Trying to decide between visiting Vietnam or Cambodia? I feel ya! It is a TOUGH choice. We’ve been to both multiple times and in this post we help you decide.
What’s in our guide to choosing between Vietnam and Cambodia?
6. Dangers and Annoyances
7. Solo Travel
8. Getting a Visa
9. Conclusion – Which Should you Visit?
Cambodia vs Vietnam. What a hard choice!
Both countries are inexpensive, well organized for tourism, and offer lots of opportunity for adventure, cultural immersion, and basking on the beach.
How is a poor (or wealthy) traveller to choose?
Obviously, if you have all the time in the world, my advice is to travel Vietnam and Cambodia.
But if you have a real life back home that you have to live, then it’s better to just visit one per trip. It would take about six weeks to explore all the best attractions in Cambodia and even longer to see Vietnam’s sights.
You can make a great trip out of 2-4 weeks in either country, though.
So, if you have a month or less to travel in Vietnam or Cambodia, it’s time to decide…
Vietnam or Cambodia: Which Should You Visit?
Check out our guides to choosing between Thailand & Vietnam and Thailand & Cambodia.
1. Travel Experiences in Vietnam and Cambodia
While Vietnam has Ha Long Bay, a natural wonder, Cambodia has Angkor Wat, a man-made sight to behold. Both are bucket-list experiences, both are also overcrowded and expensive! Still, they are worth seeing and so much better if you can get there in shoulder season, so when you’re planning your trip, take that into account.
Don’t miss our guide to transformational things to do in Vietnam.
For city experiences, the old centre of Hanoi is a fabulous place to wander and marvel at the local culture and living conditions.
Hoi An is also a must-see destination and one that I long to return to as soon as possible!
Cambodia doesn’t have a comparable city experience, with both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh being underwhelming and mostly avoidable, while smaller cities are run-down and lacking in charm.
As far as beaches go, Vietnam has some pretty ones but they tend to be overcrowded and touristy — with many Vietnamese tourists also being drawn to their fabulous beaches. In Cambodia, you’ll get to play out your deserted island fantasies on Koh Ta Kiev or other south coast islands.
Wilderness and Trekking
In Sapa, north of Hanoi, trekking has become one of the biggest tourist highlight in the country. While going for a walk through the mountains and villages in this region is astonishingly beautiful, it is not exactly adventurous, as you’ll be trekking with hordes of other tourists.
Adventure-seekers will want to find alternative treks in the north or go caving in the fabulous Phong Nha.
In Cambodia, jungle trekking is a wild experience, too. The views tend to be less sensational, as you’re surrounded by dense jungle most of the time, but the experience is a little less polished, meaning you’ll feel more like an adventurer. Just watch out for the leeches!
Let Cambodia Transform You
This FREE don’t-miss list gives you access to the 12 best transformational experiences in Cambodia. Don’t miss out!
Cambodia’s northeastern reaches are home to a dwindling population of Asian elephants. Animal-lovers have a chance to get up close to these incredible animals — and if you’ve never seen elephants before, it’s something you cannot miss.
Vietnam has lots of National Parks which you can explore but chances are you won’t see any wildlife as you tromp through the jungle. You can visit primates up close at the Cuc Phuong National Park Endangered Primates Centre. We’ve never been there but we’ve heard good things.
City Tours and Bike Tours
Both Vietnam and Cambodia offer amazing experiences when it comes to tours, long or short.
In Vietnam, you can:
- Cycle the Mekong Delta
- Discover Hoi An by bike and kayak
- Take an amazing 11-day bike and boat adventure
In Cambodia, don’t miss your chance to:
- Bike the Angkor temples
- Cycle from Angkor Wat to Cambodia’s south coast
- Spend 14 days seeing Cambodia’s best sights by bike
If you want to explore Vietnam and Cambodia together, take a Mekong bike and boat adventure from Siem Reap all the way to to Saigon!
Travel Experiences – Vietnam or Cambodia?
When it comes to exciting travel experiences, Cambodia wins. Though Vietnam has lots of incredible places to see and things to do, Vietnam is more touristy and therefore, the travel experiences just aren’t quite as adventurous or remote as we’d like.
There is nothing in Vietnam as iconic as Angkor Wat or as perfectly deserted as Koh Ta Kiev. Cambodia also has Kampot, one of our favourite small towns in the entire world, plus the chance to see almost wild elephants in the north.
2. Transportation in Vietnam and Cambodia
Getting around in both Cambodia and Vietnam is super easy.
You just tell the staff at your hotel or hostel where you want to go and they’ll make all the arrangements for you. All you have to do is be ready on time. This service might cost you a dollar extra but it is almost always worth it to avoid the hassle of going to buy your own tickets.
Usually, if you arrange tickets through your hotel, a mini bus will pick you up at the front door, so you don’t need to walk across town with your luggage.
(If you want to know about travel from Vietnam to Cambodia, don’t miss our guide to getting to Cambodia) →
Transportation in Vietnam
Busses in Vietnam
A well organized bus network links every conceivable spot a visitor would want to go in Vietnam.
- Quality – Long-distance busses are cheap, generally on time, and usually comfortable.
- Price – A five or six hour bus ride will cost you around $6, depending where you’re going. A great deal!
- Bus type – Journeys are usually in a sleeper-style bus, where you can (almost) stretch out on a bunk and might even get some sleep.
- Safety – Nightmare tales of dangerous drivers and filthy busses are mostly a thing of the past — now busses are, if not luxurious, the best way to get around Vietnam.
Use 12go.asia for routes, times, prices, and booking busses in Vietnam.
Train in Vietnam
There is also a train line that starts in the north and winds its way through coastal communities and then finally heads inland to end up in Ho Chi Minh city. The train is no faster than the bus and is more expensive, so often not the best choice. It can be useful for making the overnight journey from Hanoi to Sapa or for a quick ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne.
Easy rider motorbike in Vietnam
One of my favourite Vietnam experiences was my trip from Hue to Hoi An by motorbike. I have never driven a motorbike in my life but in Vietnam, you can hire a bike with a driver.
You sit on the back watching the world go by while they do all the work. This kind of transportation is ideal for maximum 5 or 6 hours — after that your butt (and possibly the rest of you) will fall asleep!
Flying in Vietnam
We never recommend flying around inside a country — it is expensive, bad for the environment, and makes you miss huge chunks of fascinating travel. To avoid flying in Vietnam, plan your trip for just the north, centre, or south.
However, if you must fly in Vietnam, there are lots of cheap flights available. But be warned, the low cost airlines in Vietnam (JetStar and VietJet) have a reputation of being late all the time!
We once got to the airport in Nha Trang only to discover that our flight was delayed by 8 hours. Yikes! We quickly re-booked onto Vietnam Airlines and took the financial loss as an expensive lesson.
Transportation in Cambodia
In Cambodia, the major destinations are served by bus, while more off-the-beaten-track destinations are connected by mini bus. If you’re going way off the tourist map, you may need to hire a motorbike or tuk tuk.
Busses in Cambodia
- Quality – Long-distance busses are cheap, but usually late, and can be old and uncomfortable. My bus journey from Phnom Penh to Kratie was advertised as 4 hours and took 8. Not cool!
- Price – a 5 or 6 hour bus ride will be around $10. Still not expensive, but more expensive than Vietnam.
- Bus type – Bus journeys are usually in a seated bus, which can range in quality from new to well past its prime.
- Safety – Cambodia’s bus safety record is not great (road accidents are alarmingly common in Cambodia) so it’s worth it to find a reliable bus company. Our favourite was Giant Ibis, which costs a little more but is totally worth it for safety and reliability. Unfortunately, they only cover limited routes in Cambodia.
Use 12go.asia for routes, times, prices, and booking busses in Cambodia →
Mini busses in Cambodia
If you go anywhere besides the major attractions (which you must to get the most out of Cambodia) you will have to take a mini bus. They vary in quality and are almost always late. A mini bus ride can be easy and comfortable, or it can be an all-day adventure, starting with 100 stops around town to pick up babies, chickens, sacks of grain, small motorbikes and more.
Don’t expect to get anywhere quickly in a Cambodian mini bus – but treat the journey as part of the experience.
Long-distance taxis in Cambodia
If you have a decent budget and are travelling in Cambodia with friends or family, hiring a car and driver can be the best way to go. These services tend to be far more reliable than public transportation and will get you everywhere twice as fast.
You can also stop off along the way to see the sights, especially if you hire a driver who speaks English well enough to double as a guide.
Find Cambodia Transportation →
Vietnam vs Cambodia – Transportation
Chalk one up for Vietnam! Their transportation is faster, cleaner, safer, and cheaper. It’s fairly easy to get around Cambodia too, but expect delays and a little more adventure!
3. Food in Vietnam and Cambodia
If you’re a meat-eater, you will probably prefer the food in Vietnam. There are delicious bowls of Pho made with hearty beef broth everywhere you look, lots of fresh seafood, banh mi sandwiches on every corner, and free egg sandwiches for breakfast at most hotels and hostels.
Don’t miss my detailed Vietnam food guides to Hoi An, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
For vegetarians, vegans, and people who have sworn off meat after visiting a market in Southeast Asia, you’ll probably prefer the food in Cambodia. I know I do! In the tourist areas, it is much easier to find food that is completely vegan — plus, Cambodia curries are incredibly delicious.
That said, both countries have incredible food and I wouldn’t make the choice based on food alone.
Vietnam or Cambodia – Food
This one is a tie. Vietnam and Cambodia both have lots of great food to inspire the foodie adventurer. It’s just a matter of preference!
4. Drinking in Vietnam and Cambodia
Happy hour cocktails
It’s happy hour again (and again and again…). In both Vietnam and Cambodia almost every tourist bar and restaurant has happy hour – often lasting most of the day. In many places, 2-for-1 mixed drinks and cocktails can be had for $2.50 or a little more.
Not all cocktails are created equal though. In Cambodia, it can be worthwhile to spend a little more money and make sure you’re getting brand-name alcohol. Bootleg booze is a problem there, so just make sure you’re drinking in popular and well-reviewed bars (and not buying bottles off the back of a scooter).
Beer and craft beer
Vietnam has a long history of brewing beer. Drinking fresh beer (bia hoi) on the street is still one of the major must-dos in Hanoi. A cup of watery bia hoi costs around 50 cents.
In Ho Chi Minh City, the craft beer scene is insane. A glass of craft beer will cost you the same as it does in the West, but it’s worth it, especially if the idea of watery lager makes you angry!
Beer in Cambodia is a bottle of Angkor. It’s fine hot-weather nothing-special beer. But nothing to get particularly excited about.
Vietnam or Cambodia for Drinking?
Because of the craft beer movement taking over the country, Vietnam wins the drinking category! However, there are lots of cheap cocktails to be had in Cambodia, so if you like a cheap drink, Cambodia is better for you.
5. Accommodation in Vietnam and Cambodia
Both Vietnam and Cambodia offer a wide range of accommodation — from basic dorm rooms to astonishingly luxurious resorts — all at relatively bargain-basement prices.
You can get a decent clean place to sleep for $4 or a room in a fancy boutique hotel for $50.
Budget accommodation in Vietnam and Cambodia
In much of Vietnam, it is easy to find a private room in a very nice, spotlessly clean hotel for around $12. The hardest part about finding accommodation in Vietnam is sorting through all the great choices.
In Cambodia, finding those gems is much more of a challenge, though they do exist. On the budget end of the scale, you’re more likely to be roughing it in Cambodia, with things a little less clean and a little less polished for tourists. But rooms tend to be a few dollars cheaper, too.
Boutique and luxury accommodation in Vietnam and Cambodia
If you have the budget for a little more luxury, then Cambodia has the edge. Vietnam welcomes lots of wealthy tourists from China, Korea, and Russia, so their luxury properties tend to be busier and therefore be able to charge more.
In Cambodia, the upscale tourist market is smaller, so you can find wonderful resorts and great boutique hotels at the same price as you might pay for a Motel 6 or Best Western somewhere else. This won’t last forever though. More foreign interests are moving into the country and developing Cambodia for mass tourism, so if you’re gonna go, go soon.
(Don’t miss my reviews of Blue Lime and TeaHouse boutique hotels in Phnom Penh) →
Vietnam vs Cambodia – Accommodation
For budget travellers, Cambodian accommodation is marginally cheaper. However, it’s harder to find fantastic budget accommodation in Cambodia, so Vietnam wins this round for budget travellers.
For travellers with a little more expendable cash, Cambodia wins out, since the mid-range and high-end accommodation is more affordable (and usually more stylish and welcoming) than in Vietnam.
Don’t miss my detailed guides to where to stay in Hoi An, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phong Nha.
6. Dangers and Annoyances in Vietnam and Cambodia
Both Cambodia and Vietnam are very safe places to travel and dangers that are common in the west, like pickpockets and violent crime, are almost non-existent. Bag-snatching can happen in Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City though, so don’t dangle your purse temptingly by the side of a busy road.
Vietnam has really cleaned up its act in the last decade, leaving most of the worst scams and rip-offs in the past. Now, pricing tends to be fair and honest — though you’ll still pay way more in the markets than locals do! Road safety is better too, and there are very few scams to watch out for.
Cambodia, being poorer and not as developed for tourists, has a few more scams and rip-offs to be aware of — starting at the border, where officials will charge you a couple of dollars extra just to enter the country. Many scams are targeted at young men, and involve excessive drinking, drugs, and sex. If you avoid stupid and illegal behaviours, you should be OK.
Vietnam or Cambodia – Dangers & Annoyances
Vietnam is an overall safer place with fewer scams and annoyances to watch out for. Both countries are perfectly safe for travellers and most scams are avoided just by being smart and aware.
7. Solo Travel in Vietnam and Cambodia
Vietnam Solo Travel
Solo travel in Vietnam is fun, safe, and inexpensive. Most travel is done by bus, so the ticket price stays the same whether you’re by yourself or in a group. There are plenty of clean, cheap hostels almost anywhere you would want to go. And if you like your privacy, you can get a nice spotless private hotel room for around $12.
It’s pretty easy to meet other travellers, since there are lots of shared activities, like exploring caves or riding the night bus! I have also had great conversations with locals when I’ve ended up being the only one on a tour!
If you’re in the major cities in Vietnam or Cambodia alone, the absolute best way to get around is by Grab Bike. It’s like hiring an Uber, but you get a motorbike instead — something you can’t do with two people!
Cambodia Solo Travel
Solo travel in Cambodia is a little more difficult. Lots of tours, activities, and journeys have to be done by tuk tuk.
If you’re in a group, you can share the cost, making it much cheaper to travel. The quality of accommodation in Cambodia isn’t as good either (and neither is the service) — there were a few times when I felt a little vulnerable and isolated in my dirty home stay or hostel.
Finally, tours in Cambodia can be difficult if you’re on your own. Lots of tours are private tours – which is great if you’re in a group but can be pretty unexciting if you’re alone.
I almost missed out on jungle trekking because I couldn’t find someone else who wanted to go. One other woman stepped in at the last moment which is great, because I would have felt very uncomfortable doing it on my own.
Vietnam vs Cambodia – Solo Travel
Vietnam wins this one, too! Although Cambodia is totally fine for solo travel (more so if you stick to the popular tourist destinations), it’s just a little easier to travel alone in Vietnam.
8. Getting a Visa for Travel in Vietnam and Cambodia
In Cambodia, getting a travel visa is fairly easy. You don’t need to arrange any paperwork ahead of time. You can just show up at the border or the airport and buy a visa then and there. You do have to watch out for border scams in Cambodia and expect to have to pay an extra couple of dollars in “fees” to the border guards. It’s a little annoying but just part of the experience.
For Vietnam, getting a visa is a little more complicated:
- Most travellers will need to arrange for a pre-approved visa letter through a travel agency in Vietnam (such as myvietnamvisa). You can present this letter to pick up a visa on arrival at an international airport in Vietnam or to get an e-visa ahead of time.
- Some passport-holders (including United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany) qualify for a visa exemption, which allows you to stay 15 or 30 days without a visa, depending on where you’re from.
Our quick and easy guide to guide to getting a visa for Vietnam will help you get it sorted out in no time!
9. So Which is Better? Vietnam or Cambodia?
By my count, Vietnam beats Cambodia by a long shot. But, if you were to ask which one I prefer to travel in, I’d say Cambodia! Vietnam won this head-to-head because it is easier to travel in… but as we know, worthwhile things are often difficult.
Choose Vietnam if you want a gentler introduction to Southeast Asia that will still wow your senses and blow your mind.
Choose Cambodia if you want to be a little more adventurous, pushing out the boundaries of your comfort zone.
Let Vietnam Transform You
This FREE don’t-miss list gives you access to the 12 best transformational experiences in Vietnam. Don’t miss out!
More Great Posts to Help you Plan Your SE Asia Trip
We’ve written a ton about travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia. Check these ones out.
You made it to the end of the post, so have you made your decision? Are you going to go to Vietnam or Cambodia? Or will you make the time to visit both? If you have any questions or any additions to this post, let us know in the comments below.
♥ Happy mindful adventures, Jane & Stephen
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