The geographically diverse and remote region of Northern Cambodia shares borders with Thailand to the north and Laos to the northeast. Today, improved highways allow visitors to reach previously unexplored regions. From the spectacular UNESCO- protected temple of Prasat Preah Vihear to the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin in Kratie, a visit to the north will delight any traveler.
The earliest known evidence of human settlement in the region dates back to 4300 BC, when hunter-gatherers inhabited caves in the northwest. Between the 6th and 7th centuries, Chenla rulers built several temples in the region. Northern Cambodia was overrun by invading Thai forces on numerous occasions during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Thai armies used the region as a gateway to the rest of the country in their quest to pillage the Khmer Empire. In the late 18th century, parts of the northwest were annexed by the Thais, and finally returned to Cambodia in 1946. In the 20th century, Khmer Rouge forces passed through the region as they retreated north from Phnom Penh, ahead of the Vietnamese Army.
Battambang, the country’s second- largest city, is fast emerging as a popular tourist destination. Known for producing the nation’s finest rice and oranges, the city also has crumbling French Colonial villas, shophouses, and a riverfront promenade. The nearby ruins of Wat Banan and Banteay Chmmer make for excellent day trips.
The remote northeastern provinces of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, where tourism is still in its infancy, receive few visitors. However, both have many ethnic minority villages, herds of wild elephants, waterfalls, and beautiful grassy landscapes. Yaek Lom Lake, a beautiful crater lake with inviting verdigris water, is a perfect picnic spot.
The northeast has a few excellent ecolodges and eco-trekking organi- zations, while farther south the town of Kratie is renowned for its sunsets and the Irrawaddy dolphin. The temple ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk and Koh Ker are well worth a visit. The region is also known for its stone handicrafts, and silk items such as kramas (scarves) and shirts.