Cambodia at A Glance
The Kingdom of Cambodia is a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia, but still not as popular as some other countries like Thailand and Vietnam. The most popular attraction in Cambodia is the ancient archaeological park of Angkor Wat located in the city of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest religious monument on the planet with the site measuring 162 hectares (402 acres). It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. Watching and photographing the sunrise in Angkor Wat was on my bucket list.
But Cambodia is much more than the temples of Angkor Wat. There are so many fascinating things to explore in Cambodia, including the amazing ruins, ancient temples, jaw dropping landscapes and so much history to discover. Because Cambodia is a small country, it is easy to travel around and it is a suitable trip for the whole family.
A visa is required and is easy and cheap to obtain. You can purchase your 30 day visa upon your arrival in one of the three international airports - Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Preah Sihnouk. You will need to be in a long line along with many other tourists arriving, so make sure to have your passport and cash in hands to make it smoother (they only accepted American Dollars at Siem Reap - US$30). Or you can apply online in advance and request your e-visa. For more detailed information you can check here
As many countries in Southeast Asia are, Cambodia is inexpensive to visit.
Depending on your travel style, you can spend as little as US$15 a day if you make choices to stay at a Hostel and eat (delicious) street food. Or if you prefer to stay at a hotel and eat at restaurants, the average per person per day is US$30 to US$50. These estimates include accommodation, food and transportation.
If you are visiting the temples in Seam Riep, the passes provide access to all temples and you can find more details here the average price for the tickets is:
- 1-day pass – US$ 37;
- 3-day pass – US$ 62;
- 7-day pass – US$ 72;
Tour & Getting Around
There are many temples to visit, from the largest and most touristy such as Angkor Wat, to the ruins of small jungle covered temples. It will depend on how much time you have and what your priorities are. You don’t need to arrange your tour in advance, as the hotels offer this service and can help you with all the arrangements suitable for you. But if you have the chance to plan your trip in advance like I did, and want to see as much as possible and to avoid the crowds you can see my daily plan here. The drivers will want to take you on the same route everyone else takes. In my experience, that is not the best or most efficient way to maximize your time. You will want to hit some temples at certain times to minimize the crowds, avoid the heat, or optimize the lighting for pictures.
For my trip from Seam Riep to Phnom Pehm I made arrangements while I was there and hired a private driver. It is easy and also a cheap option to travel around Cambodia. Traffic is crazy, but just sit back and try to relax.
Upon my arrival in Seam Riep, the hotel scheduled a tuk tuk driver, Mr Kree, and I used his services during my whole stay. It was the best option, as he would be early in the morning ready to pick me up at the hotel and take me to the itinerary I chose. If you don’t want to work on your own itinerary, they will have a standard itinerary ready for you also. Keep in mind that some temples are located very far from each other, and it is too hot to just rent a bicycle and try to do it by yourself, therefore a tuk tuk is the best option.
I stayed in the La Residence Blanc d'Angkor hotel, it is very well located, close to the Pub Street, Angkor night market, Angkor Wat and the International airport and they offer complimentary two-way airport transfers. But what I really like about this hotel, is that they focus on ethical tourism and 70% of their staff are Khmer students and they support the local community.
What to Pack
Pack light and in case you forget or need anything else while in Cambodia, you have many options to buy in markets. Keep in mind that Cambodia is very warm and humid.
Make sure to pack and wear appropriate attire when visiting temples and historical sites.
DO: Long pants, shirts and dresses (covering the knees). Shirts that cover shoulders, hat, sunblock. A scarf to cover your shoulders, in case you are wearing tank top. A rain jacket is always welcome. Wear comfortable shoes, because you are going to walk a lot.
DON’T: Short skirts and dresses, small shorts, tank tops, and other items of revealing clothing are not allowed within temples grounds.
If you are visiting other parts of the country, you can pack all the “DON’T” list above.
Cambodia is warm year-round with temperatures rarely dipping below 68F (20C), wherever you go. Seasons are broken into wet and dry season. Tropical mid-day heat can be ferocious, and mornings and late afternoons tend to be more tolerable.
When to Go
Most travelers visit Cambodia from November to March. If you prefer to dodge the crowds and go when prices are even lower, the best time to visit is from May to early October.
Cambodia is a very safe country to visit, the only exception to this rule is remote areas of Phnom Penh at night. Violent crime in the country is rare. Cambodia is the 59th safest country in the world, based on the safest and most dangerous countries ranking.
Just like any other place we travel, we should follow the same rule: do not wear jewelry (I never travel with my wedding ring), dress modest, pay attention to your bag(s) especially in big cities as pickpocketing can occur. When carrying your camera, wear a shoulder strap across your body and the same for your bag or backpack.
Is there any better way to explore a new place than by foot? Be prepared, you will walk a lot in Cambodia! Bring comfortable shoes and plenty of sunblock. Remember to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated because it is very hot outside.
I only had 4 days to visit the temples of Seam Riep and I visited an average of 6-8 temples per day – I would get up around 5AM and just get back to the hotel around 5PM for a shower, and then head to the Pub Street and the Night Market for dinner and more walking. Of course you don’t need to visit 6-8 temples per day, but at least you know you have the option in case you decide to.
After dinner and strolling the Night Market, the last thing in my day, was to stop and get a very nice and well-deserved massage.
I found the food in Cambodia, somewhat similar to the food in Vietnam, since they use a lot of fresh ingredients and they are big on spices and flavors.
Fish Amok - I tried and absolutely love and I pretty much had this dish every day, even twice a day – it is the most popular dish in Cambodia, made with a delicious and rich creamy curry and they add ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk. Then they wrap the fish in a banana leaf and it is cooked to perfection.
Lap Khmer - My second favorite, it is a beef salad, very similar with ceviche actually. They marinate the thin slices of steak in lime juice and lots of delicious spices such as garlic, mint and fish sauce.
Street food - is very big, and you can try a large variety of dishes on the night markets.
What else - just like in Vietnam, Cambodia is also big on steamed rice, noodles, vegetables and exotic fruits.