Cambodia has turned itself into quite a popular destination since reopening to foreign travellers in the early 1990s.
At 181,000 square kms, Cambodia is the smallest country in mainland Southeast Asia other than Singapore. That does not make it the quickest to travel around. With minimal domestic flights and few trains, prepare for the good old bus. Most nationalities receive a 30-day visa on arrival.
Over the past decade, Cambodia has improved some of its major roads and become easier to access via affordable flights from nearby countries. Yet it remains one of the most impoverished countries in the region and the tragic transformation of Sihanoukville has not helped its reputation in recent years. Still, the tourism industry remains a life line for many Cambodians.
The two most popular destinations are the capital, Phnom Penh, which straddles the Tonle Sap River in the southeast; and Siem Reap, the jumping off point for Angkor Wat and related sites in the northwest. Built nearly a millennia ago, the hugely popular ruins of Angkor rank highly not only in Southeast Asia but also on global lists of awe-inspiring historical sites.
Cambodia’s topography ranges from flat rice-growing terrain in the northwest around the Tonle Sap, one of Southeast Asia’s largest lakes, to mountainous jungle in both the southwest near Thailand and over in a remote slice of the country squeezed between Laos and Vietnam in the northeast.
The Mekong churns through much of Cambodia and you’ll find many worthy spots for relaxing along the banks of this iconic river. You’ll also find some pretty islands, such as Koh Rong, off the country’s Gulf of Thailand coast. Do consider leaving time for second-tier destinations, like photogenic Battambang to the west and pepper-growing Kampot down south.
When it comes to climate, all of Cambodia encounters the same two seasons. The dry months run from November through April, with serious heat during the latter end of that stretch. Wet season from May through October can get, well, really wet, and travel often takes longer at this time of year.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.