Backpacking Cambodia was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
When I first visited Cambodia in 2006, I had low expectations for the country as I hadn’t heard much about it as a travel destination. I knew a little about its violent and tumultuous past but that was it.
But, as I traveled around Cambodia, I was blown away by the friendliness of the people, the beauty of the country, and all the great things there are to see and do. The country fast became one of my all-time favorite travel destinations; I think it’s one of the most underrated countries in the world. I can’t recommend it enough!
Since that first visit, I’ve been back dozens of times — I even spent over a month there writing a book. After all these visits and my subsequent travels elsewhere, the country remains a favorite.
Cambodia is still trying to find its footing after the horrifying genocide carried out by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, which saw upwards of 3 million Cambodians killed. This conflict left a deep, deep wound on the country that very much exists to this day.
Despite this, Cambodia is filled with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered, a rich history, delicious food, beautiful coastlines, and a lively nightlife.
This guide to Cambodia travel guide can help you plan your trip, save money, and ensure you make the most of your visit to one of the best countries in the region.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cambodia
1. Explore Angkor Wat
The Angkor Wat temple ruins are massive and you’ll need a few days to satisfy your inner Tomb Raider. If you’re not a history buff, just purchase a single-day ticket ($37 USD). Everyone else may want to consider the 3-day ticket ($72 USD) as there is a ton to see here!
2. Hang out in Sihanoukville
White sand beaches, nearby deserted islands, great diving, seafood, and a lively nightlife filled with cheap booze make Sihanoukville a favorite among backpackers. It’s not a quiet place to hang out, but it’s a good place to drink or use as a base to visit the nearby islands, which are quiet and serene.
3. See Phnom Penh
As the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has a wild west ambiance. But it’s an up-and-coming foodie hub with lots to see and do so you can easily spend a few days here playing tourist. Don’t miss the sobering but important Killing Fields outside the city.
4. Visit Tonle Sap
Sailing down this river and around the lake highlights just how closely Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. You can take a boat all the way downriver or just cruise around on a day trip. Tours start around $20 USD per person.
5. Discover Battambang
In Cambodia’s second largest city and surrounding province, you’ll find great temples, a bamboo train, and stunning architecture. It’s Cambodia without the tourism — for now! Try taking a river boat back to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap for a unique experience (tickets are usually around $20 USD).
Other Things to See and Do in Cambodia
1. See The Killing Fields
You can’t mention Cambodia without people drawing a connection to the country’s bloody genocide. Although a visit to Choeung Ek, also known as the Killing Fields, 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. You can’t understand modern Cambodia without learning about Pol Pot and the violence of the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for killing millions of people during their reign of terror. Admission is $6 USD, though you’ll need to arrange a ride to the area, as the site is located 10 miles from Phnom Penh. Expect to pay at least $15 USD for a return trip tuk-tuk.
2. Visit Kep
This quaint beach town, located three hours east of Sihanoukville, is the quiet version of Sihanoukville. It’s a nice place to relax near the ocean without the party atmosphere. This town is famous for its pepper crab and empty beaches. It’s quite sleepy and there’s not a lot to do here, making it a good place to come for some downtime. Nearby Kep National Park, which spans almost 70 square kilometers (26 square miles), is a great place for mountain hikes with incredible views over the water and surrounding jungle.
3. Hike in Bokor National Park
Visit this national park as a full day trip from Sihanoukville or nearby Kampot. Here you can wander among the atmospheric French ruins while hiking around the rainforest. Bokor was a big destination for the French aristocracy in the early 20th century and Bokor Hill Station has the remains of an abandoned luxury resort and casino that was later used as a hideout by the Khmer Rouge. Admission to the park is free. Group day tours from Sihanoukville start from about $20 USD, while a private guide for the day is $40 USD.
4. Enjoy the views at Prasat Preah Vihear
This breathtaking mountain temple was built in the 11th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its exceptional carved stonework and overall preservation. Today, it’s the source of conflict with neighboring Thailand, which also claims ownership of the temple. As it is quite remote, the trip here is not easy so not a lot of foreigners visit. Expect a $10 USD entrance fee and a long and steep hike (you can hire a 4×4 for $25 USD or a motorbike taxi for $5 USD to take you to the top if you don’t want the trek).
5. Visit a river village
There are three major floating villages in Cambodia. At these villages, 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 its popularity has made it a bit of a tourist trap. It’s interesting to visit but you won’t have a whole lot of interaction with the locals. Most tours cost at least $15 USD per person. The other floating villages are Kampong Khleang and Kampong Phluk, which you can access from nearby Siem Reap.
6. Visit the pepper farms of Kampot
Outside the city of Kampot 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. Tours are usually free, though you need to arrange transportation. Half-day tours are around $25 USD. Don’t miss the nearby mangroves and national park too.
7. Trek Koh Kong
An island near the Thai border in the Cardamom Mountain district, the Koh Kong region offers excellent jungle trekking opportunities, as well as a chance to relax on the white-sand beaches. Koh Kong is the biggest island in the country and is considered 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. Keep an eye out for monkeys, boars, and all kinds of indigenous birds while visiting.
8. Tour Kampong Cham
Though it’s the third-largest city in Cambodia, most travelers overlook Kampong Cham. The city has retained a lot of its old French colonial feel and is a great place to really get to know Cambodia. While the city in itself is something to explore, don’t miss the ruins at Nokor Wat, a 10th-century temple built by Jayavarman VII. One of the temple’s highlights is a detailed series of murals that depict religious torture scenes.
9. Relax, Unpack, and Meditate in Kep
Take a break from traveling and sign-up to stay at Vagabond Temple for a while. Prices begin at $275 USD for a 5-day retreat, which includes accommodation, meals, and full days of yoga and meditation classes from incredible teachers. If you’d like to commit to staying for longer, you can pay around $43 USD per day for a two-month retreat. This is a great place to take a break and gather your thoughts, especially if you’re on a long trip. No previous yoga or meditation training is required either.
10. Visit the Landmine Museum
Landmines have devastated Cambodia, maiming and killing thousands over the decades. The remaining mines from the Vietnam War (which spilled over to Cambodia) are still discovered every year. Located in Siem Reap, the Landmine Museum is an eye-opening museum that will broaden your perspective on the war and the horrific impact of landmines. Admission for foreign visitors, including a guided tour in English, is $5 USD per person. I can’t recommend this museum enough.
11. Shop at the markets
Exploring the street, indoor, and night markets is a quintessential part of traveling through Southeast Asia, and Cambodia is no different. Every major city has sprawling markets offering all manner of stalls, from prepared street food and produce to clothing and household items that make great souvenirs. Haggling is commonplace, so don’t be afraid to do so.
12. Learn to cook Cambodian dishes
Learning how to cook Cambodian food is one of the best souvenirs you can bring home. Dive into Cambodian cooking with a class where you’ll learn to cook 3-4 different dishes — and eat them at the end! You’ll usually get to go to a market to shop for produce too and you’ll also get a recipe card so you can recreate the recipes at home. Class sizes tend to be around 6 people, take around 3 hours, and cost around $20 USD per person.
13. Take a food tour
Traditional Khmer food is often overlooked compared to other Asian foods, so a food tour is the best way to sample this culture’s amazing noodle dishes, fresh seafood, sweets, and street food while learning about the history and culture behind the cuisine. Siem Reap Food Tours offers several tours, including morning tours into the market and evening tours perusing food stalls. Tours start from $75 USD and include all food, drinks, and transportation.
14. Hike in Phnom Kulen National Park
Located just 1.5 hours from Siem Reap, this national park is the perfect place to spend a day hiking in the rainforest, with majestic waterfalls, epic viewpoints, and hidden temples in the jungle. Don’t miss Kbal Spean, an archaeological site in a riverbed with intricate rock carvings representing Hindu gods. The entire park area holds tremendous national significance as it was on this mountain range that King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire in 802 CE. The park entrance fee is $20 USD.
For more information on specific cities in Cambodia, check out these guides:
Cambodia Travel Costs
Note: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you’re paying for really small things on the street. In a growing number of places, especially in the countryside, you might start getting riels back when paying in USD but you can essentially get by using mostly USD here.
Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hostels with 6-8 beds start at around $6-8 USD per night. Private double rooms generally go for $10-20 USD per night, depending on where you are in the country. Free Wi-Fi is standard and many hostels also have outdoor swimming pools and air-conditioning. Free breakfast and kitchen facilities are rare.
A double room with an ensuite bathroom in a comfortable guesthouse or hotel costs $15-20 USD. Most places have air conditioning, TV, and Wi-Fi. Nicer hotels in the $25-35 range have swimming pools and restaurants on-site.
Airbnb is available in the major cities, with prices starting around $25-35 USD per night for an entire home or apartment.
Food – Cambodian food is similar to Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Vietnam and Cambodia especially have many dishes in common due to the countries’ shared history of French colonization. For example, the baguette sandwich known as bánh mì in Vietnam is called num pang pâté in Cambodia. Popular Cambodian dishes include num banhchok, a lightly fermented rice noodle dish served for breakfast; amok trei, a fish curry dish; and samlar kako, a hearty soup filled with vegetables, roasted ground rice, and catfish or pork. In general, Cambodian cuisine includes a huge variety of noodle soups, stir-fries, curries, fried rice, and sweets.
Rice and freshwater fish are present in nearly every Cambodian meal. Lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, tamarind, ginger, chili pepper, and kaffir lime are all commonly used spices. Fermented fish paste is another widely used ingredient that adds saltiness and flavor.
Common vegetables include leaf and root vegetables as well as melon, long beans, snow peas, bean sprouts, and eggplant. Dozens of types of fruit are native to Cambodia, with durian being the most infamous. However, there are plenty of less pungent fruits to try, including mangosteen, passionfruit, dragonfruit, and mangoes. Fruit is a popular dessert and snack, either eaten alone or made into a variety of sweets.
Overall, food is very cheap in Cambodia. A meal from local street vendors costs about $1-3 USD per meal, while street snacks are even less. Basic restaurant meals cost between $3-5 USD for a typical dish like curry or fish and rice.
Western meals generally cost $5-10 USD. Pizza costs $4-6 USD, a burger costs $7-8 USD, and a pasta dish costs $6-8 USD.
For drinks, a beer costs less than $1 USD, a glass of wine is $3 USD, and a cocktail is $3-5 USD. A cappuccino is $1.75 USD.
If you want to splurge, you can get world-class food in Phnom Penh for around $8-10 USD.
If you plan on buying your own groceries and cooking your own meals expect to pay between $15-20 USD per week for basic groceries like rice, produce, and some meat or fish. Stick to local markets for the cheapest produce. However, given that hostels and hotels don’t have kitchens and the street food is so cheap, I wouldn’t advise cooking your meals while here.
Activities – Those planning on visiting Angkor Wat should factor in the cost of the entrance fee, which is $37 USD per day (or $72 USD for a multi-day pass). Also, be sure to factor in the cost to travel there (either by bike rental or hired tuk-tuk). Other tours, hikes, and entrance fees are between $10-20 USD depending on the length and popularity of the activity. Hiring a private driver to take you around to different sites for the day is generally $15-20 USD while hiring a private licensed guide is around $40 USD per day. Most museums are just a few dollars.
Backpacking Cambodia Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Cambodia, expect to spend around $45 USD per day. On this budget, you can stay in a dorm room, eat food from the street stalls, have a couple of beers here and there, and take public transportation to get around. If you’re visiting Angkor Wat (you likely are), you’ll need an additional $37 USD plus the cost of a bike or driver.
On a mid-range budget of $90 USD, you can stay in a budget hotel with air conditioning, have some sit-down meals at nicer restaurants, drink more, take buses between cities, visit Angkor Wat, and do more tours and activities like seeing the Killing Fields and taking a cooking class.
On a “luxury” budget of $160 USD or more a day, the sky is the limit! You can stay at hotels, eat out anywhere you want, drink as much as you want, hire a driver, and do whatever tours and activities you want (including a multi-day visit to Angkor Wat).
Cambodia Travel Guide: 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. But if you really want to pinch some pennies, here are a few tips on how to save extra money in Cambodia:
- 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. Limit your drinking to save your budget.
- Work for your room – You can usually negotiate a discount at a hostel if you stay for a week or longer and offer to volunteer. Usually, this means just a few hours per day helping out in exchange for free accommodation.
- Book tours and day trips as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple tickets. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you. You can likely get a better price this way.
- 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 can to negotiate a lower price. Anything you see online is going to be more expensive than you need to pay!
- Eat on the street – You can pick up tasty local fare for cheap in Cambodia. Eat cheap at the stalls and avoid Western food.
- Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value here. Bargain with sellers, because 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!
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier comes particularly in handy in Cambodia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles by getting a bottle that can purify the tap water. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw since it has a filter that ensures your water is always safe and clean.
Where to Stay in Cambodia
Accommodations in Cambodia are incredibly cheap. Here’s a list of budget-friendly places to stay in Cambodia:
- The Siem Reap Pub Hostel (Siem Reap)
- Lub D Cambodia Siem Reap (Siem Reap)
- Onederz Hostel (Siem Reap)
- Onederz Sihanoukville (Sihanoukville)
- Next Beach Club (Koh Rong)
- Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem (Koh Rong Samloem)
- Mad Monkey (Phnom Penh)
- Onederz (Phnom Penh)
- Sla Boutique Hostel (Phnom Penh)
- The Magic Sponge (Kampot)
How to Get Around Cambodia
Public transportation – Local city transportation is cheap in Cambodia. Phnom Penh is the only city with any public transportation network to speak of, with a small bus network of 17 routes. Tickets cost just $0.40 USD per ride, paid in cash each time you board the bus.
Taxi – Taxis are normally double to triple the local transportation cost, and you often must haggle for the price. They start high, and you work towards something you are willing to pay. Shared taxis for long-distance travel are a good idea if you have a group of 3-4 people. When in doubt, ask your hotel/hostel staff for a price estimate so you know you’re not getting ripped off.
Renting a driver for the day costs $15-20 USD, and most hostels can help you arrange finding one.
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).
Bus and minibus – The easiest and cheapest way to travel around Cambodia is by bus, a network that has improved quite a bit in recent years. The backpacker trail is so worn that there is a very well-established tourist bus system to take you anywhere. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville are the main hubs.
Generally, you can get a bus anywhere in the country for under $20 USD. Buses depart regularly from Siem Reap to Bangkok for $20 USD each way, a journey that takes around 9 hours. Both buses and mini-buses also make the 6-hour journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh daily for $10 USD per person. The 5-hour ride from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville starts from $9 USD, while Siem Reap to Sihanoukville takes 10 hours and costs $17 USD.
Train – Trains are not common in Cambodia. There is one route that runs between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, and one that runs from Phnom Penh to Poipet. Tickets cost $5-7 USD though departures are not very common so you’ll need to plan ahead. While improvements are being made, due to the lack of upkeep of the rail infrastructure, trains are in bad shape. I’d stick to the buses.
Boat – You can take a boat between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and between Siem Reap and Battambang. This isn’t the most efficient or cost-effective way to travel, but it can be a scenic and fun journey. The 6-hour ferry ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh costs $18-25 USD, and it’s $25 USD between Siem Reap and Battambang.
Flying – There are only a few domestic routes in Cambodia, between the major destinations of Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap. The main airline carrier is Cambodia Angkor Air. Flights are generally quite expensive and have infrequent schedules. The one-hour flight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap costs $140 USD, while the 45-minute flight from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh is $90 USD. These prices can increase significantly when booking last-minute.
Car rental – Car rentals are expensive here and the roads are far from excellent. Since accidents are common, I suggest skipping the car rental here.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Cambodia is possible, though it’s not common. Most people will think you’re waiting for a taxi though so make sure you clarify that you’re hitchhiking. Rural areas see little traffic so expect long waits outside major highways. You can check out Hitchwiki for more information and advice.
When to Go to Cambodia
The high season in Cambodia is from November to April when temperatures are milder. This more or less coincides with the dry season, which is from November-May. November-February are the busiest months, with temperatures rarely dipping below 20°C (68°F). Temperatures can go as high as 38°C (100°F), especially in April and May, so if you visit during these months be prepared for the heat and dress accordingly.
If you’d rather avoid peak tourist season, visit from May to the beginning of October. Although this overlaps with the rainy season, generally that just means getting hit with brief heavy rainfall in the afternoons. You can still see and do a lot during this time, just bring a rain jacket.
How to Stay Safe in Cambodia
Cambodia is a safe place to backpack and travel — even if you’re traveling solo, and even as a solo female traveler. Violent attacks against tourists are rare here, though petty theft can occur so always guard your possessions.
Unfortunately, theft is frequent on the beaches and in crowded streets. Always keep an eye on your belongings when out and about and never flash your valuables. Keep your wallet and phone secure and out of reach and don’t leave anything unattended on the beach either.
There are some common scams around that you’ll want to be aware of, such as the motorbike scam. This is where vendors try to charge you for damage to your bike rental. To avoid this, take pictures and video of your bike when you rent so that you can’t be charged for existing damage.
There is also a common tuk-tuk scam where the driver takes you miles from your destination and then pressures you to stay and spend money at the shop or restaurant where he dropped you off (the driver works under commission for a particular restaurant, hotel, or shop). If this happens, firmly decline and demand to go back or find another tuk-tuk driver.
Another common scam involves shady or fake police officers who demand to see your passport. Chances are, you’ll be asked to pay a “fine” to get it back. Simply deny the request and tell them the passport is back at your hotel in a safety deposit box.
For more information on travel scams, read about common travel scams to avoid here.
The people who usually get in trouble in Cambodia tend to be involved with drugs or sex tourism. Stay away from that stuff and you’ll likely be fine.
Avoid dehydration in the heat by making sure you bring lots of water to keep hydrated. Remember that tap water isn’t safe to drink, so bring a water bottle with a built-in filter.
If you experience an emergency, dial 119 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Cambodia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- LifeStraw – My go-to company for reusable water bottles with built-in filters so you can ensure your drinking water is always clean and safe.
- Unbound Merino – They make lightweight, durable, easy-to-clean travel clothing.
Cambodia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more information on Cambodia? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Cambodia travel and continue planning your trip: