Backpacking Cambodia was one of the best experiences I ever had.
When I first visited Cambodia, I had low expectations for the country. I hadn’t heard much about it. I only knew it’s horrible past and that it wasn’t that developed. I didn’t expect much.
But, traveling Cambodia, I was blown away by how friendly the people were, how beautiful the country was, and how much there was to see and do there.
Now, Cambodia one of my all-time favorite travel destinations – and I think it’s one of the most underrated countries in the world. I can’t speak highly enough about it!
Since that first visit all the way back in 2006, I’ve been back dozens of times (even spending over a month there writing a book) and the country still remains a favorite!
Cambodia is still trying to find its way after the horrifying genocide that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime (led by Pol Pot) between 1975 and 1979 when about 1.5-3 million Cambodian people were killed. It left a deep, deep wound on the country.
However, here you’ll find a place filled with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered, rich history, delicious food, beautiful coastlines, and a lively nightlife.
Spend some extra time traveling through Cambodia exploring the temples (there’s more than just Angkor Wat), taking in the deserted, white sand beaches, the growing foodie and gastronomy scene, its complext history, lush jungles, and wonderful culture. (It’s also a really cheap country to visit!)
This guide to Cambodia travel guide can help you plan your trip and make sure you maximize your time there!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Cambodia
1. Angkor Wat
3. Phnom Penh
4. Tonle Sap
Other Things to See and Do in Cambodia
1. 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. Admission is only $5 USD, though you’ll need to arrange a ride to the area. Expect to pay at least $15 USD for a return trip tuk-tuk.
2. Visit Kep
This quaint beach town is the quiet version of Sihanoukville. It’s a nice place to relax near the ocean without the party atmosphere that is Sihanoukville. This town is famous for its pepper crab and empty beaches. It’s quite sleepy and 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.
3. 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. Admission is $5 USD per person.
4. Prasat Preah Vihear
This breathtaking mountain temple is the 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 ever is. Expect a $10 USD entrance fee for foreigners.
5. 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. 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.
6. Visit the pepper farms of Kampot
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. Tours are usually free, though you need to arrange transportation.
7. 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.
8. 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, 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.
9. Visit Kampot
Most people come here to enjoy the scenic riverside views, as well as the rolling hills that surround the city. Since you can explore easily enough on foot or by bicycle, Kampot is a great place to slow down and relax. Don’t miss the pepper farms, the mangroves, and the national park.
10. 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 stay for 50 days you can pay $43 USD per day for a 2-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 required.
Be sure to visit our city travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
Cambodia Travel Costs
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 Phen 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.
Backpacking Cambodia Suggested Budgets
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:
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. 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:
- 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.
- Stay put – You can usually negotiate a discount at a hostel if you stay for a week or longer.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- 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. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Cambodia
Accommodations in Cambodia are incredibly cheap, even by Southeast Asia standards. If you’re looking for some of the best places to stay, here are some of my recommended places:
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.
When to Go to Cambodia
The high season in Cambodia is from November to April when temperatures are more mild. The dry season in Cambodia is from November-May, and the cool season is from November-February (this is when most people visit). Temperatures during this the cool season are still high (temperatures rarely dip below 68°F/20°C), but humidity is lower. Temperatures can go as high as 100°F (38°C), especially in April and May.
If you’d rather avoid peak tourist season, visit from May to the beginning of October. Although this overlaps with rainy season, generally that just means getting hit with brief heavy rainfall in the afternoons.
How to Stay Safe in Cambodia
Cambodia is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel. Violent attacks are super rare. Petty theft is the most common type of crime here. There are some common scams around, like the motorbike scam where vendors try to charge you for damage to their bike, but for the most part, this is a safe place to travel.
People are nice and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble. The people who do tend to be involved with drinking or drugs or sex tourism. Stay away from that stuff and you’ll be fine.
A common scam in Cambodia is the tuk-tuk scam. You might occasionally meet a driver who works under commission for a particular restaurant, hotel, etc. You’ll end up miles from your destination, or you’ll be pressured to stay/spend money. Another common scam: you might be approached by shady police officers, or fake police officers who will demand to see your passport. Chances are, you’ll be asked to pay a fine to get it back.
Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid in Cambodia and be in the know!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. You have every right to remove yourself from the situation. 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.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Cambodia. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
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
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel Cambodia. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- 12Go.asia – 12Go.asia is the best website for booking transportation around Southeast Asia. You will be able to research your journey ahead of time and figure out the best schedule and prices.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Southern Asia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Cambodia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 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
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 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
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- 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
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 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
- 1 light cardigan
- 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)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Cambodia Travel Guide: 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!
Cambodia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more information on Cambodia? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Camodia travel and continue planning your trip: