Cambodia Travel Guide
Cambodia is one of the most underrated destinations in the world. Home to the famous and fantastic Angkor Wat, many people think the country has nothing to offer besides the massive temple complex. Which isn't true. There is a lot to explore and see beyond the architectural wonders of Angkor Wat.
From unspoilt beaches to majestic rivers, lakes, pristine forests, colonial townscapes, and lively nightlife, there's a lot to see and do in Cambodia. You can stay in the country for weeks without getting bored.
However, it's not the landscape or architecture of Cambodia that I enjoyed the most. It's the hospitality of the people. The people of Cambodia are some of the nicest people you'll ever come across and that makes your stay in the country more enjoyable.
Capital city: Phnom Penh
Currency: Cambodian Riel (R) or US Dollar. 1 USD = 4,111 Riel
Electricity: Power voltage is 230 Volts. Power socket types A, C, and G.
Language: Khmer, also called Cambodian, is the official language.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Cambodia
Temples of Angkor
It’s impossible not to be impressed with the Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world, and the most famous structure in what is now the Angkor Archaeological Site. It’s wild to think these structures were built when the British Empire was still a pipe dream.
There are many outlying temples and other structures on the massive grounds, making up the ancient city of Angkor Thom. You’ll also see unique pieces of art and everything here is very picturesque. You can’t take an ugly picture here!
Battambang Bat Caves
Who cares about bats, right? You just have to see the Battambang bat caves. The cave has literally millions of bats that will make the DC superhero, Batman jealous. Heck, the dark knight may consider making Battambang his new base of operations.
At around 5:30 pm, millions of bats fly out of the Battambang caves in close formation to go hunting. It’s surreal to see that many bats in one place. Locals have set a kind of mini bar near the cave so you can watch the spectacle unfold before you with a cold bottle of your favorite drink. Remember to take some pictures.
Kampong Phluk village & Lake Tonle Sap
The Kampong Phluk, popularly referred to as a floating village, isn’t actually a floating village as the village is actually built on stilts. But when you go there during the wet season, the village is flooded with water and it seems as if it’s floating on the water. It’s incredible to see how the seemingly unstable stilts don’t collapse under the power of water during the rainy season.
Close to the Kampong Phluk village is the Tonle Sap Lake which is home to different species of wildlife. Visiting the lake and the surrounding floating villages around it is a unique experience.
Another hidden gem in Cambodia. If you ever find yourself in the country, make time to explore this beautiful little town. A giant river runs through the surrounding countryside and makes the town a prime riverside destination.
From exploring the surrounding caves to visiting the pepper farm, the astonishing Secret Lake which is actually secret since many people don’t know about it, and kayaking in the Kampot river, there are many things to keep you entertained in the little town.
Waterfalls are exhilarating, beautiful, majestic, powerful, and yet soothing. They are one of the best creations of Mother Nature. I’ll never get tired of waterfalls and when there’s a chance to see one, you better believe I’ll be taking it.
Located in the Mondulkiri province is the Bousra waterfall, the largest of its kind in Cambodia. There is also the Dakdam waterfall, the Pu Long waterfall, and Romnea waterfall. If you get tired of waterfalls, visit the elephant sanctuary to see these majestic mammals. Feed them, bathe with them, and understand them.
If you are a hiking enthusiast, you’ll be happy to know there are several opportunities for jungle hiking in the province.
Koh Rong Samloem island, off Sihanoukville
Koh Rong Samloem Island is picture perfect. It has some of the best beaches you’ll ever come across. Even if you don’t care much about beaches, you’ll like what you see at Koh Rong. The flawless white sand at the beach seems endless and the water has the perfect shade of blue. No, it’s actually turquoise. I’m brushing up on my knowledge of colors, haha.
Despite the charms of the Island, it’s still mostly unknown and thus still underdeveloped. Don’t expect to find 5-star hotels or luxurious amenities here.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh
Man is capable of great times. Man is also capable of evil things. See the worst of humanity at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum which chronicles the Tuol Sleng genocide where an estimated 20,000 that were imprisoned at a former school site were brutally tortured and killed.
There’s an eerie feeling about the museum, as you’d expect. It’s a great tragedy that I hope never happens again anywhere on this planet.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields, near Phnom Penh
If you think the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum is an harrowing experience, then the Choeung Ek killing fields are much worse. Prisoners ag S-21 prison (now Tuol Sleng Museum), were transported to be killed at various killing fields across Cambodia but the Choeung Ek fields have the highest number of victims. Infants and children were not spared and you’ll see the skull of victims, some of which have been exhumed and sorted by gender and age. It’s a powerfully sombre experience.
Spot the critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong River in Kratie
There are many things to do along the Irrawaddy river but the most interesting one, I think, is the opportunity to see the critically-endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. The nose of these dolphins makes them distinguishable from the rest.
Unfortunately, the number of Irrawaddy dolphins are declining with each passing year. And it’s painful to think these beautiful creatures may go extinct if there is no serious intervention.
Royal Palace and Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
Your trip to Cambodia is incomplete if you don’t visit the Royal Palace in Wat Phnom. The architecture of the place is simply stunning and golden structures and the riverfront only increases its aesthetics. There’s also a lot of history behind the royal palace, so visiting there is a good way to have a glimpse into the past of Cambodia.
Another interesting destination in Phnom Penh is the temple hills of Wat Phnom. The ancient architecture and the vegetation around the temple give off a serene vibe. While the temple is a religious ground, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beauty and significance of the temples.
Cambodia's Geography & Landscapes
Cambodia has the following geographical features:
- A central lowland including the Tonle Sap Basin where most of the population is situated.
- The lower Mekong River flood plains.
- The Bassac River plain, which is surrounded by mountain ranges to the north, east, in the south-west and south.
Best Time To Go To Cambodia
Cambodia has a tropical, hot climate all year round. There are two seasons – tropical wet and dry seasons. The dry season is usually between November to March and coincides with the peak tourist season.
May to October is the wet season. Brief heavy rainfall tends to happen during the wet season although the daytime temperatures average between 25°C and 27°C.
The best time to visit Cambodia is the dry season due to the absence of rainfall. However, some destinations such as the floating villages are best visited during the wet season. If you want to beat the crowd, you’ll also have to visit during the wet season. Just remember to pack a rain jacket or coat.
Traveling in Cambodia
Cambodia is a safe country to travel to. However, you should watch out for petty theft and scams. Here are a few safety tips:
- Make photocopies of your passport and other essential documents. Keep the originals in a safe in your room.
- Don’t flash or flaunt your belongings. You can make yourself a target of theft.
- Ask hotel management for areas to avoid. Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
- Don’t leave drinks unattended and don’t accept drinks from strangers.
- Stay away from drug and sex tourism.
- Petty theft is common at beaches. Don’t leave your belongings unattended when you go to a beach.
- Bike rentals may want to scam you by charging you for damages. If you want to rent a bike, take pictures and videos of the bike you intend to rent to avoid being charged for existing damages.
- Shady or fake police officers may request to see your passport. If you give them your passport, you may have to pay a “fine” to retrieve it. Politely decline and tell them you aren’t with your passport, which should be true since you should never walk around with your original documents.
- Purchase good travel insurance.
Getting to & Around Cambodia
The main International Airports in Cambodia are Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Travelers from Europe can’t get a direct flight to Cambodia. They’ll have to travel to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and other destinations to catch a flight to Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. You can also reach Cambodia by land from neighboring countries – Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. That’s what I did!
Local flights are very expensive and have infrequent schedules.
Transportation is generally cheap in Cambodia. Buses are the cheapest form of transportation and only Phnom Penh has a public transportation network.
Taxis and minibuses are other forms of road travel. However, they can be more expensive than buses. Ask hotel management for a price estimate to avoid being ripped off.
Short local trips can be made on a motorcycle or a “tuk-tuk“. Three-wheeled cycle rickshaws (cyclops) are also available in Phnom Penh for short trips.
Trains are in bad shape in Cambodia. In fact, there’s only one route. It’s recommended you travel by road.
Car rentals are expensive and the roads aren’t in the best condition. Even if you are a confident driver, save your driving skills for another country.
The main cities have several accommodation options. Mid-range hotels, luxurious hotels, budget hotels, and hostels are all available. You’ll also find a basic hotel in every provincial town.
Except on some beaches and islands of the south coast, camping is theoretically illegal in the country. But the accommodation is cheap enough that you don’t need to camp.
Airbnb is also available in the country.