Northwestern Cambodia is a region of Cambodia and includes the provinces of Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Siem Reap and the part of Stoeng Treng to the west of the Mekong.
- 1 Anlong Veng - grim reminders of the Khmer Rouge in the impressive Dangrek Mountains
- 2 Koh Ker
- 3 Poipet - a squalid town known for its infamous border crossing
- 4 Samraong - hinterland transport hub with connection to Thailand
- 5 Siem Reap - the largest city of the region and gateway to Angkor
- 6 Sisophon - a transport hub in the middle of nowhere, with its own quirky attractions
- 1 Angkor Archaeological Park - one of the world's great monuments, Cambodia's biggest draw
- 2 Banteay Chhmar - quiet and remote temple complex
- 3 Koh Ker - more ruins in this former capital north of Angkor
- 4 Preah Vihear - disputed cliff-hanging temple in the far north bordering Thailand
- 5 Tonle Sap Lake - the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia
Control of much of this area has often passed between the various regional powers. It is now part of Cambodia thanks to the French, whose sabre rattling forced the Siamese into relinquishing it (along with Battambang) in 1907. The region had been Siamese since 1867, thanks again to the French who gave it (and Battambang) to Siam in exchange for unobstructed French control over the remainder of Cambodia. Before then, a nominally independent Cambodia existed as a vassal state of Siam and Vietnam.
Much of northwestern Cambodia is characterized by poverty. Siem Reap Province is one of the poorest in the country, despite its valuable temples. Infrastructure construction has been booming, though only since around 2008. This makes many older reported journey times and maps outdated. Outside the towns, car batteries provide expensive electricity to village homes.
For now, development means only the blazing of asphalt trails through remote areas. The growth of businesses and expanded tourism will surely follow, so explore off the tourist trail to get an insight into Cambodian life.
- China: Guangzhou, Shanghai
- Korea: Seoul
- Laos: Pakse, Vientiane, Luang Prabang
- Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur
- Taiwan: Kaohsiung, Taipei
- Thailand: Bangkok, U-Tapao/Pattaya
- Vietnam: Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City
The following roads are all paved:
- National Highway 5 runs southeast from the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing to Sisophon (1 hr), Battambang (2-3 hr) and on to Phnom Penh (a further 5-6 hr)
- Hwy 6 runs from Sisophon to Siem Reap (2 hr) and on to Phnom Penh (a further 6 hr)
- Hwy 67 runs south from the Choam border crossing with Thailand via Anlong Veng to Siem Reap (2 hr)
- Hwy 68 runs south from the O'Smach border crossing with Thailand via Samraong to Kralanh (2 hr), where it joins Hwy 6 for Siem Reap
If you're only making your way between towns in the region, then the days of rough, impassable roads and adventure are over. Most main routes are now paved, with the exception of only a few.
There is a range of bus companies serving all towns large enough to be worth visiting. The larger the town, the more regular the service.
Where the bus companies don't go, one should usually be able to travel by taxi. For the best chance of success, organise your taxi the night before, otherwise an early start may be needed to secure a place in a share-taxi.
By pick-up truck
It's not as simple to organize a pick-up truck as it is a taxi, but they have a different target market. Used for passengers and cargo, pick-up trucks head everywhere, providing a broad network, linking most every lonely village. If it weren't for these banged up wagons, most of the region wouldn't have access to affordable transport. Simply stand on the edge of the road, and flag the first one down.
By kuyon (tractor)
Short trips outside towns can be made by hitching a ride on a slow, rustic, local tractor. Just flag down the first one heading your way. This is effectively hitch hiking, and comes with the usual dangers. US$0.75 per 15 km would be appropriate.
- Angkor Archaeological Park - These magnificent ruins of several ancient Khmer cities cover some 400 sq km and house one of the world's great monuments, Angkor Wat. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992 and UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
- Banteay Chhmar - A remote, but de-mined temple complex 60 km north of Sisophon. The road is unpaved but easily passable in the dry season, this puts many people off and makes the trip more rewarding for those that make it.
- Koh Ker - If Angkor doesn't sate your temple appetite, this pre-Angkorian, landmine-free site 90 km northeast of Siem Reap is worth a day trip.
- Tonle Sap - The largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia, of major conservation importance, and home to several floating villages.
- Kompong Kdei Bridge - The largest Angkorian era bridge in the country, and still completely intact. 60 km south east of Siem Reap just off Route 6.
Siem Reap hosts a vast array of things to do beyond its temples. Ride horses, elephants, jeeps. Visit museums. Take cookery classes. Shoot things. Watch apsara dances. Get massaged. Take a boat on the Tonle Sap. Learn Khmer.
Outside Siem Reap the main pastime is marveling at being in the middle of nowhere (much of Cambodia's development is focused on its southeast): watch rice fields being burnt, planted, harvested. Stare at starry skies away from city light pollution.
Siem Reap hosts the region's gastronomic centre. All tastes and budgets are catered for. Elsewhere it's the usual provincial fare of soups, fruit, rice, meat, and veg.
Similar to the dining scene. Dry martinis can only be found in Siem Reap and the casinos near the border crossings. Every two-bit hut will serve cold water, cola and beer; local style coffee (cold and sweet) can be found just about everywhere.
Northwest Cambodia is home to the K5 mine belt, a 700 km long, 500 m wide band of land mines that runs parallel to the Thai border. Although parts have been cleared, much remains. When travelling in remote areas, never stray off the road or track. It's just not worth the risk.
Three of Cambodia's six overland crossings with Thailand are in this region:
- Aranyaprathet/Poipet — the busiest land crossing into Cambodia on the Bangkok-Siem Reap road. Long the stuff of nightmares, the roads are now paved all the way from Poipet to Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh.
- Chong Sa-Ngam (in Si Saket Province)/Choam (near Anlong Veng) Anlong Veng is only 2 hr from Siem Reap by bus.
- Chong Jom (in Surin Province)/O'Smach (near Samraong) O'Smach is connected by bus, as is Samraong (2 hr to Siem Reap).