Marina, 26, spent a month backpacking in Cambodia. Between her two working holiday visas in Australia, she took the time to explore this beautiful country. Here is an overview of the places to visit in Cambodia, her itinerary, and practical tips for Cambodia.
Why travelling in Cambodia?
Asian countries are popular destinations for backpackers coming from Australia. For good reason! The proximity to Australia, the diversity of landscapes and cultures, and the low cost of living, attracts many of us to Southeast Asia. Whether it’s a stopover on the way there, between the first and second working holiday visa, or just to spend a nice holiday (for example, after doing your farm work!). I just fell in love with Cambodia.
The transport system in Cambodia works really well. Whether you want to get somewhere within the city, to another region, or to the neighbouring country, you always find a way and a driver. It is totally doable to travel the country from north to south and east to west if you want to take full advantage of the 30 days of your visa.
This is the route I took… I explored different regions of the country, visited cities, and saw the main sights. This route runs from south to north, to the borders of Laos. Travelling the opposite direction, you reach the south of Vietnam.
Phnom-Penh: Definitely a change of scenery
What is better than starting your trip in “the Land of Smiles” in the capital? Air Asia regularly offers good fares from Sydney to Phnom Penh. However, the few hours of flight separating Australia from Asia can’t close the cultural gap between these two countries. Phnom Penh offers many activities to learn more about the Khmer culture and the history of the country. The city is densely populated and full of life: tourists, tuk-tuks, good smells, and markets!
A hike that you should not miss
Visit the oldest temple in the country, Phnom Wat (= temple), which gave the town its name, by the way. Enjoy the gorgeous view. The Sisophon Jetty runs along the Mekong River and is worth a visit just to see the river. As the sun goes down, there are street food tuk-tuks while people are joining outdoor aerobics classes outside the temples.
S-21: a moment of intense history
Just off the city is the former S-21 Detention Center – an intense but highly interesting visit! It helps to understand what happened to this country and how it has been rebuilt (don’t forget to get an audio guide).
Support the fantastic initiative of Friends’n’Stuff. Part of it is a souvenir shop that sells things made from waste products. A sarong at the market? Or a nice wallet. Did your tires burst? A new laptop case maybe?
This initiative allows young Khmer to build a future by training them in various occupations, such as at the restaurant or the massage parlour. You can enjoy a delicious meal, get a massage, and buy exceptional souvenirs, all in one place.
Culinary escape in Kep and Kampot
A bit south and further inland, you stop in Kep and Kampot. In between these two cities, you can visit the pepper plantations for free. You will learn a lot about the cultivation method and at the end you do a pepper tasting.
Kep is known for the fish and shellfish market and especially for its delicious crabs. We recommend the Kimly restaurant for its pepper and crab specialties and because it is located on the waterfront. In Kampot you can visit the ancient Bokor train station, a mixture of nature park and ghost town. Another good address is the Epic Art Cafe in town! There do yummy breakfasts and lunches in a special working environment as their staff have disabilities.
The islands of Cambodia
Visit the paradise islands of Cambodia. Koh Rong and his “little sister” Koh Rong Samloen are the perfect place to relax on white sand beaches and to cool your feet in turquoise water. Koh Rong is busier and Koh Rong Samloen is more authentic. From Sihanoukville, the islands are ideal for taking a break for a few days, going snorkelling or working on the tan. The photos speak for themselves, right?
The mighty temples of Angkor in Siem Reap
The city of Siem Reap itself is not worth seeing, but should definitely be on your list if you want to see Angkor Wat.
The temples at Angkor Wat are incredibly mighty and stunning. The Khmer architecture is very detailed. You can really imagine the gigantic size of the Khmer civilization and the rule of kings there. Or you imagine you got behind the scenes of Lara Croft! You can easily spend a whole 3 days there, because it is a unique place that stretches over several hundred kilometres.
Battambang on the water
Take the time to visit the floating village Battambang on the Siem Reap Tonle Sap River. When taking a boat through the floating villages, you’re observing the special way of living in these stilt houses. Go watch a show at the Ponleu Selpak Circus. Not only do you financially support the circus group in their non-profit projects, but you also get to see a great performance with traditional Khmer dances.
Mondolkiri & Ratanakiri
These provinces in the northeast are the most remote in the country. You’ll love Mondolkiri and Ratanakiri if you want to immerse yourself in the wilderness. In addition to coffee and pepper plantations, waterfalls and rivers, there are unfortunately also areas where intensive deforestation takes place. Anyway, these provinces are ideal for a mountain hike with a guide. This gives you the opportunity to get to know the different local ethnic groups.
The period from December to February seems to be the best for the whole country. If you spent time in Northern Australia before, the climate will be familiar to you. At that time, the cities of Cambodia get the humidity of Darwin and the heat of Cairns!
I ended up spending about $ 20 a day.
The currencies used are Riel KHR and US Dollars. Don’t forget to exchange your AUS dollars for US Dollars. In the hinterland Riel KHR is fine. Otherwise, in restaurants or hostels, they mostly use dollars. Always make a quick calculation in your head to avoid fraud! After a few days of mental arithmetic, you’ll see how well you go.
The tourist visa is valid for 30 days. You can also extend your visa if you want to spend more time in Cambodia.
I hope that this article has inspired you to get to know the Khmer culture, the varied landscapes, and the exquisite gastronomy of Cambodia. The borders to Thailand, Laos or Vietnam are not far away either, so don’t hesitate and continue your adventure!
Written by Marina
Photo credits Photo © aurkht