Private Angkor Wat Tour

UNESCO sites in Cambodia

Top 5 Must-See UNESCO Sites in Cambodia

Publisher: Rain Proun
Date: February 20, 2024

Cambodia’s magnificent temples, lush landscapes, and vibrant culture captivate the hearts of all who explore its wonders.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise to know that Cambodia has been honored with no less than six UNESCO awards, recognizing the outstanding natural heritage present in the country. From the UNESCO Heritage Site of the majestic Angkor Wat to the tranquil waters of the Tonle Sap Lake, an impressive UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Cambodia promises a journey filled with breathtaking beauty, adventure, and unforgettable memories. In this article, we’ll delve into the sites that narrate the tales of Cambodia’s ancient history and showcase its breathtaking natural beauty. We’ll talk about how to visit these UNESCO treasures, why using a knowledgeable local guide will help you gain unique insights into their historical significance and cultural heritage, and how to further enrich your journey through the Kingdom of Wonder. For more inquiries, please contact a reputable local Angkor Wat tour guide with good reviews, who will be more than happy to help you create a flexible itinerary and take care of all your needs to kick-start this once-in-a-lifetime journey.

What is UNESCO?

angkor wat site in cambodia
angkor wat site in cambodia

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, is responsible for designating World Heritage Sites around the world. They aim to identify, protect, and preserve cultural and natural heritage. The process of designating awards involves rigorous evaluation by experts from various fields, whose mission is to assess the historical significance, uniqueness of architecture, ecological importance, and universal value of each site nominated. Achieving UNESCO-designated status and being included on the list gives prestigious recognition to a location’s significance, and as Cambodia has achieved not one but six such awards, it makes this stunning Southeast Asian country a must-travel destination. So let’s delve a little deeper and reveal these incredible sites and how to get there!

Angkor Archaeological Park

angkor siem reap
angkor siem reap

Needing no introduction, the ancient city of Angkor, situated near Siem Reap, is Cambodia’s crown jewel and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. The vast and sprawling Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses hundreds of ancient temples, palaces, and other ruins, with the most renowned being the majestic Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, is the largest religious monument in the world and an impressively well-preserved and breathtaking example of Khmer architecture. This awe-inspiring temple complex, embellished with intricate carvings and dignified with magnificent statues and structures, tells the fascinating story of the Khmer Empire and its religious and cultural significance. There are other well-known temples, such as Ta Prohm, almost swallowed up by the enormous root systems of the gigantic jungle trees and is known for being used as the location of the Hollywood blockbuster movie “Tomb Raider,”  and of course Bayon, recognizable by its 216 giant sculpted faces, smiling enigmatically out from all sides of the temple walls. It is advisable to use a guide to navigate and better understand the history and significance of what you are witnessing, given the vastness of the park and the amount to take in.

How to get there:

Start your journey in Siem Reap, known as the gateway to Angkor Wat. Siem Reap has an international airport with direct flights from major cities. There are also daily buses from the capital, Phnom Penh, and neighboring countries. Once in Siem Reap, hire a local guide to explore the vast temple complex and enjoy the adventure.

Tonle Sap Lake and the Floating Villages

floating village sites
floating village sites

Close to Siem Reap, Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and has been a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1997. The lake covers 2,700 square kilometers (over 1000 square miles) in the dry season and expands dramatically to an incredible 16,000 square kilometers (6,178 square miles) in the wet season. This diverse ecosystem supports a wealth of flora and fauna, playing a crucial role in the sustainability of the communities that live on and around the lake and rely on fishing and other resources for their livelihoods. These waters are home to over 1,000,000 inhabitants, with many living in floating villages, unique wildlife and birdlife living in the lake, and its enchanting floating forests.

How to get there:

Boat tours are widely available from Siem Reap or the capital Phnom Penh, boat tours are widely available to see these remarkable stilted and floating villages. You will also enjoy journeying through the floating forests, spotting wildlife, and learning about this unique way of life. It is best to travel with your private tour guide to gain a better insight into the way of life on the water. Although trips are available year-round, the wet season offers a truly unique perspective, as the lake is expanding during this time.

Preah Vihear

preah vihea angkor site
preah vihea angkor site

Perched on a cliff in the Dangrek Mountains near the Thai-Cambodia border is the Temple of Preah Vihear, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. This stunning temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, showcases an exceptional masterpiece of Khmer architecture in a beautifully unique location. Preah Vihear is composed of sanctuaries and courtyards, with the main sanctuary seated at its highest point, providing stunning vistas. Elaborate carvings and sculptures adorn the temple, depicting Hindu deities and mythological scenes that showcase the craftsmanship of the ancient Khmer artisans. The temple’s architectural design and location make it a wonderful site of great cultural and historical significance.

How to get there:

There is no airport in the northern province of Preah Vihear, there is no airport, but it is accessible by road from Siem Reap by road. It lies approximately 220 km (137 miles) north of Siem Reap, reachable by car in about 4 to 5 hours. Hire a local guide to navigate the roads and explore the province, as well as the architecture of this awe-inspiring temple.

Koh Ker

Koh-Ker-temple-5-day-Private-tour
Koh-Ker-temple-5-day-Private-tour

Koh Ker has unusually pyramid-shaped temples, including Prasat Thom, in a remote archaeological site in the north of Cambodia. The UNESCO World Heritage List welcomed this addition in 2019 as an extension to the Temple of Preah Vihear. The site itself was once the capital of the Khmer Empire in the 10th century. The site, which is still an ongoing archaeological site in parts and situated within a lush forested area, the site also offers visitors the opportunity to appreciate the beauty and wildlife of the region. The temple’s lintels and door frames feature intricate carvings of mythological scenes and symbolic motifs. Climbing to the top of the pyramid-style temple provides panoramic views of the surrounding jungle forest, allowing you to appreciate the natural beauty and tranquility of this rather isolated and haunting location. If you would like to plan a 5-day tour in Angkor Wat, it is really worth visiting Koh Ker Complex.

How to get there:

Located approximately 120 km (75 miles) to the northeast of Siem Reap, the journey will take around 2.5 to 3 hours by road. Consider hiring a private local guide and driver to explore this unique site and prepare for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

Sambor Prei Kuk

sambo preykuk
sambo preykuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is an archaeological site predating the Angkorian era. The temples, which date back to the 6th and 7th centuries, are what remains of the once-capital of the Chenla Empire. The site, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017, the site features a series of brick temples with intricate carvings and an early architectural style that makes Sambor Prei Kuk so unique and a rare example of early Khmer civilization. The intricate carvings depict both the indigenous and Hindu beliefs held in this period. The picturesque forest backdrop enhances the serene and natural atmosphere, adding to the charm of this site.

How to get there:

Sambor Prei Kuk is situated in the heart of Kampong Thom Province and is accessible by road from both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, taking 3 to 4 hours by car in either direction. With your local guide, explore the delightful province of Kampong Thom and learn about the earliest temple complex in Cambodia.

A private Angkor Wat guide can transport 2–5 people from Siem Reap City for USD 120, providing an opportunity to explore this beautiful city with insightful sightseeing.

 

The City of Battambang

battambnag
battambnag

UNESCO named Battambang the City of Gastronomy and added it to its Creative Cities Network, despite it not being a recognized UNESCO site, making it stand out from the bustling capital of Phnom Penh and the vibrant town of Siem Reap. These destinations are known for crafts, folk art, film, gastronomy, literature, arts, and music. In the northwest region of Cambodia, the city boasts beautiful and well-preserved French colonial architecture. It is also home to some unique attractions of its own, including its own.

  • The bamboo train is a unique mode of transportation.
  • stunning pagodas
  • Famous Bat Caves, where crowds flock nightly to witness the millions of bats exiting their caves at sundown in grand formations that paint the twilight skies.
  • The city is alive with cafes, music, theater, and galleries, and overall has a very contemporary art scene; it is well worth stopping or spending a night or two while en route to visit some of the aforementioned UNESCO sites.

How to get there:

Recent upgrades to the roads from Siem Reap and Phnom Penh to Battambang have made the journey more comfortable and pain-free.

Battambang lies approximately 173 km (107 miles) from Siem Reap and takes around 3 hours by car. Your guide will help you navigate and plan your itinerary to include Battambang, should you wish to include a stay there.

Transportation usually charges USD 130 for 2–5 people, and we highly recommend a private Angkor Wat guide to show you amazing sightseeing and make a wise investment with a tour guide to explore this beautiful city.

Conclusion

As you travel through Cambodia, discovering the wealth of UNESCO World Heritage Sites will give you a deeper understanding of the country’s rich history while enjoying its outstanding natural beauty. These sites are not only a testament to the country’s historical significance but also to its pride and its strong commitment to preserving its unique identity for generations to come. With so much to see and taking into consideration the relative distances, it is important to plan your itinerary carefully. Consider hiring local guides to gain a deeper insight into Cambodian culture. A guide will take much of the planning pressure off of it for you, allowing you to relax, immerse yourself in your Cambodia adventure, and not miss anything this wonderful southeast nation has to offer to its very welcome visitors.

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