The DEPARTURES Guide to Cambodia

Traveling through the Southeast Asian country reveals a nation developing an identity for itself beyond its well-trod temples.

The Departures Guide to Cambodia

Change is afoot in Cambodia, located between Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and bordering the Gulf of Thailand. “It’s more of a rebirth than a birth,” says Lim Muy Theam, an artist and designer based in Siem Reap, the country’s cultural capital. Cambodia’s history was practically erased during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, from 1975 to 1979, which was responsible for the genocide of nearly 2 million Cambodian people and, along with it, the dismantling of the country’s heritage. Political unrest followed until 1998, when Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party came solely into power (they remain there today). Because 68 percent of the country’s population is under the age of 30, the older generation is trying desperately to instill a sense of tradition in the younger one, which is eager to move on from the past and catch up with the rest of Asia. This creates a palpable melting pot of emotions: hope mixed with heartbreak. DEPARTURES travels to the cities of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Kep, and to the island-resort Song Saa, and discovers that it’s this dichotomy that is paving the way for Cambodia’s future. 

The Best of Siem Reap
Due to its proximity to Angkor, a complex of magnificent ancient temples, the once-ramshackle city of Siem Reap morphed into a whistle-stop resort town. From modern art galleries to chich local boutiques, here's where to stay, shop, and sight-see (while expertly avoiding selfie-stick-weilding tourists) in Cambodia's cultural hub. See the article »

Phnom Penh
Cambodia's capital city still shows signs of the country's harrowing past, but its up-and-coming cultural scene is inspiring positive change. With inventive new eats (like the Chinese House or the city's first rum distillery) and historic local sites (the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is an essential stop) discover the perfect mix of old and new. See the article »

Stay at a boho beach hotel, savor the local delicacy of Kampot pepper crab, visit Rabbit Island with a barbecued seafood feast, and relax at this seaside destination south of Phnom Penh—once a popular getaway for the well-heeled French and Khmer elite. See the article »

Song Saa
Cambodia's first private island resort has a humble origin story and a long-term vision for sustainable vacationing. Discover how two passionate expats fell in love with a forgotten island, and helped inspire a beacon of hope for a local community. See the article »

Tour Operator: Our Man in Cambodia
DEPARTURES traveled in Cambodia for 11 days with London-based travel outfit Brown + Hudson (, whose founding partner Philippe Brown ferrets out itineraries around the globe that are not typical or obvious. The company goes above and beyond to show clients unique and customized experiences. For example, Brown + Hudson orchestrated it so we didn’t see another traveler on the grounds of Angkor Wat for sunrise, and organized an elaborate breakfast in a tuk-tuk for us and archaeologist Damian Evans at Angkor’s Ta Nei, a research temple that was utterly deserted when we were dining. Logistically, the trip was seamless, from skipping customs at the airport to being booked on the Cambodia Angkor Air flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh in a row with an insane amount of legroom (okay, we’ll give it away: row 27). But to experience nirvana at Angkor Wat? Talk to Brown + Hudson.

Photo Credits: Aaron Joel Santos / Jessica Sample / Bernardo Salce; Courtesy Song Saa Private Island