It’s one of our favourite countries for travel, so we are always trying to encourage adventurous people to go to Cambodia! Here’s the complete guide to your Cambodia adventure. Read on to find your perfect Cambodia itinerary, plus where to stay, what to avoid & more.
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On our first Cambodia adventure, we cycled across the Thai border at Aranyaprathet — and into a whole new world! As we biked to Siem Reap, Battambang, through the countryside to Phnom Penh and finally the south coast, we quickly fell in love with the country and its people.
Recently, I returned to Cambodia for a solo excursion, entering from Vietnam’s Ha Tien and enjoying the pleasures of Cambodia’s south coast before heading into the wild northeast, to spend my days trekking in the jungle with elephants, leeches, and mosquitos!
We have had our share of adventures in Cambodia and learned a lot along the way. We want to share that knowledge with you so you can have your own brilliant Cambodia adventure.
Read on to find out…
How to Get the Most from Your Cambodia Adventure
What’s in our Cambodia Adventure guide?
1. Why is Cambodia Great for Adventurers?
2. What Cambodia Itineraries do we Recommend?
3. How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Cambodia?
4. Where Should You Stay in Cambodia?
5. Customs, Clothing, & Behaviour in Cambodia
6. Cambodian Charities and Social Enterprises You Can Support
7. Dangers, Scams, and Cautions for Cambodia Travel
8. How to Get to Cambodia
Why is Cambodia Great for Adventurers?
The famous ancient temples of the Angkor Wat complex get more than a million visitors every year. It is by far the most famous site in Cambodia and is definitely worth the trip! But, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Angkor Wat is the only thing to see in Cambodia. Start your journey there and then head out to experience the diversity of this amazing country.
Beaches & Islands
Exotic beaches and deserted islands are probably not the first things to spring to mind when you think of Cambodia. The southern shores of Cambodia lie along the Gulf of Thailand, so the same environment that created the famous Thai islands and beaches is at work here.
The major difference is that in Cambodia, you can still find deserted beaches and islands with no electricity and water – just tiny huts in paradise!
Community Based Eco-Tourism
While the government of Cambodia doesn’t seem to do much to build infrastructure in Cambodia or support tourism initiatives, they do have a fairly open-door policy when it comes to letting non-profits operate in the country. Many of these non-profits have created Community Based Eco-Tourism (CBET) projects which are set up to help local people attract tourists (and deal with tourists) to their part of the country.
We love the Chi Phat eco-tourism village in the Cardamom Mountains, where villagers who used to turn to illegal activities like poaching and logging, now earn a living running home stays and guiding treks, boat trips, and cycling tours in the area.
(Don’t miss: If you’re trying to decide between travelling in Vietnam or Cambodia, this post will help you decide!) →
Here are some of the CBET projects you can visit in Cambodia:
- Near Kratie: Cambodia Rural Discovery Tours in Koh Dambang, Koh Preah, and Koh Prahdao
Near Siem Reap: Visit Banteay Chhmar
Culture & History
There is a dark side to visiting Cambodia. In the late 70s, the Khmer Rouge carried out the slaughter of millions of Cambodians. You can’t visit the country without being aware of how such a tragedy affects the culture for generations to come.
Visiting the various sites and museums dedicated to keeping the memory of those lost alive — like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh or the Killing Fields — is equal parts horrifying and absolutely necessary.
This half-day tour of Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields will help you understand this brutal piece of history.
In the northeast of Cambodia lies a huge jungle wilderness where the last of Cambodia’s wild elephants live. The Cambodians living in Mondulikiri Province traditionally used elephants to transport goods, and help with heavy jobs, such as logging. Now, in the machine age, elephants are rarely used this way, which has created a new elephant industry — tourism.
By all means, go visit the elephants in Cambodia. Just make sure you choose an elephant friendly organization!
Need some more Cambodia travel advice? Try these:
What Cambodia Itineraries do we Recommend?
With so many varied attractions, it would take at least 6 weeks to visit Cambodia properly. We do understand that most people don’t have that kind of time. That’s why we created three 2-week itineraries for Cambodia, based on different travel styles.
Our Culture & Mindfulness Itinerary is perfect for spiritual travellers who want to experience the awe of Cambodia’s ancient temples and immerse themselves deep in Cambodian culture.
Our Adventure Itinerary is great for travellers who want to meet Cambodia’s diverse wildlife and challenge themselves in the great outdoors.
The Beaches and Islands Itinerary is perfect if you prefer lounging on the beach and sipping cocktails.
Of course, if you do have more time, you can combine the itineraries to make the ultimate Cambodia adventure!
(Don’t miss: See the detailed itineraries and get planning) →
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in Cambodia?
We might as well ask “How long is a piece of string?”. Travel in Cambodia can cost as much or as little as you want.
If you’re on a tight budget, you can visit Cambodia for as little as $15 per day for one person.
To stick to this budget:
- Stay only in hostels & home stays
- Eat street food and at markets
- Take busses and minibuses (or rent a motorbike) between destinations
- Don’t use taxis or tuk tuks
- Limit your drinking to cheap Angkor beers
(Don’t miss: If you plan on backpacking Cambodia, read our guide to the 13 things you need to know before you go) →
If you have a little more wiggle room, you can have a very comfortable experience in Cambodia for $30 per day. Couples can easily do $50 per day.
To stick to this budget:
- Stay in guest houses (or jungle huts!)
- Eat mostly at low-cost restaurants
- Take busses and minibuses (or rent a motorbike) between destinations
- Use tuk tuks in town, rent a bike, or walk
- Take advantage of 2-for-1 cocktail happy hours
The sky is the limit! Your biggest expense will be accommodation but you can also spend more on tours and transportation.
If you have more money than time:
- Stay in boutique hotels or luxury resorts
- Eat at mid-range or high-end restaurants
- Take private taxis between destinations
- Use taxis or tuk tuks in town
- Drink whatever you like!
Where Should You Stay in Cambodia
Cambodia has a wide range of accommodation, from the downright disgusting to the purest luxury. I have stayed in the worst and the best — and have lived to tell the tale. Here’s what you can expect from Cambodian accommodation.
Usually the cheapest option, home stays in Cambodia cost around $4/night including dinner. They are very basic but should be experienced at least a few times on your Cambodian trip. Staying in a home stay gives you insight into Cambodian life in a way that no other experience will.
Your bed will be a mattress on the floor, often only separated from the family bed by a curtain. It’s common for parents and children to share one mattress in poor Cambodian homes.
The bathroom will be in a tiny outbuilding and will be very basic, and probably very dirty. The kitchen is also outside and if you are squeamish about food, it’s best not to look. Usually, the hosts do not speak any English, but you will get to be a part of family life for a night.
Guest Houses, Tree Houses, and Jungle Huts
Next up the ladder, cost- and comfort-wise are guest houses. These are everywhere in Cambodia and will cost $10-20 per night, depending where you are and how nice the accommodation is. We usually stay in simple guest houses in Cambodia, where you’ll likely get a bed off the floor with clean sheets and a simple private bathroom.
In the wilder parts of Cambodia, you might get a hut to yourself. I love these huts, but be warned, I have shared huts with huge spiders, never-ending troops of ants, and frogs. Not for the nature-phobe!
For around $50 per night, you can get a beautiful room in a boutique hotel in Cambodia, where you’ll be treated to excellent service and an excellent night’s sleep.
Whenever I stay in a boutique hotel in Cambodia, I always marvel that for the same price back home, I might be able to get a dirty room in a roadside motel! For those who need four solid walls and a properly plumbed bathroom, aim to stay at boutique hotels in Cambodia.
If you like to live it up when you travel, Cambodia also has some dreamy luxury resorts, at a cheaper price than almost anywhere in the world. If you have a little stretch in your budget, I highly recommend indulging in some serious pampering at least for a few nights, just to find out how it feels to be part of the one percent!
Customs, Clothing, & Behaviour in Cambodia
How to Dress for Success in Cambodia
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but Cambodia is a modest country and people dress modestly. That means that you should respect the culture and dress that way too!
As a solo female traveller, I felt most comfortable in long loose trousers and a t-shirt that covered my shoulders. Shorts and tank tops are best reserved for the beach, and when you’re visiting temples and wats, show some respect and cover your legs and arms.
A bikini is hardly ever appropriate in Cambodia (yes, even on the exotic beaches), so do yourself a favour and bring a beach cover-up if you are the bikini-wearing type.
Socially Responsible Businesses
A great way to support Cambodian people with your tourist dollars is to visit some of the dozens of socially responsible businesses in Cambodia. The Tree Alliance organization runs four fabulous restaurants in Cambodia, while Epic Arts runs an amazing cafe in Kampot.
You can also support the various community-based eco tourism projects around the country by visiting and participating in their activities.
Travel Sex Trade
A sad truth about tourism in Cambodia is that many (disgusting and outright evil) men travel there to get involved in sex trade tourism. Unfortunately, the child sex trade is also doing a booming business in Cambodia.
However, this industry is also supported by backpackers who think it might be a great idea to hire a girl for the night, not understanding that their money goes to support human trafficking and child sex slavery, too.
Even if you’re not into sex tourism (if you are, please leave this blog and never come back), you can help by following the rules laid out by Child Safe.
You can’t go to Angkor Wat without meeting the kids of Angkor, who sell trinkets and postcards at the site. In other places (mostly in Siem Reap), kids will just ask outright for money or women might ask for cash to buy formula for her baby (which is a scam, by the way).
In all instances, the best policy is to say “no”.
Many of these kids are forced to sell or beg and most of the money you give them goes to their bosses. Much better to donate to an accredited Cambodian kids’ charity, where the money will actually help children in need.
(Don’t miss: Our post about all the kids we met at Angkor Wat) →
Cambodian Charities and Social Enterprises You Can Support
When you visit a country like Cambodia, which has more than its fair share of poverty and social problems, it can be a moral dilemma. It’s easy to feel guilty about spending more money on a holiday than most Cambodians will see in their lifetime.
It’s important to remember that when you spend money iat independently owned businesses, you help locals earn a living, so your tourist dollars have a positive impact. We also like to donate to local charities when we visit low-income countries, as a way to show our gratitude for the warm welcome we always receive.
Here are a few Cambodian non-profits we suggest:
- Keep kids safe from trafficking and sex slavery by supporting Operation Underground Railroad and ChildSafe.
Give marginalized kids a better future by supporting Friends International.
Protect elephants and conserve elephant habitat by supporting Elephant Valley Project.
Clean up the waterways of Cambodia by support One Earth One Ocean.
(Don’t miss: Here’s what it’s like to visit Elephant Valley Project) →
Dangers, Scams, and Cautions for Cambodia Travel
Before we get into this list, rest assured that Cambodia is one of the safest countries in the world for travellers. Together, Stephen and I cycle toured extensively and never had a single problem. I have also travelled alone through lots of off-the-beaten path destinations and again, had zero problems!
Still, there are a few things you should be aware of before you go.
Tuk Tuk Drivers and Marketeers
One of the biggest irritations to visitors in Cambodia is the persistent tuk tuk drivers in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. You will be offered so many tuk tuk rides, the phrase “No thanks, we’re walking.” becomes like a mantra. The same happens in Cambodian tourist markets with people offering you things to buy.
If you want to have a little fun and a meaningful cultural exchange, stop and chat with the drivers or market-stall owners. When you break away from the roles of tout / customer, you’ll be able to act like human beings, chatting about your lives and discovering more about each other. We found when we did this we were always met with warm-hearted, funny, friendly people.
Even if you feel irritated by the constant offers (it can be really annoying!), always remember that you are on holiday, having the time of your life, while the drivers and touts are trying to earn the money to feed their families. Be polite, be friendly, and be grateful for the experience.
(Don’t miss: Read the story of our friend Nang to get better insight into the life of a tuk tuk driver in Cambodia) →
On my recent trip to Phnom Penh, I was frequently warned that bag snatching from tuk tuks was a big problem. I have no idea how big a problem this is (and how much is just tourist hysteria) but it’s a good practice to keep your bag, your phone, and any other valuable well inside the tuk tuk, so a passing motorcyclist cannot snatch it.
When you’re on the street, don’t wave your phone around or dangle your bag from your arm.
Don’t act like a target and chances are you won’t become one.
Visiting an orphanage in a poor country is a common tourist activity — and one you should never do. Using poor orphans as a tourist attraction is awful on its own, and made even worse because it has turned into a scam.
According to Orphanages Not the Solution, more than 74% of kids in Cambodian orphanages are not orphans — their parents place them there as a way to earn money. Many orphanages are unsafe for kids and some have been created just to earn money from tourism.
(Related: Instead of visiting orphanages, here are some other ways to help kids in Cambodia) →
Sex, Drugs, and Pretty Girls
Every country has scams targeted at horny men who want to party. The easy way to avoid these scams (which can leave you drugged, robbed, arrested, or dead) is to not get involved in the seedier side of local life.
Don’t take a girl home and don’t pay for sex. Don’t buy drugs from strangers. Don’t get shit-faced and pass out. It’s easy to avoid this category of scams: just try and be a good person and respect the culture!
How to Get to Cambodia
You can fly straight into Siem Reap or Phnom Penh but if you’re coming from abroad, it’s usually cheaper to fly to Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. From there, you can get a cheap flight to Cambodia, or have more fun with it and make your way there overland!
Our complete guide to getting to Cambodia covers all the most popular overland routes into the country. We also tell you everything you need to know about the border scams you should watch out for when entering Cambodia.
More Cambodia posts to help you plan your adventure:
Cambodia Itinerary: 2 Weeks in Cambodia →
How to Choose the Best Elephant Sanctuary in Cambodia →
How to Get a Glimpse of the Rare Kratie Dolphins in Cambodia →
Mayura Zipline in Mondulkiri Cambodia – All You Need to Know Before You Go →
Is the Climbodia Discovery Tour One of the Best Things to do in Kampot? →
We wrote this guide to encourage you to get out there and live your Cambodia adventure! It really is a wonderful country and we highly recommend you go experience it for yourself. As always, if you have questions about travelling in Cambodia, as them in the comments below. We’d be happy to help!
♥ 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