Things to do in Cambodia | 50 Adventures in the Kingdom of Wonder

Angkor Wat at Sunrise a stop on the Cambodia Itinerary

If you’re looking for the best things to do on your trip to Cambodia you’ve come to the right place. In this blog post we break down the best 50 things to do in Cambodia and essential additions to any Cambodia Itinerary! From visiting the temples of Angkor Wat to kayaking remote backwaters and acquainting yourself with the country’s fascinating history, the monster list provides all the know how you need for your Cambodian adventure!

**This post contains affiliate links to products or services we know, use and love. If you click one of the links and make a purchase we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us continue to improve Tales from the Banana Trail*** 

What are the best things to do in Siem Reap?

No Cambodia itinerary is complete without a stop in Siem Reap. Conveniently located near the iconic Angkor Archaeological Park, this once sleepy town has come alive in recent years, in some ways for the better and in others for the worse, depending on who you ask.

Bayon Temple in Siem Reap

1. Explore the temples of Angkor

No matter your travel experience, age or interest, it is absolutely impossible not to be completely floored by the scale of the majestic temples of Angkor . Witness the sun rise at Angkor Wat or bask in the pre-dawn light as you explore the many levels and courtyards of the world’s largest religious building. Explore the walled city of Angkor Thom by gazing into the 216 faces of Bayon or climb the seemingly endless tiers of the Baphoun. Feel the force of mother nature as giant trees grow from the ancient ruins of Ta Prohm or venture a little further out to the (relative) isolation of Preah Khan’s corridors. With more and more tourists coming every year, the Angkor Archeological Park is a hard place to find much solitude. That said, it’s popular for good reason and finds the top ranking position on any list of things to do in Cambodia. Make sure to check out our comprehensive guide to Angkor to help you plan your time here.

2. Find the “Secret Temples” of Angkor

If the crowds of the Angkor Archaeological Park have you squirming for solitude, fear not! The vastness of the great Khmer empire left many magnificent ruins throughout the country that have (yet) to become cluttered with tuk-tuk drivers and tourists seeking their ultimate sunrise ‘gram.  Venture out to Beng Mealea or Banteay Ampil to experience your very own version of Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, or other bad-ass archaeologist film. Tread lightly though, as just like any good adventure film, there may be a snake or two around. If you want more details, check out this guide we wrote on finding hidden temples.

3. See Phare, The Cambodian Circus

Don’t worry friends, no elephants, tigers, or animals of any kind were harmed in the making of this production! Phare is Cirque Du Soleil meets Cambodian storytelling (historical, folk and modern). Better yet, all of its artists and performers are graduates of a vocational training centre responsible for providing education to poor and at-risk Cambodian youth. Phare, the Cambodian Circus, offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a wage that will break the cycle of poverty. So go ahead, run away to this circus on your trip to Cambodia!

4. Nourish your stomach and your soul at one of Siem Reap's training restaurants

If you love eating out, Siem Reap may be one of the best places to indulge in Cambodia. HavenMarum, and Spoons are great options to sample incredible Khmer and international fair. Better yet, every restaurant provides vocational training to all of their staff, allowing them to build the practical and leadership skills to graduate and help shape a bright future for Cambodia. If you want to learn about a few more feel good restaurants, check out this post.

5. Experience the chaos of Siem Reap's Pub Street

The first time we ventured to Siem Reap over a decade ago, Pub Street had already started its evolution into a true backpacker ghetto like Thailand’s infamous Khao San Road or Ho Chi Minh City’s Pham Ngu Lao. For better or for worse, the evolution is now complete.  Beer company tank tops are sold on every corner, fast food carts and touts overwhelm the street, and endless throngs of sweaty backpackers stumble around on post-temple pub crawls. If you’re not into the Pub Street party mayhem, it’s still a worthwhile spot to find a table with a view and a cold beer to take in the spectacle. 

6. Brunch like a champion

If you’re exhausted from all of the days of temple-ing, or if a night on Pub Street ran you down, brunch may be your best solution. Siem Reap has a few incredible options to brunch to your heart’s content. Enjoy a sunshine smoothie bowl and a flat white at one of our favourite little haunts: Little Red Fox. Take the time to enjoy one of their awesome art sessions that feature local Cambodian artists, musicians, and culture creators. If the night before was rough, or if you just love awesome waffles or waffles meet burgers, head to Missing Socks Laundry Cafe and grab their “signature waffle burger”. They’re also no slouch in the coffee department.

7. Buy local at Angkor Handicraft Association

You can buy “Cambodian” souvenirs all over Siem Reap. Unfortunately the majority of these are manufactured in Thailand, Vietnam or China and do nothing to improve local employment opportunities. Enter Angkor Handicraft Association’s fair trade market, a blissfully relaxed shopping experience where all of the products are certified Cambodian-made. From scarves to clothes to bags, pottery, sculptures and paintings, you’re sure to find your perfect souvenir, all while helping make a difference!

8. Dirt bike Siem Reap’s countryside

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can go out on a dirt biking trip on the backroads of Siem Reap province. This is a sure way to find completely hidden temples and experience the beautiful rural side of this temple town. 

Don't Forget Your Travel Insurance!

When you’re riding motorbikes, taking Tuk-Tuks, or experiencing any of the adventures on this list medical emergencies can happen and you want to be prepared! We had a friend who was medevaced to Bangkok from Cambodia and spent several weeks in the hospital there to the tune of $750,000. Fortunately, she had travel insurance. If you don’t already have travel insurance, check out World Nomads or get a quote in seconds below.  They even have options that protect against theft, and cover the cost of emergency evacuations. 

9. Visit Road 60

Road 60 is the local answer to Pub Street. This road, located just outside of Siem Reap town, turns into a lively spot every night as mats are rolled out onto the pavement, games and rides appear, and there are food stalls galore. If you’re looking to experience a typical Khmer night, this is your spot.

10. Visit Phnom Kulen

Beautiful Kulen mountain is located about two hours from Siem Reap town and it’s a favourite place for Khmer families to take a day trip to on the weekends for a picnic. With incredible waterfalls to see and a cooler climate, this might be just the place to take a breath of fresh and cool air after days of temple exploration.

11. Angkor National Museum

If you’re exhausted from the Cambodian heat, but thirst for more information and artifacts left behind by the Khmer Empire, venture to Siem Reap’s Angkor National Museum. This museum has been at the centre of some controversy, given its for-profit motivation, Thai-ownership, and limited link between many of the buddhas shown and the Angkor-era. That said, you may learn a thing or two and the air conditioning provides much needed reprieve from the Cambodian inferno.  

12. Visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum

Cambodia remains one of the most heavily impacted countries by landmines and unexploded ordnance. Recently reopened, the Cambodia Landmine Museum was founded by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who has since deactivated thousands of landmines. Your small admission fee supports your own education on the danger of landmines and the education of at-risk and landmine affected youth in neighbouring communities. 

13. Get your yoga fix at Peace Cafe

If you’re feeling your legs after all of the temple climbing at Angkor Wat, you might just need to get a good stretch in. Head to Peace Cafe located along the river in Siem Reap for one of their yoga classes. They also offer Khmer language classes. 

What are the best things to do in Phnom Penh?

Markets in Phnom Penh

14. Learn about the genocide at Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng, otherwise known as 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 survivors 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. It’s a harrowing place that can’t be missed on a trip to Cambodia to truly understand the country’s history.

15. Travel to the 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 tragedy from ever happening again.

16. Visit the Central, Kandal or BKK Markets

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 range 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.

17. Take a self-guided walking tour from the Royal Palace to the Central Market

After loading up on breakfast (we would suggest nearby ARTillery Cafe), head to the Royal Palace to begin your journey through Phnom Penh’s big sites. Walk past the National Museum, up towards the Central Market and back along the riverside. This map may give you some ideas on how to plan your route.

18. Cycle on Koh Dach (Silk Island)

If Phnom Penh’s concrete jungle tires you out, take a quick local ferry over to Koh Dach (Silk Island). Once you arrive, you can rent a bicycle and leisurely peddle the quiet roads snaking around the island. You can stop and see how silk is made along the way, but the real delight of Koh Dach is its peace and quiet compared to the city next door.

19. Have a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC)

Located on the Mekong river, FCC was the gathering place for journalists and aid workers during Cambodia’s civil war and its walls are covered with photographs and stories from these former days. You can feel the history here and it’s a beautiful place to take in the view and relax after a day in the heat.

20. Take a boat trip on the Mekong

Sometimes there’s no nicer way to see a city than from the water, and from a seat. Jump on one of the many boats that head out onto Phnom Penh’s Mekong at sunset to cruise down the waters and enjoy an undisturbed view of the city.

21. Try a Khmer massage, for good

Somewhat lighter than a Thai massage, Khmer massages involve a lot of stretching and kneading. No oil is involved here and you’re given a pajama like outfit to wear. While you can get pretty amazing massages all over Cambodia and often for much cheaper, if you’re in Phnom Penh don’t miss out on One Day Spa. Their training centre provides Cambodian women with the opportunity to develop skills in business management and the hair and beauty industry. Their dark corridors, curtains and warm lighting are reminiscent of stepping into the set of Beauty and the Beast.

22. Go to a free Khmer language class

Looking to learn some of the local language? Head to the Khmer Study Group’s free language meetups held every week in Phnom Penh to pick up a few words, try some delicious food, and maybe meet some new friends.

23. Join in aerobics by the Mekong

Head down to Phnom Penh’s riverside and you’ll be sure to see an outdoor aerobics session in session at some point. Join in to work off some of the Angkor beers you indulged in on Pub Street in Siem Reap. It’s an entertaining experience to say the least.

24. Jump on a trampoline or sip on a coffee at an old factory

 Factory is one of the hippest places to be in Cambodia (or anywhere for that matter). It’s an old factory that’s been converted into a massive multi-purpose creative hub. There’s a trampoline park called Fly, a trendy coworking space, and some pretty stellar coffee.

25. See the Royal Palace

Still the official royal residence, Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is nothing short of a grand vision. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in the city, and while it’s worth the trip, what may be nicer is actually sitting on the grass across from the palace where locals gather to feed countless pigeons and snack on their picnics.

26. Take in a rooftop sunset at Juniper Gin Bar

A newcomer to Phnom Penh, the rooftop of Juniper Gin Bar is pretty spectacular. It’s a great way to see the Mekong at night (or watch any celebrations if you happen to be in Cambodia over a holiday – of which there are plenty). The drinks here are also pretty great.

What are the best things to do in Battambang?

Battambang Boat

27. Take the slow boat 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’s far from a boring trip. Passing by villages floating on stilts, local fishermen at work on their boats, and children playing on the riverbanks, this is the way to observe everyday Khmer life at its finest.

28. Learn to cook Khmer style

There is no better place than the sleepy town of Battambang to try your luck at cooking Khmer style. 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! 

What are the best things to do in Kampot

Kayaking in Kampot

29. Kayak through the Green Cathedral

Picture a Disneyland-style boat ride through the jungle but in real life and you have kayaking the Green Cathedral near Kampot. Rent a kayak at GreenHouseChampa Lodge or Meraki and explore the beautiful backwaters here that are covered by tree cathedrals. It’s reminiscent of the Mekong Delta 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.

30. Motorbike up Bokor Hill Station to escape the heat

If you thought cold weather wasn’t possible to find in Cambodia, you need to visit Bokor. A beautiful (and well paved) road winds its way up the mountain into misty air and tree-covered slopes.You’ll be met at the top of the road with waterfalls, buddhas, casinos (old and new), and an old church to explore. It’s chilly on the mountain so you’ll definitely need to bring a sweater.

31. Take a tour of a pepper farm

Even if you’re not a self-professed pepper person, a visit to Kampot’s incredible pepper farms is not one to be missed. Head out to the beautiful La Plantation for a free tour of the farm, how pepper is made, and a tasting of all different types of pepper. Kampot pepper is famous internationally and it was actually the first Cambodian agricultural product to be granted protected geographical indication status.

32. Cycle past the salt fields

Less famous than its pepper, the salt fields surrounding Kampot are no less beautiful to see. Hop on a bicycle and head out of town to take a leisurely cycle past the white fields. It’s a beautiful way to see the Khmer countryside.

Check out our guide 20 Incredible Things To Do In Kampot for more ideas for your trip to Kampot!!

What are the best things to do in Kep?

Kep - Sunset at the Sailing Club

33. Take in a sunset at Kep’s Sailing Club

Kep’s swanky Sailing Club 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 see its location. Their fresh fish is delicious if you’re looking to extend your restaurant stay.

34. Sea kayak or paddleboard in Kep

From Kep’s Sailing Club you can rent sea kayaks and paddleboards to explore the waters around. It’s a great way to get some great exercise and see Kep’s beautiful coastline from the water.

35. Pull out your hiking shoes in Kep National Park

Kep National Park is one of the only places where 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 two hour stroll or peddle a mountain bike through. You’re sure to see an animal (or ten) here. The Led Zep Cafe makes for a nice spot to rest your feet and quench your thirst in the park.

36. Fulfill your Castaway dreams on Rabbit Island

Koh Tonsay (or Rabbit Island) is a blissful little patch of sand less than an hour by boat from Kep. It’s certainly rustic and if you’re looking for a Castaway experience, you can settle into one of the little bungalows on the beach here to stay the night.

What are the best things things to do in Cambodia’s mountains

37. Go on an ethical elephant encounter

Cambodia’s wild eastern province of Mondulkiri is home to a range of opportunities to see elephants. Emphasis on seeing, not riding. Be sure to read this thoughtful article to make an informed decision about which elephant sanctuary you visit. They aren’t all created equally and it’s important to choose a place that doesn’t add any additional stress to these animals lives.

38. Go trekking in Mondulkiri or Ratanakiri

Cambodia’s wild east is full of unexplored territory to be found. To get a feel for this, take a multi-day jungle trek through Mondulkiri or Ratanakiri provinces. In the rainy season you may just find a waterfall or two to explore.

P.S. Check out our guide on what to do in Mondulkiri.

39. Visit Heaven Cliff in the Cardamom mountains

Located in Cambodia’s Cardamom mountains, Kirirom National Park is an oasis of forests, waterfalls and, you guessed it, cliffs. Jutting out like Pride Rock over a valley of trees, Heaven Cliff offers incredible views over the Cardamoms. It’s an easy hike in to access the cliff and it’s worth the small bit of exercise to see this incredible view.

What are the best things things to do on Cambodia’s islands

Cambodia's Islands

40. Bask in the sun on sleepy Koh Ta Kiev

Koh Ta Kiev is still reminiscent of Cambodia’s islands a decade ago. A quick ferry ride from Sihanoukville takes you to this sleepy place where you can hang out in the sun, take advantage of the perks of solar power and curl up in Kactus’ treehouses.

41. Explore underwater

Cambodia’s islands are home to several great dive sites. Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, Koh Kong and Koh Tang all offer incredible underwater sights  from seahorses to barracuda to incredible coral.

42. Join the party on Koh Rong

Gone are the days when Koh Rong was still a whisper on backpackers’ itineraries through Southeast Asia. It’s now a well-trodden party spot (depending on the part of the island you visit). It may not be on par with Koh Phangan’s many different moon parties, but it’s still the spot to go if you’re looking to liven things up in Cambodia.

43. See the bioluminescent plankton light up at night

If you’ve watched The Beach, you’ve probably already dreamt of swimming in an ocean lit up by plankton sometime in your life. While swimming in the ocean waters at night may not be the safest choice, you can take a boat out to see this phenomenon when you visit Cambodia’s islands. Head out at night into the water and get lost in the blue light as the bioluminescent plankton comes to life with your movements.

A few more amazing things to do in Cambodia

Backpacker in Cambodia

44. Try a tarantula or cricket

Cambodia is famously known for its roadside tarantula and cricket snacks. You often find these offered at local markets across the country and if you aren’t too scared to give them a try, you may just find them to be your new favourite snack.

45. Kayak to see the dolphins in Kratie

Cambodia’s rare Irrawaddy dolphins are found in the river near the dusty town of Kratie. The unique, short beaked creatures draw quite a crowd. The best way to see them is through a kayaking trip that takes you past riverside villages and ideally the dolphins, without disrupting them by taking a motorboat.

46. Try out meditation for a day or ten… at Wat Langka or a Vipassana course

Phnom Penh’s centrally located Wat Langka offers one-hour free meditation sessions multiple times a week. If you’re looking for a taste of meditation this may be for you. If you’re a veteran and looking to take it to the next level, try one of the international Vipassana ten day silent retreats in Cambodia to take your mind to the next level.

47. Visit the ever-political Preah Vihear

The views here are almost as impressive as the temple itself. Perched on top of a 525m mountain, Preah Vihear has been the source of tension between Cambodia and Thailand over the years, as both vie for its ownership. It’s located 200km from Siem Reap so you’ll definitely need more than a day to get here and fully explore the temple’s four levels and courtyards, but this is a place more than worth the detour.

48. Go to an Apsara dance show

Apsara is Cambodia’s most popular form of classical dance, dating back to the 7th century. The hand movements in Apsara are nothing short of incredible. A number of shows are held at different venues around the country, but the most famous is held at the National Museum in Phnom Penh every night by Cambodian Living Arts.

49. Try Cambodia’s favourite snack

As soon as you make your first Khmer friend, you’re sure to be offered this snack: green mango with prahok (fermented fish paste) or chili dip. In Cambodia eating sour green fruits, especially green mango, with prahok or chilis is very common. It has a different taste but quickly grows on you.

50. Visit one of Cambodia’s community-based tourism initiatives

Offering a great way to experience traditional Cambodian life and benefit community development, ecotourism and community-based tourism are ever-growing in Cambodia. One of the most famous places for this is Chambok, located near Kirirom National Park. This site was set up in 2002 under the support of a local NGO to provide alternative livelihoods to community members and protect the surrounding areas from deforestation. Stay in a homestay here and experience incredible trekking and swimming in the waterfall nearby.

More Posts on Cambodia

The 5 Best Cambodia Itineraries | Plan the Perfect Cambodia Trip

Cambodia Itinerary Ta Prohm

If you’re mapping out the perfect Cambodia itinerary, chances are there’s something in this post just for you! After living and travelling in Cambodia for years, I’ve put together this  guide with 5 different itineraries to chose from. If you’re looking for a 1-week Cambodia itinerary we’ve got you covered.  If you’re planning a 3-week Cambodia trip you’ll find info on that too!  No matter how long you’re planning to travel, this Cambodia itinerary guide has you covered.

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 many years ago. 

** Some of the links in this section are affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase we’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you. Just like the travel backpacks we build, we’re very particular about travel products and we only recommend products, services, or accommodation we trust and use ourselves.

Angkor Wat at Sunrise a stop on the Cambodia Itinerary

How much time should you spend in Cambodia?

Cambodia offers plenty of experiences for trips of all lengths from 5 days to 3 weeks! The following itineraries are a good starting point for your adventure with the option to speed up or slow down any of these trips 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. 

5 Day Cambodia Itinerary

7 Day Cambodia Itinerary

10 Day Cambodia Itinerary

2 Week Cambodia Itinerary

3 Week Cambodia Itinerary

Bayon Temple in Siem Reap

Do you need a Visa for Cambodia?

Yes, but you can purchase a visa upon arrival at Cambodia’s airports. It costs $30 USD for 30 days. You can also choose to purchase an electronic visa online before you arrive through the government’s website: evisa.gov.kh. This option costs $30 plus a $6 processing fee. It usually takes 3 days from submission of your information to receive the e-Visa by email.

What money do they use in 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.

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.

How to get to Cambodia

By air

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.

By bus

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?

Backpacker's budget

On average plan to spend about $10 for a dorm bed, $3 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.

Flashpacker's budget

On average plan to spend about $30 for a private room in a hostel or guesthouse, $6 for a great meal, $50 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

These have become sadly commonplace, especially in Phnom Penh. Wear your backpack with both straps on and if you’re going out in the evenings, try to just carry your belongings in your pockets. Watch out for motorbikes passing by when you’re taking photos with your phone, or all of those beautiful travel photos and your means of communicating will disappear in a flash! If you’re looking for peace of mind, check out World Nomads for comprehensive travel insurance including theft (I’ve used their insurance to cover me while living in Cambodia).

Travel Insurance

Whether you’re riding on the back of motorbikes, or exploring ancient temples, medical emergencies can happen and you want to be prepared! I had a friend that was medevaced to Bangkok from Cambodia and spent several weeks in the hospital there to the tune of $750,000. Fortunately, she had travel insurance. If you don’t already have travel insurance, check out World Nomads or get a quote in seconds below.  They even have options that protect against theft, and cover the cost of emergency evacuations. 

The powdered milk scam in Cambodia

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.

Backpacker in Cambodia

What to bring to Cambodia - a few 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!

Temples of Angkor

Planning your stop in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the jewel of Cambodia and an essential stop on any Cambodia itinerary. 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

By Air

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. 

By Bus

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.

Sunrise at Angkor Wat an amazing thing to do in Cambodia

Cambodia itinerary highlights in Siem Reap

Visit 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. As tourism just begins to resume in 2022, now is an incredible time to visit. The temples still lack the crowds and you’ll often find complete solitude at some of the most famous spots.  Like many of the world’s great wonders, a trip here is sure to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

Read our comprehensive guide to visiting the Temples of Angkor.

Banteay Ampil
Banteay Ampil an off the beaten path temple

Explore 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 very 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.

Visit 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

Haven Siem Reap

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.

Battambang Boat

Planning your stop in Battambang

Often neglected Battambang is a place that should be missed only at your own peril. It’s not that there are a particular number of attractions to see in Battambang, but this countryside city is the best place to bask in the relaxed Khmer way of life and escape the tourist hordes. Take the slow boat from Siem Reap past floating villages, stroll through the local market, attend a cooking course, and cycle around. You may just find your own little piece of inner peace in this relaxed destination.

How to get to Battambang

By boat

The most scenic way to get to Battambang is to take a 7-9 hour boat ride from Siem Reap. It costs $20. 

By bus

The bus from Siem Reap to Battambang takes just 3-4 hours and costs about $6. 

Cambodia itinerary highlights in Battambang

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.

Battambang Market

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.

Phnom Penh city view on the Cambodia Itinerary

Planning your stop in 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

By air

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).

By bus

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.  

Cambodia itinerary highlights in Phnom Penh

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.

Tour the 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.

Banana Backpacks Khmer Explorer in Phnom Penh market

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  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

Onederz Phnom Penh location is terrific spot to stay in the city. It’s located in the riverside area of the city, close to all of the main tourist attractions.

Kayaking in Kampot

Planning your stop in 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

By Train

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.

By Bus

The bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot takes just 3-4 hours (depending on traffic getting out of Phnom Penh). It costs around $6-10 depending on the bus company.
Girl watches boat at sunset in Kampot

Cambodia itinerary highlights in Kampot

Looking for more information on your trip to Kampot? Make sure you check out this post on 20 Incredible Things To Do In Kampot.

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.  

Kep - Sunset at the Sailing Club

Planning your stop in 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

By Bus

Located just 4 hours from Phnom Penh ($8) or 1 hour from Kampot ($4), this is an easy bus ride. 

Cambodia itinerary highlights in Kep

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.

Cambodia's Islands

Planning your stop in 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

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 spot on the cambodia itinerary homestay

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

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.

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Man sits on waterfall near Kampot, Cambodia

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Obstacles to Education in Cambodia

education in cambodia

The obstacles to education in Cambodia become clear on a visit to this beautiful country. If you visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, you’ll learn that this former school was converted to a security prison in the 1970s. Many of those tortured and killed here were educators. When you travel north to the temples of Angkor Wat you may notice that there aren’t many schools in the nearby rural areas. These sights hint at the obstacles to education in Cambodia. The country has made huge steps forward since the 1970s genocide that took the lives of nearly two million people. But Cambodia continues to face enormous challenges to educating its young population and building a better future for them. This is a challenge we’re attempting to help tackle by supporting education with our Khmer Explorer Travel Backpacks.

education in cambodia

Education in Cambodia during its genocide.

When the Khmer Rouge came into power in 1975, education came to an abrupt halt in Cambodia. Schools were not only closed, but the majority of the buildings were destroyed or used for government purposes. One of these was the secondary school that became Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. Thousands of Cambodians were tortured and killed here. A number of them were educators. These intellectuals were seen as a threat to building a new, agrarian society. In the entire country between 75% and 90% of teachers, 96% of university students, and 67% of all primary and secondary school students were killed from 1975 until 1979. 

In the entire country between 75% and 90% of teachers, 96% of university students, and 67% of all primary and secondary school students were killed from 1975 until 1979.

And this is a conservative estimate. While the Khmer Rouge had a goal of building up a new type of education system, this was largely unsuccessful. By the time the regime was overthrown in 1979, the majority of children in the country were found to be illiterate. Not only were educational resources like school buildings and books destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, but more tragically, the country’s national intellectual capital was nearly entirely wiped out.

education in cambodia

Education in Cambodia today.

Education has drastically improved in Cambodia since the 1970s, but it remains far from a priority in the country. Cambodia’s government currently spends only 2% of its GDP on education. This means that there is little funding for adequate teacher training and salaries, or money for classroom materials or resources. A significant number of the rural schools don’t have any access to clean water for their students. This lack of investment has resulted in inadequate schools, both in number and quality.

Some improvements have been seen over the last years at the primary school level in particular. According to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, a national average of nearly 80% of students now finish primary school (Grades 1-6). Sadly, the completion rates fall drastically to 43% for lower secondary school (Grades 7-9) and to an even lower 20% for upper secondary school (Grades 10-12). Those who are particularly at risk of dropping out are girls and children living in rural areas.

The reasons for this extreme drop in school attendance are complex. Among these are the high direct and indirect costs for families to send their children to school. The cost of buying children mandatory uniforms, textbooks, and bicycles (often needed to get to schools that are located far away) puts education out of reach for a number of families. To put this in perspective, in the rural areas of Siem Reap province where the temples of Angkor Wat are located, many people live below the poverty line on less than $1 USD each day. As a result, they’re forced to choose between food or education for their children. Many Cambodian children at the secondary school age consequently turn to work instead of attending school to help their families get by.

But education in Cambodia is slowly improving. A UNESCO report in 2015 on education in Cambodia showed that a few initiatives have made a real difference in lowering dropout rates. Among these was the provision of school meals. A number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are partnering with government schools to build capabilities and improve access to education in rural areas by focusing on these initiatives. One of these is our NGO partner, Caring for Cambodia (CFC), that supports students through their school meal program, Food for Thought. [You can read more about our support for Food for Thought through each of our Khmer Explorer backpacks here.] These initiatives to support rural schools have seen some impressive results. In the case of Caring for Cambodia, the student dropout rate at the schools they support has fallen to just 2%.

education in cambodia

Why improving education in Cambodia matters.

Education plays a key role in sustainable development and empowering change within a country. It has the power to reduce inequalities and poverty, provide fair employment opportunities, and improve gender equality. It offers a hand up not a hand out. And in the case of Cambodia, it’s a key foundation for building up a country with a difficult past. As Cambodia continues to face new human rights challenges, education proves to be an ever more important force to encourage positive change and awareness.