Out of all the countries I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is my favorite! Thailand comes to a close second, but I just loved how cheap, beautiful, fun, and safe Cambodia is. Did I mention beautiful? But you don’t have to take my word for it – here’s proof!
Beautiful Koh Rong Island
There are tons of backpackers in Cambodia, so traveling solo is really no worries. I met multiple people there with whom I ended up traveling around the country for several days. The best time to go is November through March as that is the dry season. I’m here to help, so here are some quick tips to help you prepare for your trip to gorgeous Cambodia!
Tip #1: Do not take out your cell phone (or anything valuable) while walking down the street.
You will find that, in Cambodia, there are heaps of people driving around on motorbikes. A common tactic some of them employ is snatching your phone out of your hands as they drive past you. It happens quickly, and unsuspecting tourists will never be able to chase after them fast enough on foot to catch up. An important practice is not to even take your phone out when you are walking down the street. Keep it secure in a zipped bag or zipped pocket (but don’t put it in your back pocket as that is an easy target spot for pickpocketers).
Tip #2: Do not drink the liquor on Koh Rong Island.
When you visit Koh Rong Island (mentioned later in this article), there will be lots of opportunities to go out partying. Do not, I repeat, do not drink any liquor while you’re on that island. Go ahead and drink all the beer and wine you want, but don’t risk it with shots or mixed drinks unless you’re okay with the possibility of feeling sick for a couple of days. It may have just been my experience or just the liquor at a specific bar but, after going to a pub crawl on the island, I was throwing up with horrible stomach pains and had no appetite for two days afterward. I had a few drinks that night, but not nearly enough to warrant that kind of bodily reaction. I met multiple travelers afterward who couldn’t believe I drank liquor on Koh Rong Island and they spoke of it as if it was something everyone knew to avoid. The exact word they used to describe it – “poison,” which is exactly what I would call it too, based on my experience. Word to the wise, just imbibe wine and beer and save yourself the (potential for) suffering. It was a shame to spend my two days on this gorgeous island feeling sick and not be able to enjoy the beach or activities.
Tip #3: Bring US dollars.
If you’re American, you’ll love this! When I landed in Phnom Penh, I went to a shop inside the airport to purchase a bottle of water. Upon going to the checkout counter, I noticed the price was in dollars. I asked the cashier, “Is this referring to US dollars?” He laughed and responded, “First time in Cambodia, huh?” I soon learned that they actually use US dollars in Cambodia as their currency. Well, they do actually have their own currency, called riel, but you only get Cambodian riel as change when you pay for something. Riel bills have the same value as US coins.
Tip #4: Ladies, cover your knees and shoulders when visiting temples.
In Cambodia as well as everywhere in Southeast Asia, it is considered extremely disrespectful for a woman to show her knees or shoulders in a place of worship. The temples are absolutely beautiful and you will definitely want to visit some, so please be sure to bring appropriate clothing. I know it will be hot, but it is their culture and visitors should abide by their rules whilst in their country. Many temples and sacred places will not even allow you admittance if you are not covering up your knees and shoulders, and it’s quite disappointing to make the trip somewhere and not be able to get in. Just something to be aware of before you pack for a trip to Cambodia!
Tip #5: Spend more than one day seeing temples at Angkor Wat.
A big mistake I made when traveling around Cambodia was thinking that I could knock out most of the best temples at Angkor Wat in one day. Often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, Angkor Wat itself is arguably the most incredible temple in the world. As if that weren’t enough, there are also many smaller temples that are part of the Angkor Wat area. I am exceptionally skilled at squeezing in a lot within a short amount of time but, in that situation, I really wished I had done more research. I barely scratched the surface in one day as there are truly copious stunning temples there. They offer one-day, three-day, and seven-day passes into Angkor Wat, and I highly recommend getting the three-day pass so you can take your time visiting a handful of the temples. Be sure to research them the day before and make a list of the ones you wish to see; visiting three to four each day is an attainable number. You will want to arrange a ride and price with a tuk tuk driver the night before you go. The tuk tuk drivers have typical temple routes you can choose from, but it’s better to look up the temples ahead of time and select the ones you most wish to see. Simply show the driver your list and negotiate a price that seems fair for the tour.
Now that you’ve learned from my mistakes, here are my recommendations for places to go and things to see in Cambodia!
From Beautiful Beaches to Enchanting Temples – What to Do/Places to See!
- Angkor Wat – as I mentioned, there are quite a number of temples here, therefore this deserves a sublist. The temples I recommend visiting include:
- Angkor Wat,
- East Mebon,
- Angkor Thom,
- Phnom Krom,
- Pre Rup,
- Prasat Kravan,
- Preah Khan, and
- Ta Prohm.
East Mebon Temple
Prasat Kravan Temple
- Siem Reap – this is the city nearest Angkor Wat. Some of the main activities in SR include browsing around the night market and socializing on Pub Street. Food and drinks are so cheap in SR; you can enjoy many nights out without breaking the bank!
My friend Evi and me enjoying a couple of $1.50 cocktails in Siem Reap
- Phnom Penh – visit Wat Phnom, the National Museum of Cambodia, the Royal Palace, the S-21 Prison Museum, and the Killing Fields (make sure you are emotionally prepared for the latter two).
The memorial at the Killing Fields – emotionally difficult to visit, but important to see this place
- Koh Rong Island – visit Nature Beach and Long Beach and go swimming with glowing plankton at night.
Feeling ill and resting on a hammock, but still enjoying the beautiful view on Koh Rong Island
- Kampot – rent a motorbike to get around, swim at Ta Da Waterfall, explore the salt fields, and enjoy fun water rides at Arcadia Backpackers and Water Park.
Selfie with a cheerful salt-mine worker who kindly gave us an exclusive look inside (normally you are not allowed to go in there)
Tubing at Arcadia Backpackers and Water Park
- Sihanoukville – relax at Otres Beach (the ferry to Koh Rong Island leaves from Sihanoukville, so you’ll have to stop through here if you travel to the island).
Got any other Cambodia suggestions I missed? Please feel free to share them in the comments! I made memories there that will truly last a lifetime, and I feel strongly that you will also fall in love with this magical country if you experience it for yourself :-). As always, I’m here to answer any questions you might have about planning a trip there!
Happy Adventuring, friends!