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Attempting to capture the essence of Cambodia through the lens of a camera is no small feat. When your subject has such a heart-wrenching indigenous and colonial history, diverse landscapes and competing modern identities, there’s a lot to consider. You want to be honest. You want to be original. You want to see elephants. Worry not, we’ve rounded up the 9 best photo spots for your holiday in Cambodia. Many of these places you can explore alone but others may require a guide. Enjoy!
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
As the world’s largest religious site and one of Southeast Asia’s most important cultural epicenters, Angkor Wat demands being photographed. Standing at the steps of this beautiful battered ruin can be intimidating. One of the best ways to capture the temple is at sunrise, so wake up early, get your equipment situated, and do your best to get that iconic shot of the morning sun draping the temple in the light.
Koh Ker, Preah Vihear Province
Just 2 hours northeast of Siem Reap, Koh Ker is a collection of some of the most remote temples in the area. In total there are about 180 abandoned sanctuaries, all of which have been slowly engulfed by the surrounding jungle. Most famous is the 7-tier, Mayan-esque Prasat Thom, offering stunning views of the nearby landscape. Be sure to include this gem if you have some extra time around the Angkor area.
Although the country’s capital has recently faced competition in tourism from other modern southeast Asian metropolises, Phnom Penh still retains much of its old city charm. French colonial houses line up against roadside pagodas, hip cafes hide inconspicuously behind leafy storefronts, and markets with all kinds of scents and flavors dot sidestreets. This is the Asia people dream about, and photographing it is an amazing opportunity.
Floating Villages, Tonle Sap
As the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and with over three million people living off its banks, Tonle Sap is a cultural and economic powerhouse in Cambodia. Over half the fish consumed in Cambodia come from these waters and over 90% of its inhabitants earn their living by fishing-related work. The floating villages of Kampong Kleang and Mechrey are particularly special destinations for photography. Float around thousands of houses perched on 10-meter high stilts and colorful rowboats with produce precariously balanced above their brims.
Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
As the primary government building and home to King Sihamoni, the royal palace stands out as one of the best urban destinations for the photography. Similar to its counterpart in Bangkok, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh boasts traditional golden architecture, spiraling columns and intricate decorations. Although visiting on the weekends can be very crowded, some travelers feel the crowds add to the building’s magic.
Famous crab markets, sunsets, hikes, butterflies, calm waters — this is Kep, Cambodia’s version of a tropical paradise. If your portfolio needs a splash of turquoise water, white sand, and weathered French colonial architecture, Kep is your spot.
Up in the eastern hills lies Mondulkiri, one of Cambodia’s most geographically unique regions. Here, you won’t find any rice paddies or palm trees, and the climate is noticeably cooler. The bears, leopards, monkeys, birds, and wild pigs roaming these hills are far more abundant than in other regions. Perhaps the animal that captures this landscape best is the elephant. With many sanctuaries offering permanent respite for overworked and neglected elephants, there are ample opportunities to catch them bathing and relaxing in their natural habitat.
Kirirom Pine Forests
This national park just two hours from Phnom Penh and is the perfect chance to record some of Cambodia’s most lush landscapes. Rent a bike and wind through the park’s dense forests, stopping any time something catches your eye. Accommodations in the area are mostly of the eco-lodge aesthetic, including tents, villas, cabins, and homestays. Set up shop and spend some time photographing cascading waterfalls and views of the Cardamom mountain range.
Last but not least on our list of 9 best photographable opportunities in Cambodia is Preah Vihear, a stunning temple perched above a plateau overlooking the expansive plains. Recently nominated as Cambodia’s second UNESCO world heritage site in 2008, Preah Vihear is an excellent location to capture the heart of the country. But beware — it’s situated right on the border with Thailand and for years, the two governments have disputed ownership of the temple with armed forces.