Cambodia has a history that is both glorious and horrifying in equal measure but this is a country that will live long in the memory thanks to its friendly and genuine people.
Once the head of an empire that stretched out across the entire region, the immense ancient Khmer temples of Angkor serve a reminder of past glories and are still a huge source of national pride today.
On the other end of the scale, haunting reminders of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s are presented in considered detail at the Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and elsewhere throughout the country.
You’ll find the present day Cambodia accepting of the decades of brutality, bloodshed and poverty and firmly focusing on a bright new future. This is a place that maintains a relaxed and happy vibe alongside an increasingly faster pace of life, let us hope it remains as the country continues to rapidly develop.
We spent just shy of a month exploring this wonderful country from the south coast over to the famous temples in the west and the places in between. This guide is based on our travelling experiences across Cambodia and we hope you find it useful in planning your visit.
Money & Costs
Cambodia uses the Cambodia Riel (KHR) as its official currency but US Dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere. You find that change of less than $1 USD is given in multiples of Riel (500, 1000, 2000 notes) as coins are rarely used.
Prices, particularly in tourist areas, are listed in USD making your spending very easy to calculate. To follow this practice and keep things simple we have listed all prices throughout the guide in USD.
ATMs and Currency Exchange
ATMs are relatively scarce outside of the main towns or the capital, so make sure you carry enough cash to tide you over until the next big stop. Most ATMs will charge a hefty fee of around $5 when you withdraw cash so it’s best to withdraw larger amounts when needed.
In Battambang, Siam Reap, Phnom Penh you’ll find several places to exchange your money. Most banks, some hotels and several exchange bureaus will offer this service but don’t forget to use a handy app like the XE Currency Exchange app to check you’re getting a decent rate on the go.
Outside of these places, it can prove more of a challenge to exchange cash so make sure you’re well stocked up before heading to more remote areas.
Cash and Card Payments
More businesses are starting to take card payments but cash is still king in Cambodia… no disrespect to the actual king intended. As mentioned above, make sure you carry a good stock of cash spread between you and your daypack if heading outside of the towns.
You can pay via card at many of the larger hotels and restaurants but this can carry a 3% fee which can outweigh ATM fees over time. When paying via card always remember to select the local currency option if asked for the best rate.
MONEY SAVING TRAVEL TIP: Make sure that you have a great Travel Credit Card to avoid a poor exchange rate and extra fees when using ATMs in Cambodia. Check out our guide to choosing the right travel credit card to help avoid those evil fees and charges!
Rough Daily Budget for Cambodia
Backpacker: If you stay in dorm rooms, eat street food, the occasional beer and take just public transport then you can survive on $15 or less a day. However, you can’t miss a visit to the temples at Angkor if you haven’t been so we’d suggest a budget of $20 a day per person over a few weeks will have you covered comfortably.
Mid-range: Staying in double rooms with aircon, mixing street food with occasional restaurant visits, decent transport and admission to all the main attractions will be covered by $50 to $60 daily for a couple. If you minus the street food and only dine at restaurants or in your hotel add up to $10 to $20 more per day to cover it.
High end: It’s easily possible to exceed $100 to $200 per day if you stay in resorts or top end hotels whilst dining out and taking private tours to all the sights.
At the budget backpacker end, cheap eats can be found in most places at street food stalls. In Phnom Penh a tasty dinner of Lok lak plus a beer each totalled $5 for both of us.
A little further down the street, we found Davy’s Shake Shack where a lovingly made fresh fruit shake costs $1 and a great ice coffee costs the same.
Meals and snacks at our hotel in Phnom Penh cost from $3 to $6 and were mainly sandwiches or pasta, all very filling.
In Siem Reap we found some excellent local food at the Khmer Kitchen where filling mains are around $4 and starters $2.50. Angkor Beer is $1 per glass.
In the mid-range, a delicious Khmer BBQ in Phnom Penh, 2-course meal with drinks, cost us $15 for 2 people.
A western style sit-down meal will cost you around $5 to $10 per dish in the main visitor spots across the country.
The priciest meal we had was in amongst the Angkor temples at a sit-down restaurant. We had a main course and a smoothie each which came to over $17. To be fair the portions are huge and the following day we shared one main between us.
To keep the costs down when visiting the Angkor temples have a good breakfast, stock up on snacks and water before you head out for the day, and save the main meal for when you come back into town.
Beer Cambodia and Beer Angkor are the order of the day. Both will cost you from $0.60 per can at street stalls and up to around $3 on tap in a fancy bar. It’s even cheaper if you buy directly from a shop.
A rather weak but jolly cocktail at a street cart in Siem Reap ‘Pub Street’ costs $1.50 each complete with sound system and smiling barman.
We did try some local wine at the country’s only vineyard in Battambang but let’s just say they still have a way to go!
At the backpacker budget end, a dorm room bed costs from $4 per night whilst a double room with a fan can start around $8 and up.
Head to the coast and you can find a private beach shack for around $10 on Otres Beach (out of high season).
We usually go for a double room with aircon in a decent looking hotel or hostel and it worked out between $14 and $18 per night outside of Phnom Penh. In the capital, a double with aircon including breakfast cost us $20 to $25 per night but there are cheaper places available.
If you really want to blow the budget there are an increasing amount of higher-end hotels and resorts opening up to accommodate the growing Asian wealthy. You could stay at the Royal Residence by Royal Angkor Resort & Spa for $800 per night. We hope breakfast is included.
Activity Costs in Cambodia
Bamboo Train – the 7km ride costs $5 per person for a return trip plus a tip for the driver.
The Killing Fields – the site is around 17km outside of Phnom Penh and a Tuk tuk to get there and back costs $15. It’s $6 per person to enter including an excellent audio guide.
Royal Palace – admission to the palace is $6 per person.
1 Day Tour around Battambang – a guided tour with a Tuk tuk cost us $20 plus a tip for the driver.
Angkor Temples – a pass to access all the temple sights is $37 for 1 day, $62 for 3 days, and $72 for 7 days. Plus the cost of a Tuk tuk with a driver to take you around is $15 to $20 per day.
Seeing Hands Massage – given by the excellent partially sighted staff in Phnom Penh costs $7 per person for 60 minutes. Bargain.
For even more exciting things to see and do, check this two weeks in Cambodia itinerary.
Visas for Cambodia
As with many countries, the visa requirements and situation for entry into Cambodia is constantly changing. The information below is correct to the best of our knowledge (sometimes limited!) as of August 2016. We always advise checking embassy or your country’s government travel websites for up to date info just in case.
Apart from a few of the neighbouring countries, most nationalities require a visa to enter Cambodia. Visas are available on arrival at both land borders and airports and cost $30 for a 30-day tourist visa.
We crossed over via bus from Vietnam and the assistant on the bus charged us $35 each but dealt with all the paperwork and we made it through quickly. While we don’t fully agree with that we know that sometimes it’s better to suck up an extra mystery fee to make things a little smoother.
A 30-day single entry visa can be extended once for an additional 30 days for a $45 fee. There are several travel agents in Phnom Penh which can arrange this for you, usually within 2 business days.
eVisas are also available online in advance for $37 each and good for use if flying into Cambodia or crossing at Cham Yeam and Poipet from Thailand or Bavet from Vietnam. These could be useful for avoiding dodgy bribes at land border crossings where there have been reports of requests for an extra $20 ‘fee’.
Transport in Cambodia
How to Travel to Cambodia
Travelling to Cambodia via Air
There are 2 international airports in Cambodia at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Most flights connect with other nearby countries in Asia but there are a few direct flights to France from Phnom Penh International Airport.
Getting to Cambodia by Boat
There’s a fast boat service which leaves daily from Chau Doc (4 hours drive from Saigon) in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and takes 5h to reach Phnom Penh via the river.
Travelling to Cambodia by Rail
You can get within 3km of the border on the Thai side with daily trains running from Bangkok and taking around 6 hours. You’ll need a Tuk tuk or taxi for the short journey to the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing. When we crossed in July 2016 rail lines were being built at the border crossing so things may change soon.
In Vietnam, trains run as far as Saigon so road or river onward travel is needed to make the border.
Arriving in Cambodia by Bus
Thailand – several bus companies operate buses to the border from Bangkok and elsewhere but do not cross over so you’ll need to grab a connecting service.
Vietnam – buses run directly from Saigon to Phnom Penh crossing at the Moc Bai/Bave checkpoint. Here you’ll need to leave the bus on both sides of the border, remember to take your luggage with you as it needs scanning too. We used the reliable Mekong Express service which cost $14 for the total 6-hour journey including 2 breaks.
Laos – there’s a road crossing at the Voeung Kam/Dom Kralor but no services running through so you’ll need to plan carefully if you’re heading this way.
Getting Around Cambodia
Air. Taking Domestic Flights in Cambodia
There are airports at Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville which operate domestic flights. The distances in Cambodia are not huge but flying from the coast to Siem Reap would save a good few hours.
Water. Using Boat Services in Cambodia
There’s a speedboat service which runs from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and vice versa daily. It can be a fun alternative to bus travel but can get cancelled when the water level is low during the dry season.
It costs $35 per person and takes around 7.5 hours on the water. At the Siem Reap end you’ll need a Tuk tuk to take you the final 11km into town for an extra $1 if booked ahead.
Rail. Taking Train Journeys in Cambodia
There is a limited Friday, Saturday and Sunday service running from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and back as of April 2016.
A journey one way takes around 7 hours but is much more scenic and relaxing than the road route. You can buy tickets online up to 1 month in advance from the excellent baolau.vn website which we’ve successfully used many times for rail tickets.
Road. Getting Around Cambodia by Bus
With the lack of a rail network, buses are the way to travel for the majority of travel in Cambodia. Phnom Penh acts as the central hub and you might find yourself back there a few times to head somewhere new.
Buses serve all the main towns marked on the map above and far beyond. You can book bus tickets for the main providers online using simple baolau.vn website and show the ticket on your phone when boarding.
Asia Win Alliance, Mekong Express and Giant Ibis are the bus companies recommended for visitors. You might save a dollar or two by using another company but you get what you pay for in terms of comfort and service.
Top Destinations to Visit in Cambodia
Phnom Penh is a modest country capital by world standards but for us, this just adds to its charm and chilled vibe. There’s more than enough to keep you occupied for a few days and due to the layout of Cambodia you might find yourself back here as you explore the country.
Highlights include the stunning Royal Palace, still home to the King of Cambodia, the National Museum full of fascinating Angkor artefacts and the Wat Phnom temple from which the city gets its name.
Harder to absorb but a must visit nonetheless are the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes. Both graphically retell in detail the horrors which unfolded under the Khmer Rouge Regime in the 1970s. The Museum is in the city with the killing fields around 17km to the south so a Tuk tuk is the way to go.
There’s a growing selection of great accommodation and food options around Phnom Penh to suit all budgets. The street food we found here provided some of the best meals we had in Cambodia with tasty Khmer Lok Lak being a highlight.
Read More: Phnom Penh City Guide
Sitting merrily on the banks of the Mekong River in eastern Cambodia is Kratie, pronounced kra-cheh. It makes for a nice relaxing stop off if you are heading from Phnom Penh northwards to the Laos border.
If you’re lucky you might just spy a rare Irrawaddy dolphin or two splashing around in the Mekong River just to the north of the town.
Sen Monorom and Eastern Cambodia
Geographically divided from much of Cambodia by the Mekong River, the eastern region is often overlooked by visitors. This makes it the perfect area to explore for those wanting to stray far from the beaten path and discover a place of varied wildlife and minority tribespeople.
This eastern region has a much cooler climate than much of the rest of Cambodia, with the provincial capital of Sen Monorom positioned at an altitude of 800m. Despite being the largest place it is little more than a small town but a good base from which to explore this lush and mountainous region.
We didn’t have time to head this far east during our time in Cambodia but did stay in Dalat just over the border in Vietnam. That town is equally high in the mountains and we can say that the cooler temperatures can be a very welcome relief when travelling in South East Asia.
During the rainy season, Kampot has a very sleepy feeling to it which can be perfect if you’re looking for a bit of downtime. There’s a strong expat community here which gives the place very international feel with the food and accommodation on offer.
Around the Old Market area, you’ll find the best selection of spots to eat plus some super cheap street food stalls. We highly recommend the dishes at Cafe Malay and for dessert the delicious homemade ice cream at Wonderland next door.
The main attractions close by include the various pepper farms where the famous Kampot Pepper is grown. It’s used by top chefs the world over as this tiny area of Cambodia is said to produce some of the purest pepper in the world. Around 20km to the east of town is La Plantation which offers short tours for free in the hope you’ll buy some of it’s finest pepper products.
It’s also worth a trip up to the Bokor Hill Station Mountain to see the spookily abandoned church, hotel and casino. However, the area is being redeveloped to with a shiny new casino so don’t leave it too long before you visit.
Just a few kilometres east along the coast from Kampot sits the peaceful town of Kep. Confusing for visitors due to the lack of any kind of centre, Kep is more of a spread out collection of dwellings close to the shoreline. There’s no party scene to speak of here but it’s the place to head if you’re looking for a relaxing few days in a hammock.
Sihanoukville and Koh Rong
Perched on a peninsula jutting out into the Gulf of Thailand are the scattered beaches of Sihanoukville with the town centre found just inland. Most visitors will head here for some beach time or to simply catch the ferry to Koh Rong or the other offshore islands.
We only spent one night in a bamboo shack on Otres Beach but it was the wet season, there was a storm overnight and we didn’t sleep much. Therefore we’re not the best people to give an accurate review of this area of Cambodia as we left in a rather soggy state the next morning.
We will return someday as the beaches and islands look stunning and could easily rival those in the south of Thailand, just not in the rain. So if you’re planning a trip to the Cambodian coast don’t miss the islands.
Despite being the 2nd largest ‘city’ in Cambodia with a population of around 200,000, this is a relatively laid-back place compared to buzzy Phnom Penh or nearby Siem Reap. Central Battambang (pronounced Battambong) is easy to navigate being laid out in a series of streets running parallel with the Sangkae River.
When exploring locally make sure you visit the Sala Khaet (Lord Governor’s Palace), the Battambang Museum and also pay a visit to the mighty statue of Ta Dumbong at the eastern end of town where locals come to worship him.
There’s generally more to see in the surrounding countryside than in the town itself so it’s a good idea to hire your own motorbike or a Tuk tuk (remorque) with driver/guide to explore further. We had an epic day out exploring the local fishing villages, winery (yes really), fruit bats, Banan Temple, Phnom Sampeou Mountain (Killing Cave). We finished up at the Bat Cave where each night millions of bats fly out of the cave at sunset towards the local lake, it’s an amazing sight to behold.
One last sight not to miss here is the ingenious Bamboo Train around 4km from central Battambang. It’s basically a collection of small bamboo motorised platforms which run up and down a 7km long disused rail line. You can jump on board for a return trip at $5 each which takes around 45 minutes including a stop at the far end to turn your ‘train’ around.
Read More: A Guided Tour In & Around Battambang
Siem Reap & the Angkor Temples
Siem Reap is the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia and the number 1 location for an easy visit to the Angkor temples. Being located so close to the most sacred monuments of the country, the city has a surprisingly vibrant atmosphere.
We didn’t expect Siem Reap to be such a party town. The Pub Street houses many restaurants, bars and clubs with music blasting out a little too loud at times for our liking.
However, just a few streets away, you can enjoy a quieter meal in one of the many lovely restaurants on offer. Opt for the traditional Khmer cuisine and their fantastic curries. Pair it with a pint for a hearty dinner out.
Check out the Khmer Kitchen in the Alley West. When ordering the amazing coconut fish or baked pumpkin soup, keep in mind it’s not a soup, it’s curry so accept (unlimited) rice offered by the waiter.
From budget hostels to luxury spa resorts, Siem Reap has something for every traveller. With the visitors flocking to see the amazing temples of Angkor, the city truly shines in excellent service starting from the hotel personnel to restaurant staff. Our welcome to the Angkor Orchid Central Hotel was exceptional.
Health & Safety in Cambodia
The number for emergency services in Cambodia for an ambulance is 119 and police is 117 from any local phone or cell phone. Beware that the calls might not be answered at times.
Insurance – make sure you are covered by good health insurance before visiting Cambodia. Most minor medical problems can be handled in the local or at international hospitals in Phnom Penh. However, for more serious injuries a costly transfer to Bangkok in Thailand might be required.
Vaccinations – seek the advice of your healthcare provider before travelling to Cambodia, particularly if you are visiting more rural areas of the country. You may be advised to get vaccinated and this could take several weeks for a course of 2 or 3 injections. See our planning your health care for travel section for more advice on this.
Malaria – there is a high-risk status for the majority of Cambodia except for Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. You can find a handy malaria map and further advice by following the link. Again, seek advice before you go as above.
Tap Water – do not drink the tap water anywhere in Cambodia. Also be cautious with ice in drinks as this can be made from untreated tap water. Bottled water is cheap and available pretty much everywhere.
Food – when eating out use your common sense and avoid anywhere that looks unclean or poorly maintained. We would encourage you to try some street food as very often these spots can be cleaner than a restaurant where the kitchen is hidden.
Weather in Cambodia
Cambodia has 2 main seasons when it comes to weather, wet and dry.
The dry season runs from October to April. The closer to April the hotter it gets with temperatures peaking somewhere in the high 30’s °C (90’s °F).
The wet season runs from May to October. It peaks from July to September when it can rain almost every day, or at least feels like it does. Rain generally comes in heavy downpours so you should still have some dry spells on most days.