There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
An Empire of Temples
Contemporary Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire, which, during the Angkorian period, ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The remains of this empire can be seen at the fabled temples of Angkor, monuments unrivalled in scale and grandeur in Southeast Asia. The traveller’s first glimpse of Angkor Wat, the ultimate expression of Khmer genius, is sublime and is matched by only a few select spots on earth, such as Machu Picchu or Petra.
The Urban Scene
Just as Angkor is more than its wat, so too is Cambodia more than its temples, and its urban areas can surprise with their sophistication. Chaotic yet charismatic capital Phnom Penh is a revitalised city earning plaudits for its sumptuous riverside setting, cultural renaissance, and world-class wining-and-dining scene. Second city Siem Reap, with cosmopolitan cafes and a diverse nightlife, is as much a destination as the nearby iconic temples. And up-and-coming Battambang, reminiscent of Siem Reap before the advent of mass tourism, charms with graceful French architecture and a thriving contemporary art scene.
Experience the rhythm of rural life and landscapes of dazzling rice paddies and swaying sugar palms in Cambodia's countryside. The South Coast is fringed by tropical islands dotted with the occasional fishing village. Inland lie the Cardamom Mountains, part of a vast tropical wilderness providing a home to elusive wildlife and a gateway to emerging ecotourism adventures. The mighty Mekong River cuts through the country and hosts some of the region’s last remaining freshwater dolphins. The northeast is a world unto itself, its wild and mountainous landscapes home to Cambodia’s ethnic minorities and an abundance of natural attractions and wildlife.
The Cambodian Spirit
Despite having the eighth wonder of the world in its backyard, Cambodia’s real treasure is its people. The Khmers have been to hell and back, struggling through years of bloodshed, poverty and political instability. Thanks to an unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism, they have prevailed with their smiles intact. No visitor comes away without a measure of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.
Cambodia travel facts
Spoken language: Khmer
Currency: Riel (r) or US dollar
Population: 16 million
Capital: Phnom Penh
Religions: Theravada Buddhism (97%), Islam, Christianity, Animism
Flag: The Cambodian flag has an image of Angkor Wat. It is the only national flag in the world with a picture of a building on it.
Travel visa requirements for Cambodia
All foreign nationals except those from certain Southeast Asian countries need a visa to enter Cambodia. Tourist visas are valid for thirty days. The tourist visas are issued on arrival at all border crossings and airports. You will need two passport photos to get your visa. You can also take care of your tourist visa online in advance evisa.gov.kh. The e-visas are only valid at airports and the Poipet, Koh Kong and Bavet land crossings. Check the website for full details. E-visas take three days to process, and you still need to provide a digital photograph.
A tourist visa can be extended once for one month. Many travel agents and guesthouses can help you extend your visa for a commission. You can also buy a business visa, and this can be extended in a variety of ways, and they allow multiple entries. Find out more in the Cambodia guide to travel essentials.
How to get to Cambodia
The busiest International Airports are Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. There aren’t any direct flights from Europe to Cambodia. You can reach Phnom Penh, and Siem Reap via Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City and several other destinations. It’s also possible to travel overland into Cambodia from neighbouring countries. You can cross the border at several spots in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Best time to go to Cambodia
Figuring out the best time to travel Cambodia depends on what you plan to do when you arrive. Cambodia is warm all year round, but it has a rainy season too.
If you visit Cambodia between March and May, the temperatures and humidity are higher. Visiting at this time can still be a good choice if you are hitting the coast. If you are travelling Cambodia to explore the temples, the season between November and February is cool enough for sightseeing. December and January can be the most popular time for tourists.
Travel Cambodia in the rainy season, and you’ll find the countryside at its lushest. Travelling around Cambodia during this season can present some practical challenges and flooding is commonplace. However, the mornings are usually dry as the rain mainly falls in the afternoon. If you do choose to go visit in the rainy season, you’ll avoid the crowds too.
How to get around Cambodia
When planning how to travel around Cambodia, consider the transport as part of the adventure.
Roads have seen massive improvements in the past five years, so getting around the country is much easier than it once was. The bus system provides connections between all major towns. The bus offers the cheapest and usually the most convenient way to travel.
Minibuses and ‘share taxis’ are also other options to travel by road. Share taxis are faster than taking the bus, but they do get absurdly packed. You can ask to pay roughly double the standard fare to have a front seat to yourself. You could also pay to hire the entire taxi.
For short local trips, you can hire a motorcycle or ‘moto’ for the day or a tuk-tuk. A tuk-tuk is a passenger carriage pulled by a motorbike. It’s virtually impossible to rent a self-drive car in Cambodia, but you can hire a car with a driver. Three-wheeled cycle rickshaws called cyclos are also available in Phnom Penh for short trips.
You may also end up travelling Cambodia by boat. Boat trips run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and between Siem Reap and Battambang. In the south, regular ferries and fast catamarans run between Sihanoukville and Koh Rong.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMBODIA
The highly anticipated Six Senses Krabey Island is located in a landscaped 30-acre private island located 5 kilometres off Ream National Park in the Gulf of Thailand in southern Cambodia. The resort features 40 private pool villas surrounded by dense tropical jungle and rocky coastline surrounded by azure waters. Additionally, the resort will also be home to two unique restaurants with menus focused on quality local produce and seasonality, with much of it grown at the resort’s own 40,000 square feet (3,700 square meters) organic farm and herb garden.
Bringing a new concept for a luxury camp experience in Cambodia is Bill Bensley’s Shinta Mani Wild. The resort is set in an unprotected wildlife corridor connecting the Bokor National Park with Kirirom National Park. Accommodation comes in the form of 15 custom designed tents set along 1.5 kilometres of swift moving rivers and waterfalls, providing an out-of-the-world experience unlike any other resort in Asia.
Activities here include exploring the waterways of Southeast Asia’s last wild estuarine ecosystem aboard one of Shinta Mani Wild’s private luxury expedition boats, to accompanying rangers and researchers as they study the wild jungles and their inhabitants.
Situated just ten minutes from mainland Cambodia is Alila Villas Koh Russey, an ecological escape on the enchanting island of Koh Russey on the Cambodian Riviera. The 50-pavilion, 13-villa boutique resort boasts a strong Khmer influence, infusing the architecture, landscaping and interior works with the destination while paying tribute to local artisans. The resort makes a lavish base for guests to explore the natural beauty of Cambodia’s southern shores and enjoy bespoke Alila Experiences — such as taking in temples, coastal towns and the Bokor National Park.
The Balé Phnom Penh hotel, located in the Koh Dach area of Phnom Penh, is a high-end collection of 18 large, private suites showcasing the best of modern Asian architecture, design and gourmet cuisine. The resort is perched on the banks of the majestic Mekong River, with breathtaking views across dazzling waters. The in-house restaurant, Restaurant Theatro, serves refined Cambodian classics in a sleek mid-century setting.
Soaring 188 meters above the heart of Phnom Penh’s business district is Rosewood Phnom Penh. The hotel occupies the top 14 floors of Vattanac Capital Tower, the city’s most iconic modern structure. Accommodation comes in the form of 175 rooms, including 37 suites, and blend traditional refinement with sophistication. The hotel is also a dining destination in the city, offering five very distinct venues, from French infused with Cambodian cuisine to an Izakaya-style restaurant.
Where to go in Cambodia
If you’re looking for the best place to travel in Cambodia, choosing where to go can be tough. When travelling Cambodia, there is so much to discover including cities, villages and breathtaking beaches. This ‘where to go in Cambodia’ guide gives an overview of the destinations worth adding to any Cambodia travel wishlist.
10 best places to visit in Cambodia
Why travel to Cambodia? Here are 10 of the best places to travel in Cambodia. These highlights are sure to convince any traveller to include Cambodia on their itinerary when taking a trip to Southeast Asia.
- The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh are the city’s finest example of twentieth-century Khmer influenced architecture. The Royal Palace is set back from the riverbank on Sothearos Boulevard. You can stroll this complex of regal structures and perfectly manicured grounds. While there, you will gain an insight into Cambodia’s past and present. A blue flag flies when the King is in residence. While the palace itself is off-limits, it’s possible to visit several buildings within the grounds. The Silver Pagoda is named for its floor which is covered in gleaming silver.
The Temple of Angkor are world-renowned and house some of the country’s finest monuments. More than one hundred Angkorian monuments lie spread over some 3000 square kilometres of the countryside. The best-known monuments are the vast temple of Angkor Wat and the walled city of Angkor Thom. During the Angkorian period, the ruling god-kings built imposing temples as a way of asserting their divinity. They left a legacy of more than one hundred temples constructed between the ninth and fifteenth centuries. The full magnificence of Angkor Wat represents the height of Khmer art. The pretty tenth-century temple of Banteay Srei is unique, made from unusual pink sandstone and with intricate ornamentation.
Peaceful Koh Ta Tiev is one of the southern islands, and it’s a tropical paradise retaining a real castaway vibe. There are several types of accommodation to choose from, and you can even camp or sleep in a hammock between two trees over the sand. There is limited electricity on the island and no wifi. Spend your days’ jungle trekking, snorkelling, or experiencing authentic Khmer cooking.
is Cambodia’s second largest city, but it’s often overlooked. It’s a bustling city that is both welcoming and laidback. Its lush surrounding countryside is ideal for bike rides, and it’s easy to get out on the water by kayak. You can whizz past rice paddies and rattle over bridges when you ride the quirky bamboo railway too.
The riverside Kapot is one of Cambodia’s most appealing towns with the backdrop of misty Bokor Mountains. At Kampot, you can potter along the river for a swim or sunset cruise. You could also head into the mountains to explore caves. Kampot is also a base from which to explore the region’s famed pepper plantations. Bokor National Park is home to an abandoned 1920s hotel and casino. Kampot has a friendly but low key nightlife.
is renowned throughout Cambodia for its delicious, inexpensive seafood. It’s heaven for seafood connoisseurs. You can get fresh crab straight from the sea at the crab market on the western seafront. It’s also a good base from which to go on an island boat tour. Head over to the palm-fringed beach of Rabbit Island or Koh Tonsay.
- Floating villages on Tonle Sap
Tonle Sap lake is home to dozens of picturesque floating villages. Explore the fascinating houses built from bamboo and raised on stilts; they are mainly inhabited by Vietnamese fisherman. You’ll pass floating markets, schools and pagodas and learn more about local life.
Around 20km north of Kratie is Kampie. It offers the best riverside vantage point to spot the rare freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. It is expected that only around eighty remain in the entire Mekong. The Irrawaddy dolphins look very much like porpoises. The Irrawaddy dolphin has been added to the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species. The dolphin-watching site is now run as an ecotourism project by the local community.
Ream National Park is one of Cambodia’s most accessible national parks. Here you can explore Cambodia’s unspoilt natural environment with mangrove forests, sandy beaches and rich diversity of flora and fauna. You are likely to see kingfishers, eagles and monkeys.
Trek into the forest of Rattanakiri, the capital Banlung is surrounded by peaceful countryside. It is dotted with waterfalls and lakes, and it’s also home to the indigenous chunchiet hill tribes. You may spot gibbons, rare birdlife and endangered species in the Virachey National Park.
Activities in Cambodia
Cambodia has an increasing number of activities and sports. In the northeast, particularly in Banlung and Sen Monorom, local guides can lead groups or individuals on treks into the surrounding jungle and Virachey National Park. Treks can last anything from a day to a week. There is also good trekking in the forested hills around Koh Kong.
Diving in Cambodia
There are excellent opportunities to snorkel and dive in and around Cambodia. There are several PADI dive shops in Sihanoukville and nearby islands offering both certification and fun day trips.
Cycling and kayaking are available in the northeast around the Mekong River. Bike trips can be organised at Kratie, Stung Treng and around Angkor’s temples or the Cardamom Mountains.
Сulture of Cambodia
Those that travel Cambodia will gain more respect from locals if they are well dressed. Both men and women dress conservatively. It’s best to avoid skimpy clothes and shorts unless you are at a beach resort. When visiting temples, it’s best to have both shoulders and legs covered. Remove your shoes before entering a Cambodian temple or Cambodian home. Cambodians themselves are conservative and do their best to keep clean and well presented.
It’s advisable to avoid any displays of public affection between men and women. Even visitors holding hands can be embarrassing for Cambodians.
WHAT TO EAT IN CAMBODIA
- Fish amok (steamed coconut fish in banana leaves)
In the Khmer diet, rice and freshwater fish play big roles because of the abundance of both. Amok is a national dish, made from fish, coconut milk and curry paste.
All the ingredients are mixed together and put in banana leaf cups with coconut cream on top, then steamed. Another common form is amok chouk – snails with curry steamed in their shells. It's best served with a plate of hot, steamed rice.
- Samlor machu trey (sweet and sour soup with fish)
Samlor machu trey is a soup that's popular in many households in Cambodia as it’s not only easy to make but also has a lovely taste. Its ingredients include fish, garlic, lemongrass, celery, tamarind juice, bean sprouts, pineapple and seasoning with sugar, fish sauce, and salt.
Many people also add some fresh green herbs and hot chilli pepper on top before serving.
- Char kroeung sach ko (stir-fried lemongrass beef)
Char kroeung sach ko is a popular Cambodian stir-fried dish that you can find almost throughout the country. After putting the beef in heated oil with garlic, stir fry until the beef becomes tender. Then add vegetables such as red peppers and onion as well as the kroeung mixture.
Kroeung is lemongrass paste which is considered very healthy, made from a variety of Asian herbs such as lemongrass (known to have a benefit in lowering acne), kaffir lime leaves and galangal.
- Twa ko (Cambodian sausage)
Twa ko is a Cambodian sausage made from beef or pork and various spices. Just like any good homemade sausage, the authentic Khmer sausage contains at least 20-25% fat.
Some prefer to use pork belly as the main ingredient; it definitely serves the purpose well. Twa ko can be enjoyed on its own in barbecued, grilled or pan-fried style or served with steamed rice and fresh vegetables.
- Nom banh chok (Khmer noodles)
Many locals start their day with nom banh chok, a popular dish known as Khmer noodles in English.
It consists of rice noodles topped with green fish gravy and lots of fresh vegetables including cucumbers, green beans, mint leaves, banana blossom and bean sprouts. It’s very similar to the Thai dish that's known as kanom jeen.
- Bai sach chrouk (grilled pork and broken rice)
The simple and yummy bai sach chrouk is pork marinated in coconut milk or garlic before being brought to a slow grill. It's then served with broken or fractured rice and a small bowl of clear chicken broth as well as some fresh vegetables.
As part of the street food culture, it is available everywhere especially in busy neighborhoods. It’s so popular that many middle and upper restaurants also include it on their menus. Try it with iced coffee. The pairing can be very satisfying.
Kuy teav is a noodle soup made from pork or beef stock and rice vermicelli and toppings including bean sprouts and green onions. A variety of meat choices can be added, such as pork, chicken, fish balls and beef as well as seafood.
In some places, it’s served alongside sweet, spicy, garlic sauce and a small slice of fresh lime. This is when the real flavors start. Head to the open-air food stalls at any market; you will find kuy teav shops in no time.
- Lok lak (stir-fried beef in brown sauce)
Lok Lak is a traditional Khmer dish, which is basically stir-fried beef slices (or pork) in a light brown sauce, and served with rice and/or green salad and pepper sauce. Most restaurants across the county offer this dish but tastes are varied depending on the chefs and regions.
The beef or pork slices must first be marinated before cooking so that they are tastier and juicier.
CHASING WATERFALLS IN CAMBODIA
These Cambodia waterfalls are surely amongst the best things to see in country on one’s vacation. So, make sure that you don’t skip any of these during your next trip to Cambodia, because a little breeze would definitely add more bliss to your trip.
This decadent waterfall is surrounded by greenery on all sides. You can find smaller villages and towns nearby. However, it is quite a journey to get here but it is definitely worth it. It isn’t one of the simple waterfalls but it has a wide flow that catches your attention from every angle. This is one of the most popular waterfalls in Cambodia.
Location- 7 km from Ban Lung district (capital), Ratnakiri province, Cambodia
Tip- Equip yourself with the right shoes and a set of extra clothing as the waterfall can be found in the depth of the forests and will require quite a bit of walking.
This place seems to be a great way to enjoy nature while exploring the prehistoric stone carvings along the path of the river. This park doesn’t exactly have one of the larger waterfalls but is still the best Cambodia waterfall in Siem Reap that one can find. The path leading up to the waterfall itself has plenty of greenery, so even if you show up during a hot day, you will stay cool in the shade.
Location- Angkor | Kulen Hills, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Timings- 8:00 am-5:30 pm
Entry fee- INR 1200
Tip- Wear proper shoes as you will have to climb a lot and visit this park in the early morning to avoid a crowd.
The Phnom Kulen park has a beautiful waterfall that is surrounded by a dense forest. These grounds are supposed to hold a lot of ancient history. After you are done enjoying the waterfall, you can take a walk around the parks and visit the temples and small shops.
Location- 40 km from Siem Reap town, Northeast Cambodia
Timings- 7:00 am-4 pm
Entry fee- INR 1457
Tip- Visit during the week for a maximum of 3 hours and in the early parts of the morning, weekends tend to get overcrowded with the locals.
This is one of the more famous waterfalls in Cambodia. One can get here either by the local tuk-tuks or in a boat. It is hardly a walk of 2 km into the jungle to get to the waterfall. The waterfall itself is rather small with steps and more like a cascade of water with strong force but this still does not compromise the peaceful atmosphere of this place.
Location- National Road to Koh Kong, Koh Kong 09000, Cambodia
Timings- 24 hours
Entry fee- INR 74
Tip- it would be advisable not to swim in the waterfall as the area around it can get rather slippery.
Out of most of the Cambodia waterfalls, this seems to be quite impressive. The waterfall itself has a great fall and has what seems to be caves that have formed on either side of it. Another great thing you can do is get a view of the beautiful elephant that lives there, you can even feed her and ride her.
Location- Labang 89009, Lumphat district, Cambodia
Timings- 7:00 am-5:00 pm
Entry fee- INR 257
Tip- Be careful on the road to the waterfall as it is very slippery and muddy.
There are swing chairs where you can sit and enjoy the view and feel of the Kbal Chhay waterfall. You can have a picnic on the balconies or just relax there. The waterfall seems to get even more beautiful after it has rained. The water is clean and you can take a swim here if you like with the locals and even make a few new friends.
Location- Kbal Chhay Waterfalls, Cambodia, Sihanoukville 18000, Cambodia
Timings- 24 hours
Entry fee- INR 75
Tip- Visit during the off-season to avoid the crowd and carry mosquito repellant as well, as there can be quite a lot of mosquitoes around the area.
The Bou Sra waterfall trails are a great place to have a picnic while you watch the waterfall. You can even go trekking on the other side of it and explore some parts of the jungle and get a completely different view of the waterfall. You can even go zip lining across the waterfall if that is what you like to do. It is also one of the biggest waterfalls in Cambodia.
Location- 11202, Mondulkiri province, Pechr Chenda district, Cambodia
Timings- 6:00 am- 5:00 pm
Entry fee- INR 182
Tip- visit at a time when there isn’t much rainfall. If the staircase is off-limits, you will only be able to see only half of the waterfall.
There is a suspension bridge that takes you to this waterfall that is enclosed by a dense jungle. All along the way, there is plenty of greenery and even rubber plantations. If you climb down the stairs of the waterfall you can have a nice picnic there. One can even interact with the locals and visit their homes that are along the trails of the river.
Location- Ka Chanh Village, Ka Chanh Commune, Banlung 89009, Cambodia
Entry fee- INR 78
Tip- It is best to visit in the dry season and for a duration of 2-3 hours at best
This is one of the best waterfalls in Kampot Cambodia and is located on the Bokor mountain. It is best to visit during the rainy season in order to see the waterfall at its best. You can’t swim here but there are pleasant spots where you can relax and cool off. There is a restaurant nearby to accommodate you if you are hungry from your journey.
Location- Bokor Mountain, Kampot province 07000, Cambodia
Timings- 6:00 am- 4:00 pm
Entry fee- INR 358
Tip- You get a good view of the waterfall from a distance but if you want to move closer and head to the top, then be careful as there are a lot of steep rocks and boulders.
This waterfall isn’t just one big waterfall but has water cascading over many smaller and larger platforms. You can swim here and meet the locals as well. The water is clean and you get a great view of the waterfalls as soon as you enter into the area, there is no need to explore much further but you can if you want to.
COMBODIA IS SAFE TO TRAVEL?
Historically, Cambodia is a relatively safe country for travellers so long as you use your common sense.
Smartraveller.gov.au has no warnings for Cambodia at the time of writing, and no major natural disasters or terrorist threats have happened in the past. However petty theft, sexual assault, scams and gun violence are all a concern for travellers.
To stay safe travellers should be aware of their belongings, use ATMs in covered places, not go inside strangers' homes, avoid any drug use and avoid travel at night if possible.
Travel insurance should cover you in the event of many of the aforementioned scenarios happening. If medical treatment is needed in the case of assault or gun violence then travel insurance should cover you so long as you opted for a plan with medical coverage. While in Cambodia, many travellers like to visit other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, make sure all countries are declared on your policy.
Remember the golden rule: stick to marked paths in remote areas (due to the possible presence of landmines).
HAPPY TRAVEL :)