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Located in southern Southeast Asia, backpacking Cambodia is popular for any Southeast Asia traveller. I spent 2 weeks there during my 4 month trip to Southeast Asia, which involved backpacking Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I visited various destinations on my Cambodia backpacking route and have compiled this backpackers guide to Cambodia to help you make the most of your time backpacking in Cambodia.
- 1 BACKPACKING CAMBODIA BASICS
- 2 ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
- 3 BACKPACKING THROUGH CAMBODIA: HOW DO I GET AROUND?
- 4 CAMBODIA BACKPACKING ROUTES
- 5 CAMBODIA BACKPACKING ROUTES
- 6 PHNOM PEHN
- 7 KAMPOT
- 8 BACKPACKING CAMBODIA ISLANDS: KOH RONG SANLOEM
- 9 BATTAMBANG
- 10 SIEM REAP
BACKPACKING CAMBODIA BASICS
Spending in Cambodia gets CONFUSING! Their official currency is the Cambodian Riel (៛). However they also use the US dollar ($) and definitely prefer to be paid in this. $1 = 4,000៛ You can withdraw both currencies from the ATMs, pay in them both and get change in them both.
The approx conversion rates are:
£1 = 5,400៛ / $1 = 80p
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer (natively ភាសាខ្មែរ). I never had a problem communicating as most people spoke at least some essential English. Although the writing is nothing like English most things often had basic translations with them. Translator apps that allow you to photograph words to translate are useful with languages like these.
Rainy season began just as I got to Cambodia so it was very humid and stormy, especially in the south of the country. Siem Reap in the north was a little less humid. Whilst I was there the temperatures were around 30-37 degrees.
REMEMBER: TAP WATER HERE IS NOT DRINKABLE!! Grab yourself a filtered water bottle for your trip or be sure to keep stocked up on bottled water.
You need at least 6 months validity on your passport to come into Cambodia. With a UK passport you also need a visa. You can either get an e-visa or an on entry visa, both of which cost $35 and are valid for 30 days.
BACKPACKING THROUGH CAMBODIA: HOW DO I GET AROUND?
Grab (the asian equivalent of Uber) is available in some parts of Cambodia. Unlike other parts of Asia, when backpacking in Cambodia you can get a Grab-Tuk Tuk! In parts of the country where you can’t order a Grab, you can use Pass App.
There are plenty of Tuk Tuks around in towns and cities in Cambodia which you can jump in. Make sure you check the price on Pass App or Uber beforehand so you know you aren’t getting ripped off. Always agree a price before you get in / leave and this way you can stick to a good Cambodia backpacking budget.
Backpacking Cambodia is made easier by booking all transfers through your hostels, but it’s important to remember hostels get commission for this so compare prices with other travel agents. There are plenty of travel agents around in all the towns and cities on my Cambodia backpacking itinerary which you could easily book through and they would arrange pick ups from your hostel.
CAMBODIA BACKPACKING ROUTES
When backpacking Cambodia there are five main places travellers tend to visit:
- Phnom Pehn (the capital city)
- Koh Rong / Koh Rong Sanloem (islands off the south – to get here you have to go via Sihanoukville)
- Siem Reap
CAMBODIA BACKPACKING ROUTES
Logistically Cambodia is a bit of a nightmare to travel as it is a round country. When I was backpacking in Vietnam and Cambodia I came over the Cambodian border on a bus from Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam. The only bus route I could take from HCMC was to Phnom Pehn, so that’s where my Cambodia backpacking adventure began.
Below I will list a couple of potential Cambodia backpacking itineraries to consider, however as I always say it’s best to keep your options open and go with the flow when you arrive! One CRUCIAL piece of advice when backpacking Cambodia: DO NOT STAY IN SIHANOUKVILLE! It’s a really horrible and dirty city. I spent 3 hours there waiting for a bus and that was more than enough!
The cambodia backpacking route I took was: Phnom Pehn -> Kampot -> Kho Rong Sanloem (via Sihanoukville) – > Siem Reap (via Sihanoukville).
(Unfortunately I didn’t go to Battambang)
An alternative Cambodia backpacking itinerary could start in Siem Reap. You could go: Siem Reap -> Battambang -> Phnom Pehn -> Kampot -> Koh Rong / Koh Rong Sanloem
I also know that some people visit the Mondolkiri Province in the east of the country. It is a little less touristy here and there is also the opportunity to see elephants. I didn’t venture out here myself though.
My first stop when on my Cambodia backpacking route was the capital city of Phnom Penh. It didn’t really do it for me, and I’ve heard similar reviews from others who have been backpacking in Cambodia. It is definitely still a much on your backpacking Cambodia itinerary due to the historical value of the attractions here. You MUST visit the Killing Fields and Genocide music (S21 Prison) to learn about some harrowing, but important Cambodian history. Watch and/or read First They Killed My Father, before you go to gain a bit more knowledge on the subject! I made a video about my day visiting the Killing Fields. Phnom Pehn also offers the Grand Palace, Central Market and Russian Market.
In Phnom Pehn I stayed at Envoy Hostel (£4 / night). Although the facilities were good, it was a very quiet hostel with not much going on. Others with more of an atmosphere that were recommended from others backpacking in Cambodia were Onederz, Big Easy, Mad Monkey and Billabong.
Second on my Cambodia backpacking itinerary is the sleepy town of Kampot. It is a great place to hire scooters to explore the amazing Bokor National Park and it’s Bokor Mountain.
There’s also a really popular Pepper Farm nearby to check out. Arcadia Backpackers Cambodia has a water park you can visit even if you aren’t a guest. It’s £5 a night to stay at Arcadia but it’s located a little further out of town. As for food and drink I enjoyed Nelly’s Bar, Ecran Noodles and Espresso Roastery.
One of my highlights when backpacking in Cambodia was visiting the Banteay Srey Project in Kampot. Their website describes Banteay Srey as ‘a transformational social enterprise and vocational training centre that provides local Khmer women with on-site training, well-paid jobs and a hopeful future…the project is geared towards achieving women’s empowerment across Cambodia.‘. I took part in a Yoga class there one morning which cost 5$ and then enjoyed a vegan breakfast and smoothie afterwards, overlooking the Praek Trek Chhu River. Spending money at an organisation like this is a great use of your Cambodia backpacking budget.
For more information about their amazing work and facilities check out their website here!
Finding great accommodation is always a must when backpacking Cambodia and I really recommend Karma Traders Kampit (£4 / night). Every Tuesday there is taco and live music night. There’s also a pool outside with a bar. The hostel is a 20 minute walk from the town or a 2$ tuk tuk ride.
BACKPACKING CAMBODIA ISLANDS: KOH RONG SANLOEM
The island(s) simply have to be on your Cambodia backpacking route! The two islands are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. Sanloem is the smaller and quieter of the two Cambodian islands, where I spent a lot of time being lazy, drinking, sun bathing and swimming in the sea.
Some great activities to do when backpacking Cambodia islands are walking through the jungle of Koh Rong Sanloem to the other side of the island to explore the lighthouse, Sunset Beach and Lazy Beach. The Big Easy is a great place to eat and drink, and the Jungle Rave Bar hosts jungle parties every Friday and Saturday night. Make sure you check out the bio-illuminescent plankton in the sea at night!
There are a lot of different accommodation options on the island. I stayed at Onederz which was amazing but a little more expensive so be prepared to stretch your Cambodia backpacking budget a bit to stay here. The one site food was great, the staff were amazing and there was a really relaxed and sociably atmosphere. They only had cold showers but this was consistent with the rest of the island.
Although I didn’t have the chance to visit here, I know that the most popular activities are the bamboo train and the bat cave.
If there is one place that everyone backpacking Cambodia needs to go it HAS to be Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. This is the largest temple complex in the world and is deemed one of the wonders of the world so you can’t miss it. I went for the sunrise tour which I booked through my hostel. Entry to the park is 37$, so definitely the biggest dent in your Cambodia backpacking budget, but I would say it’s 100% worth it. Without a doubt visiting Angkor Was ended up being one of my Southeast Asia highlights!
Other cool Siem Reap spots to check out whilst backpacking Cambodia:
- Rehash Trash – This project comes from the ‘Green Gecko Project NGO’ who have worked with 100+ former street children and their 32 families over the past 10 years. Rehash trash is somewhere that these families have come to work, making gifts such a plates, bags and pen pots from recycled plastic. You can do a workshop here and learn how to make your own things. Learn more about the amazing work going on at Rehash Trash!
- Apopo Visitor Centre – information about rats that detect unexploded ordinance. Learn more here!
- Wander around Pub Street and night markets in the evening – I even ate a tarantula here – watch my reaction!
- Tevy’s Place – really well priced food set up by a lady who’s family were killed in the mass genocide. The staff here are amazing! Read more about the place and Tevy’s story here.
- Phare: The Cambodian Circus, is a good night out in Siem Reap. Money from the tickets goes towards ethical business practice and providing education, jobs and fair wages to Cambodians.
- Old market is great for for cheap gifts, souvenirs and food.
- Sister Srey, a social enterprise supporting students and clearing landmines in Cambodia. It’s a great place to grab coffee and brunch.
- Miss Wongs and Old Wooden House are really nice and slightly boujie cocktail bars.
When backpacking in Cambodia I stayed at two hostels in Siem Reap. This first One Stop (£4/night) which had a really nice roof terrace, however it was right next to X bar which was super loud at night, and it was really quiet there. So after two nights I moved to Onederz (£6 / night). There was a much better atmosphere here, it was more social and had an amazing roof top pool.
Hopefully this Cambodia backpacking guide has given a great insight to anyone hoping to go backpacking in Cambodia. Let me know your thoughts, of your experiences with backpacking Cambodia yourself!
Enjoyed this guide to backpacking Cambodia? Check out my other Southeast Asia posts:
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