I’ve planned this Cambodia itinerary for you as if doing it in one trip but the truth of the matter is that I’ve actually been to Cambodia twice now.
The first time I was just traveling through from Vietnam to Thailand so only had time to stop in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. We had done little to no research on the places we would be stopping since that part of the trip was more a means for us to get into to Thailand in the quickest cheapest way, so that resulted in us spending boxing day in the Killing Fields* (Happy Christmas Y’all) and 5 hours on one of the worst boat rides of my life in order to get form Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. In fact I think the only boat ride that might even come close to beating this one is the fast from Bali to Gili in Indonesia. That thing is terrifying.
That trip was part of a 3 week holiday I took from work back in 2013. Those of you who’ve been following my travels for a while may wonder why I’d take a trip like that so close to me quitting my job and traveling the world full-time. It was just a year before.
It was unfortunately though right at the height of when I was being over-worked to the extent I lost all semblance of my personality as I became noting more than a robot churning work out as quickly as I could and desperately trying to make it through each day without royally fucking something up or having a breakdown. It was a really fun time.
Because of when public holidays fell that year, and since I hadn’t been able to take a lot of my holiday earlier that year due to all the overworking, I suddenly found myself with a 3 week chunk of time off right at the end of the year. Ain’t no way I was going to pass up that opportunity for an adventure.
Plus I really needed to go stay in some dorms and force myself to remember how to talk to strangers again.
On that trip a friend and I started in the north of Vietnam and in 3 weeks traveled down along the coast to Ho Chi Minh through Cambodia from Bangkok down the islands in the south of Thailand for New Years and back up to Bangkok to fly home. It was mental. I wouldn’t personally recommend such a packed itinerary but we had fun.
Just stopping in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap the first time I missed so much of the beautiful county that is Cambodia so the itinerary I’ve plotted out for you includes all the places I went to my second time there as well.
Even having been there twice now there’s still so much more I’d love to see. If you want to try an even more extended trip there you could try a Workaway in Cambodia too.
To jump straight down to the itinerary just hit the link above, otherwise check out my top tips for traveling the country below first.
Tuk-Tuks – as with anywhere always make sure you negotiate and agree the price first. And just as importantly make friends with your tuk-tuk driver. The easiest way to get around whatever town you’re in in Cambodia is to make friends with the Tuk-Tuk driver you use to take you from your point of arrival to accommodation. That way instead of having to hunt around the streets each time you want to go somewhere, trying to find one who will give you a reasonable price you can just keep re-using the same driver.
You won’t have to make much of an effort to do this as the the drivers are usually all over it and will insist you take their number, whether you ask for it or not. Then you can just message them whenever you want to go somewhere. This is particularly useful if you have a limited amount of time in a location or will be wanting to go somewhere very early, like to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise.
Say cheers with caution – Cambodians love to teach foreigners to say cheers in Khmer (the language of Cambodia). They love to teach foreigners to say this as if you mispronounce it even slightly you will end up saying “fuck you”. Although if you do it, you’ll give a giggle to the listener rather than offend someone so there really are worse mistakes you could make.
Take Dollars – The local currency of Cambodia is Riels (KHR) but you will hardly ever need to use it as USD is accepted at most places. So much so that when you take cash out from an ATM it will ask you if you want to take our USD or KHR, go for USD. It’s useful to keep a small amount of Riels on you too for any occasions where a smaller shop might prefer you pay in the local currency but the instances of this will be few and far between.
You will easily be able to accumulate some small local currency without having to take any out since a lot of the time although you pay in dollars you will then get small change back in Riels. Unless you’re Rain Man this can sometimes make your head feel like it’s going to explode trying to work out if you did then just get back the correct amount of change (or is that just me?!?) although if I know there’s only likely to be a few cent difference in it at most, I just take what I’m given and don’t bother working it out.
Always Take Out More Money From ATMs Than You Need – The ATMs in Cambodia are temperamental as fuck. A lot of them won’t accept Credit Cards so you have to use a Debit Card to take out money (hope you packed one of them). Those that should accept your Debit Card then will randomly decide not to like YOUR Debit Card and so still not give you money either. In Battambang at one point, even though I had a Debit Card so should have been able to use any of the cashpoints in the city I had to go to 4 cashpoints before I could find one that was would give me money. I was genuinely starting to get worried as I had a bus at 5am the next morning and had to settle up my hostel bill that night, in cash!
To avoid the risk of not being able to get out money whilst abroad check out my best travel money solution here.
Don’t Turn Your Back to Buddha – I learnt this one by messing up. As one of my twitter followers informed me when I tweeted the below posing for a photo like this with a Buddha statue is hugely disrespectful since it involves turning your back to Buddha which you shouldn’t do. In fact you should even walk away backwards from a Buddha statue until you’re a few feet away so as not to turn your back to it. I didn’t know. Now you do at least.
— Travel For Your Life (@travel4yourlife) June 26, 2017
Be really careful with your possessions in Phnom Penh – The traffic in Phnom Penh is nuts., the only other place I’ve that has worse traffic, and by worse I mean crazier are the cities in Vietnam. As a result that leaves ample opportunities for snatch and grab bag theft and people have made use of those opportunities.
Snatch and Grab bag theft is where someone goes past you on a bike, or other moving vehicle and grabs your bag off you as they go. There is such a problem with this in Phnom Penh it’s even been known to happen to people while inside tuk-tuks.
A lot of people therefore decide to take Pac Safe slash proof bags which are a good start as then someone can’t just cut the strap of your bag and go. Personally I wouldn’t even use a slash proof cross body bag there. It puts your personal safety at risk (what if they try to grab it hoping the strap will snap and it doesn’t or get you with the knife?). If walking around during the day the only bags I’d consider using are a backpack or bumbag (for anyone from the US that’s a fanny pack but i just can’t bring myself to use that term since as an English person that’s like me saying vagina bag).
There’s a great system of busses that go between all of the touristy and less touristy areas in Cambodia. The easiest way to book a bus is through whichever hostel you’re staying in and then they’ll figure out whether that means you just need to get one bus or a small one then a big one etc.
Small Busses – They really pack these in with people, even putting the seats down in the middle row so there is no way to get out in a hurry. You can also feel almost every single bump in the road on these busses so I’d very much recommend not getting drunk the night before taking an early morning journey in one as i smartly did in Battambang (what was I supposed to do, someone challenge me to a Jenga drinking competition ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Big Busses – While comfortable these don’t have the best track record for not breaking down. It happens and when it does you could well be stuck for a few hours at the side of the road. So this doesn’t cause a full scale melt down make sure you:
- Always leave a lot of leeway between arriving somewhere by bus and taking a flight (personally I’d ensure I have a night’s stopover)
- If there is an option to go to the bathroom, take it. Better that than the bus breaking down just before the next stop and you then being stuck really needing the loo on the side of the road
- Take snacks and water. The busses stop along the way on their journeys. In fact they stop so many times for meals it’s ridiculous but that doesn’t help you much if the bus is broken down at the side of the road.
The Fast Boat – There is a fast boat that goes between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Even if you can afford the extra cost, don’t take it. I’ll explain about why in my post on Siem Reap but just trust me. Don’t. Do. It.
Accommodation – In general accommodation is really cheap in hostels but also for private rooms. If there are 2 or 3 of you it won’t cost much more to get a private room wherever you are. For dorm beds you’re looking at about $5 a night and private basic rooms $10. Although sometimes you may even find private rooms for as little as $5 a night too. Be warned though a $5 a night dorm room is a thousand times nicer than a $5 a night private room.
Food – Local street food will set you back just a few dollars. If eating at the restaurants in hostels or other average restaurants you’re looking at about $5 a meal.
Cambodia Itinerary – 3 Week Route
See the map below for the route I’d recommend and the key reasons you’d want to visit each place in the list below. Click on any of the links for full details of that location, where to stay and how to get to the next destination on the list.
- Phnom Penh – Killing Fields, The Independence Monument, The Royal Palace
- Kampot – Beautiful Town, Caves, Pepper Farms, River Cruises
- Sihanoukville & Koh Rong– White Sand, Glow Plankton, Beach Parties
- Koh Kong – Koh Kong Island, Mangroves, Waterfalls
- Siem Reap– Angkor Wat, Pub Street
- Battambang – Bamboo Train, Bat Caves, Battambang Circus
This Cambodia itinerary could be done in 2 weeks but much better to leave yourself a bit more time to really enjoy each location and give it 3-4 weeks if you can.
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* As much as I would like to pretend this wasn’t the case at the age of 27 I still had no idea about the Cambodian Genocide so I literally walked into the killing fields with no idea what I was about to see. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.