Cambodia is more than just Angkor Wat!Many backpackers consider the country an after thought. They tag the country onto the end of their Southeast Asia backpacking route, leaving less than one week in Cambodia or even just a few days to explore all that it has to offer! Big mistake. Of course, the country’s most famous attraction (one of the most famous monuments in the world), Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, cannot be ignored. However, there’s a whole lot more to this country than this one temple and it deserves more attention than most travellers give it! That reminds me of our article on the Top 10 Things to do in Cambodia (apart from Angkor Wat!).
Your Cambodia Itinerary: 2 Weeks, 10 Days or 1 Week?
How long should you spend in Cambodia?To really get under the skin of Cambodia, ideally, we would recommend a minimum 2-week itinerary. This is because Cambodia is a relatively small country compared to others in Southeast Asia (we recommend at least 30 days in Vietnam, for example) and so transport time is not too long. However, if you can’t spare two weeks, it is possible to see a lot of Cambodia in 10 days, or even one week if that’s all the time that you have. Below, I have outlined a rough itinerary with a suggested amount of time to spend in each location. You can adapt this to suit your personal schedule, spending less time in each place if you need to.
- More info? You can read more about backpacking in Cambodia here. And for more detailed information, see our individual Cambodia Travel Guides which can be accessed from that page.
- Tip! Want to run your Cambodian Itinerary passed other travellers? Don’t forget to join our wonderful Facebook Group where backpackers help each other with their travel queries daily! This is a great group to post your itinerary and find out what travellers who have recently returned from Southeast Asia have to say!
Cambodia Itinerary 2 Weeks (Suggested Time)
START: Poipet/Aranya Prathet – The Thai/Cambodia Border
Many backpackers, on a full tour of Southeast Asia, cross the border into the “Kingdom of Cambodia” from Aranya Prathet in Thailand to the small (and super shady) town of Poipet, just across on the Cambodian side. Upon arrival in Cambodia, most citizens will be granted with a 30-day visa. (More on Cambodian visas here.)
Like most border towns, Poipet is a seedy, weird little place, home to casinos and bizarre guesthouses. It seems that the border town was built mainly for Thai people who cross the border of Thailand to gamble in Cambodia, where it is legal for them (gambling is still illegal for Cambodian citizens, however!).
For obvious reasons, we don’t recommend that you hang around Poipet very long (plus, Siem Reap is just 2 and a half hours away!) However, it is a surreal and interesting cultural experience to pop in one of the mega casinos for a bland buffet lunch and check out the tacky decor and shady gambling dens!
Siem Reap: 3-5 DaysAngkor Wat Complex, which also appears on their national flag! The ticket options are: a 1-day pass for $37 US, a 3-day pass for $62 US or a 7-day pass for $72 US. If you can spare the time, we would highly recommend getting the 3-day pass, rather than the one day so that you have more time to explore the temples at your own leisure. The temples can be explored in a variety of ways; on foot, by bicycle or on a tuk-tuk tour with a local English-speaking guide. (This is a recommended option so that you can learn more about each temple that you visit.) Whichever way you decide to explore, don’t miss the awesome Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Phrom (featured in the film, Tomb Raider). And, if you have a day spare, why not embark upon an alternative adventure and plan a walk around the secret walls of Angkor Thom – an all day historical walk around the entire Angkor Thom complex. Aside from Angkor Wat, there are a variety of other things to do in Siem Reap. There’s the lively Pub Street with its variety of bars, pubs and restaurants that keep backpackers entertained into the early hours. For evening entertainment, you can enjoy a performance at Phare Circus! For more daytime activities, you can take a trip to the local market, try a ‘fish spa’ or perhaps take a cooking class and learn to cook Cambodian specialties like Fish Amok Curry and fresh spring rolls. We recommend the half day cooking class at Lily’s Garden.
Ideas for Day Trips from Siem Reap
Must Do: The Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Villages
Taking a tour of the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake is a must do trip from Siem Reap. Reminiscent of Inle Lake in Myanmar, the local people in Cambodia have built stilted houses on the lake and use tiny boats to get around their daily business. You can spend overnight in the floating village of Kompong Khleang if you have time, which is a wonderful experience that can be arranged through a travel company in Siem Reap.
When it comes to visiting the villages, however, it’s wise to do your research and choose an ethical tour company so that your visit benefits the local community rather than intruding upon it. Sadly, some of the villages, such as Chong Kneas, have been completely ruined by tourism and should be avoided – unless you fancy getting completely ripped off! Other villages (that are a little further away from Siem Reap), such as Kompong Khleang and Mechrey have become burgeoning sustainable tourism sites and should be wholly supported by travellers!
Read more about the various villages that can be visited from Siem Reap and how to choose the best floating village on the Tonle Sap here. (We always try to recommend sustainable tours where we can.)
Another day trip that you can do from Siem Reap is to the lush countryside, mountains and waterfalls of Phnom Kulen. Hire a motorbike from the city and set off for an epic adventure (around an hour and a half away) on dusty roads.
Trav Kot Lake and Eco-Tourism CommunityJust 30km outside of Siem Reap is the beautiful Trav Kot Lake, also known as ‘Lotus Lake’, due to the amount of beautiful lotus flowers that float on the surface of the water. For those who love kayaking, the lake makes for a relaxing day out amidst the sounds of nature! Adventure Travel Co. have a great half day kayak trip to Trav Kot for just $25 US which can be booked right here on this site.
Optional Boat Trip: Getting from Siem Reap to BattambangIf you are not short on time, taking the boat trip from Siem Reap to Battambang along the Sangker River is an interesting experience. The boat can take up to 9 hours, so that’s a whole day, but makes a change from a cramped bus! Along the way, you will see Tonlé Sap Lake and its floating villages, as well as stop at a restaurant on stilts for lunch. At a cost of around $20 US (depending on where you buy it), the boat trip is a more expensive way to reach Battambang (the bus costs just $4 US), but it’s a much more interesting journey in our opinion!
Battambang: 3-4 days
Four hours from Siem Reap by bus will bring you to the beautiful laid-back arty town of Battambang, which is a quiet town with a surprising amount of things to do! If you’re not in a rush, we’d recommend chilling here for a few days, exploring the countryside by bicycle or motorbike, sipping coffees in the towns quaint cafés and visiting the nearby Bat Cave. Oh and don’t miss a ride on the famous bamboo train!
If you don’t know where to start, a Battambang Walking Tour is a cheap and interesting introduction to the town, where you’ll learn more about the history of Battambang and explore the remains of French colonial architecture in the area.Local company, Butterfly Tours, also run a variety of cycling tour and day tours around Battambang, guided by local University students. Their half-day cycle tour is just $18 US and takes you off the beaten track into the villages around Battambang where you’ll see locals making rice paper, Khmer noodles, fish paste and rice wine! Of course, you’ll get to try some along the way. Not too far away, you’ll also find Sompov Mountain, home to the tragic Killing Caves, where thousands of people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge during their horrendous 4-year reign. Sompov Mountain is also the location of the ‘Bat Caves’ where a not-to-be-missed natural phenomenon takes place at sunset every day. Thousands of bats fly out of the cave in search of food creating huge black clouds in the air. An amazing sight! You can visit Sompov Mountain on this tuk tuk trip.
Phnom Penh: 2-3 days
The capital of Phnom Penh is a 5-hour bus journey southeast of Battambang. While many long-term travellers would disagree, we reckon that two days is enough to explore the city of Phnom Penh. While you’re here be sure to learn more about the tragic history of Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields and the S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It’s a heartbreaking, but important experience.Tip – If you’re looking to relax for a few days in the middle of your Cambodian adventure, the lovely Samathi Lake Resort, just outside of Phnom Penh has some crazy cheap yoga retreats. From $65 US for three nights (low season), these short and sweet yoga and spa packages are a really nice way to treat yourself whilst keeping within a backpacker budget!
Kampot: 2-3 days
After the smoky capital, we now start to head towards Cambodia’s coastline. Less than three hours from city, you’ll find Kampot, a lovely little riverside town with lots to explore, especially at nearby Bokor Mountain National Park. We recommend staying at least two days here to get a feel for the place and explore the surrounding countryside. Kampot is also famous for its pepper and salt plantations, which are worth a visit, as well as an evening boat trip on the river where you can see thousands of fireflies lighting up the night sky.Kampot is a great place to hire a motorbike and explore at your own pace… (Read more about motorbiking around Kampot here.) Or, if you don’t like motorbikes, then a bicycle will do! This half day Kampot bike tour is great for getting away from the tourists and onto the back roads that only locals know. Another interesting way to experience the beautiful area is on a Kampot SUP Tour (Stand Up Paddleboard) where you can explore the rivers, billabongs, mangrove forests and fishing villages of Kampot in a totally unique way.
Kep: 1 day
With its crumbling colonial mansions and excellent seafood, the coastal town of Kep is a nice place to spend a relaxing day. The town is just half an hour from Kampot and can be visited on a day trip or if you have more time, for an overnight stay. The town is famous for its crab and a delicious seafood feast at Kep Crab Market while watching the sun set is a must-do!
Sihanoukville: Use as a jumping-off point only!
While we don’t recommend that you spend the night there, seedy Sihanoukville is still the best place to catch a ferry to the nearby tropical islands. What was once a backpacker paradise, in recent years, the town of Sihanoukville has been overtaken by casinos and package hotels and can get pretty dangerous at night too. Boats depart from Serendipity Beach to the tropical islands of Koh Rong and Koh Samloem and take just 45 minutes. We recommend that you get in and get out fast!
Beach Time! Koh Rong: 3 days OR Koh Rong Samloem: 3 days – forever!
Your tropical beach time in Cambodia has finally arrived! Sipping a coconut on a beach, reading in a hammock and swimming in clear waters is a great way to end your Cambodian adventure! But which island will you choose? Aaah! Decisions, decisions!
Which Cambodian Island to choose?
Deciding between Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem is a difficult decision that many backpackers have to face. Basically, Koh Rong is the livelier island of the two with a pretty well-established backpacker party scene going on, while Koh Rong Samloem is still catching up. Most backpackers consider Koh Rong Samloem with its amazing white sandy beaches, clear waters and castaway island feel to be the most beautiful of the two. As tourism grows however and more and more hotels appear on the shoreline, we fear it won’t be too long though before the islands merge into one!
If you’re up for a spot of island-hopping, check out these other Cambodian Islands, which are well worth a visit. As rich investors line up to take their slice of this untouched tropical paradise, the time to visit these islands is NOW before the backpacker scene is gone forever.
If you’ve only got time for one paradise island, don’t miss the tiny Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay), the least developed of all the Cambodian Islands where rustic bamboo beach huts go for just $5 US. Don’t expect any parties or WIFI, this is seclusion 101 – despite the island being just a 25-minute boat ride from Kep!
FINISH: Phnom Penh – Catch a flight or bus out!
From Sihanoukville, it’s a five-hour drive back to Phnom Penh where you can catch a cheap flight out to any other nearby Southeast Asian destination. Or, if you’re doing the full Southeast Asian backpacker itinerary, catch a bus just six hours to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which costs as little as $10 US!
Off the Beaten Track Cambodia!Of course, there are places that we have missed off this itinerary and if you have more time we’d definitely recommend that you get off the beaten track and visit the following places!
- The Cardamom Mountains – West. A great place for some off the beaten track jungle trekking.
- Mondulkiri Province (Sen Monorum) – East. Home to the Elephant Valley Project, this is a great ethnical place to get up close with elephants in Cambodia. Here, the elephants are allowed to roam completely free in over 1,500 hectares of forest, unlike in many other elephant sanctuaries in nearby Thailand.
- Preah Vihear Temple – North. An interesting a disputed temple on the border of Thailand.
- Kratié – East. this pretty East Cambodian town is becoming more popular with backpackers lately as a place to relax by the river and spot the rare Irrawaddy Dolphin!