Backpacking Cambodia Travel Guide

JUMP TO : Cambodia Travel Itineraries | Places to Visit | Where to Stay | Travel Tips | Cost of Travel

Cambodia is a captivating country, rich in culture, history, and architecture. When backpacking Cambodia you’ll stumble across breathtaking beaches, incredible temples, beautiful islands and delicious Khmer food. It’s a magical land where you can buy a beer for 25 cents, a bed for a dollar and a tasty restaurant meal for just a couple of bucks.

Many people backpack Cambodia to see the miraculous Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, but Cambodia is more than just temples, beaches, cheap food, parties & alcohol. The country has a dark past, with 1.5 – 3 million people killed in the Khmer Rouge, led by tyrant Pol Pot. It happened only 35 – 40 years ago and is still very fresh and raw to the Cambodian people.

Despite the tragic history, the local Khmer people are some of the kindest humans in the world. The country is still recuperating, rebuilding, and moving forward; however, corruption is hindering its rehabilitation. It’s one of my favourite South East Asian destinations; I loved it so much that I ended up overstaying my visa. Cambodia seriously has it all, see it for yourself & you’ll fall in love too.

sunset beach koh rong samloem

Sun setting over Sunset Beach on Koh Rong Samloem

 

Where to Go Backpacking in Cambodia

Cambodia is an incredibly diverse country for its land mass. Absolute highlights include the world wonder, Angkor Wat, island hopping around Koh Rong, and exploring Cambodia’s cities on two wheels. Make sure to get out in the countryside to get a taste of the local, rural life!

We’ve included a couple off the beaten path destinations, small villages, and remote hikes in our guide! Read on!

Editor’s Note: Getting around in Cambodia just got a whole lot easier! 12Go lets you book trains, buses and ferries and charges way less than on-the-ground tour agencies. I use 12Go myself whilst backpacking around Southeast Asia. It’s way cheaper than booking through a tour company on the ground and way better than turning up at a bus station in the hope that there will still be seats left! Check it out here!
Cambodia guide pinterest image

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Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Cambodia

The itinerary below depicts some of the best spots that you can explore whilst backpacking Cambodia. If you want to save time and accommodation we’d recommend getting a night bus if you’re travelling long distances, like Sihanoukville to Siem Reap.

There are a lot of backpacker routes, which typically include: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Kampot. However, there are many more awesome places to check out when backpacking Cambodia. Follow our Cambodia travel guide to find these secret hidden gems.

 

Backpacking Cambodia 3 Week Itinerary: The Highlights

Cambodia Itinerary

 

3 Weeks in Cambodia: The Highlights

This itinerary will cover Cambodia’s most popular destinations, as well as a few of my favorite hidden gems. It is possible to complete this backpacker route in either direction! Many people start in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap depending on their flight.

You can also combine this itinerary with a trip to Vietnam or Thailand!

We’re going to start in the city Phnom Penh with a bit of a low. If you are going to be backpacking Cambodia, you should know about the dark and turbulent recent history, so visit the S-21 Prison & the Killing Fields while you’re here. You can also shoot an AK47, M16, RPG at a firing range. Not exactly uplifting, but definitely a unique experience.

Afterward, head to Kampot is a quaint riverside town located at the base of the Elephant Mountains. You can explore the town by bicycle, check out the French colonial architecture and indulge in delicious food.

Next, head to the coast. Sihanoukville is a party town and gateway to explore the breathtaking islands. While Koh Rong has become more developed, Koh Rong Samloem remains a laidback getaway.

After some fun in the sun, head to Battambang to get a taste of genuine Cambodian life. Visit the crumbling temples, caves, the bamboo train and quaint little villages. Finally, end your trip to Siem Reap. While touristy, there is plenty to do here, like visit the legendary Angkor Wat and Banteay Chhmar.

 

Places to Visit in Cambodia

Below are my favorite destinations in Cambodia, complete with helpful information on what to see, do, and where to stay!

 

Backpacking Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a busy, happening city, home to the spectacular Royal Palace and nestled right on the Mekong River. The city is wonderfully affordable; you can find the cheapest accommodation in the southern and central parts of the city.

The city has risen from the ashes of the Khmer Rouge, led by tyrant Pol Pot. It’s important to visit S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields while you’re in Phnom Penh, to get a proper understanding of the country you are travelling through. For those of you who glimpse the evidence of genocide and mutter “this would never happen back home” it is important to note that both the US and UK governments supported the Khmer Rouge with weapons and supplies in an effort to destabilise neighbouring Vietnam.

Both S-21 Prison & the Killing Fields have a somber feel, be prepared for a unique, heavy and heartbreaking experience and please remember to be respectful! A tuk tuk to the S-21 prison, killing fields and back to the city should cost around $8, which can be split between 4 people.

Check out my ultimate guide to the best hostels in Phnom Penh here.

Cambodia killing fields

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a human skull.

It is also worth visiting the National Museum, Independence monument, and the Silver Pagoda if you’re in Phnom Penh whilst backpacking Cambodia. For shopping head to the Central Market to browse (not to buy, prices here are inflated!) and the Russian Market for pirated DVDs, CDs and fake designer clothes.

Whilst in Phnom Penh you can also visit one of the many firings ranges to shoot an AK47, M16, RPG or anything else that takes your fancy. You can shoot heavy machine guns, throw a grenade or blow a target away with a desert eagle; all for a price.

Grab (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region including Cambodia! Grab is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than traveling by taxi or rickshaw. Follow this link for free Grab credit. 

If you’re backpacking Cambodia in November, try to tie in visiting Phnom Penh with the Water Festival. It’s one of the largest festivals in Cambodia and the city comes alive with a carnival atmosphere during this period.

Book Your Phnom Pehn Hostel Here!

Cambodia Water Festival Phnom Penh

The water festival in Phnom Penh!

 

Backpacking Kampot & Kep

Kampot is a quaint riverside town located at the base of the Elephant Mountains. You can explore the town by bicycle, check out the French colonial architecture and indulge in delicious food. If you love Italian food you need to visit the rustic street food restaurant ‘Ciao’. It’s cheap, authentic and made from scratch!

The sunset cruise is a great way to spend the evening, cruising along the river with the fireflies & watching the sunset. Nearby is the Arcadia waterpark, where you can spend the day getting drunk, sliding into the river, jumping off inflatables and kayaking. Entry is $5 each or free if you stay at Arcadia Hostel.

Drive past and stop at the pepper plantations and salt fields before reaching Kep. It’s a 35-minute drive and you can have a dip in the ocean as soon as you arrive! Kep is home to a beautiful national park with a trek known as the “Stairway to heaven”. The trail leads to an incredible view and pagoda at the top of the hill.

Book Your Kampot Hostel Here!

Kep Salt Fields

Kep’s salt fields

 

Backpacking Sihanoukville & Otres Beach

Sihanoukville is a party town and gateway to explore the breathtaking islands when backpacking Cambodia. The coastline is dominated by long stretches of beach and a stunning waterfall nearby. Otres Beach is far south of town and is the main hangout for backpackers who want to relax on the beach during the day and party at night.

There’s a mixture of cheap bungalows, cool guesthouses and fancy resorts within the Sihanoukville/Otres area. Otres has a great backpacker vibe, so if you’re sticking around for a few days either before or after visiting the islands, I’d recommend staying around the Otres 2 area.

Book Your Sihanoukville Hostel Here!

Sihanoukville Cambodia

Sihanoukville’s beautiful coastline.

 

Backpacking Koh Rong

If you’re looking to find the best parties in Cambodia, then Koh Rong is the place for you. Development of the island has negatively impacted the charm and chilled out vibe of Koh Rong, particularly around the Koh Touch area. Although some parts of the island are extremely touristic, a large area is still covered by dense forest and you can still find secluded laid back spots on the island.

Koh Rong is home to the best parties in Cambodia, particularly around Koh Touch. Here you’ll find DJs, live music, BBQs, and one hell of a party. Nights tend to escalate here, next minute you’re 3 buckets deep, skinny dipping in the ocean and have to run back to your hostel half naked because someone stole your clothes… That’s a normal night out, so you can only imagine the craziness during the full moon parties. This is a great party area when backpacking Cambodia, however it’s not the best place on the island to chill during the day.

You shouldn’t swim at some beaches, as it’s not safe due to the wastewater being pumped out into the ocean. If you go to the bathroom at a restaurant on some beaches, you can literally see the pipes that run from the restaurant into the ocean. Although more and more guesthouses, hostels, bars and restaurants continue to pop up, they’ve yet to solve the islands waste management.

You can still find laid back and somewhat secluded area’s on Koh Rong, like Sok San Beach, Coconut Beach and Palm Beach. The beaches here are absolutely breathtaking, filled with coral reefs, marine life and the fluorescent plankton at night. It’s a great place to relax, sunbake, snorkel and a poplar dive spot too.

Ferries to Koh Rong run regularly from Sihanoukville and Koh Rong Samloem daily. Make sure you visit an ATM prior to arriving, as there’s no ATMs  on the island. If you do get stuck & run out of money, you can borrow money against your passport from Bong’s bar, however you have to pay an extra 10% on top of what you borrowed.

Book Your Koh Rong Hostel Here!

beach island cambodia sunset

Cambodian Island Sunset!

 

Backpacking Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samleom is what Koh Rong was about 10 years ago, before the negative impact of tourism and development. This is the one place I’d recommend everyone go when they travel to Cambodia. The island is still fairly untouched, with only a few resort options on the island. Majority of the island is covered by dense jungle, so there are no roads and the only option to explore the island is by hiking. You can get a boat to other beaches around the island if you don’t feel like hiking.

Ferry’s frequently run to Koh Rong Samloem from Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. They drop you off at Saracen Bay, it’s the most touristic part of the island and so I’d recommend leaving there as soon as possible. However it’s one of the only parts of the island that has Wi-Fi.

Make sure you check out Lazy Beach and Sunset Beach while you’re on the island. They’re two of my favorite spots that make you feel like you’re living totally off the grid, in a tropical paradise. There isn’t much of a social backpacking scene on these parts of the island, so if you’re looking to relax, socialize and party at night, then visit Mad Monkey Hostel. They have a free boat, which coincides with the ferry dropping you off at Saracen Bay.

You can fish, swim, snorkel, island hop, and dive on Koh Rong Samloem. At night be mesmerised by the luminous trails the phytoplankton leave behind. This island is pure bliss and I’d come back in a heartbeat!

Book Your Samloem Hostel Here!

 

Camping Beach Island Cambodia

Imagine sleeping between the trees, staring at the night stars & waking up to this view!

 

Backpacking Battambang

Battambang is an awesome place to visit whilst backpacking Cambodia. You get a true taste of genuine Cambodian life by visiting the crumbling temples, caves, bamboo train and quaint little villages.

It’s a little bit more touristic than I imagined; however, the countryside is utterly beautiful. This is a great ‘off the beaten path’ destination and it makes sense to head here, hire a motorbike and then just explore.

The main attraction here is the bamboo train, which takes you along a railway to a small village. Be aware of the children from the village. You think they’re just being friendly when they tell you information about the place (without asking); they will demand money from you when you leave for their “service”.

Book Your Battambang Hostel Here!

 

Backpacking Siem Reap

If you’re backpacking Cambodia then you’ll most likely be stopping off in Siem Reap. It’s the main tourist destination and is visited by over one million people who’re travelling Cambodia every year.

Majority of people who travel to Cambodia come to visit the world’s largest religious monument, Angkor Wat dubbed the most incredible man made piece of architecture. The ruins here are really impressive; however, I personally prefer the temples and atmosphere in Bagan, Myanmar and Hampi, India.

The entrance fee is very expensive itself, and as you pay depending on how many days you want to spend on the site. The ticket price has doubled since the 1st of February 2017 as an effort to deter potential tourists from visiting. If you’re on a broke backpacker’s budget, I’d recommend skipping Angkor Wat to visit Banteay Chhmar. It’s comparable to Angkor Wat, but without the million tourists. This hidden yet massive temple complex is located just two hours from Siem Reap.

Angkor wat complex

The massive Angkor Watt complex

If you have your heart set on visiting Angkor Wat, I’d hire a tuk tuk for the day to explore the massive temple complexes. If you have four people in a tuk tuk then the price is relatively cheap. You can either do the small loop that hit’s all the major sites, like Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and four + more temples.

The big loop includes the small loop + six other temples. I did the one day small loop tour of the Angkor complex, starting at sunrise over Angkor Wat. By the end of the day I was all temple-d out! It’s absolutely incredible there, however there’s only so many temples you can see in one day.

I highly recommend visiting the Landmine Museum, which makes for a really interesting and rather poignant side trip while you’re in Siem Reap and backpacking Cambodia. There is also a floating village in Siem Reap, however I wouldn’t recommend it.

The stilt huts over the river and crazy floating boat structures are cool, however there are a lot of scams within the area. A guy tried to con me into paying 80,000 kip to feed the “orphan” children. Instead of giving money, I actually bought them fruit which they threw on the floor in front of me… If you really want to make a difference, pick your battles.

Siem Riep has a truly crazy nightlife and is packed with backpackers looking for a good time, be sure to check out some of the best bars in Siem Riep whilst you’re there. Pub Street is the main place to go out and is packed with bars all in a close proximity. Check out our list of the tops hostels in Siem Reap.

 

Angkor wat bayon temple

The Bayon temple from Tomb Raider!

 

Off the Beaten Path in Cambodia

I could have easily spent months backpacking Cambodia; there many things to explore and discover here, hence why I over-stayed my visa by a week. I just didn’t want to leave. The longest period of time you can stay in Cambodia is 90 days, (120 days for some countries) with a 30-day visa extension. If you have the time to thoroughly backpack Cambodia, I’d definitely explore more of the islands and backpack around the northwest region of Cambodia.

Koh Rong Samloem was by far my highlight of Cambodia. I’ve never seen an island like it! There are no roads anywhere on the island; everything is accessible either by boat or hiking. Only a few places on the island have Wi-Fi, power is limited and it truly feels like you’re living off the grid. Sure there are a few fancy resorts, but majority of the island is undeveloped and it boasts some of the best beaches in Cambodia.

The water is crystal clear, turquoise blue, the sand is powdery and white! Koh Rong Samloem is well known for it’s incredible diving sites and nature. Watch the sun set over the ocean from Sunset Beach and the ocean come alive at night with the bioluminescent plankton. There are no ATM’s at all on the island, so be sure to visit an ATM prior to getting stuck here in paradise.

Kulien Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary is the largest protected area in Cambodia & is home to many critically endangered animals. If you truly want to explore off the beaten path and be among nature then you’ll love this area.

Jungle Cambodia Island Koh Rong Samloem

Hiking across Koh Rong Samleom

Near the region is one of Cambodia’s best-kept secrets, Bantey Chhmar. It’s comparable to Angkor Wat but without the million tourists, this hidden yet massive temple complex is located just two hours from Siem Reap. Bantey Chhmar is Cambodia’s 4th largest Angkorian temple, but due to its remote location tourism has hardly affected the region.

 

Backpacker Accommodation in Cambodia

Cambodia is home to some of the best hostels in South East Asia and has a wicked backpacking scene. You’ll have little trouble finding affordable accommodation when backpacking Cambodia. Phnom Penh, Kampot, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong and Siem Reap has a huge variety of hostels, home stays and guest houses at an affordable price.

Hostels in Cambodia  start from $3 per night and you can snag a private fan room from just $8 for 2 people. If you want to splash out and stay in a hotel room with TV, air con, and attached bathroom, shop around and you can find a place for as little as $15.

Make sure you book ahead if you want to stay at the popular party hostels, especially in peak season. I don’t usually endorse booking ahead really far in advance; however, it is necessary to book a few days prior if you don’t want to be disappointed.

There are a few cool guesthouses around that are cheaper than some hostels in Cambodia. If you’re backpacking Cambodia as a couple, sometimes it’s cheaper to opt for a private room in a guest house opposed to two dorm beds. You can always hang out at the popular hostels during the day & retreat to your guesthouse at night for a quiet sleep.

Below are a few of my favourite hostels & budget accommodation options when backpacking Cambodia.

If you are backpacking Cambodia, Airbnb is a great way to find a quality apartment or house for a cheap price. It’s especially handy if you are travelling as a couple and need a bit of chill time away from noisy dorms. Airbnb’s are great alternative to hotels and hostels; check out everything you need to know about Airbnb’s here. Use this Airbnb coupon code for $35 off your first stay!

 

Where to Stay in Cambodia

LocationAccommodationPriceWhy Stay Here?!
Phnom PenhMad Monkey HostelDorm bed from $7It's known for its parties and awesome backpacker scene. Located away from the red light district.
Phnom PenhThe Happy HouseDorm bed from $4I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
KampotMad Monkey HostelDorm bed from $I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
KampotArcadia BackpackersDorm bed from $7I loved their rooftop bar, free drink coupon and happy balloons. Great vibes at this hostel!
SihanoukvilleMonkey MayaDorm bed from $7 This hostel has chilled vibes and boasts panoramic views of the ocean. It's a secluded natures paradise located 45 min from Sihanoukville
SihanoukvilleMonkey RepublicDorm bed from $5You know a hostel is doing it right when they give you a free beer as you check in. The food here is great and it has a pool. If you're heading to the islands the ferry port is only a 5 min walk away.
Koh RongSuns of Beachestent from $7 (2 ppl)It's got a great chilled out backpacker vibe in a really remote area on the island. It's a great place to relax and escape the party.
Koh RongBong's GuesthouseDorm bed from $5 Rustic accommodation on the beach right among the party. The all day happy hour is great and it's got a great view from the terrace.
Koh Rong SamloemMad Monkey HostelDorm bed from $7This is the best hostel I've ever stayed at! You have your own private beach, hammocks & swings over crystal clear water. There's no WiFi so the social atmosphere is great. At night everyone party's and watches the fire show on the beach.
Koh Rong SamloemDriftwood HostelDorm bed from $4Lovely little place in a quiet part of the island. Great atmosphere with their family dinners. If you don't pre book you can also pitch your tent or stay in a hammock for super cheap!
Siem ReapOnederz HostelDorm bed from $8The pool at this hostel is great and it's located right next to the night market. It’s clean, comfortable and has a good social backpacker vibe.
Siem ReapMad MonkeyDorm bed from $7This is the ultimate party hostel with a rooftop beach bar. You can relax by the pool or in the awesome sun day beds. It’s centrally located close to the nightlife, temples and town.
party hostel cambodia

 

Top Things to Do in Cambodia

Below is a quick list of the top 5 things you have to do when backpacking Cambodia!

 

1. Explore the Angor Wat and Banteay Chhmar Temples

Okay, I know I mentioned it’s expensive and crowded, but there is a reason why. This is one of the most impressive temples in the world! As I mentioned earlier, skip the crowds by heading to Banteay Chhmar as well.

 

2. Beach Bum Koh Rong Samloem

No roads and all beach. This is the island to visit to get away from it all.

One of the best ways to get to grips with a new culture is through the food! Cookly partners with local cooking schools and restaurants in countries all around the world and is an awesome way to go on your very own culinary adventure. Book an Cambodian cooking class here.

3. See Glowing Planktons on Koh Rong

Koh Rong’s beaches light up at night! For a truly exciting experience, try snorkeling amongst the glowing plankton.

 

4. Explore the Country by Bike

The trails in Cambodia can be quite challenging, but it’s totally worth it to explore the countryside, escape the crowds, and discover breathtaking waterfalls. As for the cities, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are ideal to explore on wheels.

 

5. Bathe Elephants

Make sure to head over to the Mondulkiri Project5 hours from Phnom Penh, where you can trek, bathe, and care for the free roaming elephants. Do not support businesses that mistreat the elephants via chains, riding, circus acts, etc.

 

Cambodia Travel Tips

Below is an esstential guide to Cambodia, including travel tips, budget costs, what to pack, the best time to travel, and how to get around Cambodia.

The Best Travel Backpack?!

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Check out this post to read our full review!

 

Books to Read on Cambodia

Below are my favorite books set in Cambodia:

The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building an online income.

A Cambodian Prison Portrait–  There are many myths about the Khmer Rouge’s bloodthirstiness and brutality, but there was at least one place where they all were real: Security Prison 21, the secret police’s killing machine. Of the 14,000 or so prisoners who were brought there for questioning, only a handful survived. One of them were the artist Vann Nath (1946-2011). In this thin little book, he describes his horrifying year behind the barbed wired walls of S-21.

The Lost Executioner– The head of S-21, Kang Kek Iew, AKA Comrade Duch, is central in this remarkable book. In 1997, the photographer and journalist Nic Dunlop more or less stumbled upon Duch, who had been hiding since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Phnom Penh: A Cultural History– This book provides a colourful account of the troubled history and appealing culture of Cambodia’s capital city. It sheds light on Phnom Penh’s early history, when first Iberian missionaries and freebooters and then French colonists held Cambodia’s fate in their hands.

 

Cambodia Travel Phrases

Here are some Khmer travel phrases for travelling around Cambodia. The locals will appreciate your attempt to speak their language with a huge smile on their faces.

Hello – Jum-reap soo-a

How are you? – Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea teh?

Goodbye! – Joom-reap leah

Yes – Baat (men)/ Chaas (Women)

No – Dteh

Please – Suom mehta

Thank you – Or-koon

Sorry/excuse me – Sohm dtoh

I need a doctor – K`nyom trouv krouh peit

I’m lost – K’nyom vung vehng plouv

I would like – Khnyom sohm___

How much does this cost? – T’lay pohnmaan?

 

Staying Safe in Cambodia

Generally, Cambodians are warm, open, friendly and appreciative of tourists. You’ve just got to be aware of a few scams here and there. As always, keep your valuables close! Watch for the tuk-tuk scams! This is when the driver is on a commission to deliver you to a particular shop/temple/restaurant/hotel/bar. You might be pressured to buy/consume/stay, but don’t!

Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.

Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.

Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.

I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Cambodia (or anywhere really – every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) – check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.

 

Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Cambodia

The sex scene in Cambodia is on the rise; however, it’s mainly in the Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville area. Some places are quite discreet, so discreet that my friend naively suggested we get a drink “Helicopter Bar” because she liked the name…  little did she know that it was a go go bar filled with prostitues.

Drugs in Cambodia are readily available and effortless to find. Weed and opiates are quite easy to come across, are generally offered to you from tuk tukdrivers. “Happy” pizza places are sprawled all over Cambodia, selling “happy” lassies and “happy” pizzas at a really reasonable price. In general, good marijuana is extremely easy to find and is also quite cheap compared to other South East Asian countries.

It’s surprisingly common to be offered opiates like heroin and pure opium whilst backpacking Cambodia. However, they’re dangerous and many tourists have died whilst taking heroin, mistaking it for cocaine. I’d avoid taking any form of cocaine, speed or ecstasy while travelling Cambodia. It’s not worth the risk and chances are you’re probably getting heroin.

happy pizza cambodia

This pizza made me so happy, like super happy 😉

Acid is quite easily available on the islands and Sihanoukville/Otres area. Quite often, they drop the acid on an Oreo or strawberry and it’s typically sold in drops, rather than tabs. Magic mushrooms are also around, however they’re rather expensive to come across.

By far the most commonly used drugs for travellers backpacking Cambodia is pharmaceuticals. You can buy ketamine over the counter if you’re a local, but it’s illegal for foreigners. Valium is a cheap, common drug among travellers backpacking Cambodia. Travellers wanting a similar effect of speed purchase Ritalin over the counter from dodgy pharmacies.

Be careful before diving into the pharmaceutical scene, it can be very dangerous and easy to turn your recreational use into an addiction, due to its ease of access. Don’t carry any form of drugs on you. Otherwise you could end up broke trying to bribe your way out of prison. Check out Blazed Backpackers 101 for tips on how to stay safe whilst partying.

 

Dating in Cambodia

Cambodia is typically a very conservative society and will rarely show any public display of affection (PDA). Chatting up girls is not really a thing in Cambodian culture; however, it’s normal to occur in major cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap where there are a lot of bar girls looking to make friends with foreigners. Watch your wallet and remember that all humans deserve to be treated with respect – don’t get drunk and do anything you would be ashamed to tell your Mum.

The people in major cities are generally less conservative and are open to PDA. Although Cambodia is a conservative society, it’s ironically easy for a foreigner to score a “date”. You do need to be very careful though as sexually transmitted diseases, in particular HIV and AIDS are quite common.

 

Insurance for Cambodia

Even if you are only going on a short trip or don’t want to fork out the cash for long term cover, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun whilst backpacking Cambodia, it’s one amazing country,  but please make sure you’re covered – take it from someone with experience, travel insurance will save your ass! At least make sure you’re covered with medical insurance at minimum. If you have expensive items like a laptop, phone or camera you’re travelling with, make sure you’re get gear insurance to cover your stuff.

As my parents always say, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head overseas! Travelling without insurance is just downright idiotic. I highly recommend World Nomads.

Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.

Even if you don’t get insurance with World Nomads, Please do get some sort of insurance from somewhere, anywhere, there are tons of decent options online.

 

What to Pack for Cambodia

On every adventure, there are five things I never go traveling without:

AR Security Belt

1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.

 

2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!

 

AR microfibre towel

3. Microfibre TowelIt’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

 

Headlamp4. HeadtorchI would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).

 

Hammock for backpackers5. HammockTaking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colorful and tough.

 

For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.

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Best Time to Travel to Cambodia

The best time of the year to backpack Cambodia is in peak season (November-February), known as cool season. The temperature is warm enough to sunbake by the beach, but mild enough to explore Cambodia’s many temples without dying of heat stroke. The prices tend to increase during peak season; however, it’s the most comfortable time of the year to backpack Cambodia.

If you’re planning to backpack Cambodia during wet season (May-September), be prepared for the challenges you face ahead. Cambodia has many dirt roads that quickly turn to mud during wet season. It can be rather dangerous to drive your motorcycle through mud as it’s slippery & your bike will have less traction. It’s also not  fun trekking and doing day trips in the wet season. You don’t want the weather to rain on your parade whilst travelling in Cambodia.

During hot season temperatures and humidity rise to an uncomfortable level. Some travellers find the heat unbearable, particularly those from Britain and Scandinavia. I’m quite used of the heat since I’m from Australia and some days even tested my tolerance to the heat. Especially since air conditioning is a luxury, when backpacking Cambodia.

Cambodia weather

 

Useful apps to download before backpacking in Cambodia

There’s a few apps which I absolutely swear by when travelling the world. Almost all backpackers these days have a phone and you can make your travels that little bit easier by installing the following adventure friendly apps…

Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app, download your map and route before you venture out to keep you on track while backpacking Cambodia.

XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Cambodia. It is a great help while calculating expenses and working out the exchange rate.

HIDE.ME –  I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.

 

Cambodia Travel Guide to Getting Around

Below I have highlights hot to get to Cambodia from the neighboring c0untries, LaosVietnam, and Thailand. If you are flying into Cambodia at either the Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville or Siem Reap airport.

 

Travel to Cambodia from Laos

Veun Kham/ Dom Kralor is the only option to travel to Cambodia from Laos. Evidently, it’s quite a popular border crossing for backpackers who travel to Cambodia. There are signs & people to direct you where to go, so crossing into Cambodia is super simple.

 

Travel to Cambodia from Vietnam

Bavet/ Moc Bai is undeniably the most frequently used crossing to travel to Cambodia from Vietnam via land. It was the first crossing to open up for foreign travellers, and it is popular when travelling from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Phnom Penh. The border gate is open from 8 am to 8 pm every day & is easy to navigate.

If you’re going to travel to Cambodia from Vietnam via the Mekong River, then Kaam Samnor/ Ving Xuong is your only option. I took the slow boat from Chau Doc to the boarder, then a mini van to Phnom Penh. You can also get a fast boat along the Mekong River to Phnom Penh, however, it’s much more expensive.

You arrive at the border by boat, they collect your passport/visa, money & then they head to the immigration office to do all the paperwork for you. If you really want, you can go with them, but it’s not necessary. The only part you have to be present for is when they stamp your passport & cross check your identity. This crossing seems kind of dodgy as there are no signs and only dirt roads; however, we managed to get across just fine, it’s all part of the experience when you’re backpacking Cambodia.

Fishing Cambodia Mekong River

Fishing on the Mekong River

 

Travel to Cambodia from Thailand

There are two main border crossings when you travel to Cambodia from Thailand:

Aranyaprathet/ Poipet is definitely the craziest border crossing when you travel to Cambodia from Thailand, as it’s the closest border crossing to Siem Reap & Bangkok. In peak periods crossing times can be in excess of 3 hours, depending on popularity. If you want to avoid the long lines & wait times, you can opt for an e-visa online, however, it’s a tad more expensive than on arrival.

Hat Lek/ Ko Kong is the most convenient crossing if you’re heading to Sihanoukville in Cambodia from the Kho Chang region in Thailand but (but last I checked) you can’t enter using an e-visa at this boarder. Be wary of scams at this crossing and Poipet, there have been numerous reports of Cambodian officials asking for absurd amounts of money for visa’s on arrival. Look into getting a Cambodian e-visa if you want to avoid the risk of getting ripped off, but remember to check valid entry points. These problems do not generally exist with arrival into airports. To get a tuk tuk from the Cambodian boarder to Kho Khong should cost between 92,000- 120,00 Cambodian Riel.

 

Entry Requirements for Cambodia

To backpack Cambodia, you need a passport that’s valid for at least six months. Over one hundred and fifty nationalities can apply for their Cambodia e-visa online through this website. If you like to plan ahead and not deal with the stress of getting a visa on arrival at the border, then an e-visa is perfect for you. Note though, it can take at least 3 days to process the application so applying the night before entry is not an option, also the e-visa can only be used at certain ports of entry.

Your e-visa will give you 3 months (starting from the date of issue) to enter Cambodia and allows you to stay for up to 30 days, with the option of extending your visa. It’s slightly more expensive than a visa on arrival costing you $37 USD opposed to $35 USD. However, we have recent reports (May 2017) that officials are charging $37 USD for Visa on Arrival as well, so be prepared for that.

If you are crossing from Thailand the situation is similar as with crossing into Laos; you will pay more if you buy your Visa on Arrival in Thai Baht (rate seems to be about 1600 Baht, approx. $48USD) rather than US dollars. Usually, you can find someone running a side business exchanging USD, competition generally dictates the exchange rate. You’re allowed one 30-day visa extension without leaving Cambodia which sets you back $45 USD.

If you do plan to get your visa on arrival when you travel to Cambodia, make sure you bring 2x passport sized photos. You can get your passport-sized photos taken at the border; however, you leave yourself open to paying what ever price is set by officials. Be sure to bring US dollars with you when entering Cambodia, the exchange rates for other currencies are vastly undervalued and you end up paying more than the actual conversion rate.

If you’re pressed for time or need a visa in advance check out iVisa , Ive used them on multiple occasions for sorting my visas.

It isn’t big deal to overstay your visa in Cambodia, however it does get expensive quickly. The fine for overstaying is $20 USD per day. So for instance, if you overstay 5 days you will be required to pay $100 USD upon exiting.

Passport holders from Asean member countries do not require a visa to visit Cambodia.

 

How to Travel in Cambodia

Backpacking Cambodia is one crazy adventure, and getting around is surprisingly easy and inexpensive. There has been a massive improvement in regards to roads and infrastructure, with the refurbishment of the National Highway. Unfortunately, not all roads have had the same improvements, as there are still many narrow, bumpy & dirt roads around.

The best way to explore whilst travelling Cambodia is undoubtedly by motorbike. If you’re coming by motorbike from Vietnam into Cambodia, you can enter and drive in the country without needing any special permits. Just be sure to have your blue card to prove ownership of the motorbike, drivers license & preferably an international drivers license also.

Mini Buses: These are an easy and inexpensive way to backpack Cambodia if you’re travelling less than 5 hours. I took a 2 hour mini bus from Kampot to Sihanoukville which was $7 (USD).

Sunrise Angkor Wat Cambodia

Sunrise over the incredible Angkor Watt!

Sleeper buses: Another great option to go long distances when you’re travelling Cambodia. Pre-book your tickets with 12go to snag the best seat.  It’s always worthwhile paying the extra couple of dollars for your sleeper bus. The cheaper buses do get you from A to B, however, they stop multiple times along the way and are not always the cleanest nor comfiest.

I opted to stinge out on paying more and ended up sharing my seat with cockroaches… If you’re willing to pay extra you will have your own bed, curtain, power point and Wi-Fi on your sleeper bus.

Transport in Cambodia has suddenly got a LOT easier! Rather than just rocking up at the bus stop in the hope they will have space to fit you on, you can now book tickets in advance using 12Go.

Powered by 12Go Asia system

Choose your bus or mini van carefully whilst backpacking Cambodia, as accidents are not unusual. The Mekong Express was the only bus company in 2011 that did not get into an accident, although the safety of bus companies has improved dramatically since then.

Grab (similar to Uber) is now readily available in several countries in the region including Cambodia! Grab is hand’s down the best way to get around cities, the price is locked in on the app so you can’t get ripped off and it will always work out cheaper than traveling by taxi or rickshaw. Follow this link for free Grab credit. 

Cambodia Mekong River

Imagine living on stilts over the water!

 

Independent Travel VS Organised Tours in Cambodia:

Cambodia is a great backpacker destination and can easily be explored on your own. If however you are short on time and keen to explore Cambodia, and the rest of South East Asia, with a group of like minded people then I recommend checking out Free and Easy Traveller.

These guys are all about getting under the skin of a destination and providing you with a unique travel experience in which you are bound to make plenty of amigos and memories. Broke Backpacker readers get a 5% discount – just use the code BROKEBACKPACKER.  (All uppercase!)

 

Hitchhiking in Cambodia

Hitchhiking is another option to travel Cambodia! You can have both good and bad experiences. I was picked up hitchhiking by a local, who just wanted to show me around. He gave me a mini tour of his hometown on the way to our destination and genuinely just wanted me to enjoy my time in Cambodia.

Whereas, I had a different experience hitchhiking from Phnom Penh to Kampot. One guy wanted to charge me twice the price of a bus and thankfully another kind human took me the whole way without asking for anything. If you want to hitchhike whilst backpacking Cambodia, make sure you have a sign (preferably in Khmer and English), are standing next to the main road and there’s plenty of space for a car to pull over.

 

Motorcycling Cambodia

If you want to see what other travellers who backpack Cambodia don’t, then travel by motorcycle. It’s the best and cheapest way to explore Cambodia, just as long as you have a reliable motorbike. In recent years, the main roads and highways have drastically improved making your drive a lot easier. If you plan to head to Vietnam throughout your travels in South East Asia and Cambodia, I’d recommend buying a motorbike there.

If you buy your motorcycle in Vietnam, then you’re able to take it to Laos and Cambodia without needing a special permit. However, you can’t take your Cambodian bought motorbike into Vietnam. Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh has an abundance of motorbikes you can purchase anywhere from $150 USD.

Take note that you can’t transport your motorcycle to the islands, so you’ll need a safe place to store it whilst you enjoy island life.

 

Onwards Travel from Cambodia

The same rules for overland travel apply as the entrance. Check out the first part of this section for more information on the overland border crossings. It is quite easy to get a cheap flight or bus across to Thailand, Vietnam, or Laos. Many travellers also head to other South East Asia countries, like Indonesia.

 

Cambodia Backpacking Costs

Your budget for backpacking Cambodia depends solely on what type of traveller you are. Are you a flash-packer who needs to stay in the best hostels with air-condition and a pool? Or are you a broke backpacker who eats, lives and travels like the locals, is always keen to find the cheapest option possible, and doesn’t mind roughing it a little?

If you’re a broke backpacker like myself and will sleep in a hammock over a dorm because it’s cheaper, then you can easily travel with a budget of $20-$25 USD per day, assuming that you stay in cheap accommodation, eat local food and travel cheaply.

Rather than flying internally, take a night bus to your next destination, it saves you paying for a night’s accommodation.

backpacking cambodia

This Khmer kid’s dad is a genius!

Typically, it can actually be cheaper backpacking Cambodia as a pair. Often a private room in guesthouses can actually be cheaper than two dorm beds in a hostel. I try to stay in a cheap guesthouse close to a hostel and just hang out there for the social scene. I’ve found the portion sizes to be massive in Cambodia, so instead of paying for one meal and wasting food, I opt to share my meal & get a snack later if I’m still hungry.

Avoid the tourist traps! The fancy restaurants, VIP buses, air conditioning rooms and buying souvenirs, it all adds up and can blow out your budget big time if you’re not careful. Angkor Wat’s entrance will probably be your biggest “activity” expense. It’s $37 for a 1 day pass, $62 for 3 days and $72 for a 7 day pass.

If you eat like a local, hitchhike, catch local buses, camp or sleep in your camping hammock then it is possible to live off $10-$15 USD per day. Cambodia is relatively cheap compared to some South East Asian countries; however it can get really expensive if you’re not careful and fall into the tourist trap.

Dorm bed: $3-8 night

Double air con rooms: $6 – 8

Medium range accommodation: $10 – 20

Couchsurfing: Free

Motorcycle taxis: $1

All-day tuk-tuk: $13

Buses: $1 per hour

Street food & Baguette Sandwiches: $0.75 -1.25

Sit down restaurants: $3 – $6

Angkor Wat entrance: $37 for a 1 day pass

Killing Fields: $2 entrance + $13 tuk tuk

Museums in Phnom Penh: $2 entrance

 

Money in Cambodia

As of April 2017, the current exchange rate is between 4020- 4030 Riel per USD, check here for the current value, but in reality, the Riel is pegged to the US dollar at 4000 Riel to $1USD. When changing currency the value of your bill often determines the currency exchange rate you will receive. (e.g. A 50gbp bill is valued higher than 10gbp bill).

If you want to avoid the ATM fees then I recommend bringing cash instead. US Dollars are commonly used throughout Cambodia and that’s what comes out of the ATM too. If you need change less than $1 they will give it to you in the Cambodian currency: Riel. It’s always handy to have a small amount of Riel on you, especially if you want to pay your tuk tuk driver.

Although it is relatively easy to find ATMs around Cambodia, some remote islands like Koh Rong Samloem and small towns do not have cash machines. Try to get the maximum of cash out allowed in one transaction at the ATM, as fees can be as much as $9 a pop – just make sure you hide it well. If you need to transfer money internationally, use Transferwise, it’s the fastest and cheapest way to move money around when travelling.

GET IT HERE

You should always have some emergency cash hidden on you and Will (Broke Backpacker founder) has written an entire post on the best places to hide your money. If you want to carry a fair bit of cash safely on your body, your best bet is to get hold of a backpacker belt with a hidden security pocket.

 

Cambodian Riel Money

 

Top Tips for Broke Backpackers

Camping: Camping on beaches will save you so much money, especially when you’re visiting the islands. Just make sure you don’t set up camp near any resorts or hostels, find a quiet spot and make sure you clean up after yourself. Check this article for the best tents out there and get yourself one!

Hang Your Hammock: My camping hammock saved my backpacking funds big time. Wherever you can find two trees or poles, you can always have a comfortable night’s sleep. Some hostels even let you hang your hammock there (if there’s space) and charge you a quarter the price of a dorm bed

Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation and get local knowledge. It’s 100% free and you may even end up with a new friend at the end of your stay.

Volunteer: If done properly, volunteering is an excellent way to cut down your costs on the road. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board. Cambodia has some awesome volunteering opportunities, however there are a few dodgy places around particularly to do with Orphanages.

Eat Local Food: If you eat like a local, then you tend to pay local prices. Sometimes it could be 1,000 riel extra because you’re a foreigner, but it’s still far cheaper than eating at a tourist restaurant.

Hitchhiking: This is a great way to get around and save a couple of dollars. The experience you get hitchhiking in incomparable to a tourist bus. I’ve been picked up hitchhiking by a local, who just wanted to show me around. He gave me a mini tour of his hometown the way to our destination and just genuinely wanted me to enjoy my time in Cambodia.

Pack a travel water bottle  and save money every day! 

angkor wat monkeys

Beware, these monkeys may chase you & steal your food!

 

Travel Cambodia for Free

Cambodia is an ideal destination for digital nomads who work online and can live for cheap. The WiFi is okay throughout most of Cambodia, excluding the islands. Sihanoukville/Ottres Beach is a popular beach side place, for expats living in Cambodia and working online. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are more common areas to live whilst teaching English in Cambodia.

If you want to explore Cambodia on a long term basis, perhaps teaching English is your forte. All you have to do is take a foreign language course online, it’s supemr cheap and easy. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.

Alternatively, if you want to find a cheap way to stay in this incredible country for as long as possible, check out Workaway – for just $29 a year you get access to literally thousands of projects around the world where you can volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation.

 

Volunteer in Cambodia

If you want to give back to the community while backpacking Cambodia, then why not volunteer? Volunteering around the world enables you to experience a country from a different perspective and travel on a broke backpackers budget. There are a ton of dodgy “volunteer” agencies around Cambodia, particularly involving volunteering in orphanages.

Be sure to do research on the organisation you’re volunteering with.We hope to make volunteering organisation recommendations in the near future.

Volunteering whilst backpacking Cambodia is an awesome experience; you learn more about the country you’re travelling, make long-lasting friends from around the world and give back to those less fortunate at the same time. It’s also a great way to have a base for a little bit and to enjoy a bit of downtime in the evenings rather than preparing for another hectic journey!

The only problem is finding a decent volunteering company that isn’t out to make a huge profit. I strongly recommend Workaway – you pay just $29 for the year and then have access to literally thousands of projects all around the world where you can help out in exchange for food and board.

Find out more about the ethics of volunteering abroad here.

 

Internet in Cambodia

The WiFi in some areas of Cambodia is okay, particularly in major cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. However, the islands are horrible for Internet connection! You’ll be lucky to find a place on the islands with Wi-Fi and if you do, chances are the connection sucks. Even if you purchase a sim card, load data and hotspot your laptop, the reception is so bad on the islands, that it probably won’t work very well.

Angkor wat reflection

 

Must Try Experiences in Cambodia

 

People in Cambodia

Cambodian people are friendly and inquisitive. You can expect to be greeted with big smiles!

90-95 percent of the people are Khmer ethnic.

The Khmer Loeu are the non-Khmer highland tribes in Cambodia, and the Cham people in Cambodia descend from refugees of the Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Gao Ha in the north and Bien Hao in the south.

 

Food in Cambodia

The Khmer food in Cambodia is absolutely delicious. Many Khmer dishes originate or are inspired by their neighbouring Asian countries. You will fall in love with the food whilst backpacking Cambodia.

Amok curry Cambodian food

The Khmer Amok curry is my fav!

Lok Lak– Is a delicious stir-fried beef dish, served on a bed of lettuce, red onion, cucumbers and tomatoes. The beef is cooked with garlic and tomato sauce. The dipping sauce consists of lime-juice, sea salt and black pepper.

Fish Amok– This is probably my all-time favourite Khmer dish whilst backpacking Cambodia. It’s a spicy fish coconut curry served in a banana leaf with a side of rice. Not only is this yellow curry cheap, but also absolutely delicious and a national culinary Cambodian tradition.

Bobo– Is a local rice soup dish with spring onions and garlic, commonly eaten for breakfast. It’s a basic yet delicious start to your day, served with garlic, beans, chilli and lime.

Lap Khmer– This is a delectable lime-marinated Khmer beef salad, may not be for everyone. The beef is either “cooked” ceviche style using lime juice or seared quickly. It’s quite spicy and has a great flavour with lemongrass, garlic, basil, mint and fish sauce. If you’re eating at a western friendly place then your beef will be cooked properly, however, if you’re eating locally you may be eating rare beef.

Khmer Red Curry– This dish is quite similar to a Thai red curry but without the overpowering chili burn. It’s made with your choice of meat or fish, with eggplant, lemongrass, green beans, potatoes, coconut milk and kroeung (Cambodian spice). The Khmer red curry has a French influence and is typically served with bread.

For Cambodian cooking classes, check out this site for awesome deals.

Trekking in Cambodia

Trekking is not typically popular in Cambodia, therefore they tend to be quite expensive. The are two main treks when backpacking Cambodia is Virachey and Phnom Samkos.

Virachey is a common trek when backpacking Cambodia. It’s an environmentally friendly 7-day Ecotour. You trek through remote villages, through the Yak Yeuk Grasslands up to Mera Mountain, finishing right near the Laos border.

Veal Thom Grasslands boats the most spectacular views of the wild, unexplored mountainous border of Laos and Vietnam. Throughout your trek you’ll be spotting gibbons, hornbills, exploring grasslands and swimming in rivers. It’ll be a truly authentic and incredible Cambodian experience.

Ta Promh Angkor Wat

Ta Prohm is overgrown with beautiful trees!

If you’re looking for a trek that’s completely off the beaten path, then head to Phnom Samkos, Cambodia’s second highest peak. Instead of opting for a tour, arrange it yourself with rangers in Promouy town. It’ll be expensive but one hell of an adventure!

There are no defined trails, so you’ll have to use machetes to make your own trail up to the mountain peak. It’s quite a dangerous trek as it’s extremely remote and there are potential landmines. You’ll be exposed to everything the jungle offers including leeches and wild animals like elephants.

My friend actually woke up to elephants congregating around their campsite whilst doing the Phnom Samkos trek. The national park insists on you taking two rangers armed with AK47’s on your 3 day trek to the summit. Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience right?

 

Brief History of Cambodia

Cambodia has a turbulent history with numerous invasions and battles throughout the years. If you’re backpacking Cambodia, It’s important to have knowledge of their history & how they’ve progressed to be the country they are today.

During the 18th century Cambodia found itself squeezed between two powerful neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The Thais invaded Cambodia several times during this period. In the last years of the 18th century the Vietnamese also invaded Cambodia. The Cambodian king was forced to look to the Thais for protection; in return Thailand took north-west Cambodia.

Cambodia soon turned to France as a protectorate from both Thailand and Vietnam. They were under French rule for the next 90 years, where some economic development took place. They built roads, railways andd helped develop the rubber industry. Cambodian nationalism grew during the 1930’s as the French imposed heavy taxes on the Cambodian people.

During the early 1940’s (WWII) the Japanese invaded and occupied Cambodia until 1945 when the French returned as a protectorate. A new constitution was formed allowing Cambodia to have political parties, which led to communist guerrillas to campaign against the French. In 1949 Cambodia became semi independent and soon after King Sihanouk took personal control of the country. Cambodia became fully independent in 1953 and was renamed the Khmer Republic in 1970.

Khmer People Cambodia

Money doesn’t buy happiness & this dude is proof

During 1969 the US began a secret bombing crusade against the North of Vietnam on Cambodian soil. Prime Minister Lon Nol then overthrew King Sihanouk in a coup to proclaim the Khmer Republic. Cambodian soldiers were sent to fight the North Vietnamese on home soil. However, the guerrilla/communist movement slowly made progress, leading to the US commencing bombing campaigns against the communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

On the 17th of April 1975, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, captured Phnom Penh and renamed the country Kampuchea. This was the beginning of the world’s worst mass killings of the 20th century. Pol Pot wanted to wipe history clean and start from ‘Year Zero’.

Everyone was forced to abandon their houses, jobs, and possession, and move to the countryside to work in agriculture on collective farms. Pol Pot had a totally unrealistic target of double its agricultural output, to produce 3 tones of rice per hectare, which was literally impossible. Everyone had to work long hours of little food, which led to many falling ill or dying from exhaustion or malnutrition.

Everyone from intellectuals to uneducated were imprisoned, tortured, killed and dumped in mass graves. People, who spoke a foreign language, wore glasses, or had any kind of higher education were executed. Religion was banned, punishable by death, and family relationships were forbidden. People were executed for the smallest infringements, like foraging for food, being too lazy and complaining.

How many people were killed during the Khmer Rouge is unknown, but it’s estimated that between 1.5 – 3 million people perished.

The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1978 to terminate the Pol Pot regime. The Khmer Rouge fled to the border of Thailand, to re-establish The People’s Republic of Kampuchea. They were welcomed with open arms by Thailand, who also feared a Vietnamese invasion. However the guerrilla war continued, the party was still officially internationally recognized and retained their seat in the United Nations.

In 1989 Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia and communism was abandoned. A provisional government took power until the 1993 elections where they framed a constitution. In 1991 the Paris Peace Agreement was signed, reinstating Sihanouk to be head of state. The monarchy was soon restored, Buddhism was recognized as the national religion and Sihanouk became king once again. The country was renamed “Kingdom of Cambodia” and the Khmer Rouge obviously lost their seat in the UN.

Thousands of guerrillas involved in the Khmer Rouge surrendered to the government, in a bid for amnesty. Those involved in the Khmer Rouge were put on trial and Pol Pot was sentenced to life in prison due to his horrendous war crimes. Pol Pot died shortly after in 1998, returning peace to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Cambodia has progressed and developed considerably in a short amount of time. Although it’s still a relatively poor country, the economy is growing rapidly. The textiles and tourism industry is booming, oil was discovered off the Cambodian coastline, which assures Cambodia a prosperous future.

 

Political Issues to be Aware of in Cambodia

Cambodia is still in the midst of political uncertainty as the government campaigns for a 2018 election. The government has misused the justice system to harass and punish civil society and silence critics.

Human right advocates, public intellectuals, NGOs and the opposition have recently been targeted by this autocratic government. Although the political system is corrupt, it shouldn’t affect or impact your travels to Cambodia. Read more about the current political situation here.

battambang monks on a train

Monks on the Battambang bamboo train!

 

Being a Responsible Backpacker in Cambodia

Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer Saigon while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don’t fall into this category but, when you’re out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself.

It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.

By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer.

Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I’ve had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don’t look cool for not wearing a helmet.

Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it.

Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.

Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country…

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough and cool travel water bottle. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, pick up a water bottle here. 

Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.

 

Final Thoughts on Backpacking Cambodia

Cambodia has a tragic, turbulent past, but as they recover and move on, they welcome tourists with open arms. Beautiful beaches, temples, and undiscovered hikes are reason enough to travel to Cambodia, so get here already!

 

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.

 


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25 Comments

  • Rene Galindo says:

    Thanks for sharing Will!
    I’m doing a 100 day trip to SE Asia. How many days would you recommend spending in Cambodia?

  • Kayleigh says:

    Hey I’m going to Cambodia in April travelling overland from Thailand. Excited about the border crossing it doesn’t sound like a massive ballache at all. Should I be bringing American dollars or is the local currency best? I’ve seen lots of mixed advice about this and I’m a little confused. Thanks 🙂

  • Isa says:

    Being your next destination, why don’t you try couchsurfing in my country, the Philippines. There are many couchsurfers here. 🙂

  • Paulina says:

    Hi Will, I’m at the moment in Thailand. I came to Bangkok to apply for indian tourist visa since i have a flight from Delhi to Europe in January so i want to travel in india for few months before my departure. I discovered yesterday that Indian consulate don’t give any tourist visa anymore to foreigners. You can only apply for 30 days on arrival via internet.
    This is not good for me since i need to be in India more than one month. So i would like to know if the indian embassy in Cambodia is still giving tourist visa to foreigners.
    If somebody can help with this info would be of great help!
    Notice that the new law was just announced here in Bangkok the 3th September evening. Is not even updated on their website.

  • bebek says:

    Thanks for sharing, very nice.

  • anthony says:

    I must say that was an amazing read!! All being well I’ll be heading off to SEA a the end of April and that article has given me a lot to think about regarding Cambodia. One thing that worries me is May being the start of the wet season, does this mean torrential rain all day everyday? Or just some afternoon showers?
    Any advice would me much appreciated, thanks!

    • Will Hatton says:

      Hey Anthony! Pretty tough to predict the weather to be honest mate but you’ll have an awesome time – if it truly pours just kick back with a beer and enjoy the noise 🙂

  • Sineth Siv says:

    It is possible to get my hostel added to your list? I think I am competitive with the others from Siem Reap. https://AlisHouseSR.wordpress.com or https://facebook.com/AlisHouseSR Thank you for your consideration.

  • Sharon says:

    Thanks for the excellent guide to backpacking Cambodia

    It sure helps if you effectively have inside info on a deal such as this. Really great work.

    Cheers Sharon…

  • Brian says:

    What a great write up! Thank you. I’m trying to decide to visit Cambodia LAO or Vietnam. I cannot make up my mind

  • Holly says:

    Absolutely love your blog, it’s so helpful! Do you recommend any other hostels on Koh Rong? We want to be close to Koh Touch for the nightlife but far enough away to get a good nights sleep. We’d also prefer to stay in private rooms or female dorms that are clean and comfortable 🙂
    Thank you!

  • wanderingandwondering says:

    I traveled to Phnom Penh 2 times and stayed a week each time. Once in March (I think) and again in late May of 2018. Had really just one reason why I was interested. One was a Bar that was Amsterdam-like and served a decent menu of hash, flower, and edibles with a place to hang out upstairs. Really that was the only cool weed place that I saw. I saw the happy pizza joints. Gluten intolerant so never tried. He also had big bags of ditch-weed cheap, though not my thing. The other place I (LIKED) was this little Cambodian run bar like another that sold joints. It was kind of nice to sit at their patio and smoke a fat full-weed joint for $2. It was good enough to where I actually didn’t even have to finish to be stoned. Unfortunately, my second visit was pretty crappy. The first bar mentioned, the bartender trid to charge me twice for a 7 dollar purchase after i JUST gave him a $100 bill. He may have forgotten but I personaly don’t think so because when I pointed out that I already paid hime he didn;t even react, he just emediately handed me exact change. Plus all of the cannibas products that I tried (2 hash, 3 edibles, 2 grams), SUCKED except the 10 dollar River Poisen and believe me, it’s nothing to write home about. I tried the Asian owned bar and she quoted me a dollar higher price per joint and I asked why it had suddenly gone up, she became very angry with me. So I said OK just asking, I’ll buy two. So I sit down to smoke one and it tastes like 90% tobacco which I never smoke. It may have been less but I couldn’t hold it in for a second. So I calmly mentioned that it would have been nice to know it was a spliff. She said, oh you start smoking already? I’m like, yes that’s how I found out. she said OK if you don’t like it I can take care of it. Has me hand it to her and then just expected me to walk off. I said, I’d like either my money or the joint, just out of principle really. So she surprisingly gives me my money for one, the quickly reaches over to the ash tray and grabs the other. She just couldn’t be happy without burning me somehow. And I left quietly as she bad-mouthed me all the way. I bought from the first guy that offered outside of her bar and found a 3 dollar joint. It was exactly that. 15 min buzz. I also had some almost dangerous circumstances take place. Allot of angry people. One guy swerved his truck and missed me by a few inches then parked right in front of me. Not sure why. Just feeling like a jerk I guess. I know these people rely so much on tourism but so many of them seem to just kind of piss all over you. I’ll give siem reap a chance but I’ve had it with abuse this places dishes out.

  • Thank you for these amazing and detailed information! I’ll do a worldtravel, starting the 1 October and defenitely going to visit Cambodia. I panned on staying only 2 weeks, is this enough or do I miss to much?

  • Courtney McDermott says:

    Hi Will,

    great read !

    We are looking into Vietnam first then got more interested in Cambodia, now with 3&1/2 weeks would we be pushing it for time to do both Cambodia and Northern Vietnam? Realistically, how easy would it be to get up into Hanoi out to do the Ha Giang loop then over to Cat Ba to spend a couple days over there in 8 days? Should we focus just on Cambodia?

    • Will Hatton says:

      Personally, I would focus on Vietnam but that’s because I LOVE long motorbike rides. You COULD do Northern Vietnam then just five days at Angor Wat, that is feasible.

  • Keerti says:

    Hey! I totally loved this piece. I am so excited and dreaming about Cambodia now. I had a question about camping. Is it really safe to pitch tents on the beach?

    Thanks 🙂

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