Top 10 Things to do in Cambodia
1. Explore the National Parks
Cambodia’s national parks do not get enough love! They have jungle, mountain and coastal national parks that are incredible and hardly anyone goes to them! Nuts! Preah Monivong NP is an absolute beauty and is home to the impressive and mountainous Bokor. Kirirom NP is popular with locals and has some stunning waterfalls to swimming in and relax around. Ream NP on the coast has so much diversity in the the wildlife and stunning areas to explore.
Cost: Often free or around $1
Location: They are all over and usually a pain to get to. You tend to have ether hire a bike or pay for a tuk tuk or mini bus.
Time: Rarely need more than an afternoon to a day to explore.
Top Tips: Hostels in the main towns often offer cheap group trips to many of the parks.
2. Swim at a local lake or river
Cambodian love swimming! Whether it’s jumping into local rivers and lakes or making the most of the floods, where there is water, there is often happy Cambodians. For a fun local experience, check out Lake Baray just outside of Siem Reap. It’s by no means a luxury lakeside resort! It is more of a grab an inflated inner tube and jump in with the locals to beat the heat of the day!
Cost: Lake Baray is Free
Location: Lake Baray is a few miles west of Angkor Wat. - You can cycle there if you like a challenge.
Time: A few hours at the most.
Top Tips: Go local! Grab an inner tube for $1, dive in and then ram down some $1 noodles to replenish!
3. Have fresh seafood on the beach
OH MY! My mouth waters even looking at this now! The seafood is so fresh and succulent ...eeek, did i just say succulent? Not a word I use lightly, but I am just lost for words for how good it felt getting some of the best seafood I have ever had for $1! They even add a bit on local Kampot pepper and a squeeze of lime on top to make it sheer seafood perfection! Asia can be pretty awesome for fresh cheap seafood, but I haven’t found anything this good for a dollar! The trick is to watch out for the women walking up and down the beach selling it.
Cost: $1 for a tray
Location: The beaches in the south, Sihanoukville for sure.
Time: 3 seconds if that!
Top Tips: Take it easy if your tummy isn't Asia proof yet, look closely to see if you think they look and smell fresh!
4. Take a cooking course
People connect over food! Cooking courses are one of the best ways of diving into a local culture. You get an insight into their traditions and a glimpse into their history as well as modern day home life. Before a meal in Cambodia they say “nyam bai”, which directly translates as “eat rice”. Rather than a general “let’s eat” they say “eat rice” as aside from it been their staple, there have been times when it is all they had. … I digress, the cooking courses are a fun tasty learning experience that equips you to treat your friends to a taste of where you have been! All the main towns seem to have cooking courses, but Siem Reap has the widest variety. Expect to pay from 15 to 40 USD (12 to 30 GBP) depending on group size location and added extras.
Cost: $15 to $40 depending on the course. Typically around $20
Location: The best places for variety is Siem Reap.
Time: Half a day.
Top Tips: Grill them (ha, pun intended!) on what the course actually includes, how many dishes, drinks, a cook book, a t-shirt ect.
5. See the Royal Palace
If you are in the capital Phnom Penh, make sure you make time to see the Royal Palace. It is really quite beautiful to meander around. The entrance fee is $10 USD (7 GBP) and the official opening hours are 08:00 - 11:00 and 14:00 - 17:00, but it is notorious for closing at random times, so try to see it at the first chance you get and then at least you can have a second shot of going back if it was random closed when you tried.
Location: The capital Phnom Penh
Time: A couple of hours if you take your time!
Top Tips: Check with a local that it is open on the day you want to go, it sporadically closes at the kings will. (being his house and all!).
6. Relax on the beaches and islands
For many years, Cambodia’s beaches have gone unexplored. Even today, aside from the tourist hub of Sihanoukville, very few beaches are that well developed or even frequented. Koh Rong is the most popular for good reason. It is a stunning island with beautiful beaches. Long beach is particularly impressive, but there are many secluded beaches to discover too. One of the best things about this Island is that there are so many dreamy places to stay in across the Island. If you want somewhere really quiet look into Koh Thmei which is part of Ream NP mentioned earlier.
Cost: Just the boat costs - Check out this website for the boat cost.
Location: All in the south
Time: You can do day trips, but try to allow a few days.
Top Tips: Check out some Instagram images of Cambodian beaches, it may affect your itinerary!!
7. Connect with the history
Whilst on your travels make sure you make time to connect with what happened to them. Cambodians are eager to share their history with you and some of the deepest connections you will make with their history is through talking to locals. There are also many books that can help you to explore and grasp their dark history.
There are two main sites you can visit around Phnom Penh that allow you to dig into and begin to understand the horrors of the khmer rouge. Toul Sen museum is the school they converted to a prison and heinously tortured many victims. There are many Killing fields across Cambodia, but the most famous one that is set up for tourists is on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. They only ask for 3 USD (2 GBP) to enter each site.
Cost: Both the Killing fields and Toul Sen are $3 but are rumoured to go upto $5
Location: The killing fields are on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and Toul Sen is in the heart of the city.
Time: You only really need an hour or two for each. Allow an extra hour for return travel to the killing fields.
Top Tips: Arrange with a tuk tuk driver to take you to both of these, the palace, river front and market all in one day for a bargain price with your travel buddies.
8. Bicycle through the villages
Peddle your way into local life by hiring a bicycle for as little as $1 and heading off into the countryside. As you make your way down the red roads passing water buffalo wallowing in lilies and little bamboo houses you will surely be greeted by children who want to run alongside you meet you and welcome you. It is a beautiful heartwarming and true travel experience. If you don’t quite feel fit enough to cycle out of the towns and then cycle around the villages you could negotiate with a driver to take you and your bike out there for a few hours.
Cost: The cost of your bike! $1
Location: Wherever you go! Every town you visit pittas out into gorgeous villages.
Time: Half a day. I recommend early morning to avoid the heat,
Top Tips: Be well prepared with sun protection and water. Perhaps take little gifts for the children (tooth brushes, pencils, fruit, NOT sweets)
9. Explore the Mekong
There are many ways to explore the Mekong river and the life that depends in it. You can use it to get between the bigger cities or even as a way to getting between Vietnam and Cambodia. You can also book excursions to explore the river and floating villages around it. Whatever you do choose, just make sure it includes time to sit and take it all in … and possible crack open an Angkor Beer.
Cost: $20 to $60
Location: Between Cambodia and Vietnam (most bookings can be made in Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh)
Time: 1 to 3 days depending on how you do it.
Top Tips: Really shop around and check what they include in each trip. If you can help it, don't rush it.
10. Visit Angkor Wat
Angkor WHAAAAT? .... Of course I wouldn’t miss this one out on a top 10 for Cambodia!! It’s crazy, crowded, the price has just gone up … BUT it’s just so darn worth it!! The temples are stunning and if you are savvy, you can find some more peaceful temples to chill in throughout the day. Don’t miss (not that could if you tried!!) the iconic Angkor Wat Tom, Bayon, with the faces and Ta Prohm. Tomb Raider temple. I've been here around 10 times from living in Cambodia, so seriously consider my top tip to avoid being 'templed out' and for actually enjoying your time at Angkor Wat
Cost: New entrance fees for Angkor Wat are $37, $62 and $72 for the 1 day, 3 day and 7 days passes (2017)
Location: Siem Reap
Time: Half a day. I recommend early morning to avoid the heat,
Top Tips: Get there for sunrise, enjoy the cool of the day for the first part of you explorations. Find a cafe or a hammock to chill in the heat of the day and then return refreshed for the afternoon and sunset. Trust me, this is the nicest way to do it
Don't forget things YOU must know before you go
Looking For a Place to Stay ?
`There are so many stunning, stylish, luxury hostels, guest houses and hotels in Cambodia AND they're surprisingly cheap! The best deals really are online these days, so it is worth getting them booked asap...
Book your stay in Siem Reap HERE (Explore the Angkor Wat Temples)
Book your stay in Phnom Penh Capital City HERE (See the Royal Palace and Killing Fields)
Book your stay in Battambang HERE (French colonial town. Ride the bamboo train!)
Book your stay in Sihanoukville HERE (Great hub for beaches and Islands)
Book your stay in Kampot HERE (Sleepy riverside town close to the caves)
Book your stay in Kep HERE (Sweet little beach town away from the crowds)
Book your stay in Kratie HERE (Peaceful town close to the Irrawaddy dolphins)
Book your stay near Preah Vihear HERE (Cliff edge temple close to a wildlife sanctuary)
First Time in Cambodia ??
Up-to-date blogs (like this one, ahem!) will be a great source of info for exploring Cambodia. But If it's you're first time visiting, you will probably want to grab a travel guide too. I always think you don't need more than a 'Rough Guide' as it is about making it your own adventure! They have a pretty cheap kindle copy as well as the actual book.