Phnom Penh, 2 days
If like us, you crossed the border from Vietnam to Cambodia, this is probably your stop numero uno. Before arriving I’d strongly recommend reading up on the country’s tragic and painful history, that’s still fresh in the memories of many locals.
Spend your first day exploring the capital city, taking in incredible sights like the Independence Monument and Royal Palace. You could even head to the Central Market or Russian Market for a mooch about.
The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
There are plenty of contemporary cafes for a cool ice coffee, or authentic Cambodian restaurants with mouth-watering curries (try the Amok!). The popular riverside promenade was a bit pricey for us for food, but the view and atmosphere is great. A nice little place further out of the city centre that won’t break the bank is called Mok Mony Restaurant. Any grub you don’t eat goes to the homeless.
On your second day in the city, it’s important to visit two historic sites, which reflect the barbarous and cruel crimes of the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge. The regime took power between 1975 and 1979, and in that short and bloody time it tore the country apart. It’s estimated around 3 million people died, which worked out about one fourth of the entire Cambodian population.
About 20,000 men, women and children were brutally executed at The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, also known as The Killing Fields. Mass graves were discovered at the site just outside the capital after the regime fell, and visitors from all over the world can now learn more about their tragic ends in the hope that history will not repeat itself. It’s $6 to enter, which includes an audio tour.
The Killing Tree, The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre
The second place to visit is the S-21 Genocide Museum. The former school was used by the Khmer Rouge as a top-secret prison camp, where nearly 9,000 people suffered unimaginable pain. Many were relieved to be transported to The Killing Fields after months of gruelling torture. Entry is $6, and an extra $3 for an audio guide (well worth the money).
S-21 survivor, Bou Meng
You can hire a Tuk Tuk for $20 a day. Our driver Ravi was lovely, and was happy to drop us off and wait for as long as we wanted (just remember not to exchange cash until the end and agree on a price beforehand!) Just call 092 294902 and ask for him 👍
Kampot, 2-3 days
Kampot is a picturesque riverside town about a 4 hour bus journey from the capital. There’s not a great deal to do there apart from admire the spectacular view of the mountains from the bank and munch on some delicious local and international cuisine. We ate Tapas one evening at Baraca, a quaint little restaurant that’s great value for money. We sipped on sparkling cava Sangria, tucked into a massive sharing platter, and finished off with two desserts for just $25.
Take a ten minute Tuk Tuk ride for $4 out of the town and you’re spoilt for choice for beautiful waterfront accommodation. This is the perfect place to hire a moped for $5 a day and explore the Bokor National Park. There’s a waterfall, which I renamed Butterfly Falls, that’s a short ride then hike away. You’ll pass banana plantations on the way, and you can also do a $7-$10 tour with Acardia if you want to see the sights and make friends.
Butterfly Falls (not real name), Bokor National Park
Be warned you may be charged at least $2 by a policeman just for using the road. Entry to the park is $1 per person.
If you don’t stay at Arcadia Backpackers Hostel I suggest spending one day there to use their water park. If you’re brave enough, cannonball into the water using their flip slide 🙈
Where to stay: Arcadia Backpackers Hostel
Arcadia Water Park, Kampot
Koh Rong Sanloem, 1 day
From Kampot to the islands, organise a bus ride and return boat trip through your hostel for around $25pp. It’s ETA is usually 2.5 hours, but it took us closer to 4.5 hours thanks to a poorly organised trip. I’d advise googling the company your hostel books and get a look at their buses, as we ended up being squashed into a tiny van designed for 8 people, but with 15 other pissed off travellers.
TIP: Before leaving Kampot, get out as much cash as you’ll need for the islands as you won’t find an ATM or bank on either. Also the last one you’ll see before getting on the boat at Sihanoukville port will charge $9 per transaction 😡
Your boat will take you to Koh Rong Sanloem first, which should take 40 minutes. I was suffering from extreme dehydration at this point, so we decided to skip it and move on to Koh Rong which has a bigger village. However, I’d recommend doing a day at the smaller island because of its breathtaking, turquoise beaches and calmer shores.
The island has only recently been picked up by tourists so if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland this is a good stop. You can take an early boat to Saracen Beach or trek to Lazy Beach. There are great spots to watch the pink skies at sunset.
Don’t expect many restaurants or bars though as, like I said, it’s still relatively new to the travelling scene. You’ll also struggle to find WiFi on both islands, and hot showers are usually a write-off. But it’s perfect for anyone wanting a few days off the grid and being at one with nature ✌️
Mad Monkey have a new hostel on Sanloem as well, so stay there if you want a lively scene. They do weekly activities to get the conversations flowing, including a pizza party and fire dance show on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Where to stay: Mad Monkey Hostel
Koh Rong, 2 days
Koh Rong is the bigger and boozier sister of the two. It’s still beautiful and relatively untouched, but that’s quickly changing and you’ll struggle to avoid building work. When you get off the boat, locals will ask if you need a place to stay but I’d recommend booking one night’s stay in advance at one of the bungalows further down the strip or at Sok Heng Guesthouse, which is a short walk up the hill. It was $40 for a double with air conditioning and a clean room, which on the island is hard to get at that price! Most of the bungalows are VERY basic but will charge through the roof.
TIP: There are regular power cuts on both islands, and most tourists end up with stomach bugs from eating gone-off food, so stick to anything that has to be prepared like fried food or stone-baked pizza.
White Beach, Koh Rong
On your first day her, explore the islands beautiful shores. White Beach is only a few minutes walk from the town, and you can enjoy some much-needed TLC with a cocktail or a massage. Most people take a $5 taxi boat or hike to Long Beach, which is a 7km stretch with pristine soft sand on the west side of Koh Rong.
On your last day, book on to a day-long boat tour to explore the colourful marine life surrounding the islands. Most include snorkelling and a free lunch (some drinks included) and start from $10 pp. Adventure Adam is one of the most highly rated on Trip Advisor, and will set you back $25.
White Beach, Koh Rong
Where to stay: Sok Heng Guesthouse
Sihanoukville, 2 days
Ahhh Sihanoukville. After a busy few days moving around and socialising there’s nothing better than Otres Beach. Hop in a Tuk Tuk when you get off the boat from Koh Rong and head towards the very laid back Otres Village. It’s about a 20-25 minute ride, and can cost up to $7 normally (this might go up at night).
We opted to stay close to the village in a very homely hostel called Mama Clare’s. The English owner built several beautiful bungalows near the river to support an education project she runs for the local Khmer children. They’re basic, but are clean, comfy and made us feel like Tarzan and Jane! 😂
Mama Clares, Sihanoukville
Spend the next few days finally tucking into that hardback that you’ve been lugging around for the past few weeks, and enjoying a brilliant variety of local and international cuisine. For breakfast or brunch, a new cafe has just opened around the corner from Clare’s which sells delicious homemade bagels and scones. Prices range from $3-5 depending on what you want in them. Just ask Clare to direct you or follow your nostrils.
Hire a moped from $6 a day through the hostel and head to Otres 1 beach to a place called Papa Pippo. We spent everyday here, mainly because of their very moorish banana and peanut butter smoothies, which cost $3 😋
Papa Pippo’s, Otres Beach 1
For dinner there’s a huge range of options in the village, including Khmer, Lebanese, or Western favourites. We went back to Papa Pippo’s though for its popular fresh pasta. On Tuesday’s there’s a fun quiz you can take part in to win some free beer or wine (we didn’t do very well), and Thursday’s they have live music. There’s also a bar called The Joint which has an impressive selection of cocktails and a lively atmosphere. There’s often parties that go late into the night at one of the many hostels in the area, as well as one in the jungle!
Another thing to do is ride to the nearby Ream National Park if you fancy a hike and want to see someone waterfalls, but it’ll take about 40 minutes. This place is more about chilled-out vibes and learning to go with the flow.
Where to stay: Mama Clare’s Bungalows
Siem Reap, 2 days
I fell head over sandals in love with this vibrant city. Unlike most of the Asian cosmopolitans we’ve visited, Siem Reap is not scattered with high-rise buildings. Once again, colonial architecture is prominent in most of the province and chic cafes and bakeries line pretty much every street. I’d recommend checking out Lemon Cafe and Tous Les Jours bakery 😋
Spend your first day exploring the old town, getting lost in the markets, admiring the temples, and wandering along the river bank. You could visit a few museums and the Royal Residence but if you want to save cash there’s plenty to see for free. For lunch try out New Leaf restaurant around the corner from the Old Market.
Wat Preah Prom Rath, Siem Reap centre
In the evening head to Pub Street and soak up the happy hour cocktails at places like Menaka Lounge, or Picasso Bar and Tapas. For food, try some ethical eats which help give back to the community. Spoons Restaurant is a 15-20 minute walk from the centre, which offers young Cambodians the opportunity to learn new skills and get into the hospitality business. Genevieve’s Restaurant is just down the road and 10% of the profit goes to the local staff. If you want tasty authentic Khmer food these are the places to go!
Pub Street, Siem Reap
TIP: A Tuk Tuk ride in the city should cost around $2. Make sure you agree a price before getting in, but most drivers are very friendly 🙂
Other fun things to do while you’re in Siem Reap is have a blind massage, visit the Phare Circus (book at least a day before), and brave the Angkor Zipline which will give you incredible birds-eye views of the jungle.
The second day is for Angkor Wat! The temples are situated about a 15-20 minute Tuk Tuk ride from the city centre. The day ticket price has gone up recently from $20 to $37, but you can get a 2 day pass for $62 which includes the Angkor Wat Zipline.
The day before figure out if you want to book on with a tour group and guide, which could cost around $15-$30 pp, excluding the park’s entrance fee. We decided to just hire a Tuk Tuk for $15 to take us to the inner loop. He offered to do sunrise to sunset but we were only there for 4/5 hours before getting our fill!
Your driver will take you to the ticket office first, which is on the way. It opens at 5am, so if you did want to watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat you can arrive for 5.30am to find a spot for that picture perfect moment. Be warned that this is the busiest time of day and you’ll be competing with thousands of other tourists wanting the same shot. It was overcast when we visited so we opted for a few extra hours in bed and left at 8am. It wasn’t that busy when we arrived, as we missed a lot of the big tour groups.
Bayon Temple, Angkor Wat
TIP: You’ll be asked persistently if you want a tour guide by people walking around the park or outside it. Don’t accept, as most are money grabbing scams. If you want a guide, arrange through your accommodation.
Your first stop will be the iconic Angkor Wat itself. The grounds are massive and most of it you wont have to queue. However, getting into the main temple always has a LONG wait, so really ask yourself if its worth standing in 30 degree heat for an hour just to be cattled in and out.
The temple’s main occupants are cheeky monkeys with a sweet tooth. Try not to get your grub out in front of them because you’ll have a difficult time keeping hold of it 🙈
It’s estimated there are around 100,000 people living within the park, a lot sell food, snacks and souvenirs. We packed a picnic of pastries and water before leaving and tucked in outside one of the temples.
We also visited Angkor Thom (aka Bayon), Ta Phrom where Tomb Raider was filmed, and Phnom Bakheng which has incredible panoramic views of Angkor Wat (great alternative for sunrise).
Phnom Bakheng, Angkor Wat
Where to stay: Cashew Nut Guesthouse
Top tips for Cambodia
- Read up on the country’s brutal history before visiting, as it’ll help you appreciate the Khmer people’s happy and welcoming nature even more
- Grab and Uber aren’t available in most of the country, so make use of the Tuk Tuk network, just make sure you set a price before getting in
- The Amok Curry is a MUST when trying the delicious Khmer cuisine
- Dress respectfully when visiting temples and places of worship
- Remember the culture is different here, so even if your hostel is hosting a ‘let’s get pissed’ party, don’t give westerners a bad name
- Make sure you check laundry if you get it done outside your hostel/hotel as things tend to get jumbled up
- Familiarise yourself with how much the riel currency is worth in dollars. Most places will try giving change in riel even if you pay dollars, because it’s worthless outside of Cambodia
- Carry a spare wallet with $2 inside if you hire a moped, just in case police stop you and try fining you (best not to argue with them and just say this is all I have)