If you’re planning a trip to Southeast Asia or specifically Cambodia then this is the post for you.
Cambodia is a fun and exciting country to visit and travel. There’s a few major themes and sites to see: Angkor Wat (and other temple ruins in the area), the genocide, the jungle, and the beaches. I’ll try to cover each of these, walk through the itinerary I followed, and provide some pro travel tips in the process.My itinerary was roughly four days in Siem Reap, three days in Phnom Penh, and four days in Koh Rong. In between, there were a few days of travel and some long flights back home.
Your itinerary will depend on how you get into Cambodia. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh offer international flights. There are also buses into Cambodia from Thailand (Bangkok to Siem Reap) and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh to Sihanoukville). The visa on arrival (purchased when you arrive) is US$30. There are stories of scams and issues when taking the buses across the border, so research those independently. In my port of arrival, Siem Reap, the process was very clearly posted with prices and ATMs nearby (high withdrawal fees at all ATMs, typically US$4-5).
Depending on where you enter the country, you can alter this itinerary accordingly.
The city reminds me of Chang Mai, a former backpacker’s paradise trying to turn into a higher end tourist destination. They’ve quickly discovered higher-end tourists are willing to pay significantly more than the backpackers and prices are rising fast. That said, this is a great city to walk around and enjoy with a more lively feel than Phnom Penh.
At a bare minimum I would recommend two days here. You can easily spend four or five days, it really depends on how many temples you can see before you become “templed out”.
Day 1 – Angkor Wat Sunrise
Pro Tip 1: Guide or No Guide?
Before visiting Angkor Wat three people recommended paying for a tour guide. After spending a day with one, I wouldn’t recommend it. Personally, the history is fascinating. The transition from Buddhism to Hinduism and back is important, as well as dates and symbolism, but a lot of what the guides provide is far beyond the basic information, into the extremely granular facts that would likely only interest the follower’s of either religion. When walking the ruins, listening to hours of stories about each depiction can be time consuming and eventually boring. I would recommend printing Wikipedia pages, buying a guide book, or finding another blog/website with detailed information. Then hire a tuk-tuk and find your own way, following your documents. You can take as long or as short as you want and you’ll save a lot of money. A guide, drive, and Lexus for a day is US$80. A tuk-tuk driver for a day is US$15-20.
Entry fee to Angkor Wat & surrounding temples is:
- 1 Day Pass: US$20
- 2 Day Pass: US$40
- 3 Day Pass: US$40
I would recommend buying a one day pass, then buying a second one day pass if you want to see more. There are temples outside Siem Reap (one which I’ll recommend later) that require different tickets.
-Back to the Itinerary-
To see the sunrise, pickup is between 4:30am and 5:00am. Your hotel may provide a packaged breakfast, so be sure to ask (the Le Meridian does). Your driver will take you to the tourist center where you buy your tickets. You’ll need USD and all people getting tickets (they take your photo for the ticket). To enter the temples you’re required to cover your knees and shoulders, this includes women & men. Shirts are pants are available for purchase at the ticket area and at the temples, albeit at a higher than market price).
The first day you should see four to five temples, in particular Angkor Wat and the larger Angkor Thom. Your driver will take you to the largest attractions, so you don’t need to do too much prework selecting specific temples (of course you can, if you want).
Day 2 – Beng Mealea Temple & Genocide Museum
Outside Siem Reap, about an hour and a half away, is Beng Mealea. Sporting a US$5 entry fee, it’s significantly less than Angkor Wat, and also less crowded. We spent about two hours walking amongst the ruins, which provide great photos and spots to sit and relax.
In the afternoon, you can visit the Landmine Museum, approximately thirty minutes north of of the city. The museum and school attached is run by a former Khmer Rouge soldier, who later escaped to join the Vietnamese army, and now has dedicated his life to clearing landmines. The museum is a short visit, but worthwhile and has a good audio tour system. During some weekdays there are free tour guides.
After the Landmine Museum you can visit one of the war museums. These are filled with heavy weapons (tanks, artillery, etc.) recovered from the war. They have dozens of weapons you can pick up and hold (some tourists really enjoyed taking photos with these). The best part of this museum is the pictures and stories. There’s detailed stories from survivors and former soldiers that are worth reading.
Nightlife & Other Information in Siem Reap
Siem Reap boasts the almost famous Old Market & Pub Street. Majority of the tourists go to this area every evening for food and drink. Prices range from US$1 for street food to US$10 for some of the restaurants. I recommend grabbing a drink and spending some time walking around. There’s a lot of options, so do some scouting first. As for drinks, there’re several spots sporting US$0.50 to US$1 drafts of Cambodia or Angkor Wat beer.
The night market here offers a plethora of trinkets and souvenirs. We purchased some wooden toys as gifts, a hammock (which you’ll notice are popular all over Cambodia), and some clothes (for the temples).
In addition to the temples, there are hiking, ATV, and motorcycle tours available. If you want to get out of the city and see the jungle, this may be for you.
Lastly, while in Cambodia, you should start as early as possible (6 or 7am), as it’s quite cool in the mornings. At about 2pm, it’s best to be at the pool or somewhere with AC (i.e., not walking around temples). In the evening it cools down again.
From Siem Reap there are several bus options to Phnom Penh. Per my research, Giant Ibis is the safest option. The offer an overnight bus and intraday buses. These are best booked in advance if you are traveling around holidays. The cost is approximately US$13, depending on the bus and time. Wifi and power is available. In the morning, a snack is served. There’s two bathroom stops and a lunch stop.
Day 4 – Killing Fields, S21, and Cambodia Beer
We spent entirely too long here and I would recommend two days max, but one day is enough. There’s two main sites here, both are from the Genocide. S21 is a school turned into a prison. Entry is US$3 and a guide is free (you need to tip). A lot of tourists opt to pay the US$3 for the audio guide, as the human guide option isn’t really explained. I definitely recommend the human guide. S21 will take less than two hours. The second site is the “Killing Fields”. Typically these are done together with a driver (tuk-tuk or car). Some people recommend a car, as it’s dusty. I don’t agree, it’s not any dustier than walking around Phnom Penh. The killing fields are US$5 and include an audio guide. They take just under two hours.
If you finish these before the early evening, you can visit Cambodia Brewery. For US$6 they have a tour, which really turns into four to five hours of all you can drink. They’re one of the only breweries to offer more than the traditional Asian style lager. The beers aren’t quite as flavorful as a US IPA or porter, but you may be thankful for that after five hours drinking with these guys.
Some other sites around Phnom Penh include the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Victory Monument, and Russian Market. Of these, we only did the Russian Market. After spending time in Thailand, the other sites are similar, but smaller in grandeur and size.
In summary, you can see S21, the Killing Fields, and do the Cambodia Brewery tour in one day. This will free up time for a longer stay in Siem Reap or Koh Rong. From Siem Reap, we took a morning bus to Sihanoukville. We took Capital Bus, which was okay. The was was US$9. It stopped twice for breaks, and was relatively safe.
Sihanoukville & Koh Rong
Day 5 – Travel
This day is entirely almost only travel. The bus to Sihanoukville is approximately five hours and the boat to Koh Rong can be upwards of three, depending on where you’re going.
The bus stop in Sihanoukville is filled with entrepreneurial tuk-tuk drivers willing to take you to the pier and book your boat. Make sure you know where your resort is on Koh Rong! There are two piers in Sihanoukville and several piers on Koh Rong, hiking across the island can take five hours, so don’t take the wrong boat. That said, there’s one main pier where almost all of the boats go.
We elected to go to a secluded and more private resort, Lonely Beach Koh Rong. We paid US$30 for a “birds nest”, which is a small bungalow. It’s situated on the North side of the island and runs a private boat to and from daily (US$40). It has, from what we’ve seen, the best beach by far. That said, this isn’t where you go to party. There’re no bars or resorts nearby. The drinking here usually tones down around ten or eleven, typically dependent on who you’re traveling with. If you’re looking to unplug and unwind, I highly recommend Lonely Beach.
If you want to party or are looking for a more lively atmosphere, the south side of the island features a host of resorts and hotels, relatively close together, with several boat options. You’ll have to do your own research. Further off the coast is Koh Rong Samloem, a smaller and less developed island. I can’t comment on the quality or options here, but I would opt for Lonely Beach versus traveling further offshore.
Koh Rong or Sihanoukville can take as long or as short as you would like. The boats typically don’t arrive until the early evening and return to shore in the early morning, so I would recommend at least two nights to get one full day. I spent four days here and could’ve stayed longer!
Cambodia was a great trip. That said, I’m glad I did the entire country in one trip, so I don’t have to go back. If you’re pressed for time, the travel between cities can be annoying. A full nine day trip (weekend to weekend) would be enough to see everything and not feel rushed.
Eventually I’ll add more to this review including pictures, maps, and some links to reviews I post on other sites.
Traveling of Christmas and New Years was good, as it’s cooler and the end of rainy season. You do need to book some things in advance (we missed the overnight bus we wanted to Phnom Penh and had to take a morning bus).
Have feedback, thoughts, or questions? Comment below and I’ll get back.