With an intriguing history that stretches back many centuries, it is no wonder that visitors flock to Cambodia to learn a little more about the people and places that shaped the Kingdom. From the sprawling temple complex of Angkor Wat to lesser known sites further to the south, Cambodia is home to a sprinkling of architectural treasures that all play an important part in conveying the many tales of the country.
1. Independence Monument, Phnom Penh
Visit the “center” of the Kingdom by making time to see Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument, a lotus-shaped stupa designed in a unique Khmer style by the kingdom’s first fully qualified architect — Vann Molyvann. Although not the geographical midpoint of the country, all of the distances on Cambodia’s road signs begin from Independence Monument, which was built in 1958 to mark the point in history when Cambodia gained independence from the French in 1953.
2. Olympic Stadium, Phnom Penh
Immerse into the local city life at Phnom Penh’s very own multi-purpose sports stadium, built to host the 1963 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games (although that never happened due to the political unrest at the time). While this sprawling structure may not have the alluring grandeur of sites like Angokor Wat or the Royal Palace, it is one of the best places in the capital if you want to sample a little of the local culture. Head there at sundown to watch, or even take part in, one of the many exuberant aerobics classes that take place there. Completed in 1964, the stadium was also designed by Vann Molyvann, one of the most iconic figures in modern Cambodia.
3. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
See the crowning jewel of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization at Angkor Wat. Whatever time of day you visit this impressive temple complex, which was built at the height of the Khmer Empire, you are sure to be amazed by the artistic appeal of its architecture. The main temple is a three-tiered masterpiece crowned by five towers which rise 65 meters from the ground. Many visits choose to visit this magnificent temple at sunrise or sunset to make it a spiritual experience as well as a visually indulgent one.
4. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap
Just a few kilometers from the main Angkor Wat Complex, Ta Prohm temple mesmerizes guests with scenes of giant trees growing on and through the crumbly ruins, their tentacle-like roots wrapped around the manmade structures. Founded by King Jayavarman VII in the early 12th century, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed temple was built as a monastery and university. Ta Prohm is the temple where Angelina Jolie filmed scenes for the Hollywood hit Tomb Raider.
5. Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Get a taste of Cambodia’s regal history by making time for a trip to the Royal Palace, designed in classic Khmer architectural layout including a defensive wall, grand throne hall — which is still used for coronations — stupas, gilded spires, and several pavilions spread out amongst various landscaped gardens. Situated a stone’s throw from the Tonle Sap river, the Royal Palace was built in 1813 with regular modifications over its 200 year history. Built when the royal capital was moved to Phnom Penh from Oudong in the mid-19th century, the complex still serves as the King’s royal residence.