The Best Things to Do in Cambodia—Our Ultimate Itinerary

Cambodia

Our travel blog brings you a fresh and helpful travel guide to Cambodia, answering all of your what, when, and where questions.

Article contents

  1. When to go?
  2. Visa
  3. Top 10 activities
  4. Transportation
  5. Food
  6. Accomodations
  7. Beaches
  8. Travel tips and budget

When to Go to Cambodia?

Travel season is about the same in all of Southeast Asia (and Cambodia is no exception), so when you’re planning your trip to Cambodia, keep this in mind.

Dry season extends from November to April, and it’s the best time to visit the Kingdom of Cambodia. March and April can be excessively hot, so if you’re planning an activity other than sun tanning, choose winter months for your travels. In December, January, and February, the average temperature is approximately 29°C/84°F (the ocean waters are as warm) in the Gulf of Siam and Sihanoukville. The city of Siem Reap is slightly hotter, with an average 34°C/93°F, and it doesn’t border the ocean.

Rainy season arrives in May and ends around October. July to September are generally the worst for travelling through the country. There are occasional floods in small towns and villages of Cambodia. These floods are due to strong tropical rains, but they do not last long.

Our trip to Cambodia was in early April, and we had some problems with our tent. It was leaking due to rain that started early that year. When it wasn’t raining, it was extremely hot, so air con was our only saviour.

Visa to Cambodia

U.S. citizens need a valid passport and a visa to travel to Cambodia, but there’s no need to worry about the visa in advance. You can get one right at all three Cambodia international airports and at various border crossings in Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. All you need is $30 in cash and a 3″ x 4″ photo of yourself (it will cost you an additional $2 if you don’t have one).

Officially, the Cambodian visa costs $30, but a cunning border guard may try to rip off an extra “five” from you. If you’re travelling with a bus company, they sometimes ask you for a $2–3 processing fee. Do not get fooled by these scams. We obtained a visa on the border with Vietnam, and we proved to the border guard that one should not pay more than $30.

If you’re planning to cross into Cambodia rather than flying into one of its airports, the best advice we have for you is to stay calm and just chill. Crossing the border into Cambodia is a challenge every tourist has to face—but it’s worth it.

A regular tourist visa provides a single entry and is valid for 30 days. If you really enjoy Cambodia and want to stay longer, you can extend this visa for another month for $45 at the immigration office in Phnom Penh or any tourist office.

You can also get an e-visa for $37. You’ll need to complete the form online at evisa.gov.kh and print it out. You’ll need two copies—one for entry and one for departure. An e-visa can’t be extended.

What’s There to Do in Cambodia?

sunrise in Cambodia

You’re probably wondering how many days you’ll need in Cambodia to see everything worth seeing? Sure, Cambodia is best known for its Angkor Wat temples and beaches, but there’s so much more than that. So, if you don’t want a rushed vacation, you should plan on staying for at least a couple of weeks.

Here’s our bucket list of things to do in Cambodia:

1. Watch the sunrise in Angkor Wat

One of the main things to do in Cambodia is to explore a giant city of temples and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. How can you miss out on the largest religious monument in the world? The ancient capital of the Khmer Empire features temples and ruins dating back to the XII century. Start your exploration by watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat temple. You have to wake up at around 4 a.m. to get there, but it’s definitely a must-see. It’s a poster picture for Cambodia, since the Angkor Wat temple is depicted on the national flag.

2. Get your Lara Croft pic at Ta Prohm

In addition to Angkor Wat, there is another temple complex called Ta Prohm. The Tomb Raider movie made it famous, and it’s truly worth visiting. You’ll see giant trees taking over the temples and beautiful nature blossoming in the ruins. What a sight!

Some practical information:

  • A one-day ticket is $37, and a three-day ticket is $62. Yes, it’s worth it!
  • If you are not in a rush, consider staying for 3 days. There are over 200 temples in Angkor Archaeological Park.
  • It’s 6 km (3,5 miles) away from Siem Reap, so most people stay there.
  • Hire a tuk-tuk (possibly with a local guide) for $20–$25. It’s always hot in the Angkor area, so walking or riding a bike can be challenging.

3. Visit mystical Koh Ker

Koh Ker is a unique temple complex that almost no one knows about. If you hate crowds, that’s where you should go. Calmly explore authentic ruins without tourists. The ticket price is $10. This temple is quite remote, 120 km (75 miles) away from Siem Reap in Preah Vihear province.

4. Learn about Khmer Rouge at Killing Fields

The Khmer Rouge was one of the most violent regimes in the history of humankind. Cambodian people lost a quarter of their population in this genocide, and it happened just 40 years ago. Visiting Choeung Ek Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh is horrifying. It’s a mass grave, and you’ll see a tower of skulls and bones—but we have to learn the horrors of history if we want to make sure that it never repeats itself.

5. … and at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

This place was a former school in Phnom Penh that was turned into a place of torture for 17,000 people. Here, you’ll see the cells, blood stains, and torture instruments. But knowing about these things and seeing them for yourself is an important way to remember the victims of Pol Pot and his bloody regime.

6. Drive the motorbike to the top of the Bokor mountain

One of the top things to do in Cambodia is visiting the gorgeous Bokor national mountain park, which is 1,5 hours away from Kampot city. You’ll see the real jungle, a picturesque waterfall, and several atmospheric abandoned buildings that still have this French colonial vibe—an old-fashioned Bokor Palace casino, catholic chapel, and Black Palace. All of those are on top of the Bokor mountain.

You can get a bus tour to the national park from Kampot (it costs $25), but the trip will be much cooler if you go by the motorbike. Entrance fee is just $0.5.

7. Chill at an eco-resort by the Kampot river

Kampot is a charming little town alongside the Kampot River. It has a very friendly expat community, excellent western food, live bands, and cool riverboat parties. If you head a few miles away from town, you’ll find a variety of small eco-resorts, where you can stay in a bungalow and chill by the river. The water is clean and refreshing too, so feel free to dive in. After all, one of the best things to do in Cambodia is to relax.

8. Get to know local flora and fauna

greenery

You should also visit Ream National park, which is just 20 km (12 miles) away from Sihanoukville. You’ll see wild animals, birds, and a large population of monkeys and dolphins. You can visit the park either with a guide, in a jeep or by feet, but the most romantic option is a boat trip along the Prek Tuk Sap River (the price is $25).

9. Tour around Floating Villages

Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Cambodia. In dry season, its depth is only one meter (3,3 feet), but in rainy season, it can get to 10 meters (32 feet)! Tourists come here to see the Floating Villages. To be honest, they are all alike, so, if you’ve already visited one in Thailand, you can skip it.

10. Visit Crab Town

The coastal town of Kep in the southern part of Cambodia is a beautiful French colonial resort town with amazing ocean sunsets, secret beaches, salt fields, and a famous crab market. You can’t really swim here, as the waters are shallow, but it’s a nice place to sip tropical cocktails and relax in a hammock—or get a nice Khmer massage with coconut oil ($5–$10).

Prices in Cambodia

The currency of Cambodia is the Riel (KHR). 1 US dollar is 4100 Cambodian riel.

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about currency exchange, as all businesses in Cambodia are okay with tourists paying in US dollars. However, be ready to accept the change in riels and save it for the small purchases. The locals don’t like when one’s trying to buy a bottle of water with a $50 bill.

Transportation

bicycle in Cambodia

The craziest thing about Cambodia is probably its roads. The rules are… well, there are no rules. Officially, the speed limit for cars is 40 km per hour (25 mph), and it’s only 30 km per hour (18 mph) for motorbikes. In reality, you’ll see five people on one motorbike going 70 km per hour (45 mph) on a dirt road. The traffic situation in Cambodia is generally dangerous, so be careful!

Going by bus is an option when you’re moving between the cities of Cambodia. Overall, the bus trip is not pleasant, with the regular delays and broken AC. If you’re planning a long distance trip, Giant Ibis is probably the best bus company to choose. Its schedule is pretty reliable and the buses are comfy. Be sure to check if they operate on the route you need. Giant Ibis is slightly more expensive than other Cambodian bus companies, and you should book a ticket in advance, as it’s everyone’s favourite.

Onсe you’re in the city, forget about public transportation. You’ll need to rent a motorbike or a bicycle, or you can hire a tuk-tuk.

You can rent a motorbike. If you’re not an experienced motorbike rider, avoid going on the highway—which is extremely dangerous because of the load trucks that go at a superfast speed, pushing motorbikes to the side of the road.

Rental price for a motorbike varies from $4 to $10 per day. Monthly rental costs around $100. When you rent a motorbike, always ask for a helmet. First of all, it’s a safety. Secondly, the police always stop foreigners with no helmet and charges at least $5. Sometimes (but not too often) they can charge you $5–$20 for not having a proper motorcycle license.

Another option is to rent a car. Tourist offices can arrange a car for around $40 to go between cities, to the airport, or just drive around for the day.

Gasoline is approximately $1 per liter. If you can’t find a petrol station,
you can buy 1 or 2 liter gasoline glass bottles in the villages; they’re usually sold alongside the roads, so you can’t miss them.

One more option is to rent a bicycle. It’s cheaper—$1–$5 per day, depending on the quality of the bike.

Food and Cuisine

Fruits

Cambodian cuisine is similar to Thai (although not as spicy), except for those dishes that the French brought during the colonization. Khmer people eat rice, seafood, and baguettes. If you eat amongst the locals, food will be very cheap. Cambodian street food prices are a bargain. One buck will get you a couple of skewers, a papaya salad, or Khmer dumplings.
But keep in mind that eating on the street in Southeast Asia is always a gamble. There have been many times we’ve witnessed sellers in street markets drop food on a dirty floor and then calmly put it on someone’s plate. Also, meat can sit around a market stall for days, so look closely at everything before eating anywhere. And, yes, most of the dishes have meat in them, so if you’re a vegetarian, your local food options are stir-fried vegetables with rice or noodles or an egg sandwich.

Some local food you should try:

  • Amok (fish curry) is a Khmer specialty — $3
  • Lok Lak is a stir-fried beef or pork slices with salad and rice — $2,5
  • Sticky rice in a banana leaf with mango or banana slices — $1
  • Ban Chao is a crispy pancake with different fillings — $1,5–$2
  • Coconut vegan ice cream — $0,25
  • Stay hydrated with a green coconut — $1–$1,5 (ask for a cold one)

If you go for street food (such as fried noodles or rice with meat), it costs from $1 to $5 per meal.

Average grocery bill in a supermarket is about $5:

  • A bottle of water is $0,4
  • 1 kg (2 lb) of mango is $1
  • A loaf of bread is $0,25
  • Local beer Angkor, 0,33 l (11 oz) is $0,5
  • Yogurt is $0,5–$1

In Siem Reap, we recommend looking for food at a party area called the Pub Street. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s crowded with customers and food is guaranteed to be fresh. The Red Piano cafe is a hip place for dinner because they claim that Angelina Jolie herself dined here during the shooting of the Lara Croft movie.

Here’s a little sidenote for you. You’ll see prices skyrocketing in resort towns, but most people would agree that a $15 lobster and $5 glass of champagne in a top-notch restaurant with an ocean view is an affordable luxury.

Where to Stay in Cambodia?

rest hills

We can recommend the following hostels we stayed at:

  • Route 66 Hostel in Siem Reap
  • The Happy House in Phnom Penh

Despite the fact that Cambodia is filled with tourists keen on seeing
ancient Angkor Wat and ready to pay top dollar to do so, accommodations are quite affordable. In fact, we found the cheapest hostel room in all of Southeast Asia in Cambodia. For only $2 a night, we slept in a comfortable 8-bed dorm in the center of Siem Reap. Not bad, right?

We also discovered that you can spend the night in Buddhist temples for free, which is so much more than just an opportunity to save money. You’ll get to know the locals and have a unique experience. In Kampong Cham, we spent the night in the pagoda at Nokor Bachey. In Siem Reap, we stayed in the pagoda at Wat Kesararam.

HotelsCombined or Booking will get you plenty of options for any budget. Next are the upper-class suggestions, if you want to treat yourself to a nice room:

— Sumeru Boutique Hotel & SPA (Siem Reap) is a five-star hotel for only $40 a night. Probably, this happens in Cambodia only… You’ll enjoy a private pool, free transfer to and from the airport, and access to city center.

— 4-star Iroha Garden Hotel & Resort (Phnom Penh) is an oasis amongst the city’s madness. The hotel features a restaurant in the 1930s mansion, as well as a small garden with a pool.

— 4-star Independence Hotel Resort & Spa (Sihanoukville) features breathtaking views of Gulf of Siam, comfy spacious rooms, and wide terrace to sunbath and chill.

— 4-star White Boutique Hotel and Residences (Sihanoukville) is top-rated on TripAdvisor. The hotel features all possible commodities, including a massage room, gym, and live band playing in the evening.

— The owner of a 3-star Phoumrumduol Bungalow (Kep) is an awesome storyteller. You’ll have the most pleasant evening listening to his stories.

Beaches in Cambodia

Beaches in Cambodia

What is there to do in Cambodia if not lie on white sandy beaches? The beaches are a bit wild and not too crowded. Some of the best beaches are described below.

Sihanoukville

Sihanoukvile is perhaps one of the most popular resort towns in Cambodia. It was
founded by the French in 1950 and has been developing very fast in recent years due to Chinese investments. China has built many new hotels, resorts and casinos in Sihanoukvile, and it’s slowly becoming a large, international city.

  • In the northern part of the city you can find Victory beach, which was previously called Russian beach. Now, Russian immigrants are spread out all over the city, so it’s no longer a Khmer Brighton Beach. It’s located near the port, so it’s not a pleasant swim. However, there are many cafes and plenty of accommodations for any budget.
  • Next is Hawaii beach, especially loved by the locals. Like the previous one, it’s not the cleanest and you’ll definitely see fuel stains. On the other side, Hawaii beach has huge pines along the shore that give shadows and salvation from the sun heat.
  • Further out rests the Independence beach. It’s clean, and the water is nice as well.
  • Next is Sokha beach. Most of it belongs to the five-star Sokha Beach Resort, so it’s very clean. A small piece of it is open to all visitors.
  • Serendipity beach is located in the city center. It’s noizy, overcrowded and mostly unpleasant.
  • If you’re keen on staying on the mainland, consider Otres, the most remote beach. It’s not as wild as it used to be, but it’s much more pleasant than Sihanoukville. It’s divided into three zones: Otres 1 is the busiest; Otres 2 is less crowded and calmer; and the Otres village features cool parties and an artsy atmosphere.

You probably gathered that you won’t find paradise beaches in Sihanoukville. Since there is nothing to do in the city, we advise you to go straight to the islands, which are definitely worth visiting.

Sea
Sea

Choose the island that feels perfect to you:

Koh Rong is the biggest island. It’s also the ultimate party island. It’s a great place for a pub crawl, full moon techno parties, disco nights, retro, you name it. The island is fun but loud and overwhelming.

Koh Rong Sanloem is a paradise you’ve been looking for. It’s serene and ideal to go paddle-boarding, snorkeling, and bathing in calm turquoise waters.

Koh Ta Kiev is eco-friendly and wild. Connecting with nature is not a problem, but there can be power shortcuts, no phone reception, and no fresh water. Probably, it’s worth it once you see the bioluminescent plankton shining in the ocean at night.

There are more islands to explore—Kaoh Damlaung, Song Saa, and Koh Thmei. You can get there easily—all tourist agencies sell tickets to speed ferries to Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, which cost $22 for a roundtrip and take 45 minutes. Other islands are accessible by speed- or longboats. If you don’t have too much time, get a one-day island tour from Sihanoukville ($25–$30).

Remember that during the rainy season the waves are huge, so some islands and beaches might be closed during summer months.

Our Travel Tips and Essential Info

temple in Cambodia

If your comfort zone demands great infrastructure and good service around (and you are not prepared to leave it), choose Thailand over Cambodia. The latter is still on its way to becoming a mass-tourism destination.

On the other side, that’s also why you should visit Cambodia before it becomes the next Thailand or Vietnam. Don’t get us wrong, those are great countries to travel to, but haven’t everyone already been there, huh?

Why choose Cambodia?

+ Cheap food, accommodations, and tours… everything is cheap!
+ Uncrowded beaches, clear sea, and the opportunity to relax in the islands
+ Nice and helpful local people
+ Tropical weather

Not so fast, there are some cons:

— Big cities of Cambodia are smelly and dirty
— Undeveloped infrastructure
— Bad roads. That means be extra careful while driving. The dirt roads are especially dangerous—it’s like riding on sand—so go extra slow.
— Prostitution and child labor exploitation is a very common thing
— Expensive healthcare system for foreigners, always get an insurance

Budget to Travel to Cambodia

street in Cambodia

The budget for a trip to Cambodia is pretty moderate once you arrive. However, getting there can be expensive. Airfare varies depending on where you are travelling from. Generally, flying to Phnom Penh is cheaper than flying to Siem Reap or Sihanoukville. You can also travel through Thailand. First, fly into Bangkok, then ride through Thailand or take a flight on a low-cost airline, such as Air Asia. There are tours around Cambodia starting from Thailand, but you are better off on your own. Trust us.

Here is our estimate for a week (per traveler):

Flight: $600–$1000
Food: $140
Hotels: $70
Daily tours and entrance fees: $110
Total: $920–$1320

Reading reviews about Cambodia will not provide you a full picture. Most of these reviews say that prices are low and Asia is dirty, dusty, chaotic, and terrifying with poverty everywhere and tiresome drivers.
These statements are true to some extent, but you can also see a unique way of life with people living happily in their own way. What will be your impression?

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