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Cambodia is a country extremely popular with backpackers travelling around South East Asia, and for good reason! The city of Siem Reap is home to the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat draws visitors of all ages from across the globe, many of whom wake up as early as sunrise to see the ancient temples. If islands and beaches are more your thing, you will not be disappointed by the beautiful islands of Koh Rong and the smaller Koh Rong Sanloem. There truly is something for everyone! For help working out your own travel plans, make sure to keep reading for my Cambodia Backpacking Itinerary…
- The main currency in Cambodia is actually the US dollar! The Cambodian Riel is only used as small change and for items below $1, the exchange rate is approx 4000 Riel to $1. The most common form of payment is cash, card payments are not widely used.
- The wet season runs from May until October, at the peak of this season from July to September it can rain everyday. However the rainfall tends to be for a few hours and luckily doesn’t usually last all day. The dry season runs from November until April.
Day 1: Cross the border from Laos to Cambodia
Days 2-4: Siem Reap
Day 5: Bus from Siem Reap to Battambang
Day 6: Battambang
Day 7: Bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh
Days 8-10: Phnom Penh
Day 11: Bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, Otres Beach
Days 12-13: Otres Beach, Sihanoukville
Day 14: Speedboat from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong
Days 15-17: Koh Rong
Day 18: Ferry from Koh Rong to Koh Rong Sanloem
Days 19-20: Koh Rong Sanloem
Day 21: Speedboat from Koh Rong Sanloem to Sihanoukville
Day 22: Bus from Sihanoukville to Kampot
Days 23-28: Kampot
Day 29: Crossed border to Vietnam
DAY 1: CROSSING THE BORDER FROM LAOS TO CAMBODIA
Travelling from one town to another in different countries is never the easiest travel day. Our last destination in Laos was the island of Don Det in the 4000 Islands. We booked our transport through a travel agency on the island, with our last destination being Siem Reap. It was an early start to the day, with the first leg of the journey on the boat back to the mainland of Laos. The day involved a lot of waiting around for buses, that take you part of the way and then for some reason you have to get on a different bus! The actual border crossing itself was pretty hassle-free, we just had to fill out the required forms and get approved. After the border we were crammed in pretty tightly into the mini bus, with one unfortunate person having to sit on a plastic garden chair! But we eventually made it to Siem Reap very late in the evening, however the journey didn’t end there! As per usual the bus dropped us off somewhere way too far from the centre to be able to walk, so were then forced to pay for a tuk tuk to take us to the hostel.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP
I would highly recommend Bokre Angkor Hostel as accommodation in Siem Reap. Our double room was really spacious, and the entire hostel was really clean and well designed. The food was really tasty and there was even a pool to cool off in! We paid only £43 for 4 nights, oh how I miss South East Asia prices.
DAYS 2-4: SIEM REAP
Angkor Wat is of course the main attraction of Siem Reap, and arguably of Cambodia. After arriving in Siem Reap late at night we decided to take one day to explore the city and then the next day we would explore the temples! We already had transport arranged, as we kept in contact with the tuk tuk driver who dropped us at our hostel. I think if you get a tuk tuk anywhere in Siem Reap the driver will most likely ask when you are going to the temples and will try and be your driver for the day! We had arranged for him to pick us up at 4.45am! It was extremely difficult waking up this early, but we were keen to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise. We knew before arriving that it would be extremely busy, but I think it was still worth the early wake up call. We had booked our driver for 8 hours, so after Angkor Wat we headed to Angkor Tom and Ta Phrom (the Tomb Raider temple). I think 8 hours of temples was more than enough for us, we actually went back to the hotel at midday as we were so tired!
We just bought the one day pass to the temples, which is $37 each. However if you want to spread it across a few days or are keen to see many more of the temples, you can buy a three day pass for $62 or a seven day pass for $72. I personally think one day was plenty for us!
Tip: If you are at Angkor Wat for sunrise, there will always be a thousand other people watching it with you. You can’t avoid this. But if you actually head into the temple to explore before the sun completely rises, you will get in there before most other people. We pretty much had the place to ourselves for a good half an hour before the crowds came!
Aside from the incredible temples, Siem Reap does have much more to offer! Make sure to browse the local markets, full of souvenirs and locals selling fish and all sorts. And to also wander around the night market near Pub Street! A good spot to watch the sunset is the Lotus Fields. You can pay a tuk tuk driver to take you 20 mins outside of Siem Reap, where you will find the perfect place to watch the sun go down.
DAY 5: BUS FROM SIEM REAP TO BATTAMBANG
We had booked our transportation to Battambang with our hostel in Siem Reap, after some really great recommendations from one of the girls working there. We weren’t sure where to head to next, but ended up on a bus to Battambang! We found it strange that on most of the buses we went on in Cambodia, we were the only tourists on them! Also, beware when going to the toilet at the rest stops on the bus journeys. A local tried to charge me $1 to use the toilet when all the locals were entering without paying!
WHERE TO STAY IN BATTAMBANG
When we were looking to book accommodation for Battambang, I don’t remember there being a whole lot of options. We ended up going with Blue Diamond, a hostel that ended up being a 15 minute tuk tuk journey from the centre of town! Luckily we did get a free transfer from the bus to the hostel, but whenever we wanted to head into town we would have to pay for a bumpy tuk tuk journey there and back. Given the distance from the town we ate most of our meals in the hostel, which were always tasty! The hostel itself was good value for money and had plenty of things to pass the time, such as a pool table and outside pool, which made up for the distance from the town.
DAY 6: BATTAMBANG
Since we only had one and a half days to experience Battambang, we made sure to fill our time as much as we could. After speaking with someone from the Siem Reap hostel, we knew we wanted to go to the Phare Circus. So we booked our tickets online for just $14 each, and hopped on a tuk tuk to catch the 7pm show! The performers are actually students enrolled in the professional circus and dance programs, who can then go on to perform in Siem Reap and all over the world. I think this made the performance even more special. They were still learning so even if they didn’t perform the trick well the first time, everyone would cheer them on to get it right the next time! It really was an amazing evening, there were even young students outside before the performance playing around doing flips and circus moves!
To ensure you see the highlights of Battambang I would recommend arranging a tour with one of the tuk tuk drivers in town. I think we ended up paying $15 dollars for the both of us for a whole day, and we were also joined by another couple. The driver had planned out the day for us, and took us to so many places and even acted as a tour guide giving us information on the area.
We started the day off at the local market, then took a short ride on the famous bamboo train. He showed us a memorial for the victims in Battambang of the Khmer Rouge. He was actually a young boy at the time, and told us how he was starving and lost most of his family to the regime. If you are visiting Cambodia I think it is only right to learn about these horrific events in the country’s recent history. Our last stop of the day was at the killing caves of Phnom Sampeau, where every night you can watch the bats flying out of the cave at sunset. It was a tiring day, but a tour I would recommend to anyone visiting Battambang. We learnt an awful lot about the area and the local people!
DAY 7: BUS FROM BATTAMBANG TO PHNOM PENH
We booked our bus to Phnom Penh through our hostel in Battambang, which included a tuk tuk pick up from the hostel to the bus station. Our hostel even managed to supply us with a takeaway breakfast for the ride! It was a good few hours on the bus, but a pleasant non-eventful journey.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHNOM PENH
We stayed at the Dynsey Flashpacker Hostel, which I probably wouldn’t recommend to other travellers. It was perfectly clean and there were lots of cafes and bars nearby, but it didn’t really feel like a hostel. There were no common areas open when we were there, even though a roof area was advertised on the booking. We also encountered a few problems with the staff, who we found rude and unhelpful. We paid £60 for four nights in a double room which is a reasonable price, but maybe look for somewhere else in the area!
DAYS 8-10: PHNOM PENH
Being the capital of Cambodia, we had booked four nights in Phnom Penh. I think four nights was a good amount of time to see what we wanted to see without having to be out and about all day. Although if you were on a time limit you could easily make it 2/3 nights. I have to say that Phnom Penh was one of my least favourite cities of the trip. There are piles of rubbish along every street and we felt like we had to be extra careful of our belongings the whole time. The tuk tuk drivers even warn you to keep your bags tight to your body! However this does not mean you shouldn’t go.
As a visitor to Cambodia you should make sure to educate yourself about the Khmer Rouge and its brutal regime that killed nearly 2 million people. On the outskirts of Phnom Penh sits the largest of the killing fields, Choeung Ek, which now serves as a monument to those who died there. The audio tour will guide you around the site, reciting harrowing stories from survivors and guards. By the end you will be left feeling extremely drained. Of course it goes without saying to be as respectful as possible when visiting these sites. You should give yourself half a day to visit Choeung Ek, with a 40 minute tuk tuk ride from the city centre and about two hours to walk around the site.
There is also Toul Sleung, the S-21 Genocide Museum which will be a much shorter distance from your hostel. I would recommend against visiting both these sites in one day, so you don’t get emotionally overwhelmed. This was the main political prison, where suspected enemies of the regime were sent. The building was previously a high school, before being turned into the prison. Some of the rooms in the building have been left as they were found when the prison was discovered in 1979, these rooms in particular were the torture rooms and prison cells. Many of the other classrooms are full of photographs of the 12,000 prisoners, of whom only 7 survived. I would recommend paying the few extra dollars for the audio guide here.
After the intensity of S-21 and the Killing Fields you will probably want to do something a little light-hearted, so take a wander around the Central Market, or take a look at the Independence Monument. Our visit actually coincided with the annual Water Festival, Bon Om Touk. Villages from across the country bring their boats to Phnom Penh to compete against the other boats. You could spend all day watching the boat races from the edge of the river!
Tip: Make sure to use the Grab app when travelling around the city. You won’t have to haggle with the tuk tuk drivers, and it will put your mind at ease knowing your journey is tracked on the app!
DAY 11: BUS FROM PHNOM PENH TO SIHANOUKVILLE, OTRES BEACH
Our hostel didn’t actually sell any bus tickets, so we went to the travel agency across the road to book our transport to Sihanoukville. A tuk tuk picked us up from our hostel, and eventually got us to the bus stop about 15 minutes late. But luckily we didn’t miss the bus! As we were not staying in Sihanoukville itself, but in Otres Beach, we had to negotiate a price with one of the tuk tuk drivers once we got to the town. There are always a few of them waiting around trying to get your business whenever you get to a new destination, so finding one wasn’t hard. We just had to negotiate a price, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do when you are tired and want to get to your hostel! After about a 15 minute bumpy tuk tuk ride we were there, able to finally relax on a beach!
WHERE TO STAY IN OTRES BEACH
We stayed in a hostel right on the beach, called Easy Panda. But after just looking on Hostelworld I am sad to see that I don’t think it is there anymore. Over recent years Sihanoukville has had a massive influx of Chinese, who have turned the town into a construction site. We were there in November 2018, when there were still many quirky hostels on the beach, but sadly I think there are now only a handful left.
DAYS 12-13: OTRES BEACH, SIHANOUKVILLE
After the busy city of Phnom Penh, we couldn’t wait to get to our first actual beach of the trip! We had been in South East Asia for two months but hadn’t yet had a chance to swim in the sea! We really enjoyed our few days at Otres Beach, spent mostly reading and swimming. But now that most of the hostels on the beach have gone I would advise that you skip this town altogether and head straight to the paradise islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Now looking back to our time in Otres Beach, it didn’t even compare to the beauty of the islands!
DAY 14: SPEEDBOAT FROM SIHANOUKVILLE TO KOH RONG
As we weren’t really aware of how to book our transport to the island of Koh Rong, it was pretty handy that every day the same man wandered the beach selling boat tickets! As we hadn’t really ventured out of the hostel area during our stay we thought it easiest to buy the tickets through him. We probably could have got a better price by shopping around, but who wants to do that when you could be chilling on the beach instead?! Even though it seemed a little expensive, we were going on a speedboat and it included the boat back to Sihanoukville. Even if you ended up on the other island of Koh Rong Sanloem!
WHERE TO STAY IN KOH RONG
We chose to stay in the main village on the island, Kaoh Touch, just to make things easier for us. You can opt to stay in a tent on one of the more secluded beaches, or go for a fancy resort if you’ve got the budget. But we were actually really happy with our decision, and our room was pretty decent too! We spent four nights at Happy Elephant Bungalow, which is just a few minutes walk away from the main bars. So away from the noise and mayhem, but close enough to all the restaurants. It wasn’t the cheapest option, we paid about £60 for our stay. But having our own bungalow, with a balcony and hammock made it worth it.
DAYS 15-17: KOH RONG
Koh Rong is the largest of the two islands off the coast from Sihanoukville, and is much more of a party island. If partying is not your thing, don’t let that put you off! You can easily get away from the bars and spend your time relaxing.
If you are staying in the village of Kaoh Touch there is a lovely small beach if you walk just a few minutes away from the last of the shops. You can then also continue to walk for just half an hour to reach 4km beach. It has much more of a deserted island feel, where you can switch off and delve into a book. Also if you don’t fancy the walk back, you can pay a small fee to take the boat taxi back to the village!
A great hassle-free way of seeing more of the island is to book onto a boat tour! We booked one along the main strip for just $10 each. We got to snorkel around some smaller islands, and also swam with plankton that glow when it is dark! Plenty of drinks and dinner was provided, some of it being the fish we caught earlier on the tour. A tour is a great way to see more of an area and to meet fellow travellers. If you are already going to Koh Rong, you just have to also head to Koh Rong Sanloem, it’s quieter, more beautiful little sister!
DAY 18: FERRY FROM KOH RONG TO KOH RONG SANLOEM
There is no need to book in advance for the ferry to Koh Rong Sanloem. Just head to the pier in the morning and buy your tickets there and then. I think there are a few ferries that leave each day! There are two ferry stops on the island, M’Pai Bay and Saracens Bay. If you are staying at one of the other bays your hotel will most likely provide a transfer for you.
WHERE TO STAY IN KOH RONG SANLOEM
When we were looking at accommodation before arriving on the island, we realised there were two main areas, M’Pai Bay and Saracens Bay. The accommodation in Saracens Bay was way out of our price range! So we ended up opting for M’Pai Bay, which actually seemed a lot more popular with backpackers on a budget, like us! We had booked one night at Lazy Bones, which was a really cool hostel made up of tiny wooden huts. We had our own room with a bathroom, and wanted to stay another two nights but the prices jumped up massively due to high season starting.
So we had a look around the village and found a cheap guesthouse that had only opened that day! We paid just $11 per night for a brand new room with it’s own bathroom. We were the first customers of Ing Ing Guesthouse! Not only were the rooms immaculate and cheap, but it is run by a family that were so friendly and welcoming, I wish we could have stayed even longer. They also cook incredible food, and there is a great fried chicken place right next door.
WHAT’S IN MY BACKPACK
DAYS 19-20: KOH RONG SANLOEM
Koh Rong Sanloem is the ultimate place to relax. Being such a small island there are no cars or motorbikes, just the odd toad crossing the sand in the evening. So we did nothing but swim in the sea, read books and hire a kayak for a few hours! We even discovered the best iced coffee we had ever tried, so couldn’t resist getting one every day! Even after just a few days, I felt really at home here. I could easily have pictured myself spending a few weeks on the island switched off from the world.
For even more reasons why you should visit these islands make sure to read my travel guide here!
DAY 21: SPEEDBOAT FROM KOH RONG SANLOEM TO SIHANOUKVILLE
As we had previously paid for the speedboat to and from Sihanoukville, it was really simple booking our transport. We just had to take our ticket to the speedboat office and book! Just had to make sure not to lose the ticket from the original booking! As the speedboat only took a couple of hours, we could easily have gone straight to Kampot instead of having the one night in Sihanoukville. But we didn’t want to a have a long stressful travel day, so just ended up booking one night in a hostel! Seeing as though Sihanoukville is one big construction site we hardly ventured out of the hostel.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIHANOUKVILLE
We paid just £10 for the both of us to stay at The Big Easy. It was a really cool hostel, that was part of a restaurant and bar. They served really good Western food, the dorm rooms were clean and the staff were friendly. Again, I wouldn’t recommend going to Sihanoukville, but if you are passing through and need a place to sleep The Big Easy is a great option.
DAY 22: BUS FROM SIHANOUKVILLE TO KAMPOT
Having booked our transport through a travel agency the day before, we were picked up from our hostel by tuk tuk and taken to the minibus station. It took just a few hours to Kampot, where we were dropped in the centre of town. We could easily have walked to our hostel if we were staying in the town. However we just had to pay for a tuk tuk to take us to Arcadia Backpackers which is situated about 20 minutes away from the town on the riverbank.
WHERE TO STAY IN KAMPOT
We ended up having to stay in Kampot for seven nights, as we were waiting for our 30-day Vietnam Visas to come through. Initially we stayed for two nights at Arcadia Backpackers & Water Park, which is on the river and about a 20 minute tuk tuk journey away from the town. As you can probably tell from the name, not only is it a hostel but also a water park! Which is free to use if you are staying there! There are some really great slides, swings, and also tubes and hammocks you can chill in. The main draw of this hostel is of course the water park, as besides that the rooms themselves are really basic. We paid a little more than some other places we have stayed in, which I think is due to the facilities, so you aren’t really getting to use it for free! Another drawback is if you don’t want to keep paying for tuk tuks you have to just eat what is on offer at the hostel bar.
Our next hostel was in the town of Kampot itself, we ended up staying at Mad Monkey Kampot for five nights. I think there are a few of these Mad Monkeys around Cambodia, and this one was a pretty big hostel! As a couple we really enjoyed it there, our double room was soo big and clean. Solo travellers would also enjoy it here as it seemed really social and there were events on most nights.
DAYS 23-28: KAMPOT
As we were waiting for our Vietnam visas to come through, we had spent quite a bit of time in Kampot. We had a few really chill days, but there is surprisingly quite a bit to do in the area. The best way to see the area would be to hire a moped, we hired one through Mad Monkey hostel, who seemed really reliable. We most enjoyed exploring the area of Bokor Mountain. It is basically an area full of abandoned buildings, which include a casino, a church and lots of luxury homes. There is a bit of an eery feel to the area, and I got a little creeped out at some points!
Another great day trip is to head to Kep, only about an hours drive from Kampot. It is a lovely small town, home to a beautiful beach and the famous crab market! Kampot is known for its pepper, so make sure to explore one of the farms. We weren’t expecting to enjoy Kampot as much as we did, there are so many cute cafes and restaurants and quirky streets. If you want some more information on the town make sure to check out my Top Things To Do in Kampot post here.
DAY 29: CROSSED BORDER TO VIETNAM
As usual, a travel day that involved crossing the border was very long and tiring. We had to hop on and off multiple different buses, that totalled 13 hours by the time we reached Ho Chi Minh City. However it was actually one of the least stressful travel days, not really much waiting around at all!
Since I am writing this a whole year since we visited Cambodia I haven’t been able to recall all the details of our travels for you. It was a country we both really enjoyed and look back on with lots of happy memories. I especially enjoyed our time on Koh Rong Sanloem, spending our days swimming and reading amongst absolutely beautiful surroundings. I really hope our itinerary has helped to inspire your upcoming trip!
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