Most people know Cambodia for its temples at Angkor Wat, centerpiece in The Kingdom of Wonder. But there’s much more to explore and discover in this country of warm smiles. Cities here buzz with energy. In the countryside, palm-tree greenery ring 1,000-year old rice fields. Flawless blue skies meet secluded sandy beaches and Tonlé Sap, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, serves floating villages and towering stilted houses.
In the north, endangered tigers and Asian elephants roam misty jungles while Irrawaddy dolphins frolic in the Mekong. This is colonial Indochine embracing the new – romantic, mysterious and inviting. Travels here center on Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, but don’t neglect the Kingdom’s fabulous less known gems: the capital Phnom Penh, beachside Sihanoukville and French colonial Battambang.
A four-day itinerary will serve your visit to Siem Reap. Pace yourself for Angkor Wat, an awesome temple complex of towers, spires and halls in an archaeology park of 100s of jungle temples including Angkor Doom and Bayon with its Terrace of the Leper King. Ta Prohm rises out the jungle canopy with tree roots mauling its face.
At night, Pub Street sparkles: a walking-area of former shop houses and alleyways of boutiques, eateries like Khmer Kitchen and bars like the 1920’s inspired Miss Wong. The heritage-style Victoria Angkor hotel, vintage cars at the entrance, features live crocodile cubs in its garden pool. Massage and spa centers offer sleepy ‘four hand’ therapies. Night Markets, cooking and fishing classes, Apsara dance, countryside tours by horseback or buffalo cart, art and photography all beckon.
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Make it a four-day stay in Phnom Penh and discover attractions known only to insiders like the bar scene in Bassac Lane off Street 214 and the food mecca of Street 172. Welcoming visitors is the glittering Royal Palace. Close by is the National Museum of Cambodia, home to priceless antiquities and Khmer treasures.
City tours include the grim Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Field. Sisowath Quay runs along the riverfront. The sprawling art deco Central Market is alive with bargain shopping and food that includes deep-fried tarantulas.
South of the city beckons the Russian Market, a sprawl of stalls offering souvenirs, handmade silks and designer clothes at impossibly low prices. Closer to the city is the Aeon Mall, an ultra-modern shopping experience near the futuristic Diamond Island development. Get a haircut at the Space Salon or Chan Tou. Have your dental check up at the Malis Dental Clinic. Golf at the Cambodia Golf and Country Club is world class. The Phnom Penh nightlife is vibrant and exciting.
A five-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh lies the laid-back port town of Sihanoukville, affectionately known as ‘Snooky’. From the Serendipity wharf you can take a ferry to offshore islands in the Gulf of Thailand that offer secluded beaches, forest treks, scuba diving and swimming. Victory Hill draws older stayers who enjoy its low-cost hotels, bars and eateries. Serendipity, Ochheuteal and Otres beaches offer sandy retreats and clusters of beach front grass hut restaurants offering wet-fresh seafood washed down with a cold beer costing US$0.50.
First main stop after the Thailand border is Cambodia’s second largest city, Battambang. It welcomes visitors with French colonial architecture and a less-harried style. Ancient temples and shrines here include Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom as well as Phnom Sampeau (Ship Hill) and its Khmer Rouge killing caves. Nearby is Wat Sampeau where nightfall brings millions of bats swarming from its caves seeking prey. The spectacular Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) children’s circus is a marquee of music, juggling, drama, and acrobatics. The famous bamboo train (nori) of railway bogies fixed with bamboo slats is world ranked.
Any time is a great time to visit Cambodia, the ‘must see’ destination for all visitors to South East Asia. Often considered an add-on to the more traveled Thailand or Vietnam, Cambodia is a memory-packed destination for those looking at Angkor Wat and beyond. The Kingdom of Wonder offers extraordinary experiences created by friendly and welcoming people.
Often an extension destination for tours of Thailand and Vietnam, tourist visits to Cambodia are usually for three or four days. These visits are centered on Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. A longer tour that includes visits to TonLe Sap lake, the capital Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Battambang will provide a richer Cambodia experience.
High season normally runs from November to February easing through to April but it is crowded at this time and costs are higher. June to December is a better time to visit if you would like to see Cambodia at its green best.
Cambodia is comfortably hot all year with temperatures around 80.F (27.C). Like most of tropical South East Asia, the seasons are rainy or dry. The cooler months are from November – February in the dry season, with temperatures ranging between 80-95.F (17-27.C). The hotter months are from March till May 84-100.F (29-38.C). The rainy season runs from June until October 80-95.F (27-35.C). The weather rarely impacts on holiday plans with showers occurring in the afternoons and early evenings.
Cambodia is country of celebration. There are many public holidays, which is understandable when the working week is Monday through Saturday. Most holidays don’t impact too much on visitors with one exception, Bonn Pchum Ben, Ancestor’s Day, the most important festival in the Khmer religious calendar and equally important as Khmer New Year in April.
The 15-day Bonn Pchum Ben festival is hosted in late September through to about mid-October. It includes three days of celebration where most businesses close and staff return to their homes and villages to be with family. It is best to check on national holidays before you travel.
UTC/GMT 7 hours
Cambodia is effectively an outdoor location for tourists. Sensible loose fitting clothes are essential as well as sun blocking headwear. Pull-on pants and light cotton tops for men and women are recommended. Strong yet lightweight walking sandals from Keen’s or Teva that cover your toes should be mandatory for walking Cambodia’s tortuous unsealed pavements. Ensure they are worn in before traveling.
Note: Your legs need to be covered if you wish to visit a temple or monastery. You will also be expected to remove your shoes. Cambodia is a conservative country. Revealing clothing is frowned upon.
English is spoken or at least understood in the major cities, less so in the provinces and rural areas. Cash in US dollars is the favored means of most transactions. Credit card use is limited.
Cambodia is tourist treasure. Costs for food, accommodation and nightlife are 60% what you would pay in the US, and 30% less than what you would pay in Singapore and even less than Thailand. Bargains can be found everywhere.
The local currency is the Riel. However, everything in Cambodia is negotiated in US dollars, which is readily accepted and welcome everywhere. Major credit cards Visa and Mastercard are only accepted in hotels and upmarket retail. ATMs are found in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Prices in Cambodia fluctuate depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in US dollars.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $15-$25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person
$ => Rooms less than $25 for a double
$$ => Rooms $50 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $100 for a double
$ => $1-$8 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tip)
$$ => $15-$20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tip)
$$$ => $35 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $20-$35 per person
$$$ => Tickets $50 per person
The riel is approximately 4000 to the US$.
Cambodia is served by international airports at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh that are accessible from major South East Asia hubs. The lowest cost entry point to Cambodia by air is from Bangkok, Thailand: a round trip to either destination costs about US$200.
Travel between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is by road, air and boat. Bus costs are $10 – $15 depending on the bus: the Giant iBis is recommended. It features wifi, onboard movies, complimentary water and breakfast snacks during the 8-hour trip including rest stops and a half-hour break for lunch. Bassakar Air and Cambodia Airlines fly the 40 minute Siem Reap and Phnom Penh route. Costs are as low as $US25 one way. Traveling by teak paneled boat with the luxury CFMekong River Cruises and Pandaw is undertaken over a leisurely three days/two nights. It is a glorious way to see the Mekong River and rural Cambodia. Expect costs of US$2,000 per person.
Travel between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and other centres in Cambodia is by bus from US$5 one way.
Car hire is from US$50 per day including driver.
The Cambodian riel is approximately 4000 to the US$. However, the US$ is the defacto currency and accepted everywhere.
ATMs are found throughout Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are accepted at hotels and high end retail only.
Tipping is usually a few dollars only and rarely more than $US5.
Remarque (tuk tuk) is the favoured transport in all locations. These motorised three-wheel vehicles are cheap to hire and plentiful. There are also motor cycle taxis, taxis and hire cars. Costs for all un-metered travel is negotiable. Costs begin at around US$3 per trip.
Cambodia is served by upgraded international airports at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Both locations are accessible from major South East Asia hubs and served by major airlines. The lowest cost of entry is via Bangkok, Thailand. Round trip airfares to either location cost about US$200. A 30-day tourist visa is available at the airport for US$30 cash plus a current passport image of yourself.
Travel between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is by road, air and boat. Bus costs are $10 – $15 depending on the bus: the Giant iBis is recommended. It features wifi, onboard movies, complimentary water and breakfast snacks during the 8-hour trip that includes rest stops and a half-hour break for lunch. Cambodia Angkor Air and Bassaka Air fly the 40 minute Siem Reap and Phnom Penh route for as little as US$60 round trip. Travelling by teak panelled boat with the CFMekong River Cruises and Pandaw is undertaken over a leisurely three day/two nights. It is a glorious way to see the Mekong River and rural Cambodia. Not inexpensive at US$2000 per person but what price romance?