Cambodia is a pretty amazing place to visit. The people are super friendly, the nature is beautiful and it's very inexpensive. There is everything from city sightseeing, shopping, beach, jungle, islands, snorkeling and scuba diving. Cambodia is quickly gaining popularity, and already has the very popular Ankor Wat
. So if it's on your list, I recommend you get going.
Suggest Staying: 2-3 weeks
Transport: Plane, bus, minibus, tuk tuk
1. Otres Beach
Otres Beach Sunset
Highlights: Beach, sunsets, snorkeling, relaxation
Suggest Staying: 3+ days
I first heard about Otres Beach from BeMyTravelMuse, a really great travel blog I recommend checking out. This place is so chill and friendly. It’s amazing just lounging around on the beach with a fresh coconut or tropical fruit shake. Or you may find yourself in conversation with locals or other travelers. It’s very small and not too many people travel there, at least when I went, so it’s easy to strike up conversations. The sunsets are gorgeous everyday. I stayed and just relaxed for 4 days with a day trip to Koh Tas for snorkeling and then to the beaches of Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem.
I recommend staying at least 3 days to see Otres including a day and/or overnight trip to one of the Koh Rong islands. It’s the kind of place you could stay for a week if you wanted to just hang out and relax. If you want to party, you can go into Sihanoukville which is about 20 mins by tuk tuk and should only cost a few dollars each way. Otres I (the north end) is a bit cheaper and less crowded, while Otres II seemed a bit more expensive looking. You can also stay near the river back off of the beach in between Otres I & II. There are some neat places to stay and it’s more secluded. It’s a 30-minute walk from the beach and there is a market back in there along with some places that do yoga. I stayed in Otres I at Pat Pat Guesthouse. No affiliation, just really like the place. Across the street from the beach, it offers a pool, gym, pool table, free breakfast, and booking desk. The hosts are super friendly and helpful. It’s a really nice atmosphere to relax and/or to meet other travelers. There are definitely cheaper places but you can’t beat the amenities.
- Safety. In general Otres felt perfectly safe, I only heard of a couple of incidents down around Otres III at night of people trying to steal drunk people’s wallets. It’s not really on the map, but Otres III is past Otres II towards the cove where the river dumps out.
2. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat Sunrise
Highlights: Temples, sunset/sunrise
Suggest Staying: 3 days
Stay Around: Siem Reap near Pub Street
Ankor Wat is the second most visited tourist attraction in all of Asia, at least according to Cambodia. It’s quite spectacular and should not be rushed. The main route is about 11 miles, so you definitely want to hire a tuk tuk driver for the day(s) you spend there. It’s also possible to get a guide when you get to Angkor Wat if you want to know more about the history and everything. We didn’t use one though. It can get very hot and humid upwards of 90+°F/30+°C, so pace yourself and drink plenty of water. The center contains the majority of the temples, but there are also a couple more temples to the north about 45 minutes away and a then a couple more to the south about 40 minutes away. While the temples all resemble a similar style, they are each a bit different in their structure, carvings, layout, etc. so it’s not a once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all situation. If you have the time to explore out of the main area, I thought Banteay Srei was really cool for the way it looked plus there weren’t as many people. Sunrise is pretty amazing and is worth waking up early. I almost skipped it, but was glad I didn’t.
Planning Your Visit
- Tickets. Available for 1-day ($20), 3-days ($40) and 7-days ($60). I recommend getting a 3-day ticket. If you get up for sunrise (see tips below), it’s possible to see the entire center of Angkor Wat in a single day, freeing you up to the see the temples in the north and south on different days. Or you can space out the main temple area depending on the pace that’s best for you.
- Temples (1-day). Angkor Thom, Bayon (Dinosaur), Baphuon, Elephant Terrace, Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Prohm (tomb raider temple with tree growing out of it), Angkor Wat.
- Temples (3-day). (Add +) Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Prae Ruop, Phnom Bakheng, East Mebon (E. Baray) or West Baray, Banteay Srei (to the north), Phnom Krom (to the south).
- Itinerary (Evening Before Temples). Sunset at Prae Ruop (limited number of people allowed on the top of the temple, but there are other viewpoints around as well; get there early to avoid the crowds).
- Itinerary (Day 1). Sunrise at Angkor Wat (follow the crowd to the viewing spot) and then stay to visit the temples in the center (leave Siem Reap around 4am to be there and ready for the sunset around 5-5:30am).
- Itinerary (Day 2). Banteay Srei to the north and Koulen Mountain where you can go on a short hike to a waterfall with ancient carvings in the rocks (the waterfall may be dried up, but the hike is still really nice).
- Itinerary (Day 3). Preah Khan and the Floating Village along the river to Tonle Sap (go later in the afternoon like 2 or 3pm to arrive at the lake where you can sit and have a beer and watch the sunset on one of the floating restaurants).
- Getting Around. Got a fantastic tuk tuk driver through the hotel. He did such a great job the first day, we had him take us around all of Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. Kind, friendly and arranged our itinerary that allowed us to see everything. You can find him on Facebook at Bun Chhorng Tuk Tuk Tours.
- What to wear. No shorts, skimpy clothes, or backless tops.
- What to bring. Lots of water and sun protection. Snacks. There is only food around the main area in the center. Headlamp if you go at sunrise.
- Sunset. Get your ticket at 4:45pm the night before you want to visit the temples because you can get in for sunset and then you get the entire next day included. You can see the sunset from the top of the temple, but there is a 300 person max capacity. If you are there for the day already, or go back a different day you can get there earlier and avoid the later crowds. There are some other platforms around the temple for viewing as well.
- Sunrise. Stay to visit the temples right after. Many tourists leave for breakfast so you have a couple hours with less people. Plus you can finish the day by mid afternoon right when the sun/heat is at its peak. We were able to see the entire center of Angkor Wat in about 10 hours.
3. Koh Rong & Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong Samloem
Highlights: Beach, crystal clear blue water, relaxation, bioluminescent plankton
Suggest Staying: 1-2+ days
Stay Around: Koh Rong Samloem (seclusion), Koh Rong Tui Beach (backpackers)
These islands have some of the most beautiful white sand beaches I have seen to date. The water is crystal clear and warm. A great place to relax for a day or a week. I only spent a couple hours at each, but had friends that stayed overnight and loved it. Since they are islands, accommodations will be a bit more basic.
Koh Rong caters more to backpackers and has a few pubs and hostels on the main Tui Beach by the pier. Up towards Long Beach has some accommodations as well which looked quieter with less people. You can see bioluminescent plankton at night around Long Beach on Koh Rong. They light up in the water when disturbed, similar to the Bioluminescent Bay in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There are also some hiking trails. The island is pretty big, and I didn’t get a chance to explore more than just the main beaches.
Koh Rong Somloem is quieter and more secluded with only a few huts on the beach and one hotel, at least on the main beach by the pier. I preferred this smaller island.
- Food. Be careful on Koh Rong of bad seafood. My friend had some bad shrimp and ended up in the hospital. Everything I had in Otres was perfectly fine though.
- Hiking. If you go on the trail away from the beach into the island to the other side, there is a local who blocks the hiking path in order to get you to give him money when he offers to take you around in his boat.
- Money. I’m not sure what the ATM situation is on the islands, so it’s best to stop in Sihanoukville to get some cash to bring with you.
- Electricity. Charge your phone, camera, tablet, etc. before you go if you can, as I’m not sure if they keep the generator on all the time for power.
Highlights: Caves, temples, jungle, bats
Suggest Staying: 1 day
Stay Around: City center
Battambang is a very under traveled place. It has a lot to offer, isn’t crowded, and it’s very easy to see everything in a day or two. There are some cool temples, several places to see bats, and remnants of the Khmer Rouge. It’s not as impressive as Angkor Wat of course, but you get a more unique and more intimate experience. Definitely worth the visit if you’re in Siem Reap.
My favorite thing in Battambang was a beautiful sunset view of the jungle on a secret hill right at the entrance to a bat cave. Every night around 6:00pm hundreds of thousands of bats fill the sky as they burst out towards the river in search of food. It’s pretty amazing to watch. Our tuk tuk driver took us here and I don’t remember where it was exactly, but you can probably ask around to find it.
When arriving in Battambang, we were a bit concerned when we noticed one of the streets blocked off and filled with machine guns and an army truck. It seemed a bit strange no one else was bothered by it. We asked at lunch what was going on and came to find out that they were filming First They Killed My Father with Angelina Jolie (based on the book). Luckily the people dressed as the Khmer Rouge were just actors.
See & Do
- Bamboo Train. Old bamboo platforms you ride along an old set of tracks for around $5.
- Bat Caves. Several places around the area where bats live. At night you can see them fly out to find food.
- Killing Cave. Where the Khmer Rouge murdered people. There’s also a pagoda at the top of the hill with great views.
- Wat Banan Temple. Really cool ancient temple with a shrine down below in a cave. Lots of stairs, but totally worth it.
- Wat Ek Phnom. Ruins with a giant Buddha statue and nice artwork.
- Well of Shadows. Killing Field where the Khmer Rouge murdered people.
- Getting There. Go by mini bus from Siem Reap, which takes about 4 hours.
- Bamboo Train. If you don’t have time, skip it, but if you do it’s an interesting experience.
5. Siem Reap
Highlights: Temples, shopping, nightlife, night market, hiking, lake
3-5 days (includes 1-3 days at Angkor Wat
Stay Around: Near Pub Street
Home to the famous Angkor Wat, Siem Reap in and of itself is a very nice town. As development progresses, this town becomes more and more modern, but parts of it still retain its original local charm. Pub Street is where most of the restaurants and nightlife are, but the the town is bigger than just this strip. There are also two markets, one old and one new across the street from each other by the river near Pub Street.
Outside the center, you can hike to a waterfall or take a boat trip down the river to Tonle Sap. Siem Reap can be a bit touristy due to the popularity of Angkor Wat, but within it and also a bit outside of town you can find some wonderful things that are more local.
See & Do
- Pub Street. Full of restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
- Downtown Market. There is an old market and a new market across the river from each other.
- Koulen Mountain. Beautiful 30-minute forest/rock hike to a waterfall which is sometimes dried up, but a nice hike regardless; 90-minute drive from Siem Reap.
- Floating Village. Boat ride along the river out to Tonle Sap where you can see houses on stilts, a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap.
- Tonle Sap. Great lake 30-minute drive from Siem Reap.
- Tonle Sap/Floating Village. You can do the Floating Village and Tonle Sap together, as the Floating Village is along the river that takes you to Tonle Sap. Go later in the afternoon like 2 or 3pm so you can watch the sunset from the lake in one of the floating restaurants and have a beer.
- Airport. Can’t check in until 2 hours before flight. No food outside the gates, only after security. Limited seating around the airport.
Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay)
I unfortunately did not make it here because I wasn't feeling well, but I did see it from across the water. Friends told me that it's amazing. The best way to visit is to take a short boat ride from Kep. You can go for the day or stay overnight, in which case you can see the bioluminescent plankton. If you go for the day, be aware you need to get there early in the morning (check the schedule as it sometimes changes) and will be there until the late afternoon. They only run a couple boats per day.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. It’s pretty similar to most Southeast Asia cities, but what is really interesting is the history about the horrible events and actions of the Khmer Rouge back in the 1980’s that had a huge impact on the country. The Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields are sad, but wonderfully done. A must see if visiting Phnom Penh. You can visit all the sites in a day.
See & Do
- Wat Preah Keo Morokat (Silver Pagoda). Temple of the emerald Buddha.
- Royal Palace. King of Cambodia royal residence.
- Genocide Museum. Preserved cell block from the Khmer Rouge used to house and torture prisoners. Lot of historical information recounting the time.
- Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center). Area where Khmer Rouge murdered people and many bodies were found. About 30 minutes from the city.
- Stay Around. Royal Palace or Independence Monument (Diamond Palace Resort & Sky Bar).
- Safety. Since it’s a big city, parts of Phnom Penh can be a bit dodgy, so use common sense and pay attention to your surroundings. I personally didn’t have any issues, but I heard about pick pockets and people on motorbikes that will snatch your purse or bag while you’re in a tuk tuk. Hang on to your belongings at all times.
- Getting Around. Hire a tuk tuk to take you around for the day. It’s inexpensive, especially compared to a taxi, and they will most likely have a tourist map with sites you can choose from.
- Time Adjustment. If this is your first stop after a long flight from a different time zone, I would recommend taking a day to relax and adjust to the time so that you’re fresh for the rest of your Cambodia trip.
I only spent an afternoon in Kep, a small fishing town about 30 minutes from Kampot. It has a nice wide open beach and great seafood in the center. There is also a park and some limestone caves in the area I didn’t make it to. From here you can catch a boat to Rabbit Island.
I only spent a day in Kampot, a small town between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh. It was very chill and beautiful along the river, but I thought it was just ok. Many other people really like it though. For Cambodia, it’s pretty progressive in terms of food, yoga, and stuff like that, probably due to the number of expats that live there.
I wasn't a huge fan of Sihanoukville in the town itself and spent most of my time at Otres Beach. Sihanoukville is a bit dodgy and dirty, but if you want to go out and party, there is fun to be had there. Serendipity Beach I heard was nice and Victory Beach is the pier where you can catch a boat to any of the nearby islands.
While in Hoi An, I had a funny exchange over drinks with a friend who had an interesting experience in Sihanoukville.
Jack: “I got punched by a pimp.”
Me: “Did you try to steal his ho’s?”
Jack: “His ho’s tried to steal me!”
- Flights: $48 (Phnom Penh to Siem Reap)
- Lodging: $400 (hotels, guesthouses)
- Transportation: $84 (tuk tuks)
- Activities: $167
- Food: $270 (estimated $15/day)
- Safety. Avoid motorbikes at night because they may ride along side and try to mug you. It is one of the most widespread crimes,. Stay on paths, could be leftover land mines (rare, but possible).
- Visa. Get e-Visa online or via phone app, as it will be faster and save you a lot of hassle at the border. Just check the border you want to cross at to make sure it's accepted there.
- Passport. Never let it out of your sight and only hand it over if absolutely necessary, but generally you shouldn't have to.
- Transportation. Giant Ibis or Ibis bus is popular, safe and reliable for the most part to travel between cities. You will be mostly transported around in mini buses with barely working or no A/C. Around the towns, the best method is tuk tuk.
- Currency. U.S. Dollar is widely accepted in all tourist destinations and even less touristy places too. The only time you will need Cambodian Riel (local currency) is for small purchases at local markets (e.g. buying snacks or water at a market).
- Food. Generally noodle dishes and cooked vegetables are safe, but be wary of fresh vegetables, salads, fruit, etc. you don't peel yourself that may have been washed with non-purified water. Pay close attention to seafood to ensure it's fresh. I brought Ciproflaxin to relieve traveler's diarrhea, as it is quick and effective. Consult your doctor.
- Vaccinations. Check with your doctor and the CDC website. Figure out which ones you need in advance for those that take time to become effective or require multiple doses.
- Weather. Gets quite hot, especially in the dry season, up to 100°F/40°C, so be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, and even long sleeves/pants if you can bear it. Drink plenty of water.
- More Info. Travelfish has the best in depth information about Southeast Asia.
- Volunteering. Build a House.
Crossing into Cambodia from Thailand
I crossed into Cambodia at Cheam Yeam, which is on the west coast border of Cambodia near Trat, Thailand on my way to Sihanoukville. Coming from Koh Chang, it took about 10 hours to arrive in Sihanoukville and then another 20 minute tuk tuk ride to Otres Beach. There was a mini bus to the ferry, ferry to the mainland, bus to the border, and then another bus to Sihanoukville. It sounds horrible, and it kind of was, but I met a bunch of people on the way and it ended up being an adventure. You can also cross farther north at Kbal Spean which takes you into Siem Reap and is the more popular border crossing. I would recommend getting an e-Visa via the web or mobile app available on both iPhone and Android. It will be faster and save you a lot of hassle at the border. The price is only a few extra dollars for processing. You will need to bring a passport photo with you as well as a hard copy of your approval letter. Also from Thailand make sure you have your departure cards in order to leave the country. If you don't get your visa ahead of time through e-Visa or at a foreign embassy, you can pay at the border in U.S. Dollars, Cambodian Riel, or Thai Baht. It's cheapest in dollars. I don't believe there is an ATM there so bring cash with you. Also pretty sure they don't take credits cards.
At the border it gets interesting. I arrived via the bus and was given a receipt to catch the next bus, as the driver was not allowed to enter into Cambodia. I would later find out this was to be traded for an actual bus ticket. So those of us on the bus crossed the border and were approached by some friendly young people who offered to wheel our bags, only for them to ask for money for the service at the end. Then we were approached again by several young men all wanting to help us get through the border patrol. It’s super confusing and you have to figure out who knows anything about the bus you came in on and generally where to go to get your visa and entry stamps. First we were asked to do a “health screening” and pay 20 baht, then were simply handed a yellow piece of paper. Not sure if you can get away without paying this, but it’s less than $1, so not worth arguing over. Next one of them collected our passports and told us to wait. I was hesitant to give up my passport, but I kept a close watch on it, as it was with several others from the bus group. He came back with our passports and worked with each of us to fill out a form. The form was for the visa which I told him I already had. He then filled out arrival and departure cards for me and asked for 600baht. I asked what for and he told me 300 baht for the officer to stamp my passport (you need a total of 3 stamps apparently) and 300 for his “help” as a tip. I told him I already had e-Visa, but he said I still needed to pay. I gave him the 300 baht plus a little something for him. My passport came back with the visa and necessary stamps. Looking back, I’m pretty sure you can just walk up to the window and do all of this yourself, especially if you already have your visa. I’m just not sure if the officers at the window speak English and/or will actually talk to you. Being tired and confused by all the chaos, I couldn’t find a window or sign for e-Visa, so I just went with the group, although I was the only one already with my visa.
Waiting for the bus was also confusing. You will have to wait about an hour and a half for the bus to arrive. Be sure to exchange your receipt for an actual bus ticket! Someone will likely approach you, just make sure the ticket looks legit, and maybe get together with a couple other travelers so you’re not alone if traveling solo. While waiting, there is some food available, but I would suggest bringing snacks with you. You will probably be asked if you want to get to the bus “faster” in a private mini bus at a price of 200 baht. Don’t bother, as this just takes you to a different bus station where you will have to wait for a bus there anyway and you already paid for the bus that picks up at the border. The bus I got at the border crossing took me directly to Sihanoukville.
It may be different at the other northern border, and I’m sure it’s way smoother at the airports, but this was quite a confusing ordeal. I recommend taking a tourist bus so at least you are with a group of people all going together. Be prepared to be approached by many people all trying to get money from you. It’s a horrible way to make an entrance into a country and I really hope Cambodia officials fix this. Luckily everything worked out and I ended making some new friends in the process, so not all bad.
Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Dengue
While not really a problem in the popular tourist destinations, some of the more rural areas in Cambodia have a risk of malaria. In urban areas there is a risk of Dengue. The best you can do is cover up with long sleeves, long pants, and socks that cover your ankles. Also, be sure to wear bug spray on exposed skin, especially at dawn and dusk. You can get bug spray in Cambodia, but I would suggest bringing with you from Thailand or even from home if that's your origin. More options and better products.
Regarding malaria tablets, I brought a bunch with me, both Malarone and Doxycycline, but I didn’t end up taking any of them. I talked to quite a few people about malaria tablets and a few of them who took medication had some awful stomach issues. Others, however, were not affected. I decided for me that covering up and wearing bug spray was best, especially since I needed to protect against Dengue anyway, and I didn’t want to risk the potential side effects of the pills. This is just what I did. I’m not a doctor so you should consult yours before deciding what do about malaria medication.