What to do in Cambodia, budgeting, and things you should know before visiting Cambodia.
Cambodia was the first stop on my Backpacking Southeast Asia solo trip. This is not a country to be missed! Despite the fact that my phone was stolen at the beginning of my trip, this never stopped me from enjoying Cambodia.
I can say without a doubt that Cambodia was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t have any expectations before going in, which helped me enjoy my time to the fullest. There’s a reason Cambodia is on the rise as an international tourist destination. It hosts beautiful sights, delicious food, friendly locals, and cheap prices. Every person should visit Cambodia at least once to see it for themselves.
HOW TO GET TO CAMBODIA:
Cambodia is accessible by air via airports located in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville. If you’re traveling by land, (like I did from Bangkok, Thailand,) using an overnight bus is a very convenient and cost effective alternative. You’ll most likely sleep the whole time and it only costs $30. WiFi, free water, snacks, and use of a toilet are all provided. Just make sure to book your tickets at least two days in advance.
You will need a visa to enter Cambodia. The best and easiest option is to apply online through this official website: https://www.evisa.gov.kh/. The process is very easy and straight-forward. You just need to upload your photo, the details of your passport, and pay the fee of $36. When it’s ready, print your approval and take it with you to the border. The approval usually takes three days but I received mine the morning after I applied.
WEATHER / WHEN TO VISIT CAMBODIA:
The most popular time to visit Cambodia is during the dry season, from November to March. April and May are the hottest months. The rainy season starts in May and lasts through October which cools the temperatures down a bit. If you want nicer weather you should go during the dry season, but if you want smaller crowds plan to visit at the end of May, like I did. Even though the weather is considered worse and some of the waterfalls were dried up, it’s preferable to having tons of other tourists everywhere. Either way it’s going to be hot and humid, so don’t forget to bring water everywhere you go– maybe even a fan.
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Cambodia has its own currency, but most of the prices will be listed in US dollars (no cents). Expect to pay in either US dollars or in Riel anywhere you go. Don’t worry about changing your money at all, because most of the places will give your change in Cambodian Riel which you can then use for small purchases. You will be able to find ATMs or pay with your card in some hotels and high-end restaurants, however it’s a good idea to bring cash with you everywhere you go. Don’t forget to bargain and negotiate the prices. You can get much better deals this way.
SIM CARD / WIFI:
I didn’t expect Cambodia to have such easy access to an internet connection. It was easy to find WiFi in all the hostels, restaurants, and cafes I visited and the connections were really good. There are two suggested mobile SIM cards that you can get. You can buy one in a Smart shop, if you like, or you could do what I did and purchase a Metfone SIM card. It costs $8 and gives you unlimited data for an entire week.
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. English is not well spoken among the majority of locals. Many young Cambodians are studying it though, and will want to practice with foreigners. While you will be able to ask simple questions in English, it is always a great idea to learn couple of Khmer phrases for words like Hello, Thank you, etc..
PEOPLE IN CAMBODIA:
It’s very hard to speak about any nationality as a whole. There are good and bad people in every single country. In my own personal experience, almost all the people that I came across were very friendly and genuinely trying to help. All the tour guides I met were kind and funny. My tuk-tuk driver even invited me to his brother’s wedding on the first day that we met! Don’t forget that this country was affected by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime not that long ago and most of us don’t even know about it! It’s definitely left its mark on the culture and people of Cambodia. The tourism industry is not as well-developed in Cambodia as it is in Vietnam, for example, so people still need some time to adjust. With that being said, you still shouldn’t be too kind or let other people fool you. Scams and overcharging tourists is very popular.
SAFETY & SCAMS:
In general, Cambodia is a safe country to visit. Though keep in mind that like in another country it’s important to be cautious and aware of the scams that might happen. Be careful about people not charging you the right amount at the restaurants. Always hold onto your belongings while riding in a tuk-tuk and don’t buy from local children. This only serves to support exploitation. Don’t buy milk for the woman with a baby, she will have someone resell it afterwards and split the money. Another popular deception is when a person approaches you saying that the attraction where you’re going is closed. He will just try to offer you a different tour. Don’t believe that it’s closed; just keep walking to your destination.
Getting around the country is pretty easy, you can use either use flights or buses. Download apps like Skyscanner, Camboticket, or use the 12GO website to book your tickets. Use tuk-tuks to get around the city. It’s an easy, fast, and cheap way to get to where you’re going. Don’t forget to negotiate the price before getting in.
TIP: You can find tour agencies selling bus tickets and different tours everywhere. I suggest that you don’t book your tours online as they are almost always more expensive that way. Just go to a tour agency near you and check out the price there.
Depending on your needs you can find both luxury resorts and very cheap hostels in Cambodia. Since I was backpacking Southeast Asia, the best option for me was staying in hostels. It’s cheaper and you meet a lot more people that way.
I have a separate blog post dedicated to the most useful apps which I use while traveling. I highly recommend all of them so if you want to make your adventures easier to navigate, remember to check that out as well!
FOOD IN CAMBODIA:
Like in almost every country in Southeast Asia, you simply have to try local street food. My rule was to go where the locals go. If you see a lot of people constantly buying food, it means that most likely it’s not going to lie around for too long. Khmer food isn’t that spicy and it’s very delicious. If you go to small local restaurants or street food vendors you can easily get by with just spending $1-2 a meal. A word of warning: do not drink the tap water.
Places that i recommend:
- Khmer Taste Restaurant (Siem Reap)
- Artillery (Phnom Penh)
- White rose (Koh Rong)
- Amazing pizza (Kampot)
You will want to visit this magical place while you’re in Cambodia. In order to keep this post shorter in size, I created another list with special tips for those of you who would like to see Angkor Wat. Be sure to give it a read before you travel to Cambodia.
Like most countries in Southeast Asia, Cambodia can be a very cheap place to visit. Considering the fact that every person is different and has different priorities, I’m just going to share my spendings with you in this table.
I stayed in hostels and ate mostly in small restaurants or street food.
|Siem Reap (3 days)||$4/night||$15||$25 for Angkor Wat $1 tuk-tuk||$37 1day Angkor Wat||$18 floating village, $12 dance show|
|Phnom Penh (2 days)||$5/night||$15||$10 bus from SR||$6 killing fields, $5 prison||$15 tour for killing fields and prison itself|
|Kampot (2,5 days)||$5/night||$15||$9 bus to Kampot||$20 full day tour|
|Koh Rong (3 days)||$5/night||$20 (food is cheaper in Koh Toch beach)||$10 ride to the Longest beach and back; $25 bus from Kampot to Sihanoukville and a ferry two ways||$25 Adventure Adam tour|
PLACES TO VISIT IN CAMBODIA
- Siem Reap
- Phnom Penh
- Koh Rong Island
I loved Siem Reap. You’ll want to stay here if you’re going to visit Angkor Wat. It’s a very small city but the atmosphere is great. It has its own unique offerings outside of Angkor Wat. I spent three days here, but honestly I wish I had spent at least four.
Phnom Penh is busy as it’s the capital of Cambodia. I wouldn’t recommend staying here for too long, as there is not a lot to see and do. There are much more beautiful places in Cambodia. Be careful of bag snatching when you’re here, as it’s a common occurrence. I’d hate for it to ruin your whole experience.
Kep is a tiny city on the coast of Cambodia. You can see everything it has to offer in about a day. This is also the place where you can try famous Kampot Pepper Crab.
I loved Kampot the most out of all the places that I visited in Cambodia. I even returned there after visiting Koh Rong Island to stay for one more day. It has cute little cafes, restaurants with delicious food, cheap fruit stands, and French bakeries. Additionally, Bokor Mountain, the pepper plantation, and walking along the river are not to be missed.
Even though I was in Sihanoukville for only a couple of hours, I can’t recommend you to go there. As a matter of fact, everyone that I asked about this coastal town, says that it’s used to be a nice place with white beaches and beautiful jungles. That is until it got ruined by excessive building, the mafia, casinos, and trash. Unfortunately, I even met several local Khmer people who told me that they had to pack up and leave Sihanoukville due to all of the gambling, rising prices, and escalating crime rate. If you still want to visit the area around Sihanoukville, go to Otres Beach. It’s probably the last untouched remnant of what Sihanoukville used to be.
Koh Rong is a big island just a short ferry ride away from Sihanoukville. Here you can still get incredible white beaches, clean water, and beautiful bungalows. If you travel during low season, you can find a bed for $4 right on the beach! It will feel like you have the entire island all to yourself. 4K beach is where I stayed and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s not far from the main part, Koh Toch beach, where the ferries come to but it’s cleaner and not as noisy. The roads here are almost non-existent so be prepared for long walks and bumpy motorbike rides. Unfortunately, this island will probably get ruined very soon, as contracts have already been signed for building more resorts, ports, golf courses, and an airport. They even changed its status from “National Park” to “City”.
TIP: Don’t forget about the glowing plankton here, it was a highlight of my trip and unbelievably cool!
THINGS TO DO IN CAMBODIA:
Sunrise/sunset at Angkor Wat and explore the whole complex
Even though it’s very popular among tourists, you should add this one to your bucket list. You will see for yourself how magical this experience is. It’s definitely worth waking up at 4 am to see.
Visit floating villages:
There are several villages on Tonle Sap Lake that you could visit. The most popular, touristy, and the closest one to Siem Reap is Chong Khneas. A better option is to go a little bit further to Kampong Phluk for a more local feel. You could go even further to Kampong Kleang to learn more about Cambodia and see very different way of life. I went there during low season but I still enjoyed it, especially since that’s when you can see the huge difference in water level.
Learn to prepare Khmer food and take a food tour:
I loved Khmer food A LOT! It’s so flavorful! I don’t even have the right words to describe it.That’s why I didn’t want to leave Cambodia. I recommend doing a food tour in almost every country because the food is so different. It will help you to learn a lot more about local dishes and about the culture in general. While you are there and have a chance to experience it, you should absolutely attended a cooking class in Cambodia.
You can book it through Airbnb or Get Your Guide apps. Another option is to book it on the spot.
Experience Khmer New Year (usually falls on April 13th and 14th)
I haven’t got a chance to see it myself but I’ve heard so many great things about it I had to put it on the list.
Learn about Cambodian history:
The brutal Khmer Rouge regime is a more recent occurrence than people realize and is something that you’ll want to learn more about while you’re in Phnom Penh. Visiting the Killing Fields and Prison S21 is a very heart-breaking and eye-opening experience. When you are at the Killing Fields take an audio tour for only $3 and you will learn so much more about those horrible times.
Cruise Mekong River:
Another popular thing to do while you’re in Phnom Penh is to take a cruise on the Mekong River. I haven’t done this myself because I to do it in Vietnam.
See a Cambodian circus or dance show
I went to a Khmer Dance Show and had a wonderful time. We had a buffet full of delicious Khmer food and seeing an authentic dance show was really entertaining. It’s crazy how much patience you have to have to dance like that!
Visit the islands and go scuba diving:
While almost everybody knows about beautiful beaches of Thailand, Cambodia has some amazing places to offer for relaxing at the beach or going scuba diving. I visited Koh Rong island and I loved it. I went there during low season and that honestly the best time to do it, as you can get $4 bed on the white beach with almost no one else around. It feels like you have your own private island.
Plankton glow at night:
This was the highlight of my visit to Koh Rong Island. It was my first time swimming with glowing plankton and it was an incredible experience. You can see thousands of shooting stars when you’re moving in the water. If you visit Cambodia, this is one activity you have to experience for yourself.
Go to the top of the Bokor Mountain:
You can rent a motorbike for $5-10 a day and it will give you freedom to stop wherever you like on your way up. You should only do this if you are confident enough in your driving skills though. Another option is to hire a taxi or a motorbike driver for your trip, like I did. Popular places on top of the mountain are Bokor Palace Hotel, also known as the “old casino”, the abandoned Catholic church, and the Lok Yeay Mao statue. Of course, there is a gorgeous view of Kampot from the top.
Visit Pepper Plantation
Another thing to do while you’re in Kampot is to visit the pepper plantation. You can see how peppers are grown, eat in an organic restaurant and even try different varieties of pepper here.
Kayaking the Green Cathedral
Ride to Champa Lodge and rent your kayak there. Since I was traveling by myself at the end of the dry season and I don’t enjoy kayaking that much in general. I decided to skip this one. Still, it’s something you should consider doing.