Angkor, the former capital of the ancient Khmer Empire, is one of the greatest and most spectacular Hindu religious sites in the world. Construction of this elaborate temple complex – built in honour of the god Vishnu – began in AD 879 during the reign of King Suryavarman II and was completed in 1191. It lay concealed for many years, however, until the site was discovered by Frenchman Henri Mahout in 1860. The central complex, Angkor Wat, features an elaborate, unmortared 66-metre (215-foot) central tower surrounded by four smaller towers. Stretching around the outside of the temple complex is an 800m-long (2625ft) bas-relief, the longest in the world. This is Cambodia’s most iconic sight, and particularly popular at sunset among tour groups. The temple is so synonymous with the country that it dominates the national flag, and to visit it today is to marvel at the scale of its ambition, built as it was in the 12th century.
Another of the most distinctive Angkor temples, Bayon is characterised by a series of colossal stone faces, gazing out serenely in all four directions, as well as some painstakingly detailed bas-reliefs. Bayon was built at a similar time to Angkor Wat.
Bokor Hill Station
An abandoned French hill station in the south of the country, Bokor was built originally as a weekend sanctuary for settlers stuck in stifling Phnom Penh. Today, the hotel and casino complex stands as an eerily derelict reminder of days gone by.
Cycling around Angkor
Hire a bike and spend a few days exploring the myriad glories of the jungled Angkor Temple Complex. The showpiece architecture of Angkor Wat makes it the best known of the temples, but there are dozens of others to discover.
The claim to fame of the Mekong town of Kratie is its population of Irrawaddy river dolphins. Various tour operators organise early-morning boat trips to observe these peaceful creatures in their natural habitat.
Feast on fresh seafood
Cambodia’s coastline offers the chance for the archetypal Asian beach experience, but no amount of sea and sand is complete without sampling its ocean-fresh seafood. The stretch around Kampot and Kep is excellent for just-caught crab.
Fire a rocket-launcher
Not your standard tourist activity, but then Cambodia’s not your standard tourist destination – for a price, visitors can take control of high-grade weaponry on countryside shooting ranges. Machine guns can also be hired.
The southern town provides a gateway to exploring the Cham villages and sweeping vistas of the surrounding countryside. If you’re looking to travel in an unrushed fashion and to get acquainted with another side of the country, this is as good a base as any.
Set in Phnom Penh, the National Museum (www.cambodiamuseum.info) is the country’s leading archaeological and historical museum. It plays home to what is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Khmer art, including bronzes, sculptures and ceramics. It was constructed by the French in 1917.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary
A large park south of Phnom Penh given over to animals retrieved from poachers and traffickers. Wildlife in the sanctuary includes tigers, elephants and gibbons, and it offers an effective way of learning more about Cambodian fauna.
To get a clearer understanding of the brutal reign of Pol Pot, visit the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. It makes for a sobering experience, but a salutary one in terms of learning more about the realities the country faced.
Phnom Penh’s showpiece attraction was built in the 1860s, and makes for a spectacular sight with its stupas, murals and towering spires. The adjoining Silver Pagoda houses a number of precious Buddha statues, while the tropical plants of the palace gardens have appeal in their own right.
Shop for silver
Prized locally since the 11th century, silver is today one of the most sought-after Cambodian souvenirs. Coming in the form of anklets, jewellery and other decorative items, it’s known for being fashioned with real care and artistry.
The port city’s main draw is its relaxed beach atmosphere, a laid-back counterpoint to the more visited coastal areas of neighbouring Thailand. It takes its name from King Norodom Sihanouk, one of the main agitators for independence from France.
Perhaps the second most famous Angkor Temple after Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm is best known for the roots and branches that have taken hold of its walls to picturesque effect. The temple featured as a location in the film Tomb Raider.
Take a cruise
Travelling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by boat is the most scenic way of reaching the Angkor Temples from the capital, giving visitors a chance to take in the scenery and culture of Cambodia’s life-giving waterways.
Take an elephant ride
Another option readily available at the Angkor Temples, do as Khmer royalty did centuries earlier by straddling an elephant for a memorable sunset journey. The activity is also offered in Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri.
Set in the former high school that would later become the notorious S-21 detention centre, Tuol Sleng today acts as a museum of tribute to the genocide of the chilling Khmer Rouge era. Torture instruments remain in some rooms. This is an emotive experience.
Watch traditional dance
Classical Khmer dance displays have become popular inclusions on tourist itineraries, complete with ornate costumes and accompanying musicians. Many of these performances take place in the international hotels around Siem Reap, but villages may have their own spontaneous versions on special days. Water Festival taking place in October or November – when the flow of the Tonle Sap River changes direction – the Water Festival is a chance to watch races between hundreds of rainbow-coloured boats, as well as to engage in three days of merry-making.