Steeped in history -- both spectacular and sordid -- Cambodia is the perpetual comeback kid.

As the bleeding heart of Southeast Asia, Cambodia has had a rough go of it over the last half-millennium or so with the fall of Angkor in 1431 and, more recently, the U.S. military's carpet bombing and its own devastating civil war in the 1970s, in which the Khmer Rouge killed off nearly a third of its own countrymen. The regime's brutal reign of terror left an indelible scar on the Cambodian people, but, despite it all, Cambodians are incredibly hospitable, and your foreign money, if put in the right pockets, can help lift the country out of poverty.

But where should you go and what should you see in Cambodia?

Here's a look at the best of Cambodia, from the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Thailand to the tropical interior forests and temple-strewn northern hills. Below are 10 spots you won't want to miss.

Best Beaches In Cambodia

Koh Rong

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Envision the beaches of Thailand (or, for the unimaginative, picture the beach from The Beach). Now, remove the crowds of pink-faced farangs. This is the unadulterated paradise that awaits visitors to Cambodia's long-overlooked Gulf of Thailand islands. Serene can't even begin to describe the island of Koh Rong, which has just enough amenities to make it enjoyable without ruining its pristine views. And what the island lacks in services, it more than makes up for in natural beauty.

Where to Stay:

Paradise Bungalows (Rates start at $15/night)

Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)

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Close to the mainland -- but far away in mindset -- Cambodia's Rabbit Island is a 20-minute hop from the dock in Kep. The small, clover-shaped key in the Gulf of Thailand has rustic bungalows and rudimentary beach shack restaurants, but it remains predominantly undeveloped, with its hub of action concentrated around the main beach, leaving the rest of the island blessedly vacant. There are no air-conditioning units, no televisions, no mirrors and no Internet terminals. Rabbit Island is an emerging destination for those who want to get away from it all, relax, and enjoy a throwback island paradise.

Where to Stay:

Rabbit Island has a series of family-run bungalows on Main Beach that cost around $5 per night. None offer online bookings, but most can be reserved from the city of Kep.

Sihanoukville

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Hacked out of the jungle in the late 1950s to accommodate Cambodia's first and only deep-water port, by the 1960s, the beach-rimmed coast around Sihanoukville had become the country's preeminent seaside resort. Now, it's extremely popular with well-to-do Phnom Penhers and tourists looking for luxuries unavailable at Cambodia's other beaches.

Where to Stay:

Coolabah Hotel (Rates start at $35/night)

Best Destinations For Nature

Kampot

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You'll never realize pepper (as in the table companion to salt) could taste so good until you toss it atop your fish amok in Kampot -- the pepper capital of the world. This quiet town has an awesome array of riverside restaurants and secluded bungalows. While it's the perfect place to kick back for some small-town Cambodian charm, it's also an ideal base for trips into Bokor National Park to take in the lost grandeur of the French colonial Bokor Hill Station.

Where to Stay:

Ganesha Riverside Eco Resort (Rates start at $8/night)

Krong Koh Krong

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Cambodia's Wild West has cleaned up its image in recent years, transforming itself from a frontier economy based on prostitution and gambling to a budding ecotourism destination. The region is home to one of Southeast Asia's most thrilling coastal mountain habitats, and its dense rainforest, rolling hills, winding rivers and cascading waterfalls buzz with exotic animals, beckoning intrepid tourists to wander off the beaten path and into the wild.

Where to Stay:

Oasis Bungalow Resort (Rates start at $25/night)

Kratie

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A hodgepodge of old colonial terraces and traditional Khmer buildings, Kratie stretches lazily along the west bank of the Mekong River and is one of the best spots in the region to enjoy the tangerine Mekong sunset. Most venture to this far-flung corner of Cambodia for a chance to view the rare Irrawaddy dolphins, but the city is becoming a popular stop-over for nature lovers of all ilk. It's a place to relax, unwind and enjoy rural Cambodia at its finest.

Where to Stay:

Rajabori Villas Resort (Rates start at $60/night)

Tonle Sap

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Tonle Sap is at once a floating village, local highway and flood-relief system.  As the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve dominates the map of Cambodia and plays a vital role in the nation's ecology. For anyone with temple burnout, a trip along the lakeshore makes for a great escape from the sunbaked ruins of Siem Reap.

Where to Stay:

Pavillon d'Orient Boutique-Hotel in Siem Reap (Rates start at $85/night)

Best Destinations for Culture

Siem Reap (Angkor)

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No trip to the region would be complete without a sojourn to the abundant ruins of Angkor. You hear about the grandeur of Angkor Wat, but nothing can quite prepare you for that special morning when you watch the saffron sun peek over the world's largest and most audacious religious structure.  You'll need at least two memory chips and three days to navigate the 1,000 square kilometers of the former Khmer Empire. It may just be the most hyped set of ruins in the world, but it certainly won't disappoint.

Where to Stay:

Golden Temple Hotel in Siem Reap (Rates start at $55/night)

Banteay Srei

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Most of Angkor's historic wonders lie just north of Siem Reap, but further afield sits the delicate tour de force of classical art: Banteay Srei. The most intricate of all Khmer art, the coral-tinged 10th century temple is known as the Citadel of Women and is widely referred to as Cambodia's precious gem.  

Where to Stay:

Bong Thom Homestay (Rates start at $45/night)

Phnom Penh

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A walk through Phnom Penh is a tornado trip through dark alleys and pools of light; stoic monasteries and lavish gardens; riverside flair and backstreet fear. Some parts of the capital city bear the impact of war and revolution while others offer a glimpse of the country to be. To understand the Phnom Penh of today best, delve into the nation's ancient past at the National Museum before immersing yourself in more recent traumas at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek just outside of town.

Where to Stay:

Raffles Hotel Le Royal (Rates start at $195/night)

More on Cambodia:

Cambodia's Metamorphosis during the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

The Best Bangkok Alternatives in Southeast Asia