Cambodia, where ancient meets modern, is a Southeast Asian nation mostly made up of low lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains and the coastline of the Gulf of Thailand. The capital, Phnom Penh, is often overshadowed as a tourist destination by the far more enchanting city of Siem Reap in the northwest which hosts the ruins of the Angkor Wat temple.
Cambodia Travel Info
Language: The national language in Cambodia is Khmer and this is spoken by about 90 percent of the population. The next major language spoken is French with around 500,000 speakers. English, Chinese and Vietnamese are the other popular spoken languages.
Currency: Cambodian riel.
Visa: Visiting Cambodia requires a valid passport and a visa. Tourists and business travelers can get their visa at the airports in Phnom Penh, Preah Sihanouk, Siem Reap and at all major border crossings. Bring a passport sized photo and be prepared to pay about $30. Your visa is valid for one month from the date of entry but can be extended for another 30 days if you visit the embassy in Phnom Penh (for an additional fee). Speed up the process with an e-visa from the Cambodian Government Website.
Electricity: Cambodia operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. There are three plug types in Cambodia, A, C and G. Plug type A is the plug which has two flat parallel pins, plug type C is the plug which has two round pins and plug type G is the plug with three rectangular pins. I recommend bringing a Universal Travel Adapter so you don’t need to buy a new one for other countries you visit in future.
Khmer New Year: This is a major event and is celebrated across Cambodia on the 13th and 14th April each year. Also known as Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei, the New Year marks the end of the harvest season when the farmers can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Since most of the people return to their hometowns to celebrate Khmer New Year with their families the main cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap empty out as most of the partying goes on in the villages.
Pchum Ben: Another important holiday for Cambodian’s is Pchum Ben. This religious festival goes on for 15 days and the last three days are declared a public holiday. Pchum Ben falls at the end of September or the beginning of October each year. It is commonly believed by Cambodians that during this period spirits from across seven generations come back to earth and their offerings made during the festival are passed on to their deceased ancestors.
Water Festival: This three-day festival attracts Cambodians from all across the country to the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap to watch colorful boat races and fireworks. This festival marks the end of the rainy season and the start of the harvest or full moon.
Safety In Cambodia
Safety is a concern for most people traveling to Cambodia. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and other scams to take advantage of tourists are common in some areas such as Phnom Penh. Female travelers should take care to dress appropriately and be extra careful when walking alone or at night. Some parts of Cambodia are dangerous so do your research before you go and avoid these places. Based on many years of solo travel in Asia I would never leave home without travel insurance. I recommend checking out the travel insurance plan that World Nomads can offer you a few weeks before you leave.
Amazing Things To Do In Cambodia
Most travelers visit Cambodia for the impressive temples, undisturbed beaches, timeless ruins and it’s rich cultural heritage. Here’s our pick of the best things to do when in Cambodia.
Watch the Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Yes a completely touristy thing to do but it’s the Angkor Wat and it’s incredible so it still tops the list and is perhaps the No1 attraction to visit while here. Leave early in the morning so you can get in when the gates open at 5am and find yourself the perfect spot to admire the sunrise. If you’re not a morning person catch the sunset instead which is equally as magical.
Angkor Archaeological Park
After watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat which was our No1 thing to do in Cambodia, you must take a walk around the temple complex known as the Angkor Archaelogical Park. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat is truly amazing and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Angkor was once the heart of the Khmer civilization and the Angkor Wat temple is the best representation of Khmer art and culture.
Visiting other less well known temples such as Ta Phrom, Bayon and Angkor Thom is well worth it too. Choose a 1 day pass to fully explore the place, if you get a 3 day pass instead be careful not to get ‘temple overload’ which is easy to do in Cambodia.
Visit the Killing Fields
If you can muster the emotional strength to visit the Killing Fields you will find thousands of skulls and bones which were unearthed from the many Cambodian Killing fields located in Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields stand as a historical monument to showcase Cambodia’s horrific history when many were murdered by their fellow Cambodians the Khmer Rouge. The audio guide is worth using because it will help you to understand this truly heartbreaking and gruesome time in Cambodia.
Snack on Tarantula
You will find street vendors selling deep fried Tarantulas in Cambodia and in some restaurants in Phnom Penh. Cambodian women believe that eating tarantulas makes them more beautiful and works wonders for their skin and hair. If you’re an adventurous foodie or you want to switch out your face cream for an eight legged snack order a “a-ping” also know as deep fried tarantula. Yum!
Take A Boat Trip
Considering all the beautiful lakes that run through the heart of Cambodia a boat trip while here makes great sense. Boat trips are unsurprisingly extremely popular with visitors to Cambodia considering how many lakes and river run through the country. Travel along the Sangker River from Siem Reap to Battambang or travel up the Tonle Sap River by boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The rivers are in full flow during Cambodia’s wet season so this is a great time of year to take advantage of all that torrential rain.
Experience Microlight Flight
You must have visited all the spectacular Cambodian temples from the ground but to experience them from above is just something else. Take to the air for an ultimate flying experience. This way you can see not only the temples but the whole of Cambodia from above. The lush jungles, flooded forests, pristine beaches, and the bustling markets all look surreal when seen from a Micro Aircraft.
Cycling In Cambodia
Adventurous cyclists have a lot of opportunities to explore Cambodia by bike. Although the country roads are infamous for their potholes, a mountain bike should be enough to get you from A to B safely. Go slow so that you can interact with the locals at various stops along the way. Cycling around Angkor is the perfect way to explore the temple complex to the fullest. Hotels and guest houses all around Cambodia will rent you a bicycle for around 2 USD a day.
Hang out at Kampot or Kep
A few hours away from Phnom Penh you will find a sweet little town called Kampot. If you want cute shops, western restaurants and riverboat cruises but with less crowds that the bigger cities, you’ll love this place. While here, if you fancy a break from chilling out in Kampot take a trip to the nearby seaside town called Kep, if only to sample their freshly cooked crabs. Kampot and Kep are really great places to simply relax and unwind!
Cambodia Water Sports
Diving and snorkeling are two major tourist attractions available off the coast of Sihanoukville. Get the best diving bargains at remote dive sites such as Koh Prins and Koh Tang and stay overnight on a boat. Stand-up paddle boarding is another way to appreciate the river’s panorama in Kampot. There are many more water sports like boating, kite surfing and wind surfing off the Cambodian coast so sign up for whatever you fancy most.
Apsara Dance in Phnom Penh
One of the most memorable things for art lovers in Cambodia is to enjoy the Apsara show which is a traditional Khmer performance. The roots of this cultural dance are from the mythological courts of Gods and Kings and with time it has evolved into a modern and unique dance enjoyed by many travelers to Cambodia today. The Aspara dance is usually based on a story which is narrated through dance movements. Prepare to be dazzled by the dancer’s attire.
Big and small cats, primates, elephants and many other exotic animals inhabit Cambodia’s Mondulkiri jungle. A one-hour drive away from the capital, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is also well worth visiting. Home to more than 1200 animals, this wildlife centre allows visitors to see many of Southeast Asia’s most colorful creatures, from bears to crocodiles.
Ziplining has recently gained exponential popularity in Cambodia, the longest zip line being the Angkor Zipline which has 10 lines. If you’re lucky, you can also spot some gibbons while you zip through the air. Koh Rong also has a zip line and if you’re interested in an affordable canopy tour, opt for BeTreed Adventures near Preah Khan. Ziplining in Cambodia doesnt come cheap and costs about USD 99 per person at Angkor Zipline and USD 69 at Mayura Zipline.
Shopping in Cambodia
With an extensive range of affordable handicraft products, shopping lovers can shop to their heart’s content in Cambodia. The best buys here are the precious gems and stones, silver trinkets, betel nut boxes, checkered Krama scarves, carved wooden items, weaving silk and much more.
Great quality handicrafts can be found at Angkor Night market, Angkor Handicraft Association, Old market and also the Russian market in Phnom Penh.
Wildlife Sanctuaries & National Parks
Cambodia has a number of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks that boast rarest species of flora and fauna. If you intend to explore a little more of nature, pay a visit to some of these destinations. The Virachey National Park houses elephants, tigers, sun bears, clouded leopards and different species of birds. The Ream Park is known across the globe for it’s endangered birds of prey like the white-bellied eagle, Brahminy kite and grey-headed fish eagle.
See Plankton Glow at Night
If you’re looking for a magical experience, Koh Rong is the right place, also known as the sleepy island. Here you can see magical planktons lighting up in the darkness of the night. Wade into the water around 1 meter deep to see the plankton. The experience is incredible and truly worth spending a day at Koh Rong for. If you are brave enough try snorkeling at night with the world illuminating around you while you glide silently through in the water.
Although trekking is not always recommend in Cambodia due to the possibility of stumbling upon a landmine, there are plenty of places that are considered safe should you wish to give it a go. Mondulkiri province and Ratanakiri province are two places in Cambodia where you can trek amongst wild scenery with waterfalls and witness local people and ethnic minorities going about their daily rituals.
Cambodian Spa Day
The spa therapies offered in Cambodia are quite different to the regular southeastern spa experiences. The traditional Khmer Spa has an unusual assortment of spa treatments and therapies that focus mainly on relaxation and health. Apart from the traditional spa, you can also indulge in massage therapies such as aroma spa, slimming oil massage, hot oil massage, hot stone, tickling fish spa and other scrubs and facials to rejuvenate and restore.
Other than these top things to do in Cambodia, there is so more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems.
What To Eat In Cambodia
Bai Sach Chrouk (Pork and rice): This is one of the simplest and most flavorful recipes of Cambodia. Grilled pork is served with lots of steamed broken white rice and pickled radish, cucumber and ginger on the side and topped with fried onions and scallions.
Fish Amok: Fish Amok is one of the most popular and well known dishes in Cambodia. It’s a kind of Khmer curry paste which is prepared from lemongrass, garlic, turmeric root, shallots, finger root and galangal and incorporated in a fish mousse with kroeung and fresh coconut milk. A great option for dinner and very healthy too!
Khmer Red Curry: This is a less spicy version of the curries from neighboring Thailand. The dish is made out of beef, chicken, fish, potatoes, eggplant, green beans, lemon grass, fresh coconut milk and kroeung (Kroeung is the Cambodian word for a number of spice/herb pastes that make up the base flavors of their Khmer dishes). This curry is usually saved for special occasions such as weddings and religious gatherings.
Kdam Chaa: Fried crab dish is a specialty of Kep, a sea town in Cambodia and is prepared from locally grown green Kampot pepper.
Cha Houy Teuk- A Jelly Dessert: No meal in Cmabodia is complete without a mouth-watering dessert. This extremely refreshing dessert is made up of agar agar which is derived from seaweed. Bright, edible colors like greens and pinks are added to the jelly which makes it super popular among children. This is combined with sago and coconut cream and is usually served with a scoop of shaved ice.
Where To Stay In Cambodia
Cambodia is an incredibly affordable place to visit. Finding a great place to stay in Cambodia is easy because there are so many options no matter what your budget. Hostels and dormitories make travel to Cambodia very affordable for travelers on a shoe-string budget.
If you’re traveling during peak season or want to stay in a luxury hotel in Cambodia then it’s wise to book your accommodation in advance. Don’t wait until you arrive to see what’s available or you may be disappointed to find that all the best places to stay have already been snapped up.
Jetset Bunny recommends using Booking.com for the best accommodation deals in Cambodia.
Cambodia Trip Planner
Best Time to Visit Cambodia
There’s a wet and dry season in Cambodia and temperatures rarely dip below 68°F (20°C). Cambodia is warm year-round but most travelers choose to visit in the dry season between November and March. If you prefer less crowds then go between May and early October when the prices are lower but the weather isn’t as great.
Cambodia Travel Budget
Cambodia is an affordable destination for travelers on all budgets. The cost of your trip to Cambodia depends on the comfort level you want while there. If you’re backpacking, staying in hostels and eating street food then budget between $20 and $35 a day. If you’re looking to stay in private rooms and eat in mid-range restaurants you could spend anywhere between $35 to $100 per day. If you want to enjoy luxury 4-5 star accommodation and gourmet restaurants in Cambodia then budget about $100 to $200 plus a day.
- Budget: $5-12
- Mid-range: $12-$35
- Splurge: $35+
Meal For One
- Budget: $2.00-$8.00
- Mid-range: $8-$15
- Splurge: $15-$50
Cambodia Packing Guide
Packing for a trip to Cambodia, like most other places in southeast Asia, is a breeze because it’s so easy to travel light in hotter climates. Tropical southeast Asia climates also mean high humidity so lightweight and breathable lose fitting clothing is essential.
Be prepared for the occasional cool evening depending on the month you visit and pack a warm sweater just in case. If you’re visiting during the wet season bring a rain jacket and an umbrella. If you forget to pack something you can buy anything you need in the larger cities such as Phnom Penh.
Other essential items to pack for a trip to Cambodia include, most importantly, a good quality travel backpack. Choose the brand carefully and make sure you find the right size backpack for your torso. Believe me, doing this will make all the difference and prevent major backache. Smaller items to pack include a padlock, sleep sheet and a money belt to keep important documents close to you.
For the full list of everything you need to pack for a trip to Cambodia check out the Jetset Bunny Ultimate Southeast Asia Packing List For Women Travelers.