Cambodia is a country that offers a rich and diverse cultural heritage, stunning natural beauty, and unforgettable experiences for travelers. Whether you want to explore the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, relax on pristine beaches and islands, or enjoy the vibrant cities and rural villages,, Cambodia has something for everyone. In this ultimate traveler’s guide, we will give you all the tips and information you need to plan your trip to this amazing destination. You will learn about the best time to visit, where to stay, what to pack, how to get around, and what to see and do in Cambodia. Let’s get started!
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Cambodia depends on what you want to see and do during your trip. Generally, the dry season from November to April is considered the best time to visit. During this time, the weather is cooler and drier, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as temple visits, hiking, and island-hopping.
However, if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the shoulder seasons of March to May, or September to October are also good times to visit. The weather is still comfortable, and there are fewer tourists. But, the temperature can be quite hot, especially in the months of April and May, so be prepared for the heat.
The monsoon season from June to August is less recommended due to heavy rains and flooding in some areas. It’s also hot and humid during this time, making it less comfortable for traveling.
Budget and Cost of Living
Cambodia is considered a budget-friendly destination, with a relatively low cost of living. Accommodation, food, transportation, and activities are all relatively inexpensive compared to other popular Southeast Asian destinations.
Budget: Guesthouses and hostels can be found for as little as $5-10 per night.
Mid-range: Mid-range hotels and resorts can be found for around $20-50 per night.
Luxury: Luxury hotels and resorts can be found for around $50-150+ per night.
Street food and local restaurants are very cheap, with meals costing around $1-5. Western food and dining in hotels or restaurants can be more expensive, with meals costing around $5-20.
Tuk-tuks and motodops (motorbike taxis) are inexpensive and widely available for short trips around town. Bus and minivan transportation between cities is also inexpensive, usually costing around $5-10 per journey. Taxis are also an option and are relatively cheap, although it’s recommended to agree on the fare before starting the journey.
Entrance fees to temples and other tourist sites are relatively inexpensive, usually costing around $5-20 per person. Adventure activities such as trekking and rock climbing are also inexpensive, usually costing around $15-50 per activity.
Overall, a budget of around $30-50 per day is a good estimate for budget travelers. Mid-range travelers should budget around $50-100 per day, and luxury travelers should budget around $100+ per day. Keep in mind that prices may vary depending on the season and location.
Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most iconic attractions in Southeast Asia. It is a large temple complex located in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and is considered the largest religious monument in the world. The temple was originally built as a Hindu temple in the 12th century for the Khmer Empire; later, it was converted to a Buddhist temple.
The temple complex consists of several structures, including the main temple, which is surrounded by a moat and an outer wall. The main temple features impressive carvings and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. The temple is also famous for its intricate stone carvings and the large central tower, which is a representation of Mount Meru, the Hindu center of the universe.
Angkor Wat is also known for its beautiful sunrise and sunset views, which are best seen from the upper terraces. Visitors can explore the temple complex on foot, by bicycle, or by taking a guided tour.
It’s highly recommended to visit the temple early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat, also, a good idea is to hire a guide, as they can provide valuable information and context to the site.
Angkor Wat is a must-see attraction for any traveler visiting Cambodia and it’s a great opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the Khmer Empire.
Siem Reap is a city located in the northwest of the country and also one of the most visited cities in Cambodia. It is known as the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex, which is the main attraction in the area. However, there are many other things to see and do in Siem Reap, beyond the temples.
Siem Reap has a charming old town with a mix of traditional and colonial architecture, it also is known for its vibrant nightlife, with many bars and restaurants offering live music and traditional performances. The town is also home to several art galleries, markets, and museums, such as the Angkor National Museum, which offers an in-depth look at the history and culture of the Khmer Empire.
Siem Reap also offers a variety of activities and experiences, such as:
- Visiting the floating village of Chong Khneas, located on the Tonle Sap Lake, where you can learn about the daily life of the local communities and the importance of fishing and agriculture.
- Relaxing at one of the many spas and wellness centers, which offer traditional Khmer massage and other treatments.
- Visiting the nearby countryside, where you can explore the lush rice fields, and traditional villages.
- Taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples to see the sunrise or sunset.
- Enjoy traditional Apsara dance performances, contemporary circus shows, live music and nightlife venues.
- Indulge in world-class dining across a range of cuisines, or sample local coffee and tea at charming cafes
Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. It is located at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers. The city is known for its rich history and culture, as well as its vibrant and rapidly-developing modern side.
Phnom Penh has a rich history and culture, and there are many historical and cultural sites to visit such as:
- The Royal Palace, which is the official residence of the King of Cambodia and a great example of Khmer architecture.
- The Silver Pagoda, located within the palace grounds, which houses many precious relics, including a solid-gold Buddha.
- The National Museum, which houses a collection of Khmer art and artifacts, including a large collection of Angkorian-era statues.
- The Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, which was a former prison used during the Khmer Rouge regime, and now serves as a reminder of the atrocities committed during that time.
- Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple that is considered the founding place of the city.
- Phnom Penh is also a great destination for foodies, with a wide range of international and local cuisine to enjoy. The city has a growing food scene, with many street food vendors, local restaurants, and international dining options.
Phnom Penh also offers a variety of activities and experiences, such as:
- Taking a boat tour on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, to see the floating villages, and the famous Mekong Sunsets
- Shopping at the Central Market, which is one of the largest markets in Southeast Asia, and offers a wide range of goods, including traditional crafts, textiles, and jewelry.
Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and a UNESCO biosphere reserve. It is located in central Cambodia, and its size and depth vary greatly depending on the season, as the water level can rise by as much as 8 meters during the monsoon season.
Tonle Sap Lake is an important source of fish for the local communities and supports a diverse array of aquatic plants and animals. It is also home to several floating and stilt villages, where people live, fish, and farm on the lake. Visitors can take boat tours to see the floating villages and learn about the daily life of the local communities, as well as the importance of fishing and agriculture to the region.
The lake is also an important bird-watching destination, as it is home to a large number of migratory birds, including several species of waterfowl, waders, and shorebirds. Visitors can take a guided bird-watching tour to see the various species of birds that inhabit the lake.
Tonle Sap Lake is also home to the Chong Khneas floating village, where visitors can learn about the daily life of the local communities, and the importance of fishing and agriculture to the region.
Battambang is a city located in northwest Cambodia. It is the second-largest city in the country, and it is known for its colonial architecture and traditional bamboo train. The city also serves as a gateway to several nearby temples and other historical and cultural sites.
Battambang is a charming city with a mix of traditional and colonial architecture, visitors can explore the city on foot or by bicycle to see the charming old town, the colonial-era buildings and the traditional markets. The city is also home to several art galleries, museums, and cultural centers, such as the Battambang Museum and the Phare Ponleu Selpak, which offers traditional performances and art classes.
One of the main attraction in Battambang is the Bamboo Train, also known as “Norry”. It’s a traditional mode of transport consisting of a flatbed of bamboo slats that run on two wheels. It’s a unique experience, and it’s a great way to see the rural areas around the city.
Battambang is also a great destination for foodies, with a wide range of local and international cuisine to enjoy. The city is known for its delicious street food, local restaurants, and night markets.
Sihanoukville, also known as Kampong Som, is a coastal city located in southern Cambodia. It is known for its beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, and island hopping. It’s a popular tourist destination, especially among backpackers and budget travelers, and it’s also a great base for exploring the nearby islands.
Sihanoukville has several beaches, each with its own distinct character and atmosphere, but the most popular ones are:
- Serendipity Beach: Known for its lively atmosphere and nightlife, it’s a popular spot for backpackers and budget travelers.
- Ochheuteal Beach: Known for its long stretch of white sand and crystal-clear water, it’s a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing.
- Otres Beach: Known for its laid-back atmosphere and quiet, it’s a popular spot for those looking to escape the crowds.
The city also offers a variety of activities and experiences, such as:
- Island hopping: Sihanoukville is a great base for exploring the nearby islands, such as Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, which offer beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, and a variety of activities such as snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
- Snorkeling and diving: Sihanoukville is known for its crystal-clear water and diverse marine life, making it a great destination for snorkeling and diving.
- Hiking: Sihanoukville is also home to several hiking trails that offer beautiful views of the coastline, and the nearby islands.
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem
Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem are two of the most popular islands located off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Both islands offer beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, and a variety of activities such as snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
Koh Rong is the larger of the two islands and is known for its lively atmosphere, nightlife, and party scene. It’s a popular spot for backpackers and budget travelers, and there are several bars, restaurants, and nightlife options on the island. The island also offers a variety of activities such as snorkeling, diving, and kayaking, as well as several hiking trails that offer beautiful views of the coastline.
Koh Rong Sanloem, is the smaller of the two islands and is known for its laid-back atmosphere and quiet. It’s a popular spot for those looking to escape the crowds and enjoy a more relaxed and peaceful experience. The island offers several beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, and a variety of activities such as snorkeling, diving, and kayaking.
Both islands are accessible by boat from Sihanoukville, and there are several boat operators offering regular services to the islands. Accommodation options on the islands range from budget-friendly guesthouses to luxury resorts, and you can find restaurants, bars and nightlife options on both islands.
Keep in mind that both islands are relatively undeveloped, and there are limited facilities and amenities on the islands, so be prepared to bring what you need.
Experiences and Activities
Temples and Ruins
Cambodia is home to many ancient temples and ruins that are a testament to the rich history and culture of the country. Besides the Angkor Wat, mentioned earlier, here are some of the most famous and popular temples and ruins include:
- Bayon Temple: Located in Angkor Thom, it’s known for its 216 giant stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, which are carved into the temple’s towers. It’s considered a masterpiece of Khmer architecture and is one of the most popular temples in the Angkor complex.
- Ta Prohm: Known as the “Tomb Raider Temple” as it was the filming location for the movie of the same name. It’s a beautiful and atmospheric temple, with trees growing out of the ruins, making it one of the most picturesque temples in the Angkor complex.
- Banteay Srei: Known as the “Citadel of Women” it’s considered one of the most beautiful temples in Cambodia, due to its intricate carvings and detailed decoration. It’s located about 25km from the main Angkor complex and is made of pink sandstone.
- Preah Vihear: Located on the border with Thailand, it’s a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Shiva. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s known for its beautiful location on a cliff, as well as its intricate carvings and sculptures.
- Koh Ker: Located in the northern part of Cambodia, it’s a complex of temples and ruins, including the main temple, Prasat Thom, which is a seven-tiered pyramid-shaped temple. It’s considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Cambodia, and it’s known for its unique architecture and well-preserved carvings.
Markets and Shopping
Cambodia is a great destination for shopping, with a wide range of markets and shops offering traditional crafts, textiles, and jewelry. Some of the most popular markets and shopping destinations include:
- Central Market: Located in Phnom Penh, it’s one of the largest markets in Southeast Asia, and it offers a wide range of goods, including traditional crafts, textiles, and jewelry. It’s a great place to find souvenirs and gifts, and it’s also a great place to experience the local culture and see how Cambodians shop.
- Russian Market: Also located in Phnom Penh, it’s a popular market for clothing, textiles, and souvenirs. It’s known for its wide variety of products, and it’s a great place to find traditional fabrics, such as silk, and traditional clothing, such as the Cambodian krama.
- Old Market: Located in Siem Reap, it’s one of the oldest and most traditional markets in the city. It’s a great place to find souvenirs, traditional crafts, and local products, such as spices and dried fruits.
- Night Markets: Many towns and cities in Cambodia have night markets, which are a great place to find souvenirs, traditional crafts, and local products. They are popular among locals and tourists alike and are a great way to experience the local culture and see how Cambodians shop.
Adventure Activities (trekking, biking, etc.)
Cambodia offers a variety of adventure activities for those looking to explore the country’s natural beauty and diverse landscapes. Some popular adventure activities include:
- Trekking: There are several trekking routes in Cambodia, including the Cardamom Mountains, which offer a great way to explore the country’s diverse landscapes, and to see the local villages and communities.
- Biking: Cambodia’s relatively flat terrain and well-maintained roads make it a great destination for cycling, and there are several bike tours available, such as the Angkor Wat and the countryside surrounding the temple.
- Kayaking and Canoeing: The Tonle Sap lake, Mekong river and other waterways in Cambodia offer great opportunities for kayaking and canoeing, and it’s a great way to explore the local villages and see the wildlife along the river.
- Rock Climbing: Cambodia has a growing rock climbing scene, with several climbing routes in the Cardamom Mountains and the Bokor National Park.
- Zip Lining: several places in Cambodia offer zip lining over the rainforest canopy, such as the Kompong Speu province and the Cardamom Mountains.
- Canyoning: is also becoming popular in Cambodia, with several canyoning tours available in the Cardamom Mountains, where visitors can jump, swim, and slide through the beautiful waterfalls and streams.
Food and Drink
Cambodia is known for its delicious and diverse cuisine, which is a blend of traditional Khmer, Chinese, and French influences. Some of the most popular and traditional dishes include:
- Amok: A traditional Khmer dish made of fish or chicken cooked in a coconut milk-based curry, often served in a banana leaf or coconut shell.
- Fish Amok: A fish curry cooked in coconut milk, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. It’s considered the national dish of Cambodia.
- Bai Sach Chrouk: Grilled pork and rice, it’s a popular breakfast dish, and it’s often served with pickled vegetables.
- Kuy Teav: A noodle soup that is typically made with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts. It’s a popular breakfast dish, and it’s also often served with various toppings like fried garlic, green onions, and cilantro.
- Nom Banh Chok: A traditional Khmer noodle dish, made from rice noodles topped with a green fish curry, and a variety of herbs and vegetables.
- Lok Lak: A popular dish that consists of stir-fried beef, onions, and tomatoes, usually served with rice and a fried egg.
Cambodia also offers a variety of drinks, such as:
- Tea, coffee and juice are widely available, and traditional Cambodian drinks include sugarcane juice, and iced coffee with sweet condensed milk.
- Cambodian beer is also popular, with Angkor Beer and Cambodia Beer being the most widely available.
- Rice wine or “prahok” is also a traditional Cambodian drink, it’s a fermented fish paste and it’s not for everyone, but worth trying.
With many street food vendors, local restaurants, and international dining options, it’s easy to find a wide range of delicious and affordable food and drinks in Cambodia. Street food is particularly popular, and it’s a great way to try a variety of dishes at a low cost.
However, it’s always important to be aware of food safety when eating street food, and to make sure that the food is cooked properly and hygienically. Additionally, be aware that some places may not use purified water, and it may be best to stick to bottled water to avoid any stomach issues.
Tips and Advice
Safety and Security
Cambodia is generally considered a safe country for travelers, but it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and take appropriate precautions to ensure a safe and secure trip.
- Crime: Cambodia is generally safe, but as with any country, there is a risk of crime, particularly in the larger cities. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to take precautions, such as not leaving your valuables unattended, and not walking alone at night in isolated areas.
- Scams: Scams are a common problem in Cambodia, particularly in tourist areas. It’s important to be aware of common scams, such as overcharging for goods and services, and to be cautious when dealing with street vendors and taxi drivers.
- Traffic: Traffic in Cambodia can be chaotic, and the roads are often poorly maintained. It’s important to be aware of the risks, and to use caution when crossing the street or driving.
- Health and Safety: Cambodia has a tropical climate, and it’s important to take precautions to avoid heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses, as well as dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes. It’s also important to be aware of the risk of food-borne illnesses, and to take precautions when eating street food or food from vendors.
Cambodia is a country with a rich culture and history, and it’s important to be aware of and respect the local customs and practices while traveling. Some things to keep in mind include:
- Dress modestly: When visiting temples and other religious sites, it’s important to dress modestly, covering your shoulders and legs. It’s also important to remove shoes before entering a temple or pagoda.
- Show respect for Monarchy: The Cambodian monarchy is held in high regard, and it’s important to show respect for the King and the royal family.
- Show respect for Buddhism: Buddhism is the dominant religion in Cambodia, and it’s important to show respect for the religion and its practitioners. This includes not touching people’s heads (as it is considered sacred), not pointing the soles of your feet at people, and not sitting with your feet pointed toward a Buddha statue.
- Be careful on the topic of Khmer Rouge: Cambodia has a tragic recent history and it’s important to be respectful when discussing the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities that took place during their rule.
- Be aware of your tone and body language: Cambodians are polite and reserved, and it’s important to be aware of your tone and body language when interacting with locals.
- Tipping: Tipping is not expected but it’s appreciated in Cambodia, particularly in the tourist industry.
Money and Currency
Cambodia is a country with a rich culture and history, and it’s important to be aware of and respect the local customs and practices while traveling. Some things to keep in mind include:
The official currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel (KHR), but the US dollar (USD) is widely accepted, especially in tourist areas and larger cities. The exchange rate between the two currencies is generally around 4,000 KHR to 1 USD.
It’s important to note that prices are often quoted in US dollars, but payments can be made in either currency. It’s recommended to have a mix of both US dollars and Cambodian Riel, as some places may not accept dollars or may give change in riel.
ATMs are widely available in larger cities and tourist areas, and most ATMs accept international cards. Credit cards are also widely accepted in tourist areas, but it’s important to be aware that not all places accept them, and some places may charge additional fees for using credit cards.
It’s recommended to carry cash and to have a backup option, such as a credit card or a travel money card. Also, it’s important to be aware of the exchange rate and to be mindful of the costs when traveling in Cambodia.
Language and Communication
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, but English is widely spoken in tourist areas and larger cities. French is also spoken, particularly in Phnom Penh, as a result of the country’s colonial history.
Most Cambodians are friendly and welcoming to foreigners, but communication can be challenging due to the language barrier. It’s important to be patient, and to use gestures and body language to help convey meaning.
Having a phrasebook or translation app may be helpful, but it’s always best to hire a guide or translator if you’re planning to travel to remote areas, or if you need to conduct business or negotiate.
It’s also important to note that in Cambodia, the traditional way of greeting is by a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like position, referred to as a “Sampeah” . This is a sign of respect, and it’s a good idea to learn and use it when interacting with locals.
Here are some common phrases in Khmer that may be helpful for travelers in Cambodia:
Thank you: som-a-ro-koon
Excuse me: som-tous
How much? : daep nak chomnea bohn mean?
I don’t understand: khnhom mien deung
Do you speak English? : anak niey pee-sa anglung klish?
My name is… : chumhou khnhom key…
Additional Resources for Planning Your Trip to Cambodia
Here are some additional references and sources that can help you plan your trip to Cambodia:
- Cambodia Tourism Board: The official tourism website of Cambodia, provides information on destinations, accommodations, events, and more.
- Lonely Planet: A well-known travel guidebook publisher, offers travel guides, e-books and travel information on Cambodia.
- TripAdvisor: A popular travel review website, offers reviews and advice on accommodations, restaurants, and things to do in Cambodia.
- Rough Guides: Another travel guidebook publisher, offers travel guides, e-books, and travel information on Cambodia.
- The Cambodia Daily: An independent English-language newspaper, offers news and information on Cambodia’s culture, history, politics, and economy.
- The Phnom Penh Post: An independent English-language newspaper, offers news and information on Cambodia’s culture, history, politics, and economy.