For many people the first thing that comes to mind when they thing of Cambodia is Angkor Wat, one of the largest temple complexes in the world. And while visiting Ankor Wat was definitely a highlight of our 5 month trip, I did not find Cambodia an easy country to visit.
Cambodia went through a very dark period in the 70’s when the Khmer Rouge was in charge and approximately 1/3 of the Cambodian population was killed. When traveling around Cambodia, you still feel the impact of the terrible Khmer Rouge regime on the country and it’s people.
Visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng museum is horrible, though it should be on anyone’s itinerary when in Cambodia. It’s important to learn about the history of a country, no matter how sad it is…
That being said, I did enjoy our time in Cambodia. Cambodians are very kind people, the food is delicious, getting around is easy (distances are not too big) and there are plenty things to see and do.
Important things to know when traveling to Cambodia
Which language is spoken in Cambodia?
About 90% of the people in Cambodia speak Khmer. While French is also an official language not many Cambodians actually speak French. However, in most touristic places people know (basic) English. But even when someone doesn’t speak English, most Cambodians will go out of their way to help you anyway!
Which currency is used in Cambodia?
While the official Cambodian currency is the Riel, most tourists use US dollars. For payments smaller than $1 you’ll get change back in Cambodian Riel ($1 is 4000 riel). On this website you can find the current exchange rates.
When is the best time to visit Cambodia?
Cambodia has two distinct seasons, a dry and a rainy season. The best time to go is during the dry season, this runs from November until April. We visited in April and while Cambodia is pretty warm all year, April is generally the hottest month.
How much money do you need a day in Cambodia?
The short answer is: around $70 a day as a couple if you plan on following this itinerary. This budget covers accommodation, transport, food and drinks and costs for activities.
As always, if you travel more slowly average daily costs will be lower. If you want to know more about the costs of traveling in Cambodia, check out my Cambodia budget post!
What should I wear in Cambodia?
As in many countries in Southeast Asia you should dress modestly. For women this means not wearing any tops that reveal too much cleavage or stomach, plus no miniskirts, hot-pants, yoga pants or other tight clothing. I always bring a scarf so I can cover up in temples, stay warm in a heavily air-conditioned van or shopping mall and plenty other occasions.
For men appropriate attire is a blouse or shirt. Shorts are fine, though local men almost always wear long pants.
Do I need vaccinations when traveling to Cambodia?
Yes you do (quite a lot actually). The WHO recommends vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), yellow fever, cholera, Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, rabies, polio, meningitis, chickenpox, pneumonia and influenza.
Cambodia itinerary: how to get around
It is a cliche but still very much true: travel is as much about the destination as about the journey itself. That’s one of the main reasons I write my itinerary posts, getting from A to B is such a major part of travel! And also because in every country I visited, something unexpected happened when I was moving from one place to another.
Like that time in the Philippines, when I waited 3 hours for a bus to El Nido. Or when I was in Thailand and boarded a train without a locomotive. Or Malaysia, where I got to Kuala Lumpur in one smooth journey without booking anything beforehand.
But I digress, let me share with you my 8-day Cambodia itinerary. Well, 9 if you count the day I spent trying to get across the Thai border the Sunday after Khmer New Year. Bad decision, very bad decision! More about that further on in the post.
How to spend 8 days in Cambodia
In the map below you can find our Cambodia itinerary, accommodations and the highlights we visited during our trip.
Summary of our Cambodia itinerary
- Day 1: Vietnam border to Kampot
- Day 2: Bokor Hill Station (near Kampot)
- Day 3: Kep (near Kampot)
- Day 4: Kampot to Phnom Penh
- Day 5: Phnom Penh (Tuol Sleng and Choeun Ek)
- Day 6: Phnom Penh to Siem Riep
- Day 7: Siem Riep
- Day 8: Angkor Wat
- (Day 9: Siem Riep to Bangkok)
Day 1: Vietnam border to Kampot
My husband and I entered Cambodia at Prek Chak, after spending an awesome month in Vietnam. On Phu Quoc island I bought a package which included transport to Kampot city center and the whole journey was a very smooth one!
In Kampot city center we had a late lunch at the Epic Arts Café, a wonderful cafe serving delicious food whilst providing work opportunities for deaf and disabled people.
Where to stay in Kampot: Bohemiaz resort
I loved this place! Gorgeous view of the mountains while you are swimming or relaxing in one of the super comfy chairs or hammocks. The pool is excellent, no chemicals are used and it is cleaned naturally (with algae).
The British owners, Brian and Michelle, really make you feel at home and are very helpful! They helped us arrange our motorbike rental, the bus to Phnom Penh and transport to Kampot city center.
Bohemiaz resort is also a great place to meet other travelers and expats. And the food is delicious! The menu is a mix between Western and Khmer dishes, good prices and large portions.
We stayed in a bungalow for 2 nights and 1 night in the budget room. Both were clean, comfortable and great value for money.
The only slight downside: it is out of the city center (which makes it very quiet and relaxed but you do have to take a tuktuk into town. Or better yet, rent a motor bike at the supermarket next door for $5 a day and explore the wonderful surroundings like Kep National Park and Bokor Hill Station. Altogether a highly recommend place to stay in Cambodia, we were sad to leave…
Day 2: Bokor Hill Station (near Kampot)
The next day we rented a scooter at the supermarket across our hotel and explored Bokor Hill Station, an abandoned ghost town located on a 1000 meter high mountain.
In the afternoon we watched the movie ‘The Killing Fields’ at Ecran Movie House. A very impressive movie about the horrors the Khmer Rouge regime visited upon Cambodia from 1975-1979. In school I learned about the heartbreaking history of Cambodia, but actually being in the country and seeing the effects of this horrible period is something different entirely…
Day 3: Kep
We kept the scooter another day and drove to Kep National Park to go hiking. The people from the Led Zep cafe work tirelessly to maintain the 8km jungle track they created. It’s was nice hike and the bright yellow signs made it impossible to get lost.
We were thrilled when we spotted a couple of monkeys, I had never seen them in the wild before! Besides monkeys we also came across some freaky insects…
Nevertheless, the views were great, we could see Kep village, the ocean and in the distance even Vietnam, where we spent a full month!
Day 4: Kampot to Phnom Penh
Michelle, the very friendly and helpful owner of Bohemiaz, booked tickets for us on the Giant Ibis bus to Phnom Penh. I was pretty happy there was any transportation available at all since it was Khmer New Year and lots of things were closed.
Giant Ibis was one of the better bus companies I traveled with in Southeast Asia. The bus left on time, didn’t stop along the way and was quite new. Also, it had air conditioning which wasn’t on the highest (aka freezing) setting! Altogether a comfortable 3 hour drive to Phnom Penh, where we were dropped off at Giant Ibis bus terminal, across the night market.
Our hotel, was within walking distance (15 minutes or so on foot) and located across the Royal Palace. Unfortunately the Palace was closed because of Khmer New Year during our entire stay in Phnom Penh.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh: Diamond Palace II
In Phnom Penh we stayed at the Diamond Palace II. It was a nice place, comfortable bed and we could make tea in our room with the small water cooker. Free mineral water provided and even a small fridge in the room to keep our water cool.
The staff was friendly and helpful and arranged a scooter for us costing $7 for a day. Good place to stay a couple of days while you are exploring Phnom Penh!
Paid price per night: $16 (breakfast included)
Agoda rating: 7,2
Book via Agoda | Book via Booking
Day 5: Phnom Penh
Because of Khmer New Year, the city was virtually empty. We walked to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and there were so many shops and restaurants closed along the way, we started wondering if we could even visit the prison. Fortunately, the museum was open, though it was such a sad place to visit…
Day 6: Phnom Penh to Siem Riep
Another impressive and depressing day as we visited the Choeung Ek Killing Fields… I found it very difficult to write about visiting Tuol Sleng and Choeun Ek, I made a photo essay about the heartbreaking history of Cambodia instead…
The streets were still empty because of Khmer New Year so we rented a scooter via our hotel and drove to Choeung Ek ourselves. I don’t know how traffic usually is in Phnom Penh, but if it’s anything like all the other Asian cities I visited on regular days, I wouldn’t recommend hiring a scooter unless you are an excellent driver.
That night we hopped on the Giant Ibis night bus to Siem Riep and the trip was fairly comfortable, nevertheless, I didn’t sleep so well. I just don’t sleep well on buses in general. The night train in Vietnam was much more comfortable and also a lot less bumpy (the road between Phnom Penh and Siem Riep isn’t good to say the least).
Day 7: Siem Riep
Early in the morning we were dropped off at Giant Ibis bus terminal, located about 2-km from the city center of Siem Riep (learn more about Siem Riep and it’s history).
Because we liked to stretch our legs after a night on the bus we walked to the center, had breakfast and were then picked up by a tuktuk from Overflow Guesthouse.
Even though we couldn’t check into our room until the afternoon, I was very happy the hotel picked us up so early in the morning. We relaxed at the pool and later that day we cycled around Siem Riep on the complementary bikes of the hotel.
Where to stay in Siem Riep: Overflow Guesthouse
Nice place to stay! At the hotel free mineral water provided and there was a beautiful pool which we used a lot. It was so hot when we were in Siem Riep (April 2015).
The room was spacious with a comfortable bed and ok shower. The hotel staff was friendly and arranged our transport around Angkor Wat with a great tuktuk driver.
Another excellent service are the free bikes, on the other hand, this is also kind of necessary since the hotel is located a bit out of town. That does make it a nice and quiet place to stay.
The one thing I disliked didn’t have to do with the hotel itself but with the transportation to Thailand we booked via the hotel. It was supposed to be a direct bus but it was not… We were kicked out of the bus at the Cambodian border! Ah well, not the hotels fault, this happens all the time in Southeast Asia;-).
Day 8: Angkor Wat
We visited the world famous Angkor Wat and it was truly amazing. It’s an incredible complex and while checked out all the main temples, there is much more to be seen…
Important things to know when planning a visit to Angkor Wat
You can buy a pass to the Angkor complex for 1 ($37), 3 ($62) or 7 ($72) days. A photo will be taken at the ticket booth and printed onto your entree pass. The ticket booth is located on the main road from Siem Riep to the Angkor Wat complex, not easy to miss. I recommend hiring a tuktuk to explore the huge complex and all the tuktuk drivers obviously know the drill.
Our tuktuk driver, Mr. Sheara, was the best! We paid $22 for the entire day, including pick-up from our hotel at 4am to be on time for the stunning sunrise.
Final words of advice when exploring Angkor Wat:
- Take lots of water with you, it gets very hot during the day!
- Bring some food with you, there are some restaurants and shops but not near all the temples and you’ll need some energy to climb those steeps stairs…
- Take a scarf and wear proper clothing. It is a temple complex after all.
- Tip your tuktuk driver. They work hard and you can easily spare those couple of bucks.
Day 9: Siem Riep to Bangkok
As effortless our way into Cambodia was, so difficult was our way out… It was actually our own fault. Looking back it was a terrible idea to try and cross the border the weekend after Khmer New Year.
You see, all the Cambodians working in Thailand had come home to spend Khmer New Year with their family. And were now trying to return to Thailand via the Poipet border. As were we…
I have never seen so many people squished into a small hall. It took us 4 hours and had we not come up with a tactic to keep all the line cutting Cambodians behind us I would probably still be waiting in line. After an hour of sweating inside the hot building, where four Thai gentlemen were stoically stamping passports in a maddening slow fashion, we hadn’t moved an inch in line. Because as bad as Dutch people are in queuing, some Asian people are even worse (no offense;-).
People were passing us left and right and we kind of lost hope of making it across the border that day. But luckily, we weren’t the only desperate travelers and with some fellow Europeans we formed a line, put our backpacks before us and blocked the way for all the people behind us trying to cut the line…
Looking back, I wish I had taken pictures as I now find it rather funny, but at that moment I took it very serious:-). Inch by inch we moved closer to the passport stamping Thai officials and 4 hours later we were finally through… I had a slight moment of panic because we didn’t have a ticket out of Thailand but nobody asked;-).
We finally arrived in Bangkok around 10pm, more about our time in Thailand can be found here.
If you plan on going to Cambodia, I hope this itinerary and information helps you plan your trip! You can download it below.
Let me know if you have any questions about our Cambodia itinerary!
This post has been updated in November 2018.