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Your Backpacking Guide to Cambodia

While backpacking Asia a few years ago I didn’t hear amazing things about Cambodia, I kept getting told go to Angkor Wat and the killing fields and leave, go for the shortest amount of time possible. I started my trip to Cambodia with an open mind and honestly I really enjoyed it so I stayed for three weeks. This is the exact reason why I don’t like it when people suggest not going somewhere, everyone has there own personal experience! I scootered around Koh Rong, biked through the fields of Battambang and recreated Temple Run at Angkor Wat and I loved every minute of it.

If you’re traveling Cambodia you will want to know about…

  • Cambodia time. The buses are somehow simultaneously late and on time and I really will never understand how it works. I was leaving my hostel in Siem Reap and the bus was supposed to pick me up at 5pm and it didn’t come until 6pm. I kept asking the front desk if it was definitely coming and they kept saying don’t worry it’s coming, Cambodia time. I got picked up and made it to my next destination without any problems and I was still on time!
  • the currency. Cambodia accepts US dollars and Cambodian Riel. You can get either currency out at an ATM and when you pay for something in cash they’ll give you change in both currencies. It’s super important to know the exchange rate because you will be using both to pay with and don’t want to get scammed.

Siem Reap

From Bangkok, I took the bus to Siem Reap and crossed the border between Thailand and Cambodia on foot. Make sure you budget extra time into your day for the border crossing and if you didn’t apply for your e-visa in advance make sure you have passport size photos with you. I really enjoyed Siem Reap and had a fun time meeting new people here so I ended up staying here for a week but if you have limited time you could definitely stay 2-3 days and get to see all the highlights.

Siem Reap Highlights:

  • Angkor Wat. Of course you have to pick a day and explore Angkor Wat and all the surrounding temples. You cannot buy a ticket to this area at the entrance so make sure you tell your driver that you need a ticket before you get going. Don’t be surprised if you end up wanting more time here, there’s so many temples to explore and it can be a lot for one day but don’t worry a one day ticket for the temples gives you a second day free!
  • Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre. This might be a very random recommendation but I saw a butterfly sanctuary on Google and decided to go and had a wonderful time. I didn’t realize until I got there that the center was actually closed but the workers let us come inside and have a look around anyway. They taught us about the lifecycle of a butterfly and how they breed them here. It’s a random place to stop but if you have the time definitely stop in!
  • Kampong Phluk Floating Village. There is a floating village of people who live on the river that flows out to Tonle Sap Lake and you can take a boat out to ride through the village. I took a boat with 5 other people and rode through the village and then had lunch on the edge of the lake. I personally thought this experience was a bit expensive for what you got because you have to pay the tuktuk to the river, the boat ride and then lunch at the village but I still had a great time!
  • Pub Street. Siem Reap wasn’t my favorite place to go out but I still had fun! If you head to Pub Street you can find sport bars, tiny hidden bars and rooftop bars and clubs, so pretty much anyone can find something they like here. They also have lots of restaurants and street vendors if you need dinner or a late night snack.
  • APOPO Visitor Center. At the visitor center, you can see the work of the landmine sniffing rats who help detect landmines throughout the country. I will be honest and say I am not a rat girly so I didn’t go myself but I met a lot of people at my hostel who went and thought it was a cool experience. I had someone show me a video and decided that was enough for me!

Battambang

After traveling Thailand for a month, going to the Full Moon party, getting sick and getting stung by a jellyfish I desperately needed the quiet time that Battambang had to offer. Battambang isn’t as big of a city as Siem Reap or Phnom Penh so it’s not overrun with tourists and backpackers but if you’re traveling long term it’s a great place to reset for a couple nights. I booked a day tour with the hostel I was stayed at and paid $10 to do the bamboo train, killing field, killing cave and the bat cave, this price didn’t include the bamboo train cost and killing field entrance fee.

Battambang Highlights:

  • Bamboo Train. I did the bamboo train with two other people and you literally sit on a bamboo platform and ride the train tracks through all the fields. After a little while you turn around and go back, was it the most exciting thing I did while traveling, definitely not but that didn’t bother me.
  • Killing Fields. Under the rule of the Khmer Rouge there was a mass genocide of Cambodians from 1975-1979, and there’s multiple killing fields across the country where you’re able to learn about the history of the country and the genocide.
  • Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau and Bat Cave Phnom Sampov. Similar to the killing fields there’s killing caves that were also used during the genocide that you’re able to visit. The killing caves are on top of a steep hill so just be aware you will be getting your steps in. At the base of the hill is the bat cave, thousands of bats sleep in this cave at night and then at sunset they all come flying out for the night.
  • Street food. I know, I know street food is always a risk but let me tell you the street food I ate in Battambang was off the charts. I had the most amazing spring rolls and dried fruit and sticky rice and the people making and selling it were the nicest people. Our tuktuk driver for the day tour just kept stopping places and getting food for us to try so definitely stop and try a few things for yourself.
  • Bike through the countryside. I rented a bike for the day and biked through the countryside to see different temples and enjoy being out of the city and it was refreshing! If you’re traveling long term I highly recommend doing this because I forgot how much I missed some peace and quiet. I also got to meet so many locals while biking around and they were so kind and welcoming. Don’t do this if our foot is swollen from a jellyfish sting, I learned that the hard way.

Phnom Penh

So I will say Phnom Penh is a bit rough, I saw people get robbed (DO NOT stand around outside on your phone especially in the evening) and scammed in broad daylight but there’s so much history here so I definitely recommend visiting, just be alert while you’re here. It’s also not the most walkable city, the sidewalks are almost nonexistent and the pieces that are there are covered in motorbikes. All that being said, I was in Phnom Penh for a total of a week and I met wonderful people and had a great time. If you’re not interested in hanging around in Phnom Penh you could definitely see the important parts in just a day or two!

Phnom Penh highlights:

  • S21 and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. You will learn a lot about the history of Cambodia from visiting these two but I will be honest and say they are graphic and they are gruesome. Definitely get the audio guide at S21 and pay for a tour guide at the killings fields, without them you’ll miss half the history. Make sure you check the opening hours of S21 before going because they do close for lunch.
  • Phnom Penh Night Market. The night market here has a little bit of everything so if you need clothes, shoes, sunglasses, dinner or dessert, you’ll be able to find it here. I came here with a couple friends for dinner and found lots of different options, the food vendors can be a bit pushy so just be prepared!
  • David’s Noodles. This is very specific but this noodle place is absolutely amazing, the noodles are handmade at the front of the store and I still crave them two years later. I ate here three times during my time in Phnom Penh it’s that good.
  • Bassac Lane. If you’re looking for a cute spot for dinner and drinks I recommend trying Bassac Lane, you can find delicious food, well priced cocktails and live music.

Koh Rong

Before coming to Cambodia I didn’t know Cambodia had islands and once I heard about them I immediately wanted to go! I took a ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong and had a hostel booked for three nights right on the beach. Before going to Koh Rong you want to make sure you have enough cash because I couldn’t find an ATM on the island and check to see if you accommodation has wifi because I got very little reception on the island. Personally I thought Koh Rong felt like a Thai island that wasn’t so built up for tourists and backpackers. There is another island right next door, Koh Rong Samloem that I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to visit due to the weather but I’ve heard amazing things about!

Koh Rong highlights:

  • Rent a scooter. I rented a scooter for a day with a couple friends and drove around the whole island and found delicious fresh fruit and completely empty beaches.
  • Go snorkeling. I booked a snorkel tour through my hostel the day I got there and had a great time! We stopped at a couple different reefs around the island and then did a final stop at the beach to have a couple beers before heading back to the hostel. I will say if you’re a snorkeling fanatic and only want to do the best snorkeling this isn’t it, I thought the snorkeling and diving in Thailand and Indonesia were better but I still had a great time here too!
  • Nestival. Where I was staying, the Nest, has a party every Saturday and it’s a super fun way to meet other backpackers and make new friends. The Nest isn’t the nicest hostel so if you don’t want to stay here I met plenty of people who were staying elsewhere on the island and just came to the hostel for Nestival.
  • Relax, relax and relax some more! I only stayed for three nights and honestly I couldn’t stayed a whole week here. I absolutely loved being able to find a completely empty beach to relax on without any beach vendors coming to sell you anything.

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