Cambodia is a captivating country, rich in culture, history, and architecture.

When backpacking Cambodia, you will stumble across breathtaking beaches, incredible temples, beautiful islands, and delicious Khmer food. It is a magical land where you can buy a beer for 25 cents, a bed for a dollar and a tasty restaurant meal for just a couple of bucks.

Many people backpack Cambodia to see the miraculous Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, but Cambodia is more than just temples, beaches, cheap food, parties & alcohol. 

For starters, Cambodia still has some of the prettiest islands in mainland Southeast Asia. In the Cardamom Mountains, it has one of the last unbroken rainforests in Asia — a vestige of wild elephants and tigers, and a wonderful ecotourism destination. But it is rural Cambodia that especially rewards the curious traveler with its rivers, caves, rice fields, and charming little towns.

The country has a dark past, with 1.5 – 3 million people killed in the Khmer Rouge, led by tyrant Pol Pot. It happened only 35 – 40 years ago and is still very fresh and raw to the Cambodian people.

Despite the tragic history, the local Khmer people are some of the kindest humans in the world. 

While it is an amazing travel destination, it does seem Cambodia’s charm and natural beauty are constantly under threat by its horribly corrupt government. Conservation, sustainability, or human rights are not high on the agenda… to put it mildly. Some coastal places are also being taken over by Chinese casino development. This is especially true in Sihanoukville, though Kampot and some of the islands may be future victims.

With this travel guide for Cambodia in hand, you will have everything that you will need to experience this amazing country. You will know what to do, where to go, and where stay in Cambodia after reading this guide. Listen well, our fellow backpackers, and you are sure to have a good time here!

Planning your backpacking route in Cambodia

Considering the potato-like shape of Cambodia, you would think it would be perfect for a circular route. Sadly, its road layout does not quite cooperate with such plans.

The main transport arteries are between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (running north and south of the Tonle lake). Other main roads shoot off in different directions from the capital. This means that if you want to travel all over Cambodia, you might have to come back through Phnom Penh once or twice.

The map below marks some of the key travel destinations for backpacking Cambodia.

The central parts of Cambodia are very flat — just huge plains without much to grab your visual interest, besides the Mekong river. I like the southwestern part a lot as it has more mountains (and the islands as well of course). Combining Angkor Wat with southern Cambodia can easily keep you busy for 2 weeks or more, and I would probably recommend focusing on these parts if you don’t have infinite time.

Many bus services operate between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Battambang. Other destinations are often serviced only by minivans. They will get you where you need to be, though they are often totally crammed with luggage and passengers. On some routes, you’ll have to transfer between minivans multiple times, causing much delay. (The 4000 Islands in Laos to Phnom Penh route is notorious for this.) The only solution is to be patient and to take estimated travel times with a pinch of salt.

Suggested itineraries

Below are some itineraries that include the best destinations in Cambodia. You can use them as a guideline to help you make the most of your trip!

Backpacking Cambodia: A One-Week Itinerary

Day 1 – Phnom Penh

The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has a Wild West ambiance, with dusty streets and a “devil may care” atmosphere. It has a few good attractions and an up-and-coming foodie scene.

The main attraction is the Royal Palace. Start there, and don’t miss the beautiful flower gardens and the Silver Pagoda, whose floor is made up of more than 5,000 silver tiles; inside is an emerald-covered Buddha and a diamond-covered Maitreya Buddha. It also has murals around its outer wall that tell the story of the Ramayana.

On the palace grounds are five stupas, with the two largest to the east containing the ashes of King Norodom and King Udung (the two most famous kings of modern Cambodia) and a statue of King Norodom on horseback. Admission is $10 USD for foreigners.

After seeing the palace, learn about the country’s tragic, not-too-distant history. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a former school where the Khmer Rouge interrogated and tortured people in the 1970s. You’ll see rusty beds and torture devices, in sharp contrast to the beautiful trees and lovely jasmine smell in the gardens. Admission is $5 USD for adults and $3 USD for anyone under 18.

Afterward, head to the Killing Fields, about 14km from Tuol Sleng. Although a visit to Choeung Ek (the best-known site) may not be the most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, it makes for a hallowed and memorable experience, a testament to the dangers of uncontested power. You won’t believe the memorial building in the center that is filled with skulls. Admission is only $3 USD; expect to pay at least $15 USD for a return-trip tuk-tuk ride.

Tip: Visit the museum before heading to the Killing Fields, as it will open your eyes to the atrocities that happened here.

Where to Stay in Phnom Penh: Sla Boutique Hostel – This is a pretty nice hostel not far from restaurants, bars, and attractions. It’s clean, and the beds are comfy and have privacy curtains. The staff (especially Mr. Star) are super friendly, and they can really help you plan your trip.

Day 2 – Phnom Penh

Spend your second day wandering around the city, and start by seeing the Independence Monument, designed by architect Vann Molyvann and inaugurated in 1958. It was created to mark Cambodia’s independence from French rule, though it also serves as a de facto war memorial. It’s one of the biggest landmarks in the city and a good place to start your day.

If you’re in the city on a weekend, try to catch an architectural walking tour with KA Tours, which has excellent guides who are students or experts in architecture, plus they’re not very expensive at around $15.

Check out the Cambodian Living Arts Center, a traditional dance school and performance center where you can watch students in training and see traditional live theatre. This is a fun way to spend a couple of hours while learning about the artistic traditions of the country. You can also take part in a workshop, which last around 90 minutes and cost $15 USD per person.

Make sure you stroll along Sisowath Quay on the Mekong River. The 3km walkway is busy and full of restaurants, bars, cafés, and shops.

Day 3 – Sihanoukville

Get an early start and take a five-hour bus ride to Sihanoukville, named after the ruling prince of Cambodia in 1964. It was a lazy beach town until about 2010, when it took off with travelers (and tons of Chinese and Russian tourists on package tours) because of its white-sand beaches, nearby deserted islands, excellent diving, and delicious seafood. Its varied nightlife filled with cheap booze makes it the premier backpacker party city in Cambodia.

If you’re looking to soak up some sun, Independence Beach and Otres Beach are probably your best bets. Serendipity Beach used to be a great party spot, but there’s a lot of Chinese development going on now, so I wouldn’t stay there.

Where to Stay in Sihanoukville: Monkey Republic – This hostel is awesome. It’s a happening place, with a bar, restaurant, and pool. The staff is really friendly, and they host a lot of events. (Say hi to Aaron for me!) They can also organize a lot of day trips for you too.

Day 4 – Sihanoukville

Today is a day for day trips.

From Sihanoukville, hop on a boat and take a 45-minute ride to Koh Rong. While you can stay overnight, if you’re pressed for time, you can do it in a day trip. The beaches here are way better than on the mainland (and a lot less polluted). Snorkeling day trips cost approximately $21 USD and include lunch and equipment; there are PADI-certified schools in the area that offer a variety of different dive trips for one or more days.

If you don’t feel like heading to Koh Rong, you could book motorbike trip into Bokor National Park (as well as longer, multiday trips if you’re interested). There, you can hike through a great rainforest or see the atmospheric ruins of the French aristocracy for whom Bokor was a big draw back in the day. You’ll have some amazing views and find ruins, waterfalls, and temples all around.

You could also do a day trip to Kampot and the pepper fields in that area too.

Day 5 – Siem Reap

It’s gonna be a busy travel day. From Sihanoukville, you’ll need to return to Phnom Penh and then get on another bus to Siem Reap. I recommend Capitol Tours. It’s a 12-hour ride, so it’ll be evening by the time you get to Siem Reap.

Note: It’s better to take the night bus so as not to waste a day. You won’t sleep well, but you also won’t lose a day!

Siem Reap is located on the northeastern side of Tonle Sap Lake and is the main access to Angkor Wat. The center remains a rural old town, with French-style houses and shops. The area around the Old Market is crowded with locals and foreigners all day long.

Where to Stay in Siem Reap: Topsky Hostel – This hostel offers basic accommodations in a pretty quiet area that’s not far from the action. Try to get a lower bunk with a privacy curtain. The friendly staff will help you arrange a tuk-tuk and activities too.

Day 6 – Siem Reap

Spend your day at Angkor Wat, the ancient city that was the center of the Khmer Empire that once ruled most of Southeast Asia. The temple was built in the 12th century and covers over 500 acres.

The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, and Angkor Thom. I would recommend getting a multiday pass so you can visit some of the outer temples where there are fewer visitors. You can hire a tuk-tuk for the day for around $20-25 USD or rent bicycles and explore on your own.

Angkor Wat is open daily from 5am to 6pm. Admission is $37 USD per person for a day pass, $62 USD for a three-day pass, and $72 USD for a seven-day pass.

Day 7 – Siem Reap

Enjoy your last day in Cambodia by exploring more of the Siem Reap area. Head over to the Angkor Wat complex for several more hours in the morning and then head over to astonishing Banteay Srei.

Known as “the city of women,” this temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and features a number of outstanding red sandstone statues. (You need an Angkor Wat Pass to visit.)

If you have time, visit Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. It is 52km (32 miles) from Siem Reap. Sailing down the river and around the lake gives you a look at how closely Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. Tours start around $2.50 USD per person.

Backpacking Cambodia: A Two-Week itinerary

Want to spend more time in Cambodia? Great! You should! There are tons of other places to visit. Here are my suggestions:

Days 1 & 2 – Phnom Penh

Follow the Phnom Penh itinerary from above.

Day 3 & 4 – Sihanoukville

Follow the Sihanoukville itinerary from above.

Day 5 & 6 – Koh Rong

Head out to Koh Rong, which got its name after the legend of a giant King Kong–like ape that once called the island home. It’s a 45-minute trip from Sihanoukville and a great place to relax on the beach or go snorkeling. There are a lot of accommodation options, and it’s a popular spot with backpackers.

Day trips costs around $25 USD and include lunch and snorkeling equipment, but since you have the time, spend a few nights here relaxing and enjoying beach life.

There are also other islands nearby if you want to stay longer and explore, including Koh Rong Samloem, which is becoming something of a backpacker paradise (there’s even a Full Moon Party there now).

Days 7 & 8 – Kep

In the morning, travel by bus to Kep, which is about two hours from Sihanoukville. This quaint beach town and fishing village is the quiet version of Sihanoukville: a nice place to relax near the ocean but without a party atmosphere. It’s famous for its pepper crab and empty beaches.

Consider taking two full days here. Sure, it’s quite sleepy and there’s not a lot to do, but it’s the perfect place to relax, eat all the delicious crabs the city is famous for, and read a book. You can also spend some time on nearby Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay) too, a secluded and charming escape from the world if you’re looking to disconnect. Basic bungalows can be rented for under $10 USD per night.

Where to Stay in Kep: Khmer House Hostel – Kep is pretty spread out, so wherever you stay, make sure you rent a bike or scooter. This hostel is a good option as it’s not far from the Crab Market.

Day 9 – Kampot

The southern region of Cambodia is filled with pepper farms where you can learn about the history of the spice, see how it is grown, and pick up what is considered some of the finest pepper in the world.

I’d spend one night in Kampot. It’s another quiet town on the coast. Most people come here to enjoy the scenic riverside views as well as the rolling hills that surround the city. The area used to be a getaway for the French, so you’ll see old French architecture around.

At night, the street near the old bridge is lined with fruit shake vendors. Try a million. The city is famous for them.

Also, if you only do one thing in this entire itinerary, make sure it’s eating the ribs at The Rusty Keyhole. They are some of the best ribs I’ve ever had in my entire life. You have to order them the day before. You’ll also get healthy side of mashed potatoes and coleslaw too. It’s one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I still dream of it.

Where to Stay in Kampot: The Magic Sponge – This is one of my favorite hostels in Cambodia. Make sure you book early, as it tends to sell out. It’s a really nice, relaxed guesthouse where you’ll get your own bed (not a bunk). You’ll feel at home here, and it’s a short walk to the center of town. The dorm rooms are very clean. They also have a little mini-golf course too.

Day 10 – Kampot

Today, hire hire a tuk-tuk driver to explore the Kampot area. The Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple has a religious shrine inside, or you can head out and spend the day in Bokor, as Kampot is relatively close to the park.

Days 11, 12, & 13 – Siem Reap

Follow the Siem Reap itinerary from above. Angkor Wat is best seen slowly, so use your days to explore it as much as possible. There are a lot of out-of-the-way temples to visit that are free of crowds.

Day 14 – Siem Reap

On your last day in Cambodia, why not take a cooking class? The class sizes tend to be around six people, and you will learn to prepare three different meals, as well as get recipe cards at the end. Prices start around $20 USD per person; local guesthouses can help arrange a class.

Backpacking Cambodia: A Three-Week Itinerary

Have even more time for Cambodia? Good! Cambodia has a lot more to it than the major spots on the backpacker trail.

Days 1, 2, & 3 – Phnom Penh and Kirirom National Park

Follow the above suggestions, but also head out to Kirirom National Park for a day trip. This park has all sorts of walking trails, mountain biking trails, waterfalls, and a few lakes. It’s a good place to go to take a break from the city.

The park is around a two-hour drive from the city, so you’ll need to hire a driver for the day. The best way to do this is to find some travelers to join you so you can share a ride, which will cost around $80 for the day.

Days 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8 – Sihanoukville and the Islands

Follow the above suggestions but at a much slower pace!

Days 9, 10 & 11 – Kep and Rabbit Island

Follow the above suggestions for Kep, but head out to Rabbit Island for a rustic island getaway.

Days 12 & 13 – Kampot

Follow the above suggestions!

Days 14, 15, & 16 – Siem Reap

Follow the above suggestions!

Day 17 – Koh Ker

For a fun day trip from Siem Reap, head to Koh Ker, located around 2.5 hours from town. Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the Khmer Empire, and many of the temples here are over 1,000 years old. It’s a massive archeological site located in the jungle, and it sees far fewer tourists than Siem Reap.

There are no public buses that go there (the roads were only paved a few years ago), so you’ll have to arrange transportation via your hostel or hotel.

Day 18 – Phnom Kulen

For another fun day trip, head to Phnom Kulen, considered the country’s most sacred mountain. It’s located just 50km from Siem Reap and offers some amazing jungles, hiking, and picturesque waterfalls where you can take dip to beat the heat. You can easily spend a day here. If you head up to the summit, there are some great views as well as a large reclining Buddha statue. Try to arrive early as the park fills up by lunchtime. Admission to the park is $20 USD.

Day 19 – Battambang

From Siem Reap, you can take a three-hour bus to Battambang. Or try taking a riverboat on Tonle Sap for a unique experience (there is one boat per day, with tickets costing around $20 USD per person).

When you arrive, you’ll discover Cambodia without the tourism. Get familiar with Battambang by exploring the town on foot (or by tuk-tuk). Check out the Phsar Boeung Choeuk and Phsar Naht markets. You’ll also want to visit the gorgeous pagodas and temples, such as Wat Pippitharam (near the Old Market), Wat Bovil, Wat Kandal, and Wat Damreay Sar.

In the evening, check out the Battambang Circus. The show is put on by students at a Cambodian nonprofit arts school, so your donations go to a good cause.

Where to Stay in Battambang: Sophea Hostel – This is a good place to meet locals and make some friends. It’s family-run, and they try to make you feel at home. The facilities are pretty basic, but typical, dorms. There’s a nice garden and sitting area. While there’s no restaurant on-site, there are plenty of nearby options.

Day 20 – Battambang

Take it easy this morning by touring the town a bit more on foot. Check out the colonial architecture along the waterfront and the governor’s residence. This building from the early 1900s is not open, but you can marvel at the exterior.

While you’re wandering, don’t miss the Art Deco central market building and the Victory swimming pool (where you can take a dip if you’re in the mood). You may want to visit the Battambang Museum; admission is just $1 USD, and you’ll learn a lot about the history of the area.

After lunch, you should grab a tuk-tuk and head a bit out of town to check out Phnom Sampeu. Take about an hour to climb to the monastery on the hill. You’ll also find some caves in the area with Buddhist temples in them. There’s also another cave at the foot of Phnom Sampeu; this is where you want to be around dusk, when millions of bats fly out of the cave in search of food. It’s an incredible sight!

Day 21 – Siem Reap or Phnom Penh

Make your way back to one of these towns, depending on where your flight is leaving from. Enjoy the bus ride, knowing it’s your last in Cambodia (at least for now)!

Places to visit in Cambodia

Below are my favorite destinations in Cambodia, complete with helpful information on what to see, do, and where to stay!

Backpacking Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a busy, happening city, home to the spectacular Royal Palace and nestled right on the Mekong River. The city is wonderfully affordable; you can find the cheapest accommodation in the southern and central areas of Phnom Penh.

The city has risen from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge, led by tyrant Pol Pot. It’s important to visit S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields while you’re in Phnom Penh, to get a proper understanding of the country you are travelling through. For those of you who glimpse the evidence of genocide and mutter “this would never happen back home” it is important to note that both the US and UK governments supported the Khmer Rouge with weapons and supplies in an effort to destabilise neighbouring Vietnam.

Both S-21 Prison & the Killing Fields have a somber feel, be prepared for a unique, heavy and heartbreaking experience and please remember to be respectful! A tuk tuk to the S-21 prison, killing fields and back to the city should cost around $8, which can be split between 4 people.

It is also worth visiting the National Museum, Independence monument, and the Silver Pagoda if you’re in Phnom Penh whilst backpacking Cambodia. For shopping head to the Central Market to browse (not to buy, prices here are inflated!) and the Russian Market for pirated DVDs, CDs and fake designer clothes.

Whilst in Phnom Penh you can also visit one of the many firings ranges to shoot an AK47, M16, RPG or anything else that takes your fancy. You can shoot heavy machine guns, throw a grenade or blow a target away with a desert eagle; all for a price.

If you’re backpacking Cambodia in November, try to tie in visiting Phnom Penh with the Water Festival. It’s one of the largest festivals in Cambodia and the city comes alive with a carnival atmosphere during this period. It does get busy during this period, however, so make sure that you book a hostel in Phnom Penh in advance.

Backpacking Kampot & Kep

Kampot is a quaint riverside town located at the base of the Elephant Mountains. You can explore the town by bicycle, check out the French colonial architecture and indulge in delicious food. If you love Italian food you need to visit the rustic street food restaurant ‘Ciao’. It’s cheap, authentic and made from scratch!

The sunset cruise is a great way to spend the evening, cruising along the river with the fireflies & watching the sunset. Nearby is the Arcadia waterpark, where you can spend the day getting drunk, sliding into the river, jumping off inflatables and kayaking. Entry is $5 each or free if you stay at Arcadia Hostel.

Drive past and stop at the pepper plantations and salt fields before traveling to Kep. It’s a 35-minute drive and you can have a dip in the ocean as soon as you arrive! Kep is home to a beautiful national park with a trek known as the “Stairway to heaven”. The trail leads to an incredible view and pagoda at the top of the hill.

Backpacking Sihanoukville & Otres Beach

Sihanoukville is a party town and gateway to explore the breathtaking islands when backpacking Cambodia. The coastline is dominated by long stretches of beach and a stunning waterfall nearby. Otres Beach is far south of town and is the main hangout for backpackers who want to relax on the beach during the day and party at night.

There’s a mixture of cheap bungalows, chill guesthouses, fancy resorts, and funky backpacker hostels in both Sihanoukville and the Otres area. Otres has a great backpacker vibe, so if you’re sticking around for a few days either before or after visiting the islands, I’d recommend staying around the Otres 2 area.

Backpacking Koh Rong

If you’re looking to find the best parties in Cambodia, then Koh Rong is the place for you. Development of the island has negatively impacted the charm and chilled out vibe of Koh Rong, particularly around the Koh Touch area. Although some parts of the island are extremely touristic, a large area is still covered by dense forest and you can still find secluded laid back spots on the island.

The backpacking scene in Koh Rong is home to the best parties in Cambodia, particularly around Koh Touch. Here you’ll find DJs, live music, BBQs, and one hell of a party. Nights tend to escalate here, next minute you’re 3 buckets deep, skinny dipping in the ocean and have to run back to your hostel half naked because someone stole your clothes… That’s a normal night out, so you can only imagine the craziness during the full moon parties. This is a great party area when backpacking Cambodia, however it’s not the best place on the island to chill during the day.

You shouldn’t swim at some beaches, as it’s not safe due to the wastewater being pumped out into the ocean. If you go to the bathroom at a restaurant on some beaches, you can literally see the pipes that run from the restaurant into the ocean. Although more and more guesthouses, hostels, bars and restaurants continue to pop up, they’ve yet to solve the islands waste management.

You can still find laid back and somewhat secluded area’s on Koh Rong, like Sok San Beach, Coconut Beach and Palm Beach. The beaches here are absolutely breathtaking, filled with coral reefs, marine life and the fluorescent plankton at night. It’s a great place to relax, sunbake, snorkel and a poplar dive spot too.

Ferries to Koh Rong run regularly from Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Samloem daily. Make sure you visit an ATM prior to arriving, as there’s no ATMs  on the island. If you do get stuck & run out of money, you can borrow money against your passport from Bong’s bar, however you have to pay an extra 10% on top of what you borrowed.

Backpacking Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samleom is what Koh Rong was about 10 years ago, before the negative impact of tourism and development. This is the one place I’d recommend everyone go when they travel to Cambodia. The island is still fairly untouched, with only a few resort options on the island. Majority of the island is covered by dense jungle, so there are no roads and the only option to explore the island is by hiking. You can get a boat to other beaches around the island if you don’t feel like hiking.

Ferry’s frequently run to Koh Rong Samloem from Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. They drop you off at Saracen Bay, it’s the most touristic part of the island and so I’d recommend leaving there as soon as possible. However it’s one of the only parts of the island that has Wi-Fi.

Make sure you check out Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach while you’re on the island. They’re two of my favorite spots that make you feel like you’re living totally off the grid, in a tropical paradise. There isn’t much of a social backpacking scene on these parts of the island, so if you’re looking to relax, socialize and party at night, then visit Mad Monkey Hostel. They have a free boat, which coincides with the ferry dropping you off at Saracen Bay.

You can fish, swim, snorkel, island hop, and dive on Koh Rong Samloem. At night be mesmerised by the luminous trails the phytoplankton leave behind. This island is pure bliss and I’d come back in a heartbeat!

Backpacking Battambang

Battambang is an awesome place to visit whilst backpacking Cambodia. You get a true taste of genuine Cambodian life by visiting the crumbling temples, caves, bamboo train and quaint little villages.

It’s a little bit more touristic than I imagined; however, the countryside is utterly beautiful. This is a great ‘off the beaten path’ destination and it makes sense to head here, hire a motorbike and then just explore.

The main attraction here is the bamboo train, which takes you along a railway to a small village. Be aware of the children from the village. You think they’re just being friendly when they tell you information about the place (without asking); they will demand money from you when you leave for their “service”.

Backpacking Siem Reap

If you’re backpacking Cambodia then you’ll most likely be stopping off in Siem Reap, one of the best places to stay in Cambodia. It’s the main tourist destination and is visited by over one million people who’re travelling Cambodia every year.

Majority of people who travel to Cambodia come to visit the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat dubbed the most incredible man made piece of architecture. The ruins here are really impressive; however, I personally prefer the temples and atmosphere in Bagan, Myanmar, and Hampi, India.

The entrance fee is very expensive itself, and as you pay depending on how many days you want to spend on the site. The ticket price has doubled since the 1st of February 2017 as an effort to deter potential tourists from visiting. If you’re on a broke backpacker’s budget, I’d recommend skipping Angkor Wat to visit Banteay Chhmar. It’s comparable to Angkor Wat, but without the million tourists. This hidden yet massive temple complex is located just two hours from Siem Reap.

If you have your heart set on visiting Angkor Wat, I’d hire a tuk tuk for the day to explore the massive temple complexes. I was recently in Siem Reap exploring Angor Wat and was shown around by Mr. Phal – A friendly knowledgable guide who made her stay extra special. You can reach him on Whatsapp: +85587854593

If you have four people in a tuk tuk then the price is relatively cheap. You can either do the small loop that hit’s all the major sites, like Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and four + more temples.

The big loop includes the small loop + six other temples. I did the one day small loop tour of the Angkor complex, starting at sunrise over Angkor Wat. By the end of the day I was all temple-d out! It’s absolutely incredible there, however there’s only so many temples you can see in one day.

I highly recommend visiting the Landmine Museum, which makes for a really interesting and rather poignant side trip while you’re in Siem Reap and backpacking Cambodia. There is also a floating village in Siem Reap, however I wouldn’t recommend it.

The stilt huts over the river and crazy floating boat structures are cool, however there are a lot of scams within the area. A guy tried to con me into paying 80,000 kip to feed the “orphan” children. Instead of giving money, I actually bought them fruit which they threw on the floor in front of me… If you really want to make a difference, pick your battles.

Siem Riep has a truly crazy nightlife and is packed with backpackers looking for a good time, be sure to check out some of the best bars in Siem Riep whilst you’re there. Pub Street is the main place to go out and is packed with bars all in a close proximity.

Getting Off the Beaten Path in Cambodia

You can easily spend months backpacking Cambodia; there many things to explore and discover here, hence why many backpackers over-stayed their visa. You just do not want to leave. If you have the time to thoroughly backpack Cambodia, You’d definitely explore more of the islands and backpack around the northwest region of Cambodia.

Koh Rong Samloem was by far my highlight of Cambodia. I’ve never seen an island like it! There are no roads anywhere on the island; everything is accessible either by boat or hiking. Only a few places on the island have Wi-Fi, power is limited and it truly feels like you’re living off the grid. Sure there are a few fancy resorts, but majority of the island is undeveloped and it boasts some of the best beaches in Cambodia.

The water is crystal clear, turquoise blue, the sand is powdery and white! Koh Rong Samloem is well known for it’s incredible diving sites and nature. Watch the sun set over the ocean from Sunset Beach and the ocean come alive at night with the bioluminescent plankton. There are no ATM’s at all on the island, so be sure to visit an ATM prior to getting stuck here in paradise.

Kulien Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is the largest protected area in Cambodia & is home to many critically endangered animals. If you truly want to explore off the beaten path and be among nature then you’ll love this area.

Near the region is one of Cambodia’s best-kept secrets, Bantey Chhmar. It’s comparable to Angkor Wat but without the million tourists, this hidden yet massive temple complex is located just two hours from Siem Reap. Bantey Chhmar is Cambodia’s 4th largest Angkorian temple, but due to its remote location tourism has hardly affected the region.

Top things to do in Cambodia

Below is a quick list of the top 6 things you have to do when backpacking Cambodia!

1. Explore the Angor Wat and Banteay Chhmar Temples

Okay, I know I mentioned it's expensive and crowded, but there is a reason why. This is one of the most impressive temples in the world! As I mentioned earlier, skip the crowds by heading to Banteay Chhmar as well.

2. Beach Bum Koh Rong Samloem

No roads and all beach. This is the island to visit to get away from it all.

3. See Glowing Planktons on Koh Rong

Koh Rong's beaches light up at night! For a truly exciting experience, try snorkeling amongst the glowing plankton.

4. Explore the Country by Bike

The trails in Cambodia can be quite challenging, but it's totally worth it to explore the countryside, escape the crowds, and discover breathtaking waterfalls. As for the cities, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are ideal to explore on wheels.

5. Bathe Elephants

Make sure to head over to the Mondulkiri Project, 5 hours from Phnom Penh, where you can trek, bathe, and care for the free roaming elephants. Do not support businesses that mistreat the elephants via chains, riding, circus acts, etc.

6. Go on a Yoga Retreat

If you’re a traveling yogi and looking to up your game, check out Blue Indigo Yoga Retreat in Siem Reap - I spent a week here getting strong and flexible in Summer 2018 and found it to be an absolutely amazing experience. With great instructors, a challenging but progressive program and cool hangout areas, Blue Indigo yoga courses are fairly priced and well worth dropping in to.

Cambodia Backpacking Cost

You will be happy to hear that backpacking Cambodia is not expensive at all. The accommodation is affordable, the food is cheap, and the transport is reasonably priced.

Typical backpacking costs in Cambodia

Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hostels start at around $4 USD per night. Private rooms in hostels and guesthouses generally go for $5-10 USD per night, depending on where you are in the country. Free WiFi is the norm for hostels these days, and a few will also include free breakfast. You can get comfortable guesthouse rooms for $15-20 USD with air con, TV, and other amenities.

Beyond that, the sky is the limit but I’ve never needed to spend more than $25 USD per night for luxury in this country! Airbnb is available in the major cities, with prices starting around $10 USD per night for shared accommodation. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay closer to $30 USD per night.

Food – Food is very cheap in Cambodia. Local street vendors will cost you about $1-2 USD per meal, and basic restaurant meals will cost between $3-5 USD. Western meals at nice restaurants go between $5-15 USD per person.

If you want to splurge, you can get some really world-class food in Phnom Penh these days for around $8-10 USD. If you plan on buying your own groceries and cooking your own meals expect to pay between $20-25 USD per week, depending on your diet. Stick to local markets for the cheapest produce.

Transportation – Local city transportation is cheap, costing only a few dollars. Tuk-tuks can be found on every corner in the big cities, though be sure to negotiate a price in advance (usually not more than $5 USD depending on the distance). Renting a driver for the day will set you back between $15-20 USD, and most hostels can help you arrange finding one.

Generally speaking, you can get a bus anywhere in the country for under $20 USD. For example, buses depart regularly from Siem Reap into Thailand for as little as $15 USD each way. Both buses and mini-buses also make the journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh daily for $10 USD per person.

Activities – Those planning on visiting Angkor Wat (and you should be!) should factor in the cost of the entrance fee, which is around $40 USD per day. Also, be sure to factor in the cost to travel there. Other tours, hikes, and entrance fees are between $10-20 USD depending on the length and popularity of the activity.

Suggested backpacking budget

How much does it cost to visit Cambodia? Not a lot! It’s a super cheap place to travel. If you’re backpacking Cambodia, you’ll spend around $25 USD per day. This will get you a dorm room (or even a private hostel room in some cases if you lower your other costs), food from the street stalls, a few drinks a day, a few tours day tours, and local transportation around the country. If you’re visiting Angkor Wat (you likely are), factor in the fact that the entry fee is $40 USD. If you stay in dorms, you could travel for even less.

A mid-range budget of $40 USD will get you a budget hotel room with air conditioning, some sit-down meals at nicer restaurant, as many drinks as you want, and any tours and excursions you want too! This amount goes a long way in Cambodia and you really won’t have any problems doing anything you want. You still won’t be in the nicest digs or eat the fanciest meals but you’ll want for nothing.

On a “luxury” budget of $65 USD or more a day, the sky is the limit! You can stay at nice, chain hotels, full apartments, resorts, eat world-class meals, or opt for private tours! This country doesn’t cost a lot of money and $65 a day or more can get you whatever you need! The more you want to spend, the nicer things will get!

Note: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you paying for really small things on the street, but for the most part, use USD.

Here’s a suggested breakdown of your daily budget:

Type Accommodation Food Transportation Attraction Average Cost
Backpacker $3-10 $2-5 $5 $10-15 $25
Mid-Range $10-15 $10-15 $5-10 $10-20 $40
Luxury $25-35 $10-20 $20 $10-20 $65

 

Money saving tips

Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia. There really aren’t any big money saving tips here unless you go out of your way to find the most expensive things to see or do. Food, accommodation, and transportation are all dirt cheap here but, if you really want to pinch some pennies, here are a few tips on how to save extra money in Cambodia:

  1. Minimize your drinks – Every drink is a dollar and before you know it, you’ve spent more money on beer than on food and accommodation. There’s no reason this country should cost you more than $20 USD per day but if you drink a lot, you’ll need a slightly higher budget.
  2. Stay put – You can usually negotiate a discount at a hostel if you stay for a week or longer.
  3. Book tours and day trips as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple things. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you.
  4. Don’t book in advance – Don’t book any tours or activities before you get to your destination. They’ll be much cheaper when you arrive as you’ll be able to negotiate a lower price. Anything you see online is going to be more expensive than you need to pay!
  5. Eat on the street – You can pick up tasty local fare for cheap! Street side snacks, soups, and noodles will keep your wallet fat! Markets are your best bet for finding seriously cheap and delicious food. Street stalls are the staple diet of locals in the region and should be your staple too. The food is the best too.
  6. Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value here. Bargain with sellers as most of the time, the price they’ve quoted is way higher. There’s a haggling culture in the region so play the game and save some money. You’ll never get the local price but you might come close!
  7. Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Cambodia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you.

When to go backpacking to Cambodia

The best time of the year to backpack Cambodia is in peak season (November-February), known as cool season. The temperature is warm enough to sunbake by the beach, but mild enough to explore Cambodia's many temples without dying of heat stroke. The prices tend to increase during peak season; however, it’s the most comfortable time of the year to backpack Cambodia.

If you’re planning to backpack Cambodia during wet season (May-September), be prepared for the challenges you face ahead. Cambodia has many dirt roads that quickly turn to mud during wet season. It can be rather dangerous to drive your motorcycle through mud as it’s slippery & your bike will have less traction. It’s also not  fun trekking and doing day trips in the wet season. You don’t want the weather to rain on your parade whilst travelling in Cambodia.

During hot season temperatures and humidity rise to an uncomfortable level. Some travellers find the heat unbearable, particularly those from Britain and Scandinavia. I’m quite used of the heat since I’m from Australia and some days even tested my tolerance to the heat. Especially since air conditioning is a luxury, when backpacking Cambodia.

How to get to Cambodia

If you are flying into Cambodia, you can arrive at either the Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville or Siem Reap airport. Otherwise, for those already backpacking in Southeast Asia and crossing by land...

Travel to Cambodia from Laos

Veun Kham/ Dom Kralor is the only option to travel from Laos to Cambodia. Evidently, it’s quite a popular border crossing for backpackers who travel to Cambodia. There are signs & people to direct you where to go, so crossing into Cambodia is super simple.

Travel to Cambodia from Vietnam

Bavet/Moc Bai is undeniably the most frequently used crossing to travel from Vietnam to Cambodia via land. It was the first crossing to open up for foreign travellers, and it is popular when travelling from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Phnom Penh. The border gate is open from 8 am to 8 pm every day & is easy to navigate.

If you’re going to travel to Cambodia from Vietnam via the Mekong River, then Kaam Samnor/ Ving Xuong is your only option. I took the slow boat from Chau Doc to the boarder, then a mini van to Phnom Penh. You can also get a fast boat along the Mekong River to Phnom Penh, however, it’s much more expensive.

You arrive at the border by boat, they collect your passport/visa, money & then they head to the immigration office to do all the paperwork for you. If you really want, you can go with them, but it’s not necessary. The only part you have to be present for is when they stamp your passport & cross check your identity. This crossing seems kind of dodgy as there are no signs and only dirt roads; however, we managed to get across just fine, it’s all part of the experience when you’re backpacking Cambodia.

Travel to Cambodia from Thailand

There are two main border crossing for travellers coming from Thailand to Cambodia:

1. Aranyaprathet/Poipet is definitely the craziest border crossing when you travel to Cambodia from Thailand, as it’s the closest border crossing to Siem Reap & Bangkok. In peak periods crossing times can be in excess of 3 hours, depending on popularity. If you want to avoid the long lines & wait times, you can opt for an e-visa online, however, it’s a tad more expensive than on arrival.

2. Hat Lek/Ko Kong is the most convenient crossing if you’re heading to Sihanoukville in Cambodia from the Kho Chang region in Thailand but (but last I checked) you can’t enter using an e-visa at this boarder. Be wary of scams at this crossing and Poipet, there have been numerous reports of Cambodian officials asking for absurd amounts of money for visa’s on arrival. Look into getting a Cambodian e-visa if you want to avoid the risk of getting ripped off, but remember to check valid entry points. These problems do not generally exist with arrival into airports. To get a tuk tuk from the Cambodian boarder to Kho Khong should cost between 92,000- 120,00 Cambodian Riel.

Entry Requirements for Cambodia

To backpack Cambodia, you need a passport that’s valid for at least six months. Over one hundred and fifty nationalities can apply for the Cambodia e-visa online through their website. If you like to plan ahead and not deal with the stress of getting a visa on arrival at the border, then an e-visa is perfect for you. Note though, it can take at least 3 days to process the application so applying the night before entry is not an option, also the e-visa can only be used at certain ports of entry into Cambodia.

Your e-visa will give you 3 months (starting from the date of issue) to enter Cambodia and allows you to stay for up to 30 days, with the option of extending your visa. It’s slightly more expensive than a visa on arrival costing you $37 USD opposed to $35 USD. However, we have recent reports (May 2017) that officials are charging $37 USD for Visa on Arrival as well, so be prepared for that.

If you are crossing from Thailand the situation is similar as with crossing into Laos; you will pay more if you buy your Visa on Arrival in Thai Baht (rate seems to be about 1600 Baht, approx. $48USD) rather than US dollars. Usually, you can find someone running a side business exchanging USD, competition generally dictates the exchange rate. You're allowed one 30-day visa extension without leaving Cambodia which sets you back $45 USD.

If you do plan to get your visa on arrival when you travel to Cambodia, make sure you bring 2x passport sized photos. You can get your passport-sized photos taken at the border; however, you leave yourself open to paying what ever price is set by officials. Be sure to bring US dollars with you when entering Cambodia, the exchange rates for other currencies are vastly undervalued and you end up paying more than the actual conversion rate.

If you're pressed for time or need a visa in advance check out iVisa, Ive used them on multiple occasions for sorting my visas.

It isn’t big deal to overstay your visa in Cambodia, however it does get expensive quickly. The fine for overstaying is $20 USD per day. So for instance, if you overstay 5 days you will be required to pay $100 USD upon exiting.

Passport holders from Asean member countries do not require a visa to visit Cambodia.

How to get around Cambodia

Buses and minibuses

The easiest and cheapest way to travel around Cambodia is by bus. A bus will take you everywhere and anywhere you want to go, no matter how far. The backpacker trail is so worn that there is a very well established tourist bus system to take you anywhere. Cambodia’s bus network in particular has improved quite a bit in recent years. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville are the main hubs.

Bus rides from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap start at 10 USD one way, while Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville start from 10 USD. Other routes, like Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, are a bit pricier at 15 USD one way and can go up as high as 35 USD.

Taxis and tuk-tuks 

Tuk-tuks (small shared taxis with no meter) will require a bit of haggling and cost more than local transportation. Taxis and tuk-tuks are normally double to triple what the local transportation is and you often have to haggle for the price. They start really high and you work towards something you are willing to pay. Eventually, you come to a conclusion, which is usually about half the price they started with. Shared taxis for long distance travel is a good idea if you have a group of 3-4 people.

Trains

There’s one train that runs between Poipet to Phnom Penh every second day, with stops in Battambang Pursat. Tickets cost $5-7.

Boat

You can take a boat between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and Siem Reap and Battambang. This isn’t the most efficient or cost-effective way to travel, however. That being said, the 6-hour ferry ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh starts at just $7 USD, and $6 USD between Siem Reap and Battambang and is super scenic.

Hitchhiking in Cambodia

Hitchhiking in Cambodia is another fantastic option for getting around! You can have both good and bad experiences. I was picked up hitchhiking by a local, who just wanted to show me around. He gave me a mini tour of his hometown on the way to our destination and genuinely just wanted me to enjoy my time in Cambodia.

Whereas, I had a different experience hitchhiking from Phnom Penh to Kampot. One guy wanted to charge me twice the price of a bus and thankfully another kind human took me the whole way without asking for anything. If you want to hitchhike whilst backpacking in Cambodia, make sure you have a sign (preferably in Khmer and English), are standing next to the main road and there’s plenty of space for a car to pull over.

Motorbiking in Cambodia

If you want to see what other travellers who backpack Cambodia don’t, then travel by motorcycle. It’s the best and cheapest way to explore Cambodia, just as long as you have a reliable motorbike. In recent years, the main roads and highways have drastically improved making your drive a lot easier. If you plan to head to Vietnam throughout your travels in Southeast Asia and Cambodia, I’d recommend buying a motorbike there.

If you want to save on accommodation, consider buying a motorcycle tent for your adventure as well. You could pack a regular tent but it's better to cover your bike up with you.

If you buy your motorcycle in Vietnam, then you’re able to take it to Laos and Cambodia without needing a special permit. However, you can’t take your Cambodian bought motorbike into Vietnam. Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh has an abundance of motorbikes you can purchase anywhere from $150 USD.

Take note that you can’t transport your motorcycle to the islands, so you’ll need a safe place to store it whilst you enjoy island life.

Where to stay in Cambodia

Cambodia is home to some of the best hostels in South East Asia and has a wicked backpacking scene. You’ll have little trouble finding cheap accommodation for backpackers in Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Kampot, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong and Siem Reap has a huge variety of hostels, home stays and guest houses at an affordable price.

Hostels in Cambodia  start from $3 per night and you can snag a private fan room from just $8 for 2 people. If you want to splash out and stay in a hotel room with TV, air con, and attached bathroom, shop around and you can find a place for as little as $15.

Make sure you book ahead if you want to stay at the popular party hostels, especially in peak season. I don’t usually endorse booking ahead really far in advance; however, it is necessary to book a few days prior if you don’t want to be disappointed.

There are a few cool guesthouses around that are cheaper than some hostels in Cambodia. If you’re backpacking Cambodia as a couple, sometimes it’s cheaper to opt for a private room in a guest house opposed to two dorm beds. You can always hang out at the popular hostels during the day & retreat to your guesthouse at night for a quiet sleep.

Below are a few of my favourite hostels & budget accommodation options when backpacking Cambodia.

Location Accommodation Why Stay Here?
Phnom Penh Mad Monkey Hostel It's known for its parties and awesome backpacker scene. Located away from the red light district.
Phnom Penh The Happy House I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
Kampot Mad Monkey Hostel I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
Kampot Arcadia Backpackers I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
Sihanoukville Monkey Maya  This hostel has chilled vibes and boasts panoramic views of the ocean. It's a secluded natures paradise located 45 min from Sihanoukville.
Sihanoukville Monkey Republic You know a hostel is doing it right when they give you a free beer as you check in. The food here is great and it has a pool. If you're heading to the islands the ferry port is only a 5 min walk away.
Koh Rong Suns of Beaches It's got a great chilled out backpacker vibe in a really remote area on the island. It's a great place to relax and escape the party.
Koh Rong Bong's Guesthouse  Rustic accommodation on the beach right among the party. The all day happy hour is great and it's got a great view from the terrace.
Koh Rong Samloem Mad Monkey Hostel This is the best hostel I've ever stayed at! You have your own private beach, hammocks & swings over crystal clear water. There's no WiFi so the social atmosphere is great. At night everyone party's and watches the fire show on the beach.
Koh Rong Samloem Driftwood Hostel Lovely little place in a quiet part of the island. Great atmosphere with their family dinners. If you don't pre book you can also pitch your tent or stay in a hammock for super cheap!
Siem Reap Onederz Hostel The pool at this hostel is great and it's located right next to the night market. It’s clean, comfortable and has a good social backpacker vibe.
Siem Reap Mad Monkey This is the ultimate party hostel with a rooftop beach bar. You can relax by the pool or in the awesome sun day beds. It’s centrally located close to the nightlife, temples and town.

Gear & Packing List

If you’re heading to Cambodia, knowing what to pack and the kind of backpack to get can be a little daunting. In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.    

What to Pack for Cambodia

Clothes

  • 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 6 T-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
  • 1 pair of flip-flops
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
  • 7 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 tube of toothpaste
  • 1 razor
  • 1 package of dental floss
  • 1 small bottle of shampoo
  • 1 small bottle of shower gel
  • 1 towel
  • Deodorant

Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)

  • Band-Aids
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Antibacterial cream
  • Eyedrops
  • Earplugs
  • Tylenol
  • Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)

Miscellaneous

  • A key or combination lock (safety first)
  • Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
  • Plastic bags (great for laundry)
  • Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
  • LifeStraw (a water bottle with a purifier)

Female Travel Packing List

Below is the list of what a woman needs as an addition to the basics above:

Clothing

  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 sarong
  • 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
  • 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
  • 2-3 long-sleeve tops
  • 2-3 T-shirts
  • 3-4 spaghetti tops

Toiletries

  • 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
  • 1 hairbrush
  • Makeup you use
  • Hair bands & hair clips
  • Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)

Basic backpacking words & phrases

Here are some Khmer travel phrases for travelling around Cambodia. The locals will appreciate your attempts to learn the local language with a huge smile on their faces.

  • Hello – Jum-reap soo-a
  • How are you? – Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea teh?
  • Goodbye! – Joom-reap leah
  • Yes – Baat (men)/ Chaas (Women)
  • No – Dteh
  • Please – Suom mehta
  • Thank you – Or-koon
  • Sorry/excuse me – Sohm dtoh
  • No plastic bag – kmean thng bla ste ch
  • No straw please – kmean chambaeng saum
  • No plastic cutlery please – kmean bla ste ch kabet phka
  • I need a doctor – K`nyom trouv krouh peit
  • I’m lost – K’nyom vung vehng plouv
  • I would like – Khnyom sohm___
  • How much does this cost? – T’lay pohnmaan?

Staying Safe in Cambodia

Generally, Cambodia is a very safe place to travel; Cambodians are warm, open, friendly and appreciative of tourists. You've just got to be aware of a few scams here and there. As always, keep your valuables close!

Watch for the tuk-tuk scams! This is when the driver is on a commission to deliver you to a particular shop/temple/restaurant/hotel/bar. You might be pressured to buy/consume/stay, but don't!

Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Cambodia

The sex scene in Cambodia is on the rise; however, it's mainly in the Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville area. Some places are quite discreet, so discreet that my friend naively suggested we get a drink "Helicopter Bar" because she liked the name...  little did she know that it was a go go bar filled with prostitutes.

Drugs in Cambodia are readily available and effortless to find. Weed and opiates are quite easy to come across, are generally offered to you from tuk tuk drivers. “Happy” pizza places are sprawled all over Cambodia, selling “happy” lassies and “happy” pizzas at a really reasonable price. In general, good marijuana is extremely easy to find and is also quite cheap compared to other South East Asian countries.

It’s surprisingly common to be offered opiates like heroin and pure opium whilst backpacking Cambodia. However, they’re dangerous and many tourists have died whilst taking heroin, mistaking it for cocaine. I’d avoid taking any form of cocaine, speed or ecstasy while travelling Cambodia. It’s not worth the risk and chances are you’re probably getting heroin.

Acid is quite easily available on the islands and Sihanoukville/Otres area. Quite often, they drop the acid on an Oreo or strawberry and it’s typically sold in drops, rather than tabs. Magic mushrooms are also around, however they’re rather expensive to come across.

By far the most commonly used drugs for travellers backpacking Cambodia is pharmaceuticals. You can buy ketamine over the counter if you’re a local, but it’s illegal for foreigners. Valium is a cheap, common drug among travellers backpacking Cambodia. Travellers wanting a similar effect of speed purchase Ritalin over the counter from dodgy pharmacies.

Be careful before diving into the pharmaceutical scene, it can be very dangerous and easy to turn your recreational use into an addiction, due to its ease of access. Don’t carry any form of drugs on you. Otherwise you could end up broke trying to bribe your way out of prison. Check out Blazed Backpackers 101 for tips on how to stay safe whilst partying while traveling.

Dating in Cambodia

Cambodia is typically a very conservative society and will rarely show any public display of affection (PDA). Chatting up girls is not really a thing in Cambodian culture; however, it’s normal to occur in major cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where there are a lot of bar girls looking to make friends with foreigners. Watch your wallet and remember that all humans deserve to be treated with respect - don't get drunk and do anything you would be ashamed to tell your Mum.

The people in major cities are generally less conservative and are open to PDA. Although Cambodia is a conservative society, it’s ironically easy for a foreigner to score a “date”. You do need to be very careful though as sexually transmitted diseases, in particular HIV and AIDS are quite common.

Travel Insurance for Cambodia

A wise man once said that if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t really afford to travel – so do consider backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Traveling without insurance would be risky. I highly recommend World Nomads.

I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They're easy to use, offer the widest coverage, and are affordable. Also, this is the only company I know of that lets you buy travel insurance after leaving on a trip.

If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads. Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple - just click HERE, fill out the necessary info, and you are on your way!

Must-try experience

Meet the People in Cambodia

Cambodian people are friendly and inquisitive. You can expect to be greeted with big smiles!

90-95 percent of the people are Khmer ethnic.

The Khmer Loeu are the non-Khmer highland tribes in Cambodia, and the Cham people in Cambodia descend from refugees of the Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Gao Ha in the north and Bien Hao in the south.

What to Eat in Cambodia

The Khmer food in Cambodia is absolutely delicious. Many Khmer dishes originate or are inspired by their neighbouring Asian countries. You will fall in love with the food whilst backpacking Cambodia.

  • Lok Lak - Is a delicious stir-fried beef dish, served on a bed of lettuce, red onion, cucumbers and tomatoes. The beef is cooked with garlic and tomato sauce. The dipping sauce consists of lime-juice, sea salt and black pepper.
  • Fish Amok - This is probably my all-time favourite Khmer dish whilst backpacking Cambodia. It’s a spicy fish coconut curry served in a banana leaf with a side of rice. Not only is this yellow curry cheap, but also absolutely delicious and a national culinary Cambodian tradition.
  • Bobo - Is a local rice soup dish with spring onions and garlic, commonly eaten for breakfast. It’s a basic yet delicious start to your day, served with garlic, beans, chilli and lime.
  • Lap Khmer - This is a delectable lime-marinated Khmer beef salad, may not be for everyone. The beef is either “cooked” ceviche style using lime juice or seared quickly. It’s quite spicy and has a great flavour with lemongrass, garlic, basil, mint and fish sauce. If you’re eating at a western friendly place then your beef will be cooked properly, however, if you’re eating locally you may be eating rare beef.
  • Khmer Red Curry - This dish is quite similar to a Thai red curry but without the overpowering chili burn. It’s made with your choice of meat or fish, with eggplant, lemongrass, green beans, potatoes, coconut milk and kroeung (Cambodian spice). The Khmer red curry has a French influence and is typically served with bread.

Trekking in Cambodia

Trekking is not typically popular in Cambodia, therefore they tend to be quite expensive. The are two main treks when backpacking Cambodia is Virachey and Phnom Samkos.

Virachey is a common trek when backpacking Cambodia. It’s an environmentally friendly 7-day Ecotour. You trek through remote villages, through the Yak Yeuk Grasslands up to Mera Mountain, finishing right near the Laos border.

Veal Thom Grasslands boats the most spectacular views of the wild, unexplored mountainous border of Laos and Vietnam. Throughout your trek you’ll be spotting gibbons, hornbills, exploring grasslands and swimming in rivers. It’ll be a truly authentic and incredible Cambodian experience.

If you’re looking for a world-class trek that’s completely off the beaten path, then head to Phnom Samkos, Cambodia’s second highest peak. Instead of opting for a tour, arrange it yourself with rangers in Promouy town. It’ll be expensive but one hell of an adventure!

There are no defined trails, so you’ll have to use machetes to make your own trail up to the mountain peak. It’s quite a dangerous trek as it’s extremely remote and there are potential landmines. You’ll be exposed to everything the jungle offers including leeches and wild animals like elephants.

Many people woke up to elephants congregating around their campsite whilst doing the Phnom Samkos trek. The national park insists on you taking two rangers armed with AK47's on your 3-day trek to the summit. Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience, right?

A Brief History of Cambodia

Cambodia has a turbulent history with numerous invasions and battles throughout the years. If you’re backpacking Cambodia, It’s important to have knowledge of their history & how they’ve progressed to be the country they are today.

During the 18th century Cambodia found itself squeezed between two powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The Thais invaded Cambodia several times during this period. In the last years of the 18th century the Vietnamese also invaded Cambodia. The Cambodian king was forced to look to the Thais for protection; in return Thailand took north-west Cambodia.

Cambodia soon turned to France as a protectorate from both Thailand and Vietnam. They were under French rule for the next 90 years, where some economic development took place. They built roads, railways and helped develop the rubber industry. Cambodian nationalism grew during the 1930’s as the French imposed heavy taxes on the Cambodian people.

During the early 1940’s (WWII) the Japanese invaded and occupied Cambodia until 1945 when the French returned as a protectorate. A new constitution was formed allowing Cambodia to have political parties, which led to communist guerrillas to campaign against the French. In 1949 Cambodia became semi independent and soon after King Sihanouk took personal control of the country. Cambodia became fully independent in 1953 and was renamed the Khmer Republic in 1970.

During 1969 the US began a secret bombing crusade against the North of Vietnam on Cambodian soil. Prime Minister Lon Nol then overthrew King Sihanouk in a coup to proclaim the Khmer Republic. Cambodian soldiers were sent to fight the North Vietnamese on home soil. However, the guerrilla/communist movement slowly made progress, leading to the US commencing bombing campaigns against the communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

The Khmer Rouge Regime and the Camboadian Genocide

On the 17th of April 1975, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, captured Phnom Penh and renamed the country Kampuchea. This was the beginning of the world’s worst mass killings of the 20th century. Pol Pot wanted to wipe history clean and start from ‘Year Zero’.

Everyone was forced to abandon their houses, jobs, and possession, and move to the countryside to work in agriculture on collective farms. Pol Pot had a totally unrealistic target of double its agricultural output, to produce 3 tones of rice per hectare, which was literally impossible. Everyone had to work long hours of little food, which led to many falling ill or dying from exhaustion or malnutrition.

Everyone from intellectuals to uneducated were imprisoned, tortured, killed and dumped in mass graves. People, who spoke a foreign language, wore glasses, or had any kind of higher education were executed. Religion was banned, punishable by death, and family relationships were forbidden. People were executed for the smallest infringements, like foraging for food, being too lazy and complaining.

How many people were killed during the Khmer Rouge is unknown, but it’s estimated that between 1.5 – 3 million people perished.
The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1978 to terminate the Pol Pot regime. The Khmer Rouge fled to the border of Thailand, to re-establish The People’s Republic of Kampuchea. They were welcomed with open arms by Thailand, who also feared a Vietnamese invasion. However the guerrilla war continued, the party was still officially internationally recognized and retained their seat in the United Nations.

In 1989 Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia and communism was abandoned. A provisional government took power until the 1993 elections where they framed a constitution. In 1991 the Paris Peace Agreement was signed, reinstating Sihanouk to be head of state. The monarchy was soon restored, Buddhism was recognized as the national religion and Sihanouk became king once again. The country was renamed “Kingdom of Cambodia” and the Khmer Rouge obviously lost their seat in the UN.

Thousands of guerrillas involved in the Khmer Rouge surrendered to the government, in a bid for amnesty. Those involved in the Khmer Rouge were put on trial and Pol Pot was sentenced to life in prison due to his horrendous war crimes. Pol Pot died shortly after in 1998, returning peace to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Cambodia has progressed and developed considerably in a short amount of time. Although it’s still a relatively poor country, the economy is growing rapidly. The textiles and tourism industry is booming, oil was discovered off the Cambodian coastline, which assures Cambodia a prosperous future.

Political Issues to be Aware of in Cambodia

Cambodia is still in the midst of political uncertainty as the government campaigns for a 2018 election. The government has misused the justice system to harass and punish civil society and silence critics.

Human right advocates, public intellectuals, NGOs and the opposition have recently been targeted by this autocratic government. Although the political system is corrupt, it shouldn't affect or impact your travels to Cambodia. Just stay updated on the current political situation in Cambodia

Suggested Reading

First They Killed my Father, by Loung Ung

This is the real life story of Loung Ung, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official living in Phnom Penh until the age of 5. When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army invaded the city in 1975, Ung’s family had to flee and eventually separate. Loung became a child soldier while her siblings were sent to work camps, and this book recounts the devastating horrors she encountered along the way. The documentary of the same name (directed by Angelina Jolie!) is also amazing.

In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner

Raami is just seven years old when her father comes home early one evening, bringing news of the civil war in the streets of Phnom Penh. Not long after, Raami’s world of guarded royal privilege is turned on its head, as the Khmer Rouge moves in to attempt to strip the entire population of its individual identity. As a method of survival, Raami turns inwards and clings to her childhood stories and poems as told to her by her father. This book has tons of international acclaim. It’s a heartbreaking read, but well worth it.

Survival in the Killing Fields, by Haing Ngor

It’s true that so many of these books are about the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, but some of these reads just can’t be overlooked. This one is the true-life story of Haing Ngor, a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. Ngor was a doctor, and so he witnessed firsthand his country’s descent into brutality, slavery, squalor, and starvation – all of which are recounted in his book. It can be difficult to read at times. Since having first published this memoir, Ngor’s life ended with his murder. The perpetrator was never found.

A Woman of Angkor, by John Burgess

Here’s one that takes place during the 12th century, right in the middle of the Angkor civilization. Sray is a young woman who lives behind Behind a stone temple in a little village. Sray has a dangerous secret, and so she lives a quiet life away from the spotlight – until she is summoned to the royal court, where her loyalties are tested by the king Suryavarman II. In the background is her husband Nol, struggling to keep her devotion. This is a fun, imaginative piece of historical fiction that will transport you right into the ancient civilization!

Closing Thoughts

Being a Responsible Backpacker in Cambodia

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, it is not you to travel.

Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.

Be Good to Cambodia

Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer Saigon while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don't fall into this category but, when you're out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself.

It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.

By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer.

Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I've had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn't wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don't look cool for not wearing a helmet.

Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it.

Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.

Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country...

It's Time to Go to Cambodia

Cambodia has a tragic, turbulent past, but as they recover and move on, they welcome tourists with open arms. Beautiful beaches, temples, and undiscovered hikes are reason enough to travel to Cambodia, so get here already!

image
24-hour response
guaranteed!
REQUEST A FREE QUOTE

My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

Comments
SIMILAR BLOG ARTICLES

Choosing the best time to visit Angkor Wat can be a little tricky. You almost have to choose between rain and muddy temple sites or good weather with hordes of people who always seem to be in the way of photographs. Following the typical weather patterns for much of Southeast Asia, the best time to visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia is during the dry season from late November to early April.

Fortunately, with a little timing, you can take advantage of the best times to visit Angkor Wat. Even better, travelers who hire drivers to visit ruins farther afield get rewarded with those Tomb-Raider-Indiana-Jones photos with no other tourists in the backdrop.

...more

Angkor Wat, Cambodia's famous UNESCO World Heritage Site, is breathtaking and thrilling to explore. The temple ruins have a way of igniting the inner archaeologist in all of us. You won't soon forget wandering the sprawling, carved ruins of a once-great civilization!

The history of the City of Temples is riddled with incredible facts and events. For instance, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, but it didn't make the new list of Seven Wonders of the World, and while it was previously rented for profit to an entity outside of Cambodia, the local government took back control in 2019.

...more

Travelers have heard about Cambodia's ancient wonder, but exactly where is Angkor Wat? What does it take to visit?

Fortunately, visiting Angkor Wat no longer requires bushwhacking with a machete, although there are some temples yet to be reclaimed from the jungle. Instead, modern travelers get to enjoy good food and nightlife in Siem Reap before setting off on expeditions.

Other than travelers in Southeast Asia and archeology enthusiasts, it's surprising how many people don't know the location of Angkor Wat. The impressive ruins that make up the world's largest religious monument don't get nearly as much world attention as they should.

Angkor Wat didn't even make the New 7 Wonders of the World list as voted by the internet in 2007. The temples clearly deserved a spot on the list and can hold their own against the likes of Machu Picchu and others.

The ancient ruins of the Khmer empire are the primary reason travelers visit Cambodia -- over two million people crawl all over the UNESCO World Heritage site each year. Angkor wat even appears on the Cambodian flag.

...more

The sky is lightening – it is almost sunrise at Angkor Wat. Squint and you can just about make out a change in the color of it, a shift from inky black to blue black. As the sun rises further it changes more, until it pales enough behind the stonework that you can begin to make out a hulk on the horizon.

You breathe in and get ready to experience one of travel’s true once-in-a-lifetime moments. And then a selfie stick springs up in your eyeline, a bright screen illuminating the darkness. You are jostled from behind and suddenly you cannot see a thing. The stone pinkens in the sunrise ahead but you are marooned the wrong side of the camera-swayers. You miss the window, those crucial moments, in which Angkor Wat is at its most beautiful.

Yes, there is a wrong way to do Angkor Wat. It’s Cambodia’s most visited tourist attraction with more than two million visitors every year. That said, it is possible to see Angkor Wat without the crowds. Find out how below together with 15 best Angkor Wat Tours; but remember: it is a secret.

...more

Laos celebrates many traditional festivals and colourful holidays right throughout the year.  Whilst most festivals in Laos are based on the Buddhist religion and follow the seasonal rice farming cycle, there are also many fascinating animist and minority festivals as well.

Lao festivals, or Boun, typically involve much eating and drinking alongside blaring Lao music.  Celebrations can vary from small villages getting together to celebrate a successful rice harvest to a whole town pretty much shutting down for several days such as during Lao Pi Mai.

Some cultural festivals, like Boun Souang Heua (Boat Racing Festival) and Boun Bang Fai (Rocket Festival), are shared with other neighbouring countries including Cambodia and Thailand.  Others however are particular to Laos, such as the That Luang Festival in Vientiane or the Wat Phou Festival in Champasak.

Since most festivals in Laos are based on the Buddhist lunar calendar, the dates will vary from year to year.  When organising your trip to Laos, use the following list of Laos festivals in order to plan your Laos itinerary around some of them.  Each of the festivals has been grouped by month in order to make your planning easier.  Here are the best holidays and festivals of Laos.

...more

Thailand never fails to amaze its thousands of visitors with the most vibrant festivals that are sure to delight them by offering glimpses into the heritage and traditions of the country. Each month offers an exciting opportunity to be a part of these festivals. From kids to adults and old-aged people, locals have the time of their lives during these festivities. Considered to be one of the best ways to relish a memorable time in what is already known as an incredible country, these festivals in Thailand are the most popular ones to be a part of.

...more
NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below the detailed information for our different destinations, our plans by travel theme or time frame to learn more before moving forward...

places to visit in Cambodia
Siem Reap
bee-white Siem Reap

Tonle Sap Lake
bee-white Tonle Sap Lake

One of the most fish abundant lakes in the world and supports 360 floating villages and thousands of waterbirds.

Phnom Penh
bee-white Phnom Penh

Battambang
bee-white Battambang

Sihanoukville
bee-white Sihanoukville

Koh Rong Island
bee-white Koh Rong Island

Cambodia PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Must-see
bee-white Must-see

Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury
bee-white Luxury

Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Wellness & Leisure
bee-white Wellness & Leisure

Easy excursion combined with week-long beach break

Cruise
bee-white Cruise

The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Cycling
bee-white Cycling

Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Honeymoon
bee-white Honeymoon

Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Unseen
bee-white Unseen

Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Trek & Hike
bee-white Trek & Hike

Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Family
bee-white Family

The combination of fun and educational activities

Cambodia PLANS BY TIME FRAME
white-icon About 1 week
yellow-icon About 1 week
white-icon About 2 weeks
yellow-icon About 2 weeks
white-icon About 3 weeks
yellow-icon About 3 weeks
white-icon About 4 weeks
yellow-icon About 4 weeks
image
Already got a plan? REQUEST A FREE QUOTE
Cambodia TRAVEL TIPS & GUIDE

Either are you wondering about best time to visit, visa policy, or how to get the cheapest flight, we have your back!
WHAT MORE? Choose the country you plan to visit, then search for your nationality below to see our special travel tips & advice for your country. CONTACT US if you cannot find yours.

Best Time to Visit
bee-white Best Time to Visit
Tourist Visa Policy
bee-white Tourist Visa Policy
Budget & Currency
bee-white Budget & Currency
Getting Flight There
bee-white Getting Flight There
Getting Around
bee-white Getting Around
Vaccinations
bee-white Vaccinations
Local Etiquette
bee-white Local Etiquette
Safety & Precautions
bee-white Safety & Precautions
Tipping Customs
bee-white Tipping Customs
Useful addresses
bee-white Useful addresses
Internet & Phone
bee-white Internet & Phone
Buying & Bargaining
bee-white Buying & Bargaining
Packing List
bee-white Packing List
Travel Insurance
bee-white Travel Insurance
CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Vietnam
bee-white Vietnam
A land of staggering natural beauty and cultural complexities, of dynamic megacities and hill-tribe villages, Vietnam is both exotic and compelling.
Thailand
bee-white Thailand
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
Laos
bee-white Laos
Vivid nature, voluptuous landscapes and a vibrant culture collide with a painful past and optimistic future to make Laos an enigmatic experience for the adventurous.
loading
back top