Cambodia is one of the best countries to experience every extreme of travelling. It’s home to some of the world’s most jaw-dropping ancient architecture from the 12th century at Angkor Wat. But just a few hours south, the contrast is stark as you experience the country’s heart-wrenching history. Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields and the S-21 Genocide Museum are potent reminders that one quarter of this beautiful country’s population was killed in the 1970s.
Today’s Cambodia is a unique and incredible mix of this grandeur and tragedy. It has an eager, youthful population who are bright eyed and ready for change. With strikingly beautiful islands, quiet backwaters where you can kayak or SUP, lush rice fields, red roads, and some of the kindest people you’ll meet, Cambodia will unabashedly capture your heart as it first captured mine 9 years ago. After living here and exploring the country over the past year, I hope to be able to share some of the greatest gems of Cambodia with you, whether you’re looking for a 1 week Cambodia itinerary or to spend a full 3 weeks exploring.!
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Cambodia Itinerary Options
Cambodia offers plenty of experiences for trips of all lengths. The following outlines are a good starting point for your adventure with the option to speed up or slow down any of these itineraries as you see fit. Scroll through the whole post or click on any of the individual stops to skip ahead to the sections most relevant for your own Cambodia itinerary.
Basic information for your Cambodia trip
Visa requirements for Cambodia
Cambodia’s official currency is the Cambodian riel. In practice, the country uses both US dollars and Cambodian riel. It’s common to pay for anything less than 1 USD using riel (e.g. 25 cents = 1000 riel) and anything over this using US dollars.
When is the best time of year to visit Cambodia?
To avoid the intense rain and heat in Cambodia, it’s best to visit between November and March.
No matter your Cambodia itinerary proper travel insurance that protects you for the adventure activities is a must! Check out World Nomads for options that include coverage for all adventures like scuba diving and motorcycling.
How to get around in Cambodia
Download Grab (the regional ride-sharing app) and PassApp (the Khmer version) on your phone when you arrive in Cambodia. These apps take away the stress of getting ripped off for a tuk-tuk or rickshaw ride and also save you having to direct your driver around a new city. If you’re booking buses between Cambodia’s cities you can use the online service Book Me Bus.
Getting to Cambodia:
International flights now arrive at both Phnom Penh’s airport and Siem Reap’s extravagant new airport. Flights to get here don’t tend to be the cheapest in Southeast Asia, so if you have some extra time to spare you might consider flying to Bangkok and overlanding to Cambodia from there.
You can take the bus into Cambodia from neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam or Laos. Buses from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh take 6-7 hours while buses from Bangkok to Phnom Penh take 12 hours and from Bangkok to Siem Reap around 8-10 hours.
How much should you budget for your trip to Cambodia?
On average plan to spend about $5-8 for a dorm bed, $2 for a plate of noodles, $9 for a bus ride within the country, and $1 for a glass of Angkor draft beer. Angkor Wat ticket entry will be your big splurge.
On average plan to spend about $20 for a private room in a hostel or guesthouse, $6 for a great meal, $45 for a one-way flight within the country, and $3.50 for a cocktail.
Is it safe to visit Cambodia?
Yes! Cambodia is one of the countries I’ve felt the safest in as a solo female traveller. That being said, like anywhere in the world (including your home country), you should keep your wits about you. On that note here are a few things to be aware of:
Bag and phone snatching
The powdered milk scam
This one used to be a favourite in Siem Reap and it still pops up from time to time. A woman will stand nearby a shop and ask a passerby to buy milk for her baby. She’ll explicitly tell you she doesn’t want money, just milk. Unfortunately these women have a deal with the nearby shopkeeper, so once you buy that milk and leave, they will return the milk and grab the cash. There are much more sustainable ways to support those who need help in Cambodia. Try visiting a training restaurant or donating your time or money to a reputable local NGO instead.
What should you bring to Cambodia (the essentials):
A great travel backpack
Uneven terrain and frequent bus, boat, and tuk-tuk rides make a travel backpack the perfect luggage for your Cambodia adventure. Your pack should be weather resistant, ergonomic, and help you stay organized. If you need a travel pack check out our Khmer Explorer Travel Set which was built for adventures just like this. Plus every bag helps a child in Siem Reap province go to school, so you’re giving back to this country before you’ve even landed!
Comfortable clothing for hot weather
Think linen, organic cotton, sweat wicking, quick drying, and light colours. Cambodia gets crazy hot, even during the cool season. Leave the jeans at home!
Water bottle & water purification device
Cambodia is one of the hottest countries I’ve every travelled too, meaning you’re going to be really, really thirsty. Plastic pollution is a major problem, so grab your favourite water bottle and use the ever more readily available water coolers or your own purifier (like a steripen) to stay hydrated and cut down on plastic waste. Also, bring along some electrolyte tablets if possible. The water here doesn’t have many minerals and these tablets will help prevent dehydration.
A comfortable pair of sandals or shoes for walking
If you’re visiting the temples of Angkor you’ll be doing a lot of walking and climbing!
Travel Guide to Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the jewel of Cambodia and an essential stop on all Cambodia itineraries. The jumping off point to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, many tourists make this their only destination in the country and if you’re short on time in Cambodia, this is the place to see. While the town itself has become a bit of a tourist madhouse, heading just a few streets away from the notorious “Pub Street” brings you to a different world of beautiful green fields, sleepy villages, and hidden temples to explore. Many people cram a marathon visit to Angkor Wat in one day and move on, but there is so much more to enjoy in Siem Reap and it’s worth spending a few more days in this little town.
How to get to Siem Reap
International flights arrive straight into Siem Reap, so for those limited on time, flying directly here is a great option. Your guesthouse or hostel will usually offer a free pick up service from the airport. Alternatively, you can use PassApp or Grab to book a tuk tuk.
Buses arrive to Siem Reap from across the country. From Phnom Penh it takes about 6 hours by bus. We would recommend Giant Ibis ($15) for their great safety standards and conservation efforts. Cambodian roads can get a bit crazy at night so try to travel during the day for your own safety when possible.
Siem Reap Highlights:
Visiting the Temples of Angkor
The ancient city of Angkor was once home to a population of over 1 million people and held the title of the world’s largest city. During the period between its creation in 802 AD to its abandonment in 1431, the God Kings of the Khmer Empire constructed a series of magnificent temples and religious monuments across hundreds of square kilometres of modern day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The crown jewels of this era are housed within the Angkor Archaeological Park adjacent to the town of Siem Reap. From taking in sunrise over Angkor Wat, to gazing at the many faces of the Bayon, or wandering the tree-engulfed corridors of Ta Prohm, no trip to Cambodia is complete without a journey here. Is it crowded? Absolutely. Can the tourism be overwhelming? For sure. But just like many of the world’s great wonders, a trip here is sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Complete Guide to Visiting Angkor Wat
Basic Information for Angkor Wat
Tickets & Fees
- One day $37 (valid only on the day of purchase)
- Three days $62 (valid for 10 days from the date of purchase)
- Seven days $72 (valid for one month from the date of purchase).
Buy your ticket the evening before your after 5pm to avoid the chaos of getting it on the first morning. You’ll also get access to the Park that night, offering you the bonus of watching the sunset to kick off your temple touring. The most popular sunset spot, Phnom Bakheng, is extremely busy and you’re unlikely to get a spot (given you won’t be getting your ticket until 5pm), but the temple Pre Rup is also open until 7pm and is a great way to start your adventure after buying your ticket.
What should you wear to Angkor Wat?
The Angkor Park remains an active religious site. As such, it’s recommended that you wear a shirt that covers your shoulders and shorts/pants/skirt/dress that extends below your knees. Individuals not meeting this dress code have been rejected entry in some cases, so do air on the side of caution and respect.
Things to watch out for
How to Get Around Angkor Wat
The vastness of Angkor Archeological Park is only realized once you begin exploring it. It’s big. Really big! In light of this, walking from temple to temple is out of the question. Generally the two most common options are traveling by tuk-tuk or by bicycle:
Tuk-tuk: $15 for the day
From the minute you arrive in Siem Reap, every driver, tuk-tuk driver, and tout will ask you how you plan to see the temples and more than eagerly offer their expert guiding services to you. Seeing the temples by tuk-tuk is a great way to go when it comes to staying as comfortable as possible in the Cambodian heat. Generally, many tuk-tuk drivers have a good idea of which temples to visit and at which times. They’ll help you plan out your itinerary and wait for you while you take the time to tour each one. Often the biggest challenge is finding the right driver. I’ve had good luck taking a driver affiliated with my hotel, hostel or guesthouse and usually recommend going this route. Alternatively talk to a few before committing and pick the person you like the best!
Bike: $1-9 (rickety old bike or a more polished mountain type bike)
Cycling is a great way to explore the temples of Angkor and truly appreciate the beauty of the magical scenery in this area. Many hotels and guesthouses make bikes easily available for rent to guests. Don’t underestimate this though, as you can easily be cycling for 17 km (Small Circuit) or 26 km (Big Circuit) in the scorching Cambodian heat depending on the route you choose. If you decide to take a bicycle, be prepared to sweat, and remember to bring a headlamp if you go out for sunrise. I’ll never forget the intense paranoia I had of becoming roadkill in the pre-dawn as hundreds of tuk-tuks and tour buses cruised past me as I peddled furiously along the road to Angkor Wat. If you need help planing your cycling excursion, use the map and guide below.
Angkor Wat Map
You’ll be able to pick up a general map of Angkor at your hotel or hostel, but here’s one you can use for quick reference (just save the image to your photos). The Angkor Park is broken down into 2 circuits, the Small Circuit (~17km) and the Big Circuit (~26km). If you’re only here for 1 day you will likely stick to the highlights of the Small Circuit. If you have 3 days, you’ll move onto the Big Circuit. If you have 7 days, you’ll be able to spend a lot of time wherever you want and potentially double down on your favourites.
Angkor Small Circuit
The largest religious site in the world, Angkor Wat is a spectacular 12th century temple that was originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and designed to represent Mount Meru, the sacred 5-peaked mountain of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology. Despite the mass of crowds, a sunrise (~5 am) here is a truly unique experience. Make sure to spend time admiring the massive lengths of bas-reliefs and finding some relative solitude as the bulk of tourists eat breakfast or rub the sleep out of their eyes following the sunrise.
This hilltop temple near to Angkor Wat is a hotspot for sunset vistas. But with great views come great crowds. If you plan on watching the sunset here, arrive early otherwise you won’t get a spot. During the day this is a place to find solitude, although it gets extremely hot during midday as there is no tree cover once you reach the temple
Literally means “Great City”. If ever there was an ancient city worthy of its namesake, it’s Angkor Thom. The minute you enter, over the gigantic moats, through the walls, and beneath the faces that watch over each gate, you will be taken aback by the size and scale of this ancient citadel. The following temples are highlights within the Angkor Thom complex:
At the heart of Angkor Thom is the Bayon. While smaller than Angkor Wat in size, the detail and 216 smiling faces adorning its towers make this temple a fan favourite. Many theorize that the faces depict King Jayavarman VII the builder of Bayon and Angkor Thom. This temple is truly spectacular in its level of detail. Explore the beautiful lower levels of the Bayon to escape the crowds while still being able to peek up at the towering faces above.
Slightly north of Bayon lies the 30m tall 3-tiered Baphuon. Climb the steep steps to take in the view over Angkor Thom. As you journey around this magnificent structure and observe its details, take a moment to appreciate that you’re standing on a restoration project that was 50+ years in the making. By the 20th century the Baphuon had almost entirely collapsed and an epic restoration project began. Over 300, 000 of the blocks were labelled and arranged around the area and a detailed catalogue created. Then the Khmer Rouge conflict followed and the plans were lost. In 1996 restoration resumed, and piece by piece the temple was reassembled over the span of 15 years. On April 2011 the temple reopened, fully restored. Some call it one of the world’s largest puzzles, and for good reason.
Continuing north from Baphuon, the often forgotten jungle-gem of Preah Palilay is one of my most recent favourite discoveries within Angkor Thom. Tucked away behind a Buddhist monastery in the forest, this little temple has a chimney-like tower at its centre and several huge trees entangling its base stretch almost as high as the tower itself. This temple is worth a quick visit to really feel like Indiana Jones.
Banteay Kdei is similar in style to Ta Prohm and Preah Khan, but a smaller version. It’s a charming little temple located across from Srah Srang lake.
This large water reservoir demonstrates the engineering capabilities of the Khmer Empire. It also happens to be a nice place to watch sunrise with fewer crowds.
Just outside of Angkor Thom lies Ta Keo. A mountain style temple dedicated to Shiva, Ta Keo was left unfinished in the 11th century. An inscription claims it was struck by lightning, a bad omen that led to a halt in its building, but the death of the temple’s commissioning King is another potential reason. Regardless, climbing Ta Keo’s three tiers of steep steps is worth the fear of slipping to get a nice view from the top level.
The iconic tree temple that was brought to fame by Tomb Raider lies about 1km to the east of Angkor Thom. Ta Prohm was originally built as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. Today Ta Prohm is one of the most popular temples in the Angkor Archeological Park due to the fact is was left almost as it was found when rediscovered. Massive trees drape their roots over ancient stones striking up an incredible contrast of man vs. nature.
Angkor Small Circuit
Reminiscent of Ta Phrom (including the unrestored style), but with half the crowds. This temple is a must visit. Wander the many corridors and meditate among the trees. If you get your timing right, you may even have the place virtually to yourself.
A small temple in the theme of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, Ta Som is another one of my favourite places. Tucked away in the jungle on a dirt road off of the main concrete circuit, this temple is often missed by the tourist hordes and I’ve had the place to myself on multiple occasions. It’s a beautiful place to navigate through the rubble and admire the trees soaring through and beyond its stone walls.
Just down the road from Preah Khan lies this small and peaceful water temple. Its small size and boardwalk access can make it a little crowded during busy times, but it’s a beautiful place nonetheless.
A great choice for sunset if you’re looking to avoid the insane crowds of Phnom Bakheng, Pre Rup offers striking views over the surrounding area. Remarkably it never gets too busy here, so climb up to Pre Rup’s top tier and sit down for a bit of relaxation to absorb the beauty of the Park.
Beyond the Angkor Park
25 km northeast of Angkor Thom lies Banteay Srei. This small temple is frequently raved about for its elaborate carving that may be the most elaborate of all the temples of Angkor. You’ll need a tuk-tuk to get here, but if you have the energy after all the other temples, the carvings are worth the trip.
How to visit Angkor in 1 Day
Note: To do Angkor in 1 day is a whirlwind, but if you’re short on time here’s my recommendation on how to do it:
If biking, count on a commute of 1 hour to Angkor Wat if you’re staying on the northern side of Siem Reap, longer if you’re staying elsewhere. (Take it from someone who missed the sunrise not once but twice. Don’t miss it…)
- 5:00 am sunrise at Angkor Wat
- 7:30 am Angkor Thom
- 12:30 pm Lunch in Angkor Thom
- 1:30 pm Quick stop at Ta Keo
- 2:00 pm Ta Prohm
- 4:00 pm Banteay Kdei
- 5-6 pm Watch the sunset at Srah Srang or frantically back pedal through Angkor Thom and watch from the hilltop temple of Phnom Bakheng (leave early or cut Banteay Kdei if choosing this option otherwise you won’t get a spot).
- 7 pm Relax. Take a deep breath. You saw the highlights of Angkor in 1 crazy day.
Best Way to Visit Angkor in 3 days
3 days is often cited as the perfect amount of time to explore the temples of Angkor. It’s a busy 3 days , but affords you the time to see all the temples you want at a somewhat relaxed pace.
Day 1: Angkor Wat & Ta Phrom
Start the day at the world famous Angkor Wat if you can bring yourself to wake up for the sunrise (5 am). It really is a breathtaking (albeit crowded) experience. Spend several hours admiring the vast bas-reliefs and queuing up to climb the steep steps to the upper level. Grab breakfast, a less than fantastic coffee, or the snack of your choosing at one of the many stalls/cafes along the north side of Angkor Wat.
Srah Srang & Banteay Kdei
Instead of proceeding north to Angkor Thom (we’ll save that for day 2), head east to Srah Srang and Banteay Kdei. Spend some time enjoying the reservoir and small temple.
Day 2: Angkor Thom
Cycle past Angkor Wat and proceed through the south gate into the great city of Angkor Thom. The temples in here don’t open until 7:30, but if you take the time to arrive around this time you’ll be rewarded with far fewer crowds than later in the day. Better yet, the morning is generally mildly cooler.
No matter how you enter Angkor Thom, you’ll pass over the great moat and through an intimidating set of gates and walls towering over 9m tall.
At the centre of Angkor Thom this incredible temple can easily occupy several hours of exploration. Wander along the Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants, transporting yourself back to a time when this parade route would have seen kings returning victorious from battle.
Conclude your day by summiting the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle and admiring the amazing restoration work.
Afternoon (time dependent) in Siem Reap or visit further out Banteay Srei by tuk-tuk or motorbike.
Day 3: The Big Circuit
An early start will once again be to your advantage. Set out biking past Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom before continuing through the north gate until you reach Preah Khan.
Wander through this massive temple and enjoy the relative quiet compared to the temples along the small circuit. Find a spot to sit and appreciate the power of the gigantic trees that engulf this temple.
Neak Pean, Ta Som, and Pre Rup
Once you’ve finished at Preah Khan, continue down the road, stopping at Neak Pean and wandering across the boardwalk before proceeding onwards to Ta Som and concluding at Pre Rup.
Conclude Your Time at Angkor
If you’re not templed-out, bike back past Ta Prohm and through Angkor Thom, taking the time to stop at your favourites one more time. You also have the option to climb up Phnom Bakheng and bid adieu to your time at Angkor with a view. If it’s later on in the day already, you may even want to take the time to linger and watch the sunset over Angkor Wat. The perfect conclusion to the way you started.
Exploring off-the-beaten-path temples
The joy of spending several days longer in Siem Reap is that you can take the time to visit the countless off-the-beaten-path temples in the surrounding area. Of course the famous Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and Bayon temples can’t be missed, but they can be crazy busy and it’s worth spending a day or two visiting some equally incredible ruins without the crowds. Our favourite two hidden temples are Beng Mealea and Banteay Ampil. You can also venture further afield to Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer empire, now tucked away in the jungle with few tourists making the journey to visit it.
Banteay Ampil actually lies outside any kind of official zone so it’s free to visit. Beng Mealea costs $5 as it also lies outside of the Angkor Park. You can pick up your Beng Mealea ticket on the road to get there.
Visiting the ethical Phare circus
Usually I hear the word circus and cringe, but not when it comes to Siem Reap’s Phare circus. This amazing spectacle – the Cirque du Soleil of Cambodia – features traditional dance, theatre, live music, and circus arts. Some of the performances will leave you in goosebumps. Profits from your ticket here support the education, training and social support programs of the Phare Ponleu Selpak
Where to eat in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is the place to eat amazing food and to make a difference. Haven and Spoons are two of my favourite restaurants for their amazing food and social impact. These restaurants offer vocational training in the hospitality industry plus accommodation, meals, and social support to disadvantaged youth from the surrounding areas. If you’re looking for something a bit more local, be sure to head to Road 60 to experience the real Siem Reap. Every night this road comes to life with bright lights, food stalls, mats laid out on the road, and carnival-type rides. It’s where all of the locals head at night when the tourists are drinking too much Angkor draft on Pub Street.
Where to stay in Siem Reap
There is certainly no shortage of accommodation in Siem Reap. Lubd or Onederz are both awesome, social hostels close to everything happening in town. If you’re looking to splurge, eOcambo Village is the place to go, not only for their beautiful rooms but because they may have the loveliest staff I’ve ever met.
Travel Guide to Battambang
How to get to Battambang
The most scenic way to get to Battambang is to take a 7-9 hour boat ride from Siem Reap. It costs $20.
The bus from Siem Reap to Battambang takes just 3-4 hours and costs about $6.
Boat riding from Siem Reap to Battambang
Sure you could make this trip in one third of the time by bus, but isn’t travel about the journey not the destination? When the water is low, the boat frequently gets stuck so this can be an extra long journey. While it may be long, it is far from a boring trip. Passing by villages floating on stilts, local fishermen at work in their boats, and children playing on the riverbanks, this is the way to observe everyday Khmer life at its finest. It may be the perfect way to transition from the commercialism of central Siem Reap town to the charming quaintness of Battambang.
Learning to cook Khmer style
Cooking in Southeast Asia usually evokes images of Thai food, but we promise you that a Khmer cooking course is not an experience to be missed. And there is no better place than the sleepy town of Battambang to have this experience. Head over to Nary Kitchen where you’ll scour the local market for ingredients, then return to make multiple dishes you didn’t realize you were capable of creating. A cooking lesson, a delicious meal (we promise Nary’s instructions are foolproof), and a free recipe book thrown in – it is hard to find better value for $10!
Where to Stay in Battambang
Battambang still isn’t a tourist hotspot so accommodation options are more limited here, but they tend to be affordable and clean. Check out Pomme for a consistently good hostel.
Travel Guide to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh might not be the city you fall head-over-heels for right away. Most people stop here only for a day or two and move onwards. In spite of this, it’s an important stop on your Cambodia itinerary to truly begin to understand Cambodia’s difficult past. A day in Phnom Penh visiting the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum of S21 is harrowing. Be sure to allow yourself time after these visits to relax at one of Phnom Penh’s many great cafes or restaurants. The city is constantly changing and it’s an interesting place to soak in Cambodia’s rapid transformation over the past years. It’s a city where past really does meet present.
How to get to Phnom Penh
International flights arrive here from across the world. From the airport to the centre of town (Riverside, BKK1 or Russian Market) a rickshaw booked through Grab costs around $6. An official airport taxi has a fixed rate depending on the area of your destination ($12-$15). You can also take the public bus which costs just 1,500 riel ($0.37).
Phnom Penh is a hub to access Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and destinations across Cambodia. Buses coming into Phnom Penh will drop you off at different locations depending on the bus company you choose. Most bus company stations are located along the riverside or near Orussey market.
Phnom Penh Highlights
Visiting the harrowing S-21
Tuol Sleng, also called Security Prison 21, is a former school that was turned into a security prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. More than 14,000 people were tortured, imprisoned, and ultimately killed in these halls. Only 7 people who walked in here walked out alive. One of these sits at the entry point as you enter S-21. As you navigate past the faces of all those who were lost, it’s a particularly potent reminder of humanity’s dark side.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Located just 40 minutes outside of Phnom Penh, Choeung Ek was the largest of the Khmer Rouge killing fields. This is the location where those imprisoned and tortured at S-21 were sent to be executed. Today this is a place dedicated to educating both Cambodians and international visitors about the Khmer Rouge genocide in an attempt to prevent this from ever happening again.
Strolling through Kandal or BKK market at 7am
Phnom Penh is bursting with amazing markets to explore, from the famous architecture and fake goods of the Central Market to the souvenir haven of the Russian Market. For really authentic experiences though, visit Kandal or BKK markets when they open at 7am. Watch as shopkeepers lay out vegetables and meat to sell for the day and get lost in the corridors selling the widest variations of items. These are the markets not catered to tourists in any capacity and they’re great places to get a sense of Phnom Penh’s daily bustling life.
Settling down at a cafe and shopping for good
There are so many amazing cafes and restaurants in Phnom Penh, you don’t have to look far to find them. One of my all time favourites, not only in Phnom Penh but globally, is the charming ARTillery Cafe. Located close to the Royal Palace, ARTillery offers a nice respite from the heat and offers amazing treats like a falafel waffle eggs benedict. Right outside of ARTillery you can find secondhand and ethical goods shops to get your souvenir shopping out of the way while you’re here.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
Travel Guide to Kampot
I have yet to hear someone say they felt anything short of love for Kampot. This riverside town has a dilapidated charm different to anywhere else in Cambodia. The crumbling colonial buildings and quiet streets make it a brilliant town to explore either by foot or by bicycle. With amazing coffee shops and restaurants, pepper farms galore, a river brimming with activities, and a hill station to explore, Kampot is sure to charm you.
How to get to Kampot
Cambodia’s passenger trains are running again! You can take the train from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville with Kampot as a stop along the way. It’s worth taking this slightly longer journey (4.5 hours) for the beautiful countryside views along the way and to avoid Phnom Penh’s crazy traffic. It costs $6.
Kayaking with the (fabled) crocodiles
Don’t worry, apparently it’s a myth that there are crocodiles in this river, although I did see a water snake when I was kayaking here. Rent a kayak at Greenhouse, Champa Lodge or Meraki and explore the beautiful backwaters here that are covered by tree cathedrals. It’s very reminiscent of the Mekong Delta here and you’ll often have the water completely to yourself. You can also rent a SUP board and test out your balance on the river water.
Eating, drinking, and eating some more
A lot of great chefs who got tired of the Phnom Penh chaos moved themselves down to Kampot, and it really shows in the quality of restaurants here. Trendy Cafe Espresso is the perfect breakfast choice with its strong coffee, overflowing granola and fresh fruit of all varieties, and mouth-watering Huevos Rancheros. It’s truly a big slice of breakfast paradise in Cambodia. When it comes to dinner, there are so many amazing spots that I’m hard pressed to choose just a handful to recommend. Explore for yourself and don’t be surprised if you stay longer in Kampot just for the food alone.
Exploring the salt fields and pepper farms
The only shortcoming of this area of Cambodia is that the roads are notoriously potholed. Whether you’re exploring by motorbike, tuk tuk or bicycle, prepare yourself for a bumpy ride to get out to the countryside salt fields and pepper farms. Kampot pepper is famous for good reason and you may find yourself with a whole new appreciation for this kitchen staple after visiting Kampot. Journey out to the certified organic pepper farm, La Plantation, and take their free tour to see step by step how pepper is made and sample half a dozen kinds of pepper variations.
Where to stay in Kampot
If you’re looking for a great social hostel, Karma Traders is for you. They host amazing live music, quiz, and taco nights and the staff is ultra friendly. The dorms here aren’t the most soundproof, so if you’re looking for a quieter night’s sleep you might want to try a private room. If you’re flashpacking, take the 20 minute ride out of the city to tranquil Greenhouse, where you can rent a riverside bungalow and kayak, float, or stand up paddle to your heart’s content.
Travel Guide to Kep
Kep is a sleepy little seaside town blossoming with greenery. It’s a popular vacation spot among Khmer locals, but less international tourists visit here. If you’ve been craving some relaxation, hiking trails, beachfront, great seafood, and beautiful sunsets, Kep may just be your heaven on earth. There isn’t much to do here (which is really what makes it such a charming place), so you only need a day or two here, especially if you’re short on time.
How to get to Kep
Located just 4 hours from Phnom Penh ($8) or 1 hour from Kampot ($4), this is an easy bus ride.
Hiking in Kep
Kep National Park is the only place you can hike without a guide in Cambodia, as the area has been completely cleared of landmines and unexploded ordnance. A trail system snakes around the park and it’s a great place to take a 2 hour stroll or peddle a mountain bike through. The Led Zep Cafe makes for a nice spot to rest your feet and quench your thirst in the park.
Taking in a sunset at the Sailing Club
This swanky spot on the beach is a great place to grab a sunset drink and take in the incredible view over the ocean. It’s not cheap, but it’s also not as expensive as you might think when you first lay eyes on it.
Day tripping to Rabbit Island
Koh Tonsay (or Rabbit Island) is a blissful little patch of sand less than an hour by boat from Kep. It’s rustic and if you’re looking for a Castaway experience, you can settle in one of the little bungalows on the beach here to stay the night.
Where to stay in Kep
There’s a reason why Khmer Hands Bungalows has a perfect 5 star rating on TripAdvisor. These adorable bungalows are super thoughtfully designed and the owners of this place are some of the most wonderful people around. The place doubles as an arts training center.
Travel Guide to Cambodia's Islands
Less famous than Thailand’s islands, Cambodia has its own set of island gems. With white beaches and bioluminescent plankton you can swim with at night, these islands are still worth their hype. Located off the coast of Sihanoukville (try to time your visit to avoid spending the night in Sihanoukville), Cambodia has an island for every kind of beach lover.
Koh Rong is the most famous of Cambodia’s islands and it’s getting busier and busier by the year. If you’re looking for a party, this is the island on the list to visit.
Kong Rong Samloem
Koh Rong’s quieter sister, Koh Rong Samloem is a popular alternative for those looking for a more relaxed time on the beach. Accommodation here can be expensive so make sure to look into where you’ll stay before visiting.
Koh Ta Kiev
Koh Ta Kiev may be the jewel of all of these islands. It’s reminiscent of what my first trip to Cambodia’s little island, Koh Russei, was like 9 years ago. There are basic beach bungalows, limited electricity and wifi, and travellers can actually get back to the basics here.
How to get to the Islands
Take the bus or plane to Sihanoukville and, if possible, jump on a boat right away to access the island of your choice. Sihanoukville has become expensive and is not the most pleasant place to stay.
Off the beaten path spots in Cambodia
If you have some extra time to spare in Cambodia and you happen to be a lover of the mountains, there are three wonderful places you could add to your itinerary.
Kirirom is Cambodia’s first national park and its location in the Cardamom mountains make it a cool and refreshing retreat from the country’s heat. With pine forests to explore and adventure activities galore, Kirirom is a great off-the-beaten-path adventure spot not too far from Phnom Penh.
In Cambodia’s wild east, a visit to Mondulkiri or Ratanakiri provinces shouldn’t be missed by trekking lovers. There are plenty of multi-day treks you can take through the jungles of these provinces and Mondulkiri offers ethical elephant experiences. Be sure to read this thoughtful article to make an informed decision about which elephant sanctuary you visit. They aren’t all created equally.
How to get here
Mondulkiri (7 hours, $10-13) and Ratanakiri (9 hours, $11-15) are easily accessed by bumpy bus rides from Phnom Penh. Kirirom is harder to get to and often necessitates figuring out some private transportation.
Responsible Travel Tips for Cambodia:
Orphanage tourism in Cambodia:
Visiting or volunteering at orphanages is incredibly harmful to Cambodia’s young population. The last years have brought increased knowledge about the harms of orphanage tourism, yet this is still an issue to be mindful of as you travel to Cambodia.
Plastic waste is an astronomical issue in Cambodia. Tourists alone using disposable water bottles account for 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools of plastic waste in just one year. You’ll quickly see this when you arrive in the country. As a responsible traveller there are a number of things you can do to mitigate your own impact. Bring your own water bottle and fill it up from refill stations or use your SteriPen, pick up a bamboo or metal straw instead of using disposable plastic straws, and say no to plastic bags when offered them.