Last updated on July 31, 2023
A small country with a violent past, Cambodia is best known for the ruins of the Khmer Empire located at Angkor Wat. But the country offers a lot more than that to the backpacker or traveler willing to bid adieu to the well-run efficiency of tourism in most of Thailand, and instead experience off-the-beaten path travel that’s a bit rough even when you’re on the most popular routes through Cambodia.
While the tragic events of the Khmer Rouge era have left a lasting impact on the nation, Cambodia has made significant strides in its recovery and is now a welcoming destination with a rich cultural heritage. When you spend even just a day in Cambodia you witness firsthand the indomitable spirit of its people as they strive to rebuild and move forward from the country’s painful past.
Take time to visit the extensive ruins in the Angkor Wat temple complex. Although the main temples and sites are quite busy, it’s well worth your time to glimpse them—and even more worth your time to stay for a few days and visit lesser-known temples. Then wander the chaos of Phnom Penh before paying witness to the killing fields and genocide museums.
Cambodia is a country unlike others in Southeast Asia, both for good and bad—there is a lot of poverty, and voluntourism done poorly has wreaked havoc in some areas, but the Cambodian people are proud, friendly, and have a lot to offer travelers seeking home stays and memorable cultural tourism opportunities.
Cambodia’s Relevant History, Briefly
Following the fall of the Khmer Empire, a new chapter in Cambodia’s history unfolded with the establishment of a new regime in Phnom Penh, marking the birth of modern-day Cambodia. Like its neighboring countries Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia experienced a period of French colonial rule in the mid-19th century, which lasted for approximately 90 years. However, this period was not without interruptions: During World War II, the Japanese occupied Cambodia, temporarily breaking the French rule.
Unfortunately, one of the darkest and most tragic chapters in Cambodia’s history unfolded from 1975 to 1979 under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. In a violent coup, Pol Pot usurped Lon Nol, who was serving as the Prime Minister at that time. The Khmer Rouge’s rule was marked by extreme brutality and repression. Many Cambodians desperately attempted to escape the country, seeking refuge by any means possible. Tragically, over a million Cambodians fell victim to mass murder, forced labor, and other atrocities under Pol Pot’s regime.
In 1979, neighboring Vietnam invaded Cambodia, overthrowing the Khmer Rouge and bringing an end to its oppressive rule. However, Cambodia’s journey toward stability and recovery was far from over. In 1997, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge member, seized power in a coup and has remained in control of the government ever since. His rule, although bringing a degree of political stability, has also been criticized for its authoritarian tendencies and suppression of dissent.
Understanding Cambodia’s complex history is crucial for travelers exploring the country and talking to locals. It helps you gain insight into the resilience and spirit of the Cambodian people. It should also help you understand why it’s not acceptable to discuss that time period with locals unless they bring it up first, or unless you’re at one of the historic sites and/or talking to a tour guide.
Essential Information When Visiting Cambodia
You won’t need a converter when visiting Cambodia as it also uses the 220V/50Hz electrical system (North American plug and two-prong round). And money is pretty simple for Americans—the US dollar is the most commonly used currency in Cambodia and you can withdraw it from ATMs in all major cities. The Cambodian Riel (KHR) (current exchange rate) is also used all over, but usually only for providing smaller change for your US dollar (Cambodia uses U.S. paper currency, not U.S. coins).
If you have a reliable debit card (I highly recommend Schwab as an excellent travel debit card, here’s why), you can withdraw cash as needed throughout your travels in Cambodia—and the hefty ATM fees are reimbursed. Some rural areas may not have ATMs, though, and not all establishments readily accept credit cards—carry enough cash when exploring off-the-beaten-path areas and venturing away from popular tourist destinations.
Also note that many visas in the region are full-page stickers, so be sure you have a lot of room in your passport! And count your days carefully—if it says 30 days on your visa, you will be fined for every day over that!
Can You Drink the Water in Cambodia?
Water in Cambodia is not safe to drink. You will need to drink bottled water. In rural areas especially, use a SteriPen or LifeStraw if you can’t find bottled water (here’s why) and use sterile water even to brush your teeth.
Because you cannot drink the water, you should also steer clear of fresh vegetables from street stalls that have been washed in local water. In very touristy areas, this may be slightly less of a concern, but also—just be cautious.
How is the Internet Access in Cambodia?
Internet access in Cambodia is generally reliable and widely available in urban areas and popular tourist destinations. However, the quality and speed of the internet can vary, especially in more remote or rural areas. Cambodia has made significant progress in expanding its internet infrastructure, and most hotels, restaurants, and cafes offer free Wi-Fi to customers.
If you rely on internet access for your work, or really if you’re in town for more than a day or two, then grab a SIM card in Cambodia and easily surf at 4G+ speeds for less than $10. And Nomadic Notes has a fantastic collection of wifi-friendly cafes across many cities in Southeast Asia.
Is Cambodia Vegetarian Friendly?
Cambodia sees a lot of tourists and backpackers coming through Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, so it’s no surprise that these are the easier areas to find vegetarian-friendly options. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are growing in popularity in these places, and it’s possible to request vegetarian meals in non-vegetarian establishments—but note that even if you ask, the dishes may be prepared with fish or oyster sauce.
Options are limited in rural areas. Fresh fruits (opt for those in a skin like pineapple, banana, etc. versus those needing to be washed), vegetables, and tofu are widely available.
How to Book Accommodation in Cambodia
When you’re finding accommodation in Cambodia, start your searches with Agoda. Agoda offers accommodation around the world, but its coverage and property reviews are best in SEA. Accommodation in Cambodia is cheap, so many backpackers skip the hostels and opt for budget guesthouses and private rooms. You can find both hostels and guesthouses listed on Agoda or Booking.com— and Hostelworld covers Cambodia, too.
If you’re used to using Airbnb or VRBO, these work a bit differently in in Southeast Asia—although you can find private properties for rent, many hotels use it as well. I used Agoda, Booking.com, and a vacation rental site exclusively on my recent three-month Vietnamese backpacking trip and it worked flawlessly. Read these tips that share exactly how I research and book great hotels and guesthouses along my travels.
What to Read Before Visiting Cambodia
- First They Killed My Father: This is the most recommended book for anyone visiting Cambodia—and for good reason. It’s the single best way to begin understanding what the Khmer Rouge did to Cambodia, and it’s staggering impact on every single person and family living in the country during that time.
- When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge: This book offers another riveting child’s-eye view of the horror wrought by the Khmer Rouge.
- The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine: Southeast has a major sex trafficking problem and this is a beautiful story of a woman who made her way through it.
- Lonely Planet Guide: Unless you’re traveling on a true shoestring budget, opt for this one focusing on mainland Southeast Asia.
Is Cambodia Safe to Visit?
Petty theft is your primary safety concern in Cambodia. While violent crimes against tourists and travelers are rare, remain vigilant against opportunistic theft wherever you go, especially during travel days at bus stations, buses, and in the bustling backpacker area of Siem Reap.
Similar to Thailand, it’s considered a crime to speak negatively about the government in Cambodia—do so can result in severe penalties, including lengthy jail sentences. So exercise caution when airing your opinions, and refrain from openly criticizing the government during your travels. In fact, it’s best to just keep any critiques or political discussions to yourself.
Despite the war being over, Cambodia still faces the lingering issue of landmines scattered across fields in certain areas. This is a big safety concern when venturing off-the-beaten-path for hikes, or if you’re motorbiking through the region. Exercise caution and be aware of signs warning of possible minefields. Stay on designated paths and follow local guidance to ensure your safety. Also just be cautious in general when using a motorbike as that’s the among the biggest causes of serious harm for travelers in Cambodia (read up on safety when traveling here).
You may also get sick. Like Laos, Cambodia has a poor sanitation infrastructre and that means you might get sick from drinking the water, or eating fresh food washed in local water. Getting sick from food handling practices is the most likely thing that will jeopardize your safety. Research and familiarize yourself with tips for staying healthy while traveling and read How to Shit Around the World if you’ve never traveled in developing countries before. It provides practical advice for maintaining good health in developing countries.
Lastly, be cautious of scams, particularly in popular tourist hubs like Siem Reap, and at the busy Poipet border between Thailand and Cambodia. Scammers often target tourists in these areas, and there are several common scams that you should be aware of. Stay alert and informed, and be cautious when dealing with unfamiliar individuals or situations. Read up on the most common scams across the region: here and here. Even experienced travelers have fallen victim to these scams.
And since quality healthcare is also hard to find in many areas of Cambodia—you’ll be transferred by medevac to Thailand if something major happens—you should absolutely have travel insurance like IMG Patriot. Travel insurance is a must given the prevalence of diarrheal illnesses and potential for traffic accidents.
How to Get to and Around Cambodia
Southeast Asia is a region best explored overland for most travelers—although the distances are large, there are a great many incredible places to visit that don’t have an airport nearby. And while Cambodia’s Siem Reap sees a good deal of tourism from people flying in and out of the airport once they’ve seen Angkor Wat, Cambodia is also often visited as a secondary stop on a larger route around Southeast Asia for those backpacking overland.
That means you’ll be crossing overland between the countries, likely using long-distance buses and trains, but that varies greatly depending on the border crossing and the topography. Even on-the-beaten-path travel to and around Cambodia can require a “a train to a bus to a boat to a tuk-tuk”.
That said, you can also use a budget airline to fly into Siem Reap or Phnom Penh from nearby major cities like Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Luang Prabang, and a few others. You’ll find surprisingly cheap flights via the budget airlines, and this can cut significant time off of your travel days. I reliably find great flight deals on Skyscanner or Expedia.
Once you’re in Cambodia, here’s what transportation looks like:
Buses are the most common and convenient mode of transport for long-distance travel between major cities and the country’s more popular tourist destinations. Various bus companies operate in Cambodia and each offers different classes of buses ranging from basic to more comfortable options. Popular bus routes connect major cities such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Battambang, Kampot, and Koh Kong. The road conditions can vary from well-maintained highways to rougher, pot-holed roads in more remote areas.
Mini-buses are smaller vans or minivans that cater to shorter distances and are often used for day trips or transfers between nearby destinations. This type of transportation is a popular choice for traveling between towns or attractions that are not serviced by larger buses. Mini-buses can be slightly faster but might be less comfortable compared to full-sized buses. Private tourist transfers use these, however, and while it often costs a bit more, you’re guaranteed a seat and more straightforward route to your destination.
Taxis and Tuk-tuks
Taxis and tuk-tuks are widely available in the major cities and towns. They’re a convenient way to travel within cities or for short distances. Taxis are metered in larger cities like Phnom Penh, while tuk-tuks usually require negotiation for a fare (negotiate well or you will dramatically overpay). Tuk-tuks are both a popular and appropriate choice for sightseeing within cities or getting to nearby sights.
Motorbike and Bicycle Rentals
Renting a motorbike or bicycle is a popular option for travelers who want to explore independently and have more flexibility in their itinerary. Motorbike rentals are available in major cities and tourist areas, but it’s important to have a valid license to operate a motorbike in your home country (or your travel insurance is invalidated), wear a helmet, and exercise caution when riding. Bicycle rentals are also common, particularly in places like Siem Reap where cycling around the temples of Angkor is a popular activity—this is how I explored Angkor Wat the first time, and I chose a tuk-tuk the second time.
How to Get Between the Most Popular Towns
- Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: Buses and mini-buses operate frequently between these two cities, offering both day and night services. The journey takes around 5-6 hours.
- Siem Reap to Battambang: Buses and mini-buses provide transportation between Siem Reap and Battambang, with a travel time of approximately 3-4 hours. If you’re leaving the Poipet border for Battambang then you must ensure you reach the border before the last bus leaves in the early evening.
- Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville: Buses are the most common mode of transport between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, with a journey time of around 4-5 hours.
- Sihanoukville to Kampot: Buses, mini-buses, and taxis/tuk-tuks connect Sihanoukville with Kampot. The journey takes about 2-3 hours.
- Phnom Penh to Kampot: Buses, mini-buses, and taxis/tuk-tuks provide transportation between Phnom Penh and Kampot, with a travel time of approximately 3-4 hours.
- Phnom Penh to Koh Kong: Buses and taxis operate between Phnom Penh and Koh Kong, which is located near the border with Thailand. The journey takes around 4-5 hours.
How Much Does it Cost to Backpack Cambodia?
Cambodia is a dream destination for budget backpackers. Your monthly budget ranges from $600 to $1,200 for backpackers on any sort of budget . Upping your average costs in Cambodia is the expense of visiting Angkor Wat in Siem Reap—it’s not cheap if you do it right. Your average price for all travelers is much lower once you’re no longer visiting either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. As you backpack Cambodia for longer, you lower your daily expenses since your expenses are an average across your time in Cambodia. That means if you spend five days there and just hit hte highlights, you could blow well over $300+, but slow travel costs less. Here’s what budget travel looks like in Cambodia:
Hostels and budget guesthouses in popular areas like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh run around $8-$15 per night. Street food and local eateries offer meals at prices ranging from $2-$5. Getting around is budget-friendly with local buses and shared taxis costing between $1-$10. Entry fees to major attractions like Angkor Wat range from $20-$37. With a daily budget of $20-$30, budget travelers can expect to spend around $600-$900 per month.
Mid-range travel strikes a balance between comfort and cost. Private rooms in guesthouses or budget hotels typically range from $25-$50 per night. Dining at local restaurants and exploring a mix of street food and sit-down meals runs about $5-$15 per meal. Transportation options include private taxis, tuk-tuks, or motorbike rentals at negotiable prices. Additional tours or activities cost $20-$50 per day if you’re splurging on a guide and nice activities. With a daily budget of $40-$60, mid-range travelers can expect to spend approximately $800-$1,100 per month.
Splurge Budget Travelers
If you’re backpacking but you spend a bit more on comfort, you can afford a lot on a still modest budget. Note that you can also spend a whole lot more for true luxury travel. But for upscale backpacking, here’s what that looks like: Upscale guesthouses and boutique accommodations range from $50-$100+ per night. Dining at upscale restaurants or enjoying international cuisine may cost $15-$30 per meal, or more. Transportation can involve private transfers, hired cars, or personalized tours at higher costs. With a daily budget of $60 and above, splurge travelers can enjoy a nice experience, with costs totaling $1,500+ per month. This is a great couples budget for Cambodia travel.
What’s the Best Overland Route Through Cambodia?
If you’re traveling overland, there are several common routes to explore Cambodia, no matter if you have a week or a month. Your route through Cambodia could look something like one of these options, depending how where and how you enter.
From Thailand (Poipet)
If entering Cambodia from Poipet, which is the most common border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia, you can follow the popular route of Siem Reap – Battambang – Phnom Penh. This route allows you to visit the iconic temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, explore the sleepy-yet-charming town of Battambang, known for its colonial architecture and artistic scene, and then continue to the vibrant capital city of Phnom Penh (you can also go straight to Battambang from the Poipet border, then onward to Siem Reap via bus or boat).
You’ll likely need around 7-10 days to experience these stops, and from Phnom Penh you could fly onward, head back into Thailand via Kampot and then the Koh Kong border crossing, or take a longer route across Cambodia and into Laos (you’d leave Phnom for Kampong Cham and then Kratie).
From Thailand (Koh Kong)
If entering Cambodia from Koh Kong, a border crossing in the southwest, you could follow the route of Koh Kong – Kampot – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap. Cross into Cambodia via Koh Kong and immerse yourself in the region’s natural beauty and ecotourism opportunities. From there, travel to Kampot, a charming riverside town famous for its pepper plantations and scenic landscapes that you can kayak through on the rivers, or enjoy from a hammock.
You’ll then head to the bustling Phnom Penh and take a bus over to Siem Reap to end your time in Cambodia at Angkor Wat. This route is ideal for those seeking a mix of adventure, relaxation, and urban exploration, and you’ll need 6-9 days toto fully experience each destination at a comfortable pace. You’ll end in Siem Reap and be primed to cross back into Thailand via Poipet.
If entering Cambodia from Laos, the most common border crossing is at Stung Treng. From Stung Treng, you can follow the route of Kratie – Kampong Cham – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap. This route allows you to visit Kratie, a riverside town offer sightings of the endangered Irrawaddy river dolphin watching, explore the charming provincial capital of Kampong Cham, and then make your way to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Some of these roads and towns are rougher travel, so you’d be pushing it to enjoy the trip in less than 7 days.
If entering Cambodia from Vietnam, you have a few border crossing options, and all involve some long travel days. The most common route is from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Phnom Penh via bus in just under seven hours. From there you can travel onward to Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor. The more scenic route though involves taking the five hour ferry from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. Vietnam’s Mekong Delta is an enchanting region (and Phu Quoc offers the best beaches outside of Thailand), so this is a great route option.
Fly into Siem Reap or Phnom Penh
If you fly into Siem Reap, you can start by visiting the temples of Angkor and then continue to Phnom Penh, then where you visit depends on how you plan to exit the country—pick an onward destination and follow the recommended routes above. Note that If you fly into Phnom Penh, you can explore the capital city first and then proceed to other regions of Cambodia.
Note that flights in and out of Cambodia are often a touch more expensive than others in the region, so be sure you can swing the cost in your travel budget if you hope to skip the long bus rides. I recommend checking flight prices right now for a rough idea of if and how this fits your travel budget.
How to Travel Responsibly in Cambodia
The biggest hurdle for responsible tourism in Cambodia is the sketchy voluntourism industry—this is ground zero for phony orphanages exploiting children to gain money from backpackers. Avoid orphanage volunteering completely—there are other options, but even better is using your travel dollars as a force for good in the poverty-stricken country.
Cambodia has a number of community-based tourism organizations (CBOs) in the rural areas of the country. If you plan to leave the main tourist trail, these organizations offer wonderful homestays and tours that will give you a glimpse of the Cambodia of yesteryears.
In terms of animal and human welfare, there are a few considerations for responsible tourists in all of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia. First off, don’t ride the elephants anywhere in Southeast Asia. Instead, visit the Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom—here’s what to know about visiting.
And while there are so many nuances to the debate about donating to beggars while you travel, Siem Reap in particular is a hotbed for scams related to this, where babies are drugged and then used all day to convince tourists to buy them formula or diapers, which are then promptly returned to the store for a profit.
More positive actions you can take include spending money with local tourism operators, including some fantastic social enterprises operating in Cambodia. Read my complete guide to Responsible Travel in Cambodia., which includes specific local social enterprises doing great work merging tourism with social good.
Best Foods to Try in Cambodia
One of the most well-known Cambodian foods among travelers is amok trey, a fish fillet covered with kroeung (shallots, lemongrass, garlic and kaffir lime), roasted peanuts, coconut milk, and egg, and all wrapped in a banana leaf. The result is a somewhat sweet dish that tastes just as good as its Thai and Lao counterparts.
In general, Cambodian food features herbs, leaves, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, and edible flowers. Many dishes have Chinese influences, too. Street food is quite popular and cheap—the deep fried rice cakes with chives and egg make for a yummy breakfast (as would this soup in Battambang!)
Other must-try dishes include lok lak (marinated beef stir-fried with a tangy sauce), bai sach chrouk (grilled pork served with rice and pickled vegetables), and nom banh chok (rice noodles topped with a savory fish-based gravy and fresh herbs). For those with a sweet tooth, try num kroch, which are small, round dumplings made from rice flour and coconut milk. They are either steamed or boiled and are typically filled with a sweet mixture made from palm sugar, grated coconut, and sometimes flavored with sesame seeds or peanuts.
For vegetarians, there is plenty of fresh produce and tourism is well established, so you will find food options everywhere. There are a few traditional dishes you can eat from specialty street stalls, but when in doubt I could also order fried rice, a plate of fruit, and mixed veggies.
Best Things to Do in Cambodia
Cambodia is a land of ancient temples, vibrant cities, and natural beauty. While there is deep poverty in Cambodia, there are also an incredible number of things to do and see that are unlike other places in Southeast Asia.
A lot of what you do in Cambodia depends on how long you have to explore—many travelers head straight to Siem Reap and then move on to a neighboring country. Instead, pick a few things that interest you and fall in love with the Cambodian culture.
Angkor Wat is the main reason many people visit Cambodia. If you stay for more than one day, you can visit more than the main temples, which I recommend. You have two main ways to explore Angkor Wat: bicycle or tuk-tuk. I’ve been to Angkor Wat several times and explored both ways, as well as via a private tour by van. I preferred the bike or tuk-tuk and recommend that for most able-bodied travelers (especially those on a budget).
Renting a bike in Siem Reap gives you the freedom to navigate through the temples at your own pace. Cycling allows you to enjoy the scenic surroundings, feel the breeze on your face, and stop whenever you please to admire the intricate details of various temples. Biking also provides the flexibility to explore lesser-known temples and hidden trails, adding an element of adventure to your journey. Of note, though, is that you should dress modestly in the temples, so you’ll need to carry a backpack with water and a coverup that you can wear once you’re done for the day.
On the other hand, tuk-tuks offer a convenient and comfortable way to explore Angkor Wat. (Tuk-tuks are motorized three-wheeled vehicles commonly used as taxis in Cambodia and other areas of Southeast Asia.) Hiring a tuk-tuk driver allows you to relax a bit more as it chauffeurs you from one temple to another. This is a more relaxing and leisurely experience, especially in hot weather or for travelers with limited mobility. Tuk-tuks also offer the advantage of shelter from the sun, which you will be thankful for during the midday heat.
If you’ve bought the multi-day pass to Angkor Wat, you could also visit the closest temples via bike, and then rent a tuk-tuk for a select few further away. Note that the ruins of the Khmer Empire are always stunning, but can be overcrowded. That means you want to start your days early before visiting any of the most popular temples—then you beat the crowds and the heat.
Read this guide to the best Angkor Temples and how to visit.
2. Visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum.
Landmines buried by the Khmer Rouge have been causing havoc since the 1970s and this museum is one way to learn about the devastating effects on the Cambodian people. Informative exhibits and personal stories raise awareness about the country’s history and ongoing efforts to address the issue.
The museum provides a comprehensive understanding of the devastating consequences of landmines and supports humanitarian initiatives for landmine clearance and victim assistance. By visiting the museum, you contribute to these efforts and gain a deeper appreciation for the resilience of the Cambodian people.
3. Cruise Tonle Sap Lake
Take a scenic boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Explore the floating villages that dot the lake’s shores and witness the unique way of life of the local communities. Experience the vibrant colors, bustling markets, and the ingenious floating houses that adapt to the lake’s changing water levels. The boat trip provides a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of the people who call this lake their home. It’s a great day trip from Siem Reap.
4. Tour the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison.
Located 15 km from Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields are a profound and somber reminder of the mass murders committed by the Khmer Rouge. Coupled with a visit to Tuol Sleng, these two sites offer key insight into the tragic history of the Cambodian people and who they are today.
These sites are iconic reminders of the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime, offering a firsthand glimpse into the dark chapter of Cambodia’s past. Only by visiting can you even begin an inkling of understanding about the immense suffering endured by the Cambodian people and pay tribute to the victims, ensuring they are not forgotten.
5. Wander through the Royal Palace.
A stunning example of Khmer architecture and craftsmanship, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was built in the mid-19th-century. Marvel at the intricate details of the palace buildings, characterized by gilded roofs, ornate carvings, and vibrant colors. The Throne Hall, Silver Pagoda, and various pavilions showcase the grandeur and opulence of Cambodian royal traditions. Exploring the palace grounds allows you to immerse yourself in the architectural beauty and gain a deeper appreciation for Cambodia’s rich artistic heritage.
The palace also serves as the official residence of the King and is a symbolic representation of the monarchy’s role in the country, and has deep spiritual significance. Stop by the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a sacred temple that houses an impressive collection of Buddha statues, precious artifacts, and a floor adorned with silver tiles. It is a place of worship and spiritual significance for the Cambodian people.
6. Kayak in Kampot.
Since Sihanoukville is no longer the paradise it once was, you should fully skip visiting. Instead soak in the slow life in Kampot. The town has a laid-back Cambodian charm and the river offers a number of activities. With Kep just up the road, there is no reason you couldn’t spend an enjoyable week here.
The rivers and mangrove forests around Kampot are breathtakingly beautiful. Kayaking allows you to navigate through calm waters, surrounded by lush greenery and stunning landscapes. Paddle along the riverbanks, witness the vibrant flora and fauna, and take in the serenity of your surroundings. Then venture into narrow water channels, meander through mangrove forests, and discover secluded spots that are inaccessible by other means. You can paddle at your own pace, admire the scenery, and watch birds soar above.
7. Slow-travel through Battambang.
Rather than tick off to-do list items when traveling in Cambodia, slow down and take in your charming surroundings when you visit the sleepy town of Battambang.
Battambang boasts a wealth of well-preserved colonial-era buildings and ancient temples. Slow-traveling allows you to leisurely explore these architectural treasures, taking in their intricate details and historical significance. Visit the iconic Battambang Provincial Museum to learn about the city’s history and browse through its collection of artifacts. Then wander through the quaint streets lined with French colonial buildings, such as the Governor’s Residence and the Central Market.
During one of your days in town, rent a bicycle and pedal through the lush countryside, passing by rice fields, quaint villages, and serene waterways. Take a boat ride along the Sangkae River to witness the breathtaking sunset or explore the nearby Phnom Sampeau, a hill with ancient temples and stunning views. And ride the antique bamboo train.
8. Watch a circus show from Phare Ponleu Selpak.
One of the most illuminating and unique things to do in Cambodia is taking in a circus show from Phare Ponleu Selpak. Phare is best known for their circus performances in Siem Reap and Battambang. They offer a range of shows, and each show shares a different aspect of Cambodian culture and history. The organization is a phenomenal social enterprise that supports children in rural Cambodia, and it also offers an amazing artistic experience.
Phare’s circus shows use acrobatics and storytelling to grapple with Cambodia’s tragic history. You’ll see nothing else this creative in Cambodia.
Phare runs nightly circus performances in Siem Reap, and three times per week in Battambang. Booking show tickets in advance is a must. The art exhibits in each city are open year-round. The troupe occasionally tours internationally, and those tour dates are always listed on their site.
Essential Route Planning Resources:
🛏️ Find great accommodation.
Agoda is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use in the region as it has the widest and most affordable selection in Southeast Asia. (And for those unfamiliar, it’s part of the Booking.com family). It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.
Get Your Guide: Find a collection of the best locally run tours in one spot—you can assess the options, read reviews, and book directly through this trusted platform.
📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—it shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on RentalCars.com.
📖 Read up on any off-the-path activities.
Travelfish is among my go-to resources for anything in Southeast Asia. It’s updated far more often than print guidebooks and has extensive local insight and a fairly active forum, too. If you head off-the-path, this should be the first place you check for tips, transport advice, etc.
Cambodia Travel Guide: Best Stories from the Blog
I traveled around Laos on multiple trips spanning several months in total during my time backpacking Southeast Asia. These stories featured across my travel blog represent my favorite places in Laos, the best moments of my trip, and more.