Cambodia is one of my all time favorite destinations. It may be a flawed, corrupt, barren country, but filled with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever encountered, rich history, delicious food, beautiful coastline, and a lively nightlife. Cambodia is a country still trying to find its way. Development hasn’t been great, as corrupt officials have hindered growth by selling off most of the country to investors. But in all my visits here, I always fall more madly in love with the place and can’t recommend it enough to everyone I meet. It always surprises you. This country guide to Cambodia can help you plan your trip.
Destination Guides for Cambodia
Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hostels start at around 17,000-21,000 KHR. Private rooms generally go for 20,000-40,000 KHR per night. You can get comfortable hotels for 60,000-80,000 KHR with air con, tv, and other amenities. Beyond that, the sky is the limit but I’ve never needed to spend more than 100,000 KHR per night for luxury in this country.
Food – Food is very cheap in Cambodia. Local street vendors will cost you about 4,000-8,000 KHR per meal, and basic restaurant meals will cost between 12,000-20,000 KHR. Western meals at nice restaurants go between 20,000-40,000 KHR. You can get some really world class food in Phnom Phen these days for around 32,000-40,000 KHR.
Transportation – Local city transportation is cheap, costing only a few dollars. You can get a bus anywhere in the country for under 40,000 KHR and renting a driver for the day will set you back between 60,000-80,000 KHR.
Activities – You can find a little bit of everything here, from free to relatively expensive. Those planning on visiting Angkor (most are) should factor in the cost of entrance fees, about 80,000 KHR per day, as well as the cost to travel there. Other tours, hikes, and entrance fees are between 40,000-80,000 KHR depending on the length and popularity of the activity.
Money Saving Tips
Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia. There really aren’t any big money saving tips here because just by being here, you are saving money. Food, accommodation, and transportation are all dirt cheap.
Minimize your drinks – Drinks, though, really add up. 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 80,000 KHR per day but if you drink a lot, you’ll need a slightly higher budget.
Top Things to See and Do in Cambodia
Angkor Wat – This huge temple complex is the reason most people visit Cambodia. The temple ruins are massive, and you’ll need a few days to explore all of them. While there’s a lot more to the country than this UNESCO site (too many people only come to visit Angkor), no trip is complete without satisfying your inner Tomb Raider and exploring these ruins.
Tongle Sap – Sailing down this river allows you to get a look at how closely Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. You can take a boat all the way down one end to the other or just cruise around on a day trip.
Sihanoukville – White sand beaches, nearby deserted islands, great diving, amazing seafood, and a heavy nightlife filled with cheap booze make this spot a favorite among travelers. This was once a very seedy town, but has become a mecca for backpackers. It’s not a quiet place to hang out, but it’s good place to drink or use as a base to visit the nearby islands, which are quiet and serene.
Phnom Penh – As the capital of Cambodia, this place has a wild west atmosphere with dusty streets and a “devil may care” atmosphere. There are few good attractions to see and an up-and-coming foodie vibe to the city. Since the destruction of the lake, most of the action has moved towards the river.
Bamboo Island – Off the coast of Sihanoukville, Bamboo Island is a great place to unwind, an island that takes just 10 minutes to cross. Here, the local culture is the highlight – get to know the locals, and try your hand at Khmer, the traditional Cambodian dance.
Kep – This beautiful beach town is the quiet version of Sihanoukville, a nice place to relax near the ocean without the party atmosphere that is Sihanoukville. This city is famous for it’s pepper crab and empty beaches. There’s not a lot to do here, so it also makes for a good day trip if you don’t like the idea of chilling out for a few days.
Bokor National Park – Wander among the atmospheric French ruins while hiking a great rainforest. Bokor was a big destination for the French aristocracy back in the day, and you can see the ruins of their homes. It is a day trip from Sihanoukville or nearby Kampot.
Battambang – Known as a farming area and famous for its fading French colonial architecture, this is the place to get a real taste of Cambodian life. There are great temples, a bamboo train, and stunning architecture from long past here. This destination sees few tourists except for those who like to get off the beaten path and off the Siem Reap-Phnom Phen trail. It’s Cambodia without the tourism.
Prasat Preah Vihear – This breathtaking mountain temple is source of conflict with its neighbor Thailand, who also claims this place as its own. The trip here is not easy but nothing worth going to is ever is. Expect a 20,000 KHR entrance fee for foreigners.
Check out tarantula treats – Can’t go to Cambodia without indulging in this delicacy. Visit Siem Reap where you’ll find these critters are a favorite snack fried with butter and garlic.
Visit a river village – There are 3 floating villages to choose from in the country. The houses are built on bamboo stilts, and there are always boats filled with people selling trinkets, food, and hanging out. The Chong Khneas is the most visited in the country but popularity has made it a bit of a tourist trap recently.
Visit the pepper farms – Outside the city of Kampot (go there) and on the way to Kep are vast pepper fields. This 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.
The Killing Fields – You can’t mention Cambodia without people drawing a connection to the country’s bloody genocidal past. Although a visit to the Killing Fields, located 10 miles from Phnom Penh, may not be the most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, it makes for a hallowing and memorable experience, a testament to the dangers of uncontested power.
Koh Kong – A city near the Thai border in the Cardamom Mountain district, Koh Kong offers great opportunities for jungle trekking, as well as a chance to relax on the white sand beaches. Koh Kong island is known as one of the best beach spots in Southeast Asia. It’s illegal to spend the night there, but there are plenty of operators offering day trips to the island from the shore.
Kampong Cham – Though it’s the third-largest city in Cambodia, most travelers overlook Kampong Cham. As a result, it retains a lot of its old French colonial feel and a great place to really get to know Cambodia. While the city in itself is something to explore, you should also check out the ruins at Nokor Wat. One of the highlights here is a detailed series of murals which depict religious torture scenes.