Introduction to Backpacking Cambodia!
Gaze in awe at the temples of Angkor Wat, explore the fascinating, dusty streets of the energetic capital, Phnom Penh, then relax on the golden beaches and deserted (for now) Cambodian islands. Cambodia is a fun and super cheap destination for backpackers, but what really makes it an enchanting destination to visit are its beautiful friendly people!
EAT! Fish Amok: This delicious creamy coconut curry is a must-eat. Other less appealing delicacies include deep fried spiders, crickets, pregnant duck eggs, barbecued rats and snakes!
DRINK! Sugar Cane Juice: Squeezed right from the sugar cane on the street, this refreshing drink is the perfect cool-me-down in Cambodia’s hot climate!
WEAR! PJs: All that travelling tires you out, so keep your PJs on at all times like the savvy women of Cambodia!
BEWARE! Monkeys at Angkor Wat: They look so cute… until they’re swinging around your neck trying to swig your can of coke!
Cambodia Destination Guides
Check out our travel guides to the best places to visit in Cambodia below! Scroll further down and you’ll find some important travel info (visas, the best time to visit etc.) as well as a daily budget guide, the best places to visit in Cambodia and some top tips for backpacking Cambodia!
Before You Go: Know The Tragic History of Cambodia
Anyone who visits this beautiful country should be aware that less than fifty years ago, Cambodia suffered a devastating horror in which one-third of the population was killed by the Khmer Rouge, the so called ‘Communist Party of Kampuchea’. Largely an after-effect of the American-Vietnamese War, the four years of the Khmer Rouge reign (1975-1979) was a dark period in Cambodian History led by the political dictator, Pol Pot.
Pol Pot’s vision was to take Cambodia back to Year 0, confiscating money, eradicating religion, the arts and education and transforming Cambodia into a one-dimensional society where all peasants work the fields for the good of the state. Many men, women and children died of starvation or exhaustion in work-camps and anyone considered an intellectual or the relative of an intellectual (which was defined by anyone who wore glasses!) was executed as an enemy of the state.
Today the country is still very much recovering from this trauma and the attitude of ‘live for the moment’ is ever present in it’s fun-loving population. Poignant reminders of the ordeal can be seen all across the country today, in particular at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, the “Killing Fields” outside of the capital and the “Killing Cave” near Battambang.
While today, the country enjoys tourism and welcomes foreign visitors, it is important for backpackers to be respectful and remember what the people of Cambodia endured just a short time ago. Basically, almost everyone that you meet will have had a relative murdered during this time. The knowledge of this makes you all the more in awe at the optimism and tenacity of these brave people.
Educate Yourself: 3 Must-Read Books & Films About Cambodia
Book & Film: First They Killed My Father
I read this book during my travels in Cambodia and couldn’t stop crying. The heartbreaking true story by Cambodian author Luong Ung tells the story of the Khmer Rouge from the perspective of a little girl who goes through tremendous agony at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The story has recently been made into a film by Angelina Jolie and we must say, it’s rather good! Check out a review of the film here.
Film: The Killing Fields
The 1984 film is a must-see for anyone thinking of travelling to Cambodia. The film is a drama set during the Khmer Rouge reign which follows the story of Cambodian and American photographers: Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg.
Book: When Broken Glass Floats
Written by the Cambodian Genocide survivor, Chanrithy Him, who now lives in the US, this book is a true account of her experience in the labour camps during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The title comes from a Cambodian saying which means “when evil triumphs over good” and refers to this horrific 4-year period.
When is the best time to visit Cambodia?
- Dry Season: The best time to go to Cambodia is from November to February when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze. This is the best time for exploring, trekking, cycling and getting around. However, this is when you will find the most crowds and the highest prices.
- The Hot season: Things start to really heat up in March and the hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees.
- Wet Season (Monsoon in Cambodia): The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy, are usually only in the afternoons and do not last long. However, don’t be put off too much by a little rain. Low season across Southeast Asia can be a great time to get cheap deals on hotels and tours.
If you’re wanting to experience a Cambodian festival during your visit, you can find out about festivals in Cambodia and other parts of SE Asia here.
What language do people speak in Cambodia?
The main language of Cambodia is Khmer, pronounced ‘Kmen’. Cambodian people will love you if you attempt to learn a little of their language whilst you are travelling. Start with the following simple phrases:
- Hello: Sua s’dei
- Thank-you very much: Aw kohn (tran)
- How are you?: Niak sok sabai te?
- What is your name?: Niak ch’mooah ei?
- See you later: Juab kh’nia
- That’s too much: t’lai pek
How do I get a Visa to Cambodia?
Cambodian Visa On Arrival: Most nationalities can obtain a 1-month tourist Visa upon arrival which costs around $30 US. At land border crossings, notably the Thailand/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive if the cost is paid in baht as it is sometimes rounded up considerably. You can avoid this by making sure that you have the correct notes in USD. You will also need 1 or 2 passport photos, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering.
E-visa: You can now apply for E-visa online to avoid any extra fees and make your border crossing faster and easier. Pre-order online at the government website and your visa will cost $37 set price. While the E-visa is more expensive, many travellers prefer it as it means you can avoid long queues at airports and borders and you can avoid potential scams. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox.
At the moment, the E-visa is only valid for certain border crossings (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap Airports, Cham Yeam/Koh Kong, Poipet/Banteay Meanchey and Bavet/Svay Rieng) and in order to apply for the E-visa, you will need to know your point of entry in advance. See official website for up to date info.
Visa extension: A visa extension can be obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite the International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1 month. (Around US$45) For longer extensions, you may have to change your visa type by leaving the country and returning with a new visa (known as an E-Class Visa) that allows you to stay longer.
The penalty for late departure is US$5 / day, though we don’t recommend overstaying your visa. Read more about Cambodian visas in our Southeast Asia Visa Guide here.
What vaccinations do I need for travel to Cambodia?
The essential vaccines that you should get before you travel to Cambodia are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Typhoid. You should also make sure that you are up to date on your Tetanus, Diphtheria and Polio immunisation (usually a combined vaccine) and your MMR immunisation (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) all of which are routine vaccines normally given as a child. Other vaccines which are recommended, but not essential, are Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis. See our Southeast Asia vaccinations page for more detailed information.
Is Cambodia safe to travel?
From my own experience, Cambodia is a very safe country to backpack through, with one exception: the beach town of Sihanoukville, also known as ‘Sinville’. Recently voted the third worst place to visit in Southeast Asia, many travellers reported feeling unsafe here in this coastal den of iniquity. Unfortunately, drugs and prostitution are common in Sihanoukville and those who travel there can’t help but notice the underbelly of crime that is going on. Our advice is to avoid Sihanoukville altogether if possible.
Some travellers also reported feeling unsafe in Phnom Penh, however, we don’t really feel that it’s more dangerous here than any other city as long as you keep your wits about you. However, it is certainly not wise for female travellers to walk alone down the streets of the city at night, especially remote and poorly lit districts. Muggings and rapes have been reported.
The most common crime in Cambodia is thieves on motorbikes snatching your bag while you sit in a tuk-tuk, or whilst you are walking down the street. To avoid this happening, whilst riding a tuk-tuk, make sure that you keep your back firmly in hand and out of sight if possible (i.e. wear a money belt).
In general, the country has a bit of a reputation in nearby Thailand as being a lawless place and it’s not uncommon for Thai people to try to dissuade you from going there. This is largely racism on behalf of the Thais as most travellers who visit Cambodia have one main thing to say about the country, and that’s how friendly the people are. Whilst there is definitely a dark and corrupt side to Cambodia, on the whole, people here are more likely to help you than harm you. Travelling to remote countryside areas of Cambodia is not dangerous and locals here will be some of the most welcoming people you’ll meet.
10 Tips for staying safe in Cambodia
- Don’t get involved in drugs of any sort.
- Female travellers do not walk alone in cities after dark.
- Don’t get drunk to the point of losing control. Always have your wits about you.
- Wear a money belt under your clothes instead of carrying a handbag. Bag snatching is a common crime in the cities of Cambodia.
- When staying in a city or town, ask advice from your hostel about which areas should be avoided at night, if any. (Especially in Phnom Penh).
- Don’t linger in border towns like Poipet (they are seedy AF!)
- Wear a helmet whilst riding a motorbike and drive carefully.
- Don’t venture off the beaten track in the countryside on unmarked trails as landmines still exist. Read more about how to avoid landmines in Cambodia here.
- Make sure you take out good travel insurance before you travel to Cambodia.
- If you need any medical attention it’s wise to seek out an International Medical Clinic or Hospital as Cambodian medical centres do not have a good reputation.
Budget: The Cost of Backpacking Cambodia
What’s the currency of Cambodia?
Cambodian Riel is the currency of Cambodia, however, US Dollars are widely accepted. ATMs across the country will dispense US dollars. Local shop owners will gladly accept dollars, but will often give change back in Riel. It is therefore advisable to change dollars to Riel prior to making small purchases as designated money changing locations will give you better exchange rates.
What’s the daily budget for backpacking in Cambodia?
In a Nutshell: You can get away easily with $15 US budget per day including hostel, food and transport. Tours, sightseeing and activities will hike up your daily budget but it’s worth doing a few to make the most out of Cambodia!
How much does food and drink cost in Cambodia?
To keep the cost down, street food is definitely the way to go, with delicious local meals like curries and stir-fries costing around $1 US or less. Western food will cost you more, but you can still get a sandwich for $3 US and a pizza for $5 US. Make it a happy one and it’ll be $6 US! Beer is cheap, costing around $1 US for a big bottle of Angkor Beer (the local Cambodian beer).
How much do hostels cost in Cambodia?
Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in Asia to travel and if you’re on a tight backpacker (like us!), you’re going to love the price of hotels and hostels here! In many of the towns and cities, hostels start at just $2 US per night (sometimes even $1 US!) and for around $7 or $8 US, you can get an amazing hostel with extras like free breakfast and even a swimming pool! Read more about hostels in Southeast Asia here.
How much do hotels cost in Cambodia?
If you want to splash out to $15 or even $20 US per night, you can get a double room in a really beautiful hotel with room service, free breakfast and a swimming pool. Sometimes, it’s good to take advantage of the low accommodation prices and treat yourself while you’re here. Check out deals on Booking.com.
Top 5 Must-Visit Hostels in Cambodia
1. Mad Monkey Hostels – All Over Cambodia
This hugely popular chain of party hostels now have locations all across Southeast Asia! However, their first ever hostel was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. You can also find them in Phnom Penh, Kampot and Koh Rong Samloem and beds start at $5.50 US per night. With nightly events like pub crawls and beer pong to help travellers meet each other, this is one of the most sociable places to be for solo travellers!
2. Lub d Hostel – Siem Reap
If you’re looking to treat yourself, the newly opened Lub d Hostel in Siem Reap is a must visit! With a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool, poolside bar, co-working space, gorgeous rooms (dorm and privates) and a great restaurant, you could spend weeks here just chilling out and enjoying the fun atmosphere. The place is spotlessly clean and the staff are super friendly. Prices start at $7 US per night. Lub d also have branches across Thailand.
3. The Hideout Hostel – Siem Reap & Phnom Penh
Another sociable hostel, The Hideout Hostel offers guests a little bit of everything with a swimming pool, social events like walking tours, family meals and pub crawls and an on-site restaurant and bar. The staff are fun and friendly and always happy to help and you can book very reasonably priced tours here. Prices start at $6 US per night.
4. Easy Tiger Bungalows – Koh Rong Sanloem
This rustic backpacker haven gets top marks for its location and vibe. With a beach-front view perched on the idyllic island of Koh Rong Sanloem, the atmosphere is super chilled, as you’d expect from a tropical island paradise! The owner, Nick, and the staff are super friendly and try to make sure everyone has a good time and the on-site restaurant serves up delicious grub. For a place to chill – look no further! Dorms start at $6 US per night.
5. Onederz Hostel – All Over Cambodia
With two hostels in Siem Reap (one with a rooftop pool!), one in Phnom Penh, one in Sihanoukville, and one on the island of Koh Rong Sanloem, you can stay at this hostel throughout your whole travels in Cambodia if you like! And, with clean, modern and funky hostels, a great social scene, comfortable rooms and friendly staff, you might want to do just that! Their locations are all super central, with the Koh Rong Sanloem property spreading right out onto the beach – which is nice. Beds start at $7 US per night.
15 Best Places to Visit in Cambodia!
(And 1 place to avoid!)
1. Phnom Penh (The Capital)
In Phnom Penh, you can visit the poignant Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum to learn more about the recent history of the country or delve into the ancient past at the National Museum. For today’s travellers, the city is a clash between old and new Asia; extremes of rich and poor, modern technology and tradition. As the sea of motorbikes and frantic traffic hurtle through the dusty streets past bustling markets, piles of rubbish on the streets, saffron-robed monks and laughing children on their way to school, Phnom Penh will simultaneously astound and unsettle its visitors. Will you love or hate it?
2. The Angkor Temples
Angkor Wat, outside of Siem Reap, is hailed as one of the most magnificent examples of architecture created by man. Built for King Suryavarman II, this awe-inspiring site flourished as the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 13th Century. Heralded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the ancient city is a photographer’s paradise offering a staggering 400km² of temple ruins. You’ll feel like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie as you wander around crumbling ruins, in places overpowered by the force of nature as trees grow amidst the stone. Believed to have been constructed by 12,000 workers, and what would fill over 200,000 trucks full of sandstone, Angkor Wat is said to have taken just 35 years to build!
3. Siem Reap
Siem Reap, the city built to accommodate tourists wanting to visit Angkor Wat has become a fun and lively destination in its own right! With a street aptly named ‘Pub Street’ lined with great restaurants and buzzing bars, backpackers end up spending longer than they expected in this cheap friendly town! As well as some great backpacker hostels (with swimming pools) a fun night market, delicious street food and the unmissable Phare Circus, you’ll also find the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest in SE Asia. (Read more about Tonle Sap below.) Aside from Angkor Wat, we’d highly recommend taking a bicycle tour around Siem Reap to explore the surrounding countryside and local villages.
4. Koh Rong
Koh Rong is Cambodia’s largest island, once a deserted tropical paradise, the island has seen a lot of development over the past 5 years. That said, the facilities on the island are still pretty basic with backpacker-friendly prices. Rumours of casinos, golf courses and five-star hotels threaten to destroy the backpacker vibe. I mean, just look at what’s happened to mainland Sihanoukville! Koh Tuch is the main village on the island where you’ll find the majority of guesthouses, restaurants and rustic bars. As Cambodia’s answer to Koh Phangan, the island has become a party stop for Southeast Asia backpackers and if you’re looking for a more tranquil scene, you better see what Cambodia’s other islands have to offer!
5. Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong’s baby brother lies 4km south and is known as Koh Rong Samloem. The vibe here is even more chilled and fewer backpackers make it here (for now). Those who do, consider it to be the most beautiful island in Cambodia (and top 50 islands in Southeast Asia!) with gorgeous white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters and great snorkelling. The backpacker party scene has yet to descend on the island, oh and you won’t find WIFI either. Saracen Bay, on the east coast, is the main beach where all of the boats arrive and you’ll find the majority of accommodation. Get a bungalow here for just $5 US, unplug your phone and catch a glimpse of what backpacking in Southeast Asia was like 20 years ago!
The picturesque, riverside town of Kratie in Northeastern Cambodia is one of the best places to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin. As highly endangered species, environmentalists believe that there are less than a 100 dolphins left in this part of the Mekong! In the town itself, you’ll find interesting French colonial architecture, some great Cambodian food (don’t miss the BBQ snails!) and colourful local markets. Use the town as a base to explore the nearby Koh Trong, a beautiful island lodged in the centre of the Mekong River clad with banana and palm trees and a 9km cycle trail that makes for a great day out!
7. Preah Vihear Temple
Preah Vihear sits on top of a vast cliff in the north of Cambodia. It comes with killer views and a little controversy, making it a perfect sightseeing destination! When France drew up the lines between Thailand and Cambodia in the early 20th century, the temple was half on the Thai side, half on the Cambodian side. Of course, this provoked disputes as to who could actually lay claim to the Hindu Temple but when Cambodia became independent in the 1950s, a court ruled that Preah Vihear was in fact, Cambodian. The location of the temple makes it hard to get to, but don’t let that deter you. There’s a military checkpoint at the bottom of the hill (you can see the flag of the Thai checkpoint too), so have your passport ready. Entrance is $10 US (as of Jan 2018).
8. Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap, one of the largest lakes in Southeast Asia, lies just south of the tourist hotspot, Siem Reap. It is also known as the inland Cambodian “sea”. Every year during the rainy season, its waters swell over a period of three months, transforming the lake from 160km long to up to 250km. The lake is particularly special because of the local people who have made their home on floating houses on the lake. You can take a one or two day tour to visit the lake with its stilted villages hovering over the flooded forest and get an up-close look at the lives and traditions of the natives. Other Notable places to visit on the lake include the Kompong Khleang Village where you can eat delicious seafood fresh from the lake, Rolous Village, with a great local market and incredible countryside views, and Kampong Pluck with its Buddhist monastery. Check out this cycling and Tonle Sap Lake Tour here.
9. Ream National Park
Ream National Park, located 18km from Sihanoukville, is a large wetland home to a variety of eco-systems and friendly critters. You’ll find mangrove swamps, beaches, coral reefs, not to mention some of Cambodia’s most beautiful tropical islands. You’ll also find some excellent birdwatching (everything from fishing eagles to kingfishers) and may even spot some fishing cats and otters. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth, head for the island of Koh Thmei, south of the park; it’s virtually empty with no village to speak of and only one “resort” with no more than a dozen beach bungalows. Not only will you enjoy the solitude, but the snorkelling here is really wonderful, and if you’re travelling between December and April, you can spot the migrating dolphins.
The charming town of Battambang is a great place to while away a few days during your backpacking adventure in Cambodia. A picturesque town of French colonial architecture, quaint cafés and pretty surrounding countryside, it’s a place where many travellers decide to make a base for a while. Bat Cave and the infamous Killing Cave lie just outside of Battambang and make for an interesting day trip. The intriguing Bamboo Train in Battambang is also a tourist attraction unique to Cambodia that can’t be missed! We’d recommend taking a walking or cycling tour to explore all that Battambang has to offer. Check out this Battambang countryside tour with passionate local student, Savet.
Kampot is a beautiful sleepy town with many adventures just on the doorstep. Explore the nearby Bokor Mountain, Preah Monivong National Park and Kampot River. See Kampot’s iconic salt and pepper plantations, visit caves and hidden lakes. Kampot is a place to unwind and soak up some real Cambodian countryside life. A great way to explore Kampot’s countryside is on a bicycle tour on the backroads of Kampot, or why not try something different and take a Kampot SUP Tour! On your Stand Up Paddleboard you’ll explore the waterways and mangrove forests of Kampot and see a completely different side to the town.
Once a popular beach resort for the rich French colonials, Kep is now a placid town with decaying French mansions and abandoned resorts. (Ideal for Urban Explorers!) Hanging ouT beachfront is the way to relax and there are several bars where you can grab a cheap cocktail and watch the sunset. Kep crab is a speciality here and the crab market is worth a visit. You can also explore the nearby pepper and salt plantations from here, or take a boat trip to go island hopping and snorkelling amongst Cambodia’s tiny islands. Kep is only 30 minutes from Kampot and can be visited on a day trip by motorbike.
13. Phnom Kulen
An hour and a half outside of Siem Reap, you’ll find this lush green mountainous forest dotted with waterfalls and temples. Reached by motorbike or bus from Siem Reap, Phnom Kulen is wonderful for those seeking a fresh day out in nature and is, for the time being, truly off the beaten track, with few backpackers making it off Pub Street to visit here! In the rainy season, the waterfalls here are truly spectacular and if you make it to the summit of the mountain (a relatively easy climb) there’s a beautiful Buddhist temple where you will see locals making offerings.
14. Cardamom Mountains
Few people are aware that Cambodia is home to Southeast Asia’s largest remaining rainforest covering 4.4 million hectares. The jungle, as well as boasting Cambodia’s highest mountain, is home to a large variety of flora and fauna, many of which are in danger from recent deforestation and/or poaching. If you’re very lucky you may spot an Asian sun bear or a rare clouded leopard! Trekking, and camping, in the Cardamon Mountains, is possible and there are a few eco-lodges offering more luxury accommodation. The area is also home to Cambodia’s ethnic minorities. For a really unique, off the beaten track visit the Osoam Community, an eco-tourism project run by some amazing people.
15. Mondulkiri Province
If you’re really looking to get off the beaten track, North Eastern Cambodia, notably Mondulkiri Province is one of the least visited, most remote, yet most beautiful parts of Cambodia. Rolling hills, mountains, volcanic crater lakes and some great opportunities for trekking to local minority villages; it is slowly becoming an intrepid destination for adventure seeking travellers. Mondulkiri means “Meeting of the Hills” and the province is much higher (and much colder) than the rest of Cambodia, with an average height of 800 metres. The capital of Mondulkiri province is the sleepy Saen Monorom, which is beginning to see a trickle of adventurous backpackers of late. The province is home to the Bunong ethnic group.
16. Sihanoukville (Avoid!)
Once a cheap backpacker heaven, now an outright tourist hell, Sihanoukville is one of the saddest stories in Southeast Asian backpacker history. When we asked our Facebook community for their latest tips for Cambodia, many of them simply said AVOID SIHANOUKVILLE. Sadly, the beach town is an example of everything that can go wrong when it comes to tourism; over-development, tacky hotels, disregard to the environment, littered beaches and general seediness. Go there simple to catch a boat out to the islands and avoid spending the night.
Check out our article here for more ideas on things to do in Cambodia!
Suggested Cambodia Itinerary
While you could spend months immersing yourself in the beautiful culture of Cambodia, many backpackers suggest that 2 weeks is plenty of time to see the main attractions and explore some of the best places that Cambodia has to offer. As a relatively small country, travel time is quite short and decent tourist buses connect the main tourist destinations. You can do the below Cambodian backpacking route in either one, two or three weeks, depending on how much time you have allocated for the country.
Of course, there are places that we have missed off this Cambodian itinerary and if you have more time we’d definitely recommend that you get off the beaten track and visit the Cardamom Mountains in the wast, Mondulkiri Province (Sen Monorum) in the east and Preah Vihear Temple in the north. The pretty town of Kratié is becoming more popular with backpackers and if we could recommend one more place that’s not on the below itinerary, then this would be it!
START: The Border Town of Poipet (Get out fast!)
Many backpackers cross the border from Aranya Prathet in Thailand to Poipet on the Cambodian side. Like most border towns, Poipet is a seedy, weird little place, home to casinos and bizarre guesthouses, built 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, Siem Reap is just 2 and a half hours away!
Siem Reap (Recommended visit 3-5 days)
Siem Reap is a good place to begin your Cambodia trip as it’s very tourist friendly and, of course, home to the country’s most famous temple, which also appears on their flag! We recommend getting the 3-day pass to the Temples of Angkor ($37 US), rather than the one day so that you have more time to explore the temples at your own leisure. Don’t miss the awesome Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Phrom (featured in the film, Tomb Raider). If you have a day spare, why not embark upon an alternative adventure and plan a walk around the secret walls of Angkor Thom.
Phnom Kulen (1 day)
A visit to the lush countryside, mountains and waterfalls of Phnom Kulen can be done on a day trip from Siem Reap (around an hour and a half away). Hire a motorbike from the city and set off for an epic adventure!
Tonle Sap Lake (1 day)
Taking a tour of the floating villages of the Tonle Sap Lake is a must while you are in Cambodia. 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 village of Kompong Khleang if you have more time.
Battambang (3-4 days)
Four hours from Siem Reap by bus will bring you to the beautiful laid-back town of Battambang. If you’re not in a rush, we’d recommend chilling out 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. Don’t miss a ride on the famous bamboo train of Battambang!
Phnom Penh (2-3 days)
The capital of Phnom Penh is a 5-hour bus journey from 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 history of Cambodia with a visit to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Kampot (2-3 days)
Less than three hours from the smoky capital, you’ll find Kampot, a lovely little town with lots to explore, from pepper and salt plantations to nearby Bokor Mountain. We recommend staying at least two days here to get a feel for the place.
Kep (1 day)
With its crumbling colonial mansions and excellent seafood, 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.
Sihanoukville (Use as a jumping-off point only!)
While we don’t recommend that you spend the night there, Sihanoukville is still the best place to catch a ferry to the nearby tropical islands. Boats depart from Serendipity Beach to the backpacker faves of Koh Rong and Koh Samloem and take just 45 minutes.
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! Deciding between Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem is a difficult decision that many backpackers have to face. Basically, Koh Rong is the livelier of the two with a pretty well-established party scene going on, while Koh Rong Samloem is still catching up. We fear it won’t be too long though before the islands merge into one!
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 six hours to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam!
Check Skyscanner to find cheap flights within Asia.
Cambodia Tours and Activities
Like in every country in Southeast Asia, the number of activities you want to do will affect your daily budget. But while you’re here, instead of missing out on things to save a tenner, you may as well take advantage of the relatively cheap activities and tours that are on offer!
The Price of an Angkor Wat Ticket
To start with, a ticket for the unmissable Angkor Wat will cost you $37 US for one day, $62 US for three days or $72 US for a 7-day pass. (We’d definitely recommend buying the more expensive ticket and having more days to explore this enormous temple complex. One day is not enough!)
Walking Tours in Cambodia
A walking tour is a great way to get to know a new city and you’ll find them in towns and cities across Cambodia for a really cheap price, like this one for $9 US in Battambang. Ask your hostel when you arrive if they offer any free walking tours (some do) or ask fellow backpackers.
Cycling Tours in Cambodia
Cambodia is flat. FACT. And what does that mean? That it’s great for cycling! Hiring a bicycle will cost you around $2 US per day if you want to explore independently. And there are many cheap cycling tours that are definitely worth trying if you’d appreciate the expertise of a local guide. A half day cycle tour will cost you around $15 US, while a full day will be $25 US. You can even take a cycling tour where you spend the night at a local homestay.
Our favourite cycling tours in Cambodia are run by the company Butterfly Tours, a local social enterprise owned and run by an entrepreneurial group of young University students. They have several excellent value for money cycling tours that run out of Siem Reap, Battambang and Kampot that we’d highly recommend trying while you’re in Cambodia.
Some of our favourite cycling tours are:
- Siem Reap Overnight Bicycle Tour and Homestay – $59 US.
- The Temple Trails of Angkor – $49 US
- Bike the Backroads of Kampot – $15 US – Bargain!
Yoga in Cambodia
Cambodia has a burgeoning yoga scene, particularly in Siem Reap with a growing number of retreats and meditation centres springing up. Cambodians are devoutly Buddhist and the country offers an amazing opportunity to learn more about meditation and Buddhism. Yoga classes cost around $5 US and due to demand, you can even find some hostels offering their own yoga classes, like the popular Siem Reap Hostel.
When it comes to yoga retreats, you can get some amazing deals such as this 3-day, 2-night yoga package at Bohemiaz Resort in Phnom Penh, starting at $85 US including accommodation, yoga, swimming pool use, free luxury breakfast, free massage and more! Check out all of their retreats here. Other recommended yoga retreat centres are the lovely Angkor Bodhi Tree and Angkor Zen Gardens and Retreat Centre.
The Art of Living, originally from India, has also opened a branch in Cambodia and offer 3-day weekend meditation and yoga retreats for $200 US.
Diving in Cambodia
Diving is possible off the coast of Cambodia, particularly around the islands of Koh Rong Saloem, Koh Tas, Koh Kon, Koh Tang and Koh Tiev, where the diving is very shallow (around 10-15 metres). The diving season runs from the end of October until late June. Scuba Nation, based in Sihanoukville, is the country’s most respected dive school, managed by a European couple, Vicky and Gerard.
Check out more Cambodia tours here!