambodia's first seaside resort (founded by the French in 1908) feels a little like a ghost town, complete with abandoned and dilapidated villas. The pretty river town of Kampot boast some of Cambodia's best-preserved French architecture and views to Bokor Mountain where travellers can explore the ruins of a once-grand 1920s hotel at Bokor Hill Station. Bokor National Park is home to a wide variety of rare and threatened animals including the Indian elephant, leopard, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear, and over 300 species of bird though they stay hidden in remote pockets of the park far from inquisitive humans.

A tour of Cambodia's north-east promises its participants wonderment in many forms. Thousands of visitors a year descend upon the town of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor in search of discovery, ancient spectacles and holy temples. While the fast-developing town of Siem Reap is primarily the launching place for access to Angkor, its sleepy elegance, luxurious spas, and fine restaurants make it a great place to relax for a few days. It is also an idea base for trips to Tonle Sap Lake where floating villages and outstanding sunsets await. Angkor, the region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries, rates among the foremost architectural wonders of the world and is truly magnificent. It's gloriously jungle-tangled temples of Angkor Wat, The Bayon, and Ta Prohm are visited by throngs of tourists so avoid the crowds by finding a guide who will steer you to hidden courtyards, and solitude. Helicopter, tuk-tuk and elephant tours offer alternative means of exploration and add their own sense of magic to the experience. Be sure to attend an evening Apsara performance as the dancers will bring the temples' myths and mythology to life.

Cambodia's east is known as wild country, where the jungle highlands are home to eclectic indigenous populations who live a life that's worlds away from their lowland neighbours. While tourism is virtually non-existent in these areas, western visitors are greeted with warmth and fascination. The Pnong people of Mondulkiri Province live in isolation among waterfalls and jungle; while the Ratanakiri Province provides a remote home for a mosaic of minority peoples (the Jarai, Tompoun, Brau and Kreung have their own languages, traditions and customs). Visitors to this region can swim in clear volcanic lakes and under waterfalls, glimpse an elephant or trek in the vast Virachay National Park.

Colonial Kratie, on the banks of the Mekong River, is the perfect place to discover the Irrawaddy Dolphins and enjoy stunning sunsets. A short boat trip from the town journeys to where the rare Irrawaddy dolphins can be seen, sadly though, in ever-diminishing numbers. While Kratie itself is a thriving travel hub, its remaining French colonial buildings and traditional Cambodian wooden houses retain an atmospheric charm. The surrounding countryside is a cyclist's dream as quiet roads enable safe exploration of rural Cambodia's rice fields and traditional houses on stilts.

Sightseeing aside, one of the great pleasures of Cambodia is its food. Local Cambodian dishes are lip-smacking and often closely related to the cuisine of its neighbours, Thailand, Laos and Malaysia. A meal almost always includes a soup (samla), freshwater fish, noodles or rice. Grilled fish is a Cambodian specialty as is a spicy beef soup with tamarind. Visitors fortunate enough to visit Phnom Penh or Siem Reap during the water festival of Bon Om Tuk (November) might also like to sample from an interesting variety of cooked insects sold by waterfront vendors!

While April can bring with it extreme heat, and May or June see the south-western monsoon's high humidity and wet weather, Cambodia can be visited much of the year. Angkor benefits from the wet season which runs through until October with its temple moats filling with water and vegetation in abundance. December and January will reward you with lower humidity and little rainfall, though it is also peak season.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year