Cambodia was, without question, one of our favorite places we visited during our five months abroad. Filled with culture and so much positivity from its people, you cannot help smiling throughout most of your wandering in this country. With all of that being said, Cambodia is still an intimidating country to visit. The genocide from the Khmer Rouge still has people wondering if it is safe. The internet is filled with stories of crime and scams. We did not see the negative effects of this at all, but we still think it would be helpful to share our Cambodia two week itinerary just so everyone feels as comfortable as possible for this trip!
Tips Before You Go:
Rainy Season: Try to avoid being here during the middle of the rainy season from December through April. We were here at the end of November and the beginning of December and did not see much rain at all.
Clothes: Cambodia is an incredibly hot country, so you will want as many warm weather clothes as possible. However, keep in mind, this country is built on many religious traditions, so be sure to be conservative and have clothes that cover your shoulders and knees for when visiting temples.
Food/Water: Like most of Southeast Asia, be conscious that you should not drink fresh water or eat raw vegetables or fruit. Make sure to buy bottled water and always double check at a restaurant if they’re giving you water that it is not tap.
Transportation: We recommend taking Giant Ibis whenever you can for transportation. We found the drivers to be safe and punctual, a very rare thing here!
Money: Cambodia uses a combination of their Riel and the US dollar as forms of payment. Be sure to have both on you at all times as you’ll never know who takes what.
Siem Reap (5 days, 4 nights)
Arriving at Siem Reap airport was one of those things we thought would be intimidating but it turns out, it’s not a big deal at all. Make sure you have US Dollars on you. A visa on arrival costs $30. After that, hop in a tuktuk to your hotel and be on your way.
Our belief is that you need at least two days to see the temples, a day to do an excursion outside of the city, and another day to wander around and explore Siem Reap. Most people like to spend a night wandering around Pub Street for the local party scene, but that’s up to you.
What to do:
Angkor Wat Temples: You should try to go twice, once for the sunrise, and once for the entire temple experience. It was amazing to see the details of these temples up close and personal. A truly somber experience. We also ran the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon to get an even more in depth experience to these temples, a hot and difficult experience but so worth it.
Silk Farm: Really? Yes, really! This silkworm farm was incredibly cool. We were able to see the handmade silk being made and the entire process. This organization does not charge an entry fee to visit the farm, and trains its staff on site to try and help the economy of Siem Reap. We got a lot of our Christmas shopping down at their store after the tour. Very cool organization, check them out! Artisans Angkor
What to eat:
Cambodian cuisine is built on street food. Typically, we would walk around until we saw something that smelled good and would immediately order that. We mostly ate noodles and soup but we did splurge one night at Haven, a local restaurant that offers help to youths coming from orphanages. Besides the fact that they do great work for those in need, this place had some of our favorite food in Siem Reap. You can typically get a full meal of street food for two for less than $5.
Where to stay:
Velkommen Guesthouse: Even though this was located outside of the city center, Velkommen had everything you would want in a guest house. It was cheap, had working WiFi, and the staff was fantastic in helping us whenever we had any questions. Tough to beat this one!
We also spent a few nights at Frangipani which, in spite of its higher price tag, we did not like at all. We wanted to splurge on a “nicer” hotel for the half-marathon nights so that we would not be too tired. The pool was awesome, and the lobby was beautiful, but the rooms were kind of gross, and the hotel interior was dark and not clean. They also tried sticking us in a room with a twin bed at first even though we had booked a regular one and were resistant to change it once we pointed it out. Stick with Velkommen!
Where to Next:
We recommend Phnom Penh, but you can venture all over Cambodia from Siem Reap as it is one of the main hubs here. You can get to Battambang or Tonle Sap very easily from here as well.
Phnom Penh (5 Days, 4 nights)
Getting to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap is actually quite easy. Book with Giant Ibis, and they will actually have a van come pick you up from your hotel/guest house so you are right on time. This bus ride takes about 4 hours so make sure you have a good book handy.
Phnom Penh is incredibly different than Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a city built on the temples of Angkor Wat and the backpackers of Pub Street. Phnom Penh actually feels like a Westernized city with its big buildings and fancy hotels. We spent 4 nights here and could have honestly spent even more as we truly loved this city.
What to Do:
Killing Fields: A tuktuk ride outside of the city. This was a day we will never forget. The killing fields are where millions of Cambodians were brutally killed by the Khmer Rouge. This is a tough but necessary day during your time in Phnom Penh. Pay respects to those who were taken too soon.
Tuol Sleng Museum: Similarly to the Killing Fields, this museum is another instance of the incredibly devastating reign of the Khmer Rouge. The museum takes a look at what life was like for those who were captured and just shows how vicious those in charge were to them.
Sunset Cruise: We stumbled upon this while walking around but we’re so glad we did. We spent the sunset hours on the Mekong River overlooking the city. This was such a great way to finish the day and was so peaceful. It was $15/person. You can book by walking the waterfront and haggling with whichever boat you feel like taking.
Russian Market and Olympic Market: Like most markets in Cambodia, these are filled to the brim with shops and stalls selling all kinds of clothing, kitchenware, wheels — whatever you can imagine. The Russian market is much more tourist oriented, but the food in the middle of it is great. We had sauteed chive cakes and roast pork over rice here that was delicious. The Olympic market is all locals from what we could tell, we did not see another tourist the whole time we were there. It was three floors, and a bit intense. Our tuktuk driver warned us to be careful of pickpocketing while there–it’s tight rows and hidden corners mostly.
Where to Eat:
Much like Siem Reap, Phnom Penh is a city built on street food. We would just find ourselves walking around and hoping to stumble into something. More often than not, this resulted in us going to eat at the place with the most locals. A plate of grilled meat and white rice later, we were almost always satisfied.
Due to Phnom Penh being such a metropolitan city, this is the place to get some of your comforts of home if you were missing them food wise. We had incredible Indian food one night at Taste Budz on Samdach Louis Em St., some of the best we’ve probably ever had, but we often saw every type of cuisine represented here.
The Night Market it touristy, as was often the case in Southeast Asia’s cities, but the food was actually pretty good. There were a fair amount of Cambodian people as well, so we felt vindicated eating here.
Where to Stay:
TeaHouse Hotel: This was probably our favorite place we stayed all throughout Southeast Asia. The TeaHouse hotel had, you guessed it, incredible tea, but on top of that, this was a luxury hotel that did not break the bank. Alicia even got a full massage. Often times, when you splurge in Southeast Asia, it feels like a waste. This was not one of those times. This hotel was in our favorite location and allowed us to walk comfortably to any restaurant and bar.
VMansion: A nice hotel in a similar neighborhood to the TeaHouse Hotel, we had to move here after we tried to get another night at TeaHouse but were unsuccessful. A nice hotel but just not the same as TeaHouse, this felt like it was not worth the money to us.
Where to Next:
We recommend heading to the coast to Sihanoukville, Kampot, and Kep, but you can also head to Ho Chi Minh City, or Mondulkiri to go volunteer at an elephant sanctuary!
Sihanoukville (1 day 1 night)
Once again, the best way to get here is by bus from Phnom Penh. This is about a four hour bus ride as well.
As we saw from our Vietnam Visa issues, a stop in Sihanoukville is pretty essential before heading to the rest of Cambodia’s coast. However, one night is enough. Sihanoukville is a small city that has simply been overtaken by the backpacker tourism here in Cambodia. It is dirty, and you can feel the alcohol in the air.
However, we did find a neighborhood that felt like a peaceful getaway near Otres Beach. This area had a really great beach/relaxed vibe that was exactly what we wanted.
What to do:
Beach/Pool: We were fortunate that our guest house had its own pool, so we spent most of our free time next to the pool. Great way to relax.
Visa: Sihanoukville has one of the two Vietnamese embassies in Cambodia, if you plan on heading there after your trip, this is a great place to stop and get your visa–which you need to get in the country!
What to Eat
If you head into downtown Sihanoukville, there are an endless amount of restaurants and bars. In this neighborhood by Otres, there are many outdoor restaurants and bars nearby. We were exhausted from the visa process and didn’t feel like wandering for food, but had the best Italian food we had the whole time in Asia at a place that we simply cannot remember the name of. Find whatever looks best for you and enjoy!
Where to Stay
Sok Sobay: A really nice and simple guest house off the beaten path. This hotel had a gorgeous bar/restaurant, working Wifi, and is so nice and quiet that you’ll feel completely refreshed afterwards.
Where to Next:
The Cambodia islands (Koh Rong, Koh Thmei) are most accessible from Sihanoukville and are incredibly famous for partying–what else is new–and for nearly untouched beaches. We decided to go to Kampot from here!
Kampot/Kep (3 days, 3 nights)
Located just about two hours from Sihanoukville, Kampot is a sleepy beach town in Southern Cambodia. This was our way to get close to Vietnam while also getting a little bit more time in Cambodia.
We highly recommend a day trip to Kep, not only for the pepper crab, but for the beautiful beach as well.
What to Do:
Kep: As Alicia put so beautifully in it’s own post, the pepper crab here may have been the best thing we ate while traveling. Besides that, Kep is a cool town to spend the day on the beach and relax. From Kampot, you can have your guest house book you a tuktuk for the day and they will happily take you back and forth for less than $20.
Pepper Farm: Located about a half hour outside of Kampot, these pepper fields are a huge sense of pride for the people of Cambodia. They are an incredibly delicious delicacy known throughout the world. We spent the day touring these fields and eating at the farms restaurant. We bought peppercorns to bring back with us too. As most everything in Cambodia, you can have a tuktuk take you back and forth for around $20.
Kampot: These little riverside town has a lot of charm in itself. We spent most of our time just walking around and enjoying the vibe. It definitely has the relaxed nature of Cambodia with the added benefit of being a sleepy town too. Very relaxing. The sunset boat tour is beautiful. They take you out at sunset and bring you back after dark, stopping by trees lit with local fireflies in between. Beers on board are warm and cheap, going well with the chill night. There are party versions of this too, we just opted for a relaxed one.
What to Eat:
Ta Eou: A spot that was all locals when we went. We enjoyed pork with pepper sauce and an endless supply of white rice. Great spot for traditional Cambodia food.
Atelier: A more upscale restaurant–rare to see in Kampot–that had very good pepper crab. We really enjoyed it even if it was on the pricier side, however, it didn’t even come close to the real deal down in Kep.
Where to Stay:
The Columns: A very fine hotel with a nice staff. This hotel just had a weird vibe to it. Cannot explain what it was but it did. We also felt like it was a bit overpriced too.
Boutique Kampot Hotel: A brand new hotel in Kampot. This hotel was very luxurious and even had a rooftop bar. It was empty, which was strange, but they had a beautiful bathroom and provided us some much needed comfort.
Where to Next:
Vietnam is a two hour bus ride from Kampot, that’s usually what most people do after this. We opted to head straight to Phu Quoc via a bus ferry combo. Besides that, you can always head back to Phnom Penh as either another jumping off point, or to start your journey home.