13 Things You Need to Know Before Backpacking Cambodia

All your burning questions about travelling in Cambodia — answered!

backpacking cambodia

If you’re thinking about backpacking Cambodia, the first thing you need to know is that you definitely should! Now that that decision is made, here are 13 essential travel tips to help make the most of your Cambodian backpacking adventure!

Let’s clear something up from the start. Cambodia is not just that country that’s in the way between Thailand and Vietnam. And it’s not just the place with Angkor Wat! In fact, Cambodia might be the perfect backpacking destination.

For a start, it’s cheap and easy to get around. It has beautiful beaches and deserted islands.

There are exotic jungles where you can trek, mountain bike, and visit elephants.

elephant sanctuary in Cambodia

This is Cambodia, too. Go visit Elephant Valley Project while you’re there.

The history and culture are complex and haunting, but the people are some of the friendliest we’ve met anywhere in the world.

Can you tell how much we love Cambodia?

So, if you’re thinking of going… go go go! But before you do, here are…

13 Things You Need to Know Before Backpacking Cambodia

Face it, you’re gonna want to read these, too:

Plan your adventure with our Cambodia itineraries
Discover how to get to Cambodia by bus or boat →
Here’s how to choose the perfect backpack for your adventure →

1. How long do you need to backpack Cambodia?

If you have limited time for your Southeast Asia backpacking adventure, it’s better to choose one or two countries, rather than try to hit them all.

It would take about six weeks to visit all the significant attractions in Cambodia, while leaving time for a little lounging by the beach and relaxing by the pool.

Don’t go for any less than two weeks or you’ll miss out on SO MANY amazing adventures.

(Don’t miss: Use our Cambodia 2-week itineraries to plan your trip)

2. What is the best month to visit Cambodia?

High season in Cambodia is November to March and it’s when you’ll get the least rainy, hottest weather. So we say, avoid backpacking Cambodia between November and March!

The biggest sights get way too crowded, you end up having to book things in advance, and everything is a little less laid-back.

Last year I spent October in Cambodia and it might just be the best time to go to Cambodia! April is also a great month to go. But honestly, there’s really no bad time to visit Cambodia.

In rainy season, you’ll likely get a hard tropical rain every afternoon and then have perfect weather the rest of the day. Not a bad way to avoid the tourists and the inflated prices of high season.

backpacking cambodia

This is what Cambodia looks like in rainy season.

3. How much does it cost to backpack Cambodia?

You can backpack Cambodia for as little as $15 per day for one person. Actually, you can do it for less, but you want to have some fun while you’re there, right?

Hostels & Home Stays

  • In the main cities, you can book a clean, safe hostel for $3-5 / night.
  • Outside the cities, you can get a home stay for $3-5 / night.

Pro tip: It’s worth treating yourself to a luxury accommodation for at least a few nights in Cambodia. You can stay in a beautiful place for unbelievably low prices.

Food & Drinks

  • You can buy street food or market food for $1-2.
  • Eating in a restaurant, you’ll spend around $5.
  • Two-for-one cocktails cost $2.50 at happy hour.

See the dangers section below to read about fake booze in Cambodia.

Here are our picks for the perfect Cambodia travel gear!

Also, don’t miss our complete minimalist packing gear guide

Osprey Farpoint 40
Best minimalist backpack that opens like a suitcase
$160 USD
Ships free in US
minimalist packing cubes
Standard Convertible Cube
Cleverly converts to a daypack!
$39 / £28 / €32
Ships free worldwide!
minimalist packing lightweight shoes
Keen Whisper Sandals
Best walking sandals for travel
$90 / £66 / €80
Available for men & women

4. What’s the best way to get to Cambodia?

You can fly straight into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, taking low-cost airlines like AirAsia — but it is cheaper, and way more fun, to come in overland from Ho Chi Minh City or Bangkok.

Vietnam to Cambodia by bus

Taking the bus from Vietnam to Cambodia is fairly straightforward. There are three popular routes:

Cheapest route. There a direct bus route from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh which takes about 6.5 hours. Giant Ibis is our favourite Cambodian bus company (it is on time, clean, and comfortable), but it does cost a little more than the slow, unreliable bus services!

Scenic route. Going from Vietnam to Cambodia by boat lets you spend a little time in the Mekong Delta before you cross into Cambodia. Boats leave early in the morning from Chau Doc and My Tho and take you all the way to Phnom Penh. You’ll have to take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to the launch point.

The adventurous route. If you’re heading to Cambodia’s south coast (which we highly recommend!), take a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Chau Doc. You’ll probably have to stay overnight because of bus timings. Take a minibus from Chau Doc to Ha Tien, and then hire a moto-taxi to take you across the border and all the way to Kep. If you want help arranging this, head to Oasis Bar in Ha Tien. The friendly owner will get you a driver you can trust.

Thailand to Cambodia by bus. The most convenient (and cheapest) way to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap is to get the bus — there are several companies that run this route. The bus will take you to the Aranyaprathet border crossing. You’ll get off there, do the Cambodian border crossing, and then get back on the bus. The journey takes 8–11 hours depending on how busy the border is.

(Don’t miss our complete guide to getting to Cambodia via overland routes)

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5. How do you get a visa for Cambodia?

You can apply ahead of time and get an e-visa for Cambodia but it’s more expensive and is only valid at a few entry points. It makes way more sense to get your Cambodian visa at the airport or when you cross the border.

backpacking Cambodia

The border crossing into Cambodia can be hectic but it’s also fascinating.

Visa on arrival is available for most passports and ASEAN passport holders don’t need a visa at all.

Things you should know about getting a Cambodia visa

  1. You will need US cash to pay for the visa! At the airport, there’s a cash machine that dispenses USD. At land borders, change money before you enter Cambodia. They might take currency from Thailand, Laos, or Vietnam, but they will also charge you a ridiculous exchange rate. Better to have the right amount in dollars.
  2. You will have to pay bribes. Every time we’ve crossed into Cambodia, we’ve paid $2-3 extra for “stamping fee”, “overtime fee”, “health check fee” etc. We just think of this as a tip to the border guards to get us through quickly. You CAN dig your heels in and refuse to pay but you’ll be sitting around at the border for hours. Better just to go with the flow and pay.
  3. Know what the correct fee is before you cross the border. Fees vary for different passport holders. Know what you’re supposed to pay before you get to the border.
  4. The border is not as scary or hectic as everyone says. Crossing the border into Cambodia is no big deal unless you try to argue with the border guards. Just be smart, don’t accept any offers of help from random people, and you’ll be fine.

(Find out more about border scams in our post about getting to Cambodia)

6. What money do you need for Cambodia?

Most transactions in Cambodia are done in US dollars. It’s best to have enough to cover visa fees plus at least your first few days in the country before you get there. Bank machines all dispense USD, so you won’t have any problem getting more cash in the country.

Confusingly, small change is given in Cambodian Riel, and you will sometimes need them if you want to buy inexpensive items in markets.

Hardly anyone accepts credit cards in Cambodia, so you’ll always need cash on hand.

7. What are the best Cambodia destinations for backpackers?

Our don’t-miss highlights include:

  • Kampot, for a chill riverside adventure
  • Koh Ta Kiev, for a simple island escape
  • Chi Phat, for the Cambodian jungle experience

That list doesn’t even scratch the surface, so take a look at our Cambodia itinerary suggestions for much more!

backpacking Cambodia

This is just one of the many places we recommend in our Cambodian itineraries post!

8. What’s the best way to get around in Cambodia?

Getting between destinations

Busses and mini buses. In Cambodia, busses and mini busses are your friends. They are cheap and will get you almost anywhere you want to go. However, they also tend to be slow and unreliable, so always leave extra time for your journeys.

Most busses can be pre-booked online. We like using 12go.asia for research and booking our busses. For some less popular routes, you can just get your ticket at the bus station.

For mini busses, ask at your hostel. They will arrange a pick-up for you.

More Cambodia Transport Options →

Rent a mortorbike. If you know how to ride a motorbike and have good travel insurance, renting a motorbike in Cambodia will give you freedom from the bus and let you see more Cambodian local life. Motorbike accidents are very common among backpackers in Cambodia, so make sure you know what you’re doing before you go!

Getting around cities in Cambodia

Tuk tuks are ubiquitous in Cambodia, and almost everywhere you go, you will hear a chorus of “Tuk tuk? Tuk tuk?” as you walk by. Tuk tuks can be a great way to get around — just make sure to negotiate a price before you get in.

If you can’t get a price you like, don’t get angry, just find another tuk tuk. Remember to keep money in perspective — are you arguing over 50 cents when you could be out there seeing Cambodia?

In Phnom Penh, get a cheap SIM card and grab Pass App. This is a tuk tuk hailing app that will not only save you money on tuk tuks, but give you a clean and hassle-free way to get around.

You still pay in cash but I never had anyone try to ask for more money than the app said to pay – and they never tried to pull the “I don’t have any change” crap that most tuk tuk drivers do.

Getting around small towns

You’ll be doing a lot of walking in Cambodia as it’s often the best way to get around. Bring comfy shoes!

9. How should you dress in Cambodia?

Though there has been an enormous influx of tourists in recent years, most Cambodians are quite conservative when it comes to clothing. Therefore, you should be too. Yeah, it’s hot, but that doesn’t mean you should walk around in short shorts and a halter top! Have some respect :)

Bring light loose pants and light tops that cover your shoulders. Full-length sleeves can be great for protecting you from the blistering hot Cambodian sun and for keeping you insect-free in the jungle. You’ll also need to be covered when visiting temples.

On the south coast, especially at the beach, you can get away with more revealing outfits.

10. Is it safe to travel in Cambodia?

Absolutely. I’ve travelled all around Cambodia by myself and never came close to having a problem. For solo women backpacking Cambodia, of course you need to be smart, but it is generally a very safe country to travel in.

The biggest danger is road accidents, so think twice before renting that scooter and wobbling off down the road!

backpacking cambodia

Traffic is one of the biggest dangers in Cambodia.

11. Are there scams to avoid in Cambodia?

The worst scams are aimed at young, drunk men, so watch out guys! If a girl approaches you in a bar and wants to go back to your hotel, she’s probably not after you for your handsome face.

She may be a sex worker — in which case you can expect to pay first in cash and later with STDs! If you’re lucky, she’s just planning on drugging you and stealing your stuff after you pass out.

Avoid this scam by keeping it in your pants, lads.

12. What are the other dangers in Cambodia?

Bag snatching. In Phnom Penh (and PP only) you will be repeatedly warned about bag snatchers. On the streets of Cambodia, don’t dangle your bag over your elbow like you’re down at the club. Always keep it securely connected to your body, even in tuk tuks, where snatchers will reach inside and grab anything unprotected. Better yet, keep valuables in secure pockets.

Fake booze and counterfeit drugs. Yes, those two-for-one cocktail deals are tempting, but bootleg booze is a big problem in Cambodia. Drink too much from an unreliable source and it could kill you. Not a fun way to end your Cambodian adventure.

There are also lots of counterfeit drugs (both recreational and pharmaceutical), so if you need medication, get if from a reputable source. And just avoid recreational drugs completely — so much could go wrong!

Mosquitos. Hey guys, I almost died last year from malaria — I’m pretty sure I caught in northern Cambodia. So yeah, use your bug spray and take an anti-malarial if you’re heading north. Trust me, malaria is also not super-fun!

backpacking cambodia

Jungles are fun. Malaria is not. Use bug spray in Cambodia!

13. Do you need to learn Cambodian?

In the tourist destinations, lots of Cambodians speak English, so you won’t have any problem communicating. But it’s always nice to greet and thank people in their own language. Luckily, compared to Thai and Vietnamese, Cambodian is fairly easy to pronounce.

Here are the two essential words to know before you go to Cambodia!

  • Hello (informal, but useful in most tourist situations) – Sous day
  • Thank you (use liberally!) – Ah Kun

We recommend these travel companies & resources

These are our favourite tools and companies for planning and booking your travels in Asia. We have used all of them and recommend them for their dedication to providing you great travel experiences.

  1. Best travel gear: Minimalist Packing Guide
  2. Cheap flights: Kiwi.com
  3. Hotel savings: Booking.com
  4. Small group adventures: Intrepid Travel
  5. Incredible bike tours: Grasshopper Adventures
  6. Best cooking classes: Cookly
  7. Bus & train: 12go.asia
  8. Tours, tickets & transfers: Get Your Guide
  9. Mindful journeys: BookYogaRetreats & BookMeditationRetreats
  10. Convenient travel insurance: World Nomads

Want to Know Our Cambodia Secrets?

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This FREE don’t-miss list gives you access to the 12 best transformational experiences in Cambodia. Don’t miss out!

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As promised, that’s pretty much everything you need to know before you go backpacking in Cambodia. We love this little country and its people, so leave lots of time to explore and enjoy!

  Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen

It’s easy to help us keep this blog going! Some of the links in this post are our personal affiliate links. If you book or buy something using one of the links in this post we’ll earn a small fee at no extra cost to you. Of course we would never recommend anything we didn’t 100% believe in! Huge thanks in advance! –S&J

If you're thinking about backpacking Cambodia, the first thing you need to know is that you definitely should! Not that decision is made, here are 13 more essential travel tips to help make the most of your Cambodian backpacking adventure! #cambodia #seasia #travel

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