In all honesty, I don’t know how so many people travel Cambodia so quickly. Many just pop in for a quick visit, see Angkor and then claim that they’ve seen Cambodia. Angkor is not Cambodia, and though it is one of the top places to visit in Cambodia this guide will help you see more than just the one site. Because there are so many places to see in Cambodia that I know will surprise you.
Cambodia is the perfect country to add onto any backpacking Asia itinerary as it boarders Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It is easy on the wallet, hello $1 beers! And it has more to offer than you think. It has more than just history, its got beaches and islands you’ll adore.
Cambodia, though often overlooked, is a country that I recommend you take your time in. It is relatively small compared to other countries in southeast Asia and you can see the highlights in a week. But I recommend taking at least 2 weeks so you have time to chill out without rushing.
Keep in mind that Cambodia has had a brutal history with a genocide in the 1970’s. This is not something that should be ignored while in the country as I believe understanding the country’s past will give you that much more appreciation. I recommend reading First They Killed My Father, a book written by a child’s perspective of the genocide. It’s a great read and will give you lots of background.
I promise you, travel to Cambodia and you won’t regret it. I share an easy to make backpacking Cambodia route.
Where to go in Cambodia
A quick overview of the best places to go in Cambodia that are included in this itinerary.
Cambodia Fast Facts
Currency in Cambodia: Cambodian riel and USD
Pro tip: ATMs dispense USD, most prices are displayed in USD but you will be given smaller change in Cambodia riel
Population: 15 million
Best Time to Visit Cambodia
Cambodia is warm all year round. The most popular time to go is November-March as this is the dry season and the cool season (November-February) so you won’t be sweating buckets from the humidity.
That being said travelling to Cambodia in the offseason means sites will be less busy and costs will be lower. I would avoid April as it is the hottest month of the year with temperatures hitting 40°C.
Rain in the offseason can be an issue as it could rain for a full day but it doesn’t often rain all day or for days in a row.
Cambodia Backpacking Budget
To travel comfortably but still on a budget you can easily travel Cambodia on $30USD day. You’ll be able to get away with spending even less as well.
Beers typically cost $1 and so will a 1.5 litre bottle of water. Meals are $5USD at a sit down restaurant so that should be the max you’ll be spending per meal. Hostels are $2-10USD a night.
Activities can run you anywhere from $5-$40USD depending on the activity.
Some things to set money aside for are visiting Angkor as it is the most pricey tourist attraction in Cambodia, the speed boat to Koh Rong and any flights.
Travel in Cambodia
Getting around Cambodia is surprisingly easy. If you’re going short distances, around 5 hours or less mini buses are your best bet as they’re cheap and easy to book. I booked all of mine right at the hosel to avoid any hassle and prices were around $7-15USD.
For longer distances, I recommend night buses. I had read and heard a ton of warnings not to take night buses in Cambodia as they’re often dangerous and drive on bad roads. That being said I think that information is becoming outdated as roads have improved. I personally took a night bus without any issues. My best recommendation is to not book the cheapest bus as you will not get the cleanest bus.
You can always get around by motorbike but I can’t speak from personal experience.
If you’re on a tight timeline flights are always available on budget airlines so you won’t have to fork out too much! If you plan on heading straight from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap or Sihanoukville to Siem Reap and vice versa flights are available.
Food in Cambodia is scrumptious and similar to other cuisines in southeast Asia. It is unfortunately ofter overlooked and considered not as good as its neighbouring countries cuisine of Thai and Vietnamese. Try these key dishes and you’ll fall in love: lok lak, fish amok, lap Khmer and Khmer red curry.
Food is available at restaurants and street food stalls just like the rest of southeast Asia. And if you prefer to stick to western dishes you won’t have a problem finding pasta, pizza and all the usual western fare. I had one of the best egg benedicts I’ve ever had in Kampot!
How this works: If you want an itinerary for 1 week follow the guidelines for the minimum amount of days for each spot and unfortunately you’ll have to skip Battambang. If you want to an itinerary for 2 weeks follow the guidelines for the maximum amount of days for each spot. Easy! I’ve made up each days itinerary so you can choose which one you like best for the 1 week itinerary. Or of course you can totally customize which is possible because I break down where to go in Cambodia and what to do in Cambodia for each destination.
Phnom Penh: 1-2 Days
Phnom Penh just sounds exotic, doesn’t it? This city is the country’s capital, one of the top Cambodia destinations and is often the starting point for Cambodia travel. I’ll warn you, it is a little rough around the edges as much of the city was destroyed during the genocide but it still has its charm nonetheless. Phnom Penh is well suited for tourists and it offers the best history on the country’s past.
DAY ONE: As I mentioned, knowing the history in Cambodia is important and Phnom Penh has the most. Spend your day learning about Cambodia and visiting the most important historic sites and the top things to do in Phonm Penh, The Killing Fields and the S-21 Museum (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum). You can find a tuk tuk that will take you to both spots and wait for you. At night you can check out the Central Market for tasty food and souveniers.
Pro tip: Go as a small group and bargain down the price, you should be able to find a ride for $15USD total or less.
DAY TWO: See Cambodia’s beautiful side with a visit to the Royal Palace where you can find the Silver Pagoda and the National Museum of Cambodia just outside the palace compound. Spend the late afternoon relaxing by the pool before an early morning bus.
If you have extra time in Phnom Penh you could always do a day trip to Oudong.
Kampot/Kep: 1-2 Days
Kampot is a small riverside town that looks like its stuck in the past with its French architecture. Kep is a coastal town nearby that can be done as a day trip from Kampot. It is known for its exceptionally tasty seafood, beach and lazy days.
DAY ONE: Arrive in Kampot, drop your things and head to Kep on a day trip! Explore the crab market, eat some seafood with a view of the water and enjoy a sunset on the beach before heading back to Kampot for a good nights rest.
Pro tip: I booked a day trip through the recommended hostel below and had an epic time with unlimited drinks!
DAY TWO: It’s time to see some nature by spending the day in Phnom Bokor National Park. Grab a scooter and make your way through the lush park as you wind yourself up the mountain. See Popokvil Waterfall and find the abadoned colonial era buildings that are creepy yet beautiful. Spend the evening on a sunset cruise while you coast down the river.
Sihanoukville: 1-2 Days
Sihanoukville doesn’t have the charm like Kampot or Phnom Penh but it is a backpackers haven when it comes to partying and relaxing. Here you’ll find Cambodia’s best beaches, diving and it is the jumping off point for the islands just off the coast.
DAY ONE: Since Sihanoukville is all about the beaches have a beach day! Some awesome Cambodia beaches to check out are Otres, Ochheuteal and Serendipity. All are lined with beach bars where you can enjoy sipping on your $1 beers. Or there is the ever popular booze cruise around the nearby islands.
DAY TWO: Get in the water for some diving or snorkeling. If that’s not your thing checkout the central market, visit some Cambodian temples such as Wat Krom, Wat Leu, Wat Ream and Wat Samathi or have another beach day (that is what most people do in Sihanoukville).
Pro tip: The recommended hostel is along the main strip in Sihanoukville that is within walking distance to a beach, plenty of restaurants, clubs and bars along the beach and it’s where you’ll catch the ferry.
Koh Rong: 2-3 Days
I hope you’re not tired of beaches yet because Koh Rong has some of the best beaches in Cambodia. Koh Rong is the second largest island in Cambodia and this little slice of paradise is quickly becoming a hot tourist spot. However at the moment it is still a little off the beaten path and much of its beauty is still preserved. So much so than once you get off the boat you’ll walk along the beach to get to your accommodation.
Pro tip: There is a second island close by, Koh Rong Samloem, which is even more relaxed but is less exciting in my opinion.
DAY ONE: Have a beach day, rent a kayak, go snorkeling or try some diving. At night you can participate in a pub crawl or make your way down the main stretch finding your favourite bar with cheap drinks.
DAY TWO: Take a day tour of the island and get to know it from a local. I can’t recommend the Adventure Adam Tour enough. You’ll spend the day on a boat with drinks as you tour around the island stopping to snorkel, visit a local village, see secluded beaches and snorkel again at night with the glowing plankton (you can’t miss this!). Adam is extremely knowledgable about the island and you’ll learn so much while having an epic time.
DAY THREE: Have a beach day or have a bit of a thrill at High Point Adventure Park, a course through the jungle that features zipling, climbing ropes and more.
On your last day make your way back to Sihanoukville and catch a night bus to Battambang. If you’re doing the 1 week itinerary you’ll have a long trip to Siem Reap by bus which goes back to Phnom Penh where you will then switch to another bus to Siem Reap which will take a full day. If your budget allows there are direct flights from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap.
Battambang: 2 Days
Battambang is one of those places that people adore. It is often skipped over by many visitors which is my opinion is a mistake as it acts as a great stop that will make your trip from Sihnaoukville to Siem Reap shorter. Though the city is crumbling it’s the small town feel that people fall in love with here.
DAY ONE: You’ll arrive in the morning after a night bus so catch a quick nap if needed or get going. Explore the city and the surrounding rural area by bike. I can’t recommend the free bicycle tour with Sam enough. He runs for the tours for free, all you have to do is pay for the bike rental (but seriously tip the kid because he’s amazing!). He’ll show you how local food is made, you’ll try some sweet treats and he’ll share his extensive knowledge of Cambodia while you ride through the stunning country roads.
DAY TWO: Spend the day seeing all that Battambang has to offer from temples to the bat cave and the famous bamboo train. I highly recommend doing a tour with DJ, he is so kind, knowledgable and funny. At night try and catch the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus if it’s on. It helps local children.
Siem Reap: 2-3 Days
Siem Reap is everything you could want in an southeast Asian city and it’s a must on any backpacking southeast Asia trip. It’s the gateway to the ancient temples of Angkor, a party town filled with markets and hotels for the hip and trendy. Small cafes line the streets, crafts are in store windows and it’s buzzing with excitement.
DAY ONE: Arrive in Siem Reap, drop your bags and head out to explore the city by foot. Enjoy lunch by the river and then hit of some of Siem Reap’s best markets such as Angkor Night Market, Old Market, Made in Cambodia Market and Noon Night Market. If you need to kill some time before the night markets chill out at the amazing pool or the roof top bar at the recommended hostel below. Or visit the Angkor National Museum where you can learn about Angkor before you go.
DAY TWO: If you plan on seeing sunrise over Angkor Wat you’ll have an early morning. And you should plan to because it is easily one of the best things to do in Cambodia. You need to get there early because it gets packed. Hire a tuk tuk driver for the day who will take you to get your entry ticket and then to all of the best temples in the Angkor complex. Deciding which temples to see is overwhelming with so many to choose from so it’s nice to have a driver show you the highlights. At night hit up pub street for the best place to party in the city.
Pro tip: A tuk tuk should cost about $15USD for the day. Entering Angkor will probably be the most expensive thing you do in Cambodia so budget accordingly and expect to pay $37USD for 1 day.
Travel Insurance in Cambodia
Backpacking in Cambodia is too often overlooked, it is a country that is perfect for relaxation, interesting history and yummy food. Enjoy your trip to Cambodia!