Cambodia is an incredible country. From perfect beaches to thick jungles, to ancient monuments, this pretty country has it all. If you’re planning on backpacking Cambodia, you don’t want to miss out on the best parts because you didn’t plan properly!
Some people are sure they want to visit Angkor Wat but then are left with no time at all to explore the islands. Others might just come over to get a great tan, but forget that the country is rich with history and culture not to be missed. There are plenty of things to do, whether you’re travelling solo or bringing the whole family along
Splurge if you want, but if you’re backpacking Cambodia then you really can travel on a budget – your money will go far here if you plan properly!
Travelling within Asia can be daunting, especially if you’re coming from a western country! There is such a variety of cultures, languages, visa regulations and even currencies that you come across. If you’ve travelled south-east Asia at all then you’ll be a little accustomed to the differences, but Cambodia truly is its own gem.
So, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help you backpack Cambodia so that you can visit fully prepared! Make a cup of tea and settle down to discover what the country is all about and why people love to travel Cambodia so much!
Your Backpacking Cambodia Budget
You have probably heard that you can visit Cambodia, backpacking your way around the country and stick to a budget. For once, I can tell you that everything you read on the internet is true! You can get a full meal for $3, a hotel dorm for $2 and a beer for less than $1.
Cambodia is so backpacker friendly that you could spend double or even triple the amount of time here compared to some countries in Europe, for example, for the same amount of money.
Typical Cambodian street food (chive cake): 500 riel/ 0.12 USD
A local beer: 2900 riel/ 0.70 USD
An imported beer: 8000 riel/ 2 USD
Bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville (227km): 53,000 riel to USD
Flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 135,000 riel/33 USD
A bunk in a shared dorm room: 5500 riel/ 1.30 USD
A private hotel room: 11,000/ 2.60 USD
It’s surprisingly easy to get a visa for Cambodia for most nationalities. If you have a European, American, or Australian passport, you shouldn’t have any problems. Some Southeast Asian countries don’t need a visa to enter the country but check with the website first.
It costs $30 (you can only pay in U.S. dollars). You can get it online, but you’ll pay a $7 processing charge. If you’d prefer to get the visa in person, you’ll just have to queue up to get one on arrival.
We entered Cambodia by bus where there were certain checkpoints everyone had to go through anyway so we just waited until we got there to get our visa.
As with most countries, Cambodia asks you to have at least 6 months left on your passport. The visa only lasts 30 days but it’s valid for 3 months from when you buy it.
Backpacking in Cambodia is a lot of fun but there are some things you have to think about before you go. Vaccinations are always horrible but you really should get them done. It’s advised that you speak to your GP or nurse 2 months before you travel. They can give you more information about the exact jabs you might need.
Generally, though, for travelling Cambodia you’ll need to be vaccinated against hepatitis A, tetanus and typhoid.
Usually, if you’re only travelling short-term, and you avoid rural areas you should manage to stay clear of the diseases. But, better to be safe than sorry!
Cambodia is also home to many mosquitoes so even if you don’t normally react to their bite (the red bumps people get aren’t a direct bite mark, they’re a reaction from your skin) protect yourself with some good insect repellent. Choose a relatively small bottle as it tends to go a long way, plus you want to be able to stash it in your hand luggage for those long travel days.
*We are not doctors so don’t take this as medical advice! We are only stating the information we have from our experience. Go and see a doctor if you are concerned about anything!*
Time of Year to Go
Cambodia is warm pretty much all year round! There’s a dry season and a wet season so you can usually avoid the rain if you plan ahead!
October –April: The dry season
May – September: The wet season
Remember that dry doesn’t always mean good. It can mean horribly hot days where all you want to do is stay inside in an air-conditioned room!
If you’re caught out with rain, don’t let it dampen your spirits (pun intended)! Just spend all day splashing around in the sea or your hotel’s pool.
If the weather is really bad, make some friends in a nearby bar and discover Cambodia’s cheap local beer!
What to Pack for Backpacking Cambodia
Are you a pack-your-whole-wardrobe kind of traveller, or a live-out-of-hand-luggage type? Either way, you’ll need to think about the climate when you’re travelling Cambodia. Remember the little accessories that make all the difference when travelling around too!
The most important thing to own before backpacking Cambodia is luggage. We think that a holdall like this is perfect for backpacking Cambodia as it’s easy to carry, spacious and, bonus points, you won’t look like a Gap Yah Traveller.
Don’t forget to buy a good first aid kit – yes, you could visit a pharmacy if you needed to but who wants to leave their room and buy medicine when chronic diarrhoea hits!?
Bring a small, hand-held fan too. It will keep you cool when you’re waiting in line for your street food, or wandering around clothes markets. Even if it rains when you’re travelling Cambodia, it’s warm and humid. A quick blast of moving air will feel like heaven.
Another must-have item is a shawl/sarong. In Cambodia, it’s hugely offensive to show your shoulders and above the knees, especially in and around the temples. Many touristy areas will seem OK with it to cater to western customers. But remember it’s better to comply with local culture and cover up! Click here to see some beautiful shawls you could wear during your travels to more conservative countries.
Avoiding An Upset Stomach
Travelling to a new country can mean that falling ill is inevitable. New foods, new air, new bacteria – it can play havoc with your internal system! Take some activated charcoal pills with you for if and when the sickness hits. They’ll clean up your system and absorb all of the bad stuff.
There are different options for your transport into Cambodia – obviously, the best way depends on where you are coming from! Check out this site for some fantastic tips on travelling across the whole of Asia too.
If you’re coming from anywhere other than a neighbouring country, then you’ll almost certainly want to fly. Use Skyscanner to get the best deals. We wouldn’t recommend flying with Air Asia for long flights. Our most recent one with this airline was only four hours and we regretted it the whole way!
Recently, Cambodia has revived its train lines, which is great news if you’re planning on backpacking Cambodia.
The main line runs from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, stopping at Takeo and Kampot on the way. The full journey only costs $7 which is incredibly cheap since it takes 7 hours.
Buy your tickets from Baolau or plan ahead and go to the station a few days before to pick up your tickets – as it’s a new service, everyone is trying it out and they do sell out!
The long-haul buses throughout Southeast Asia can actually be pretty decent. Companies like Giant Ibis are really professional.
They give you an e-ticket which you can either print off beforehand or just download to your phone. They provide snacks and water, and some of their buses even have plug sockets and Wi-Fi. You have to get out of the bus at the border crossing, get your passport stamped and it’s as easy as that.
They’re incredibly cheap and easy to use when travelling Cambodia from somewhere like Vietnam or Thailand.
The Best Backpacking Cambodia Route
Cambodia is a great country for backpacking – the transport is easy to use and the cities are so diverse. Siem Reap is a great starting point whether you’re flying or arriving by bus, and then you can make your way down to the coast, finishing off in the islands. The best Cambodia backpacking route includes at least 8 destinations but if you’re limited on time then pick less places and spend more time there. It’s better to do that than to waste time in transit.
Tuk-tuks are popular in most Asian countries, and Cambodia is no exception. They usually don’t go fast enough to be dangerous, so jump in and get to your next destination quickly.
Expect to pay between $1 and $1.50 for a short journey, but don’t be afraid to haggle if you think you’re being ripped off! At the same time, don’t be that person who’d rather walk 30 minutes than pay another 50 cents. We’re all on a budget but there can be exceptions!
You could also hire a motorbike, but we wouldn’t really recommend it in the cities. Being thrown off a scooter because you’ve had to swerve to avoid a crazy driver, and spending time in a local hospital isn’t the way to spend your time travelling Cambodia.
Riding a Bike Without Insurance
If you do ride a scooter, the chances are that you aren’t covered on your insurance. If you don’t have a motorbike licence in your home country and you haven’t cleared it with your travel insurance company, then it’s highly likely that they won’t pay out if you do have an accident. Just make sure that you know the risks when hiring a bike.
Where to Stay
Cambodia is basically a backpacker’s heaven on earth. There are literally thousands of cheap, cheap hostels dotted around the whole country. It makes it so easy to visit Cambodia on a budget because your accommodation prices are so low.
You can sleep in a decent dorm room for less than $2 a night! If that’s slumming it a bit for you, the prices are still low for private rooms – you just get more for your money than in other countries.
Check out this fab list of the best budget hotels in Cambodia – you’re bound to find somewhere you want to stay!
A fun way to spend a night (if you’re a bit excitable like us) is to book a box room. Some dormitories have literally boxed up their beds and you sleep in a little cubicle.
If you’re travelling as a pair then sometimes staying in a private room or hotel does work out cheaper, so it can pay to spend time planning your accommodation beforehand.
Places To Visit When Backpacking Cambodia
When people hear ‘Cambodia’, usually the biggest religious complex of Angkor Wat springs to mind. However, there are plenty more places to see!
You already know that you can’t come to Cambodia without visiting Angkor Wat, and Siem Reap is where you’ll find it. You don’t even need that much time to see the interesting parts. Do it in one day and explore the rest of the city as well. Even if you’re travelling with kids, you can still explore the amazing temples!
Spend a few days here enjoying the amazing street food, wandering around the cheap night markets and getting relaxing massages!
A touristy beach town, Sihanoukville is on the south coast of the country. Come here if you’re into parties, or as a stop off on your way to one of Cambodia’s gorgeous islands. There are plenty of backpacker hostels and bars to spend your evenings in, but don’t expect a great night’s sleep if you’re staying in the town! Sihanoukville is a pleasant enough place to spend a day relaxing and checking out the local culture.
Kep and Kampot
Famous for the tasty crab and spicy pepper, both Kep and Kampot draw in travellers who are looking for a relaxing few days. Visit the salt flats, a pepper farm and enjoy the fresh local cuisine!
Koh Ta Kiev
A tiny island off the coast of Sihanoukville, Koh Ta Kiev is a gorgeous hidden gem. There’s limited electricity and no Wi-Fi, but you’ll soon forget the comforts of home when you spend the morning snorkelling in gorgeous waters, the afternoon at a local fishing village eating freshly caught crab for lunch, the evenings drinking the local absinthe and making new friends and the night-time in a cute treehouse.
The capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has plenty of distressing history to share, but try not to skip the Genocide Museum or the Killing Fields. You can also visit the gorgeous Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, and join a sunset boat trip down the river.
What To Do In Cambodia
Visit Angkor Wat
There are plenty of temples in southeast Asia, but if you’re only going to visit one, it should be Angkor Wat. Make sure you cover up your shoulders and knees and consider taking a tour or hiring a driver to take you around the huge complex.
Visit the night markets in Siem Reap
Pick up a few cute souvenirs and some beach-y clothes here. Haggle if you want – vendors here are used to overcharging tourists so test your skills and see if you can grab a bargain!
Party in Sihanoukville
If you want to party in Cambodia, head straight to Sihanoukville. You’ll find awesome happy hour deals and beach bars throughout the whole town, and you probably won’t get much sleep. Pick a cute dorm, make some friends and have a boogie!
Go diving in Sihanoukville
Looking for some adventure? Get your diving certificate and discover the underwater world.
Explore the islands like Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Ta Kiev
If you’re looking to kick back and switch off, spend 3 or 4 days in Koh Ta Kiev. Snorkel the clear waters, explore the island and eat fresh crab from the local fishing village! You can also visit Koh Rong Samloem if you don’t want to go too off the grid, or Koh Rong if you want to party!
Go to the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh
Cambodia has a terribly sad history that people don’t like talking about. However, there are plenty of museums and memorials for you to visit and learn about the past and pay your respects.
Spend time with elephants at an ethical sanctuary with no riding!
Elephants are often treated badly in many southeast Asian countries, so it’s refreshing to see these new sanctuaries popping up here and there. The Elephant Valley Project aims to look after the elephants who were overworked and injured. They also educate the local people to enable them to find jobs without using elephants.
Tour the Kampot pepper farms
Kampot is famous for its pepper, so take a trip and taste the local peppercorns!
What to Eat
Food is always something that can attract you to a country! Cambodian food is incredibly tasty and amazingly cheap. Buy meals from the local stalls, wander around the markets and discover new foods or even take a cooking class and learn how to make authentic Cambodian dishes from scratch!
Be sure to grab a plate of Bai Sach Chrouk in the mornings – it may seem odd eating a plate of soft barbecued pork and rice first thing, but trust us, it’s so good you’ll forget what time it is! Another must-try dish is the amok – a gorgeous curry steamed in banana leaves!
The cuisine is similar to Thai, with creamy coconut curries, but there’s also plenty of Western food to binge on if you’re craving chips!
On the small islands, however, you might find that the meals don’t necessarily represent Asian cooking as you’d expect, and could be a lot more expensive. They often have to do a boat run every day for supplies, which inevitably puts the prices up.
You could even be brave and try a few insects and creepy crawlies from the street stalls!
Weirdly enough, Cambodia uses two currencies. Their local one is the riel and 1 GBP/5203 KHR/$1.28. However, everyone seems to prefer to use U.S dollars.
Lots of restaurants, bars and hotels will give prices in dollars, but you can usually pay in riel if you need to. You’ll end up paying less using the local currency but it’s easier to change some money into dollars too just in case. You’ll also get your change in riel regardless of if you paid in dollars or not!
Cambodia’s main language is Khmer. However, you are likely to be able to find lots of people who speak very good English. Not only are there many tourists travelling Cambodia, but the locals are becoming wise to the fact that they’ll get more business if they can communicate with the foreigners!
It’s always polite to learn a little of the local language before you go, though. Download or buy a phrasebook to practise with on the journey to Cambodia.
Try your best to learn some key words and sentences! People will appreciate it and you’ll leave your comfort zone, which is a great confidence booster for when you’re travelling.
Safety in Cambodia
Visiting a new country means that you have to be more aware of your surroundings and the new rules. Here are a few points to consider:
Unfortunately, there are some issues with corrupt police in Cambodia. They can target foreigners by claiming that they need to hand over their passports or pay money to not have them confiscated. If you’re worried that someone is trying to scam you like this, go to your embassy where they can help distinguish between the real thing and a fake.
Visa Scams on The Bus
If you enter Cambodia by bus, you will need to get off at the border crossing and get stamped into the country. You’ll pay your $30 – but don’t pay anyone else an extra fee on the bus for anything. Choose a bus company like Giant Ibis to be sure.
In a party town like Sihanoukville, be aware that there will be lots of people drunk and high. Enjoy a drink but keep an eye on it at all times because there are plenty of stories where people are being spiked and then blamed for being too drunk.
Scams to Be Aware Of
The most important thing to do before you travel anywhere is to buy travel insurance. You never know what might happen! Although most people in Cambodia are friendly and willing to help you, there will always be someone who wants to rip you off or even steal from you in any country!
Be aware of pickpocketers – buy and wear a secure money belt. Don’t flaunt your cash either. The amount of times I have seen foreigners open up their wallets in a restaurant with their whole holiday fund in freshly printed notes is just stupid!
Take out what you need for the day. It will help you stick to a budget, plus if you do lose any cash or are targeted by a thief, your holiday won’t be ruined.
Don’t give over your passport to anybody, even the police – carry a copy around with you and tell them you’ll meet them at the embassy with your real one. If they’re fakers then you won’t see them again.
Although it might be heartbreaking – please don’t give money to children begging in the street. Those children should be in school, and paying them just gives the adults who are responsible for them more incentive to keep them on the streets.
Children are often taken from their families and put in orphanages just so they can make money from unknowing tourists.
Our Honest Opinion On Travelling Cambodia
Cambodia truly was a beautiful place to stay. We did feel safe, but we didn’t exactly go exploring into non-touristy places so our advice would be just to be careful like you would in any country!!
We would 100% go back again for a longer time and enjoy the different areas of the country.
Our favourite food was Khmer Amok and the best place we stayed at was Koh Ta Kiev, the tiny, completely Wi-FI free island!
If you’re planning on visiting Southeast Asia, you cannot miss Cambodia. A country full of interesting history, culture and people, you won’t be disappointed!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is backpacking Cambodia alone safe?
Just like in any country, there are risks if you walk down a dark alley or stay in a local’s house on your own! Make informed decisions about where you go and who you go with and you should be fine. Keep your possessions in a locked safe in your room, and only take out what money you need for the day.
Are there Cambodia backpacking tours that I can join?
Exploring Cambodia on a tour is not a bad thing, and often you get to see things that independent travellers wouldn’t. GetYourGuide has some awesome tours and activities that you can take part in, for example, a quad bike countryside tour in Siem Reap or an educational history tour in Phnom Penh.
Is it easy to find vegetarian food in Cambodia?
Cambodian food is typically easy to adapt to vegetarian requirements. Just ask for tofu or extra veggies like you normally would in a restaurant, and learn (or write down) a few key phrases to explain that you don’t want fish sauce or eggs, for example. There are plenty of street food options that are fully vegan too – check out this guide to vegan street food in Cambodia!
How long should I spend in Cambodia?
If you want to enjoy a decent Cambodia itinerary, 2 weeks is enough time to travel across the country and explore the ancient ruins, tropical jungles and pristine beaches. If you have longer than that, you can spend at least 3 or 4 days in each town/city suggested here. A week is probably the shortest amount of time I’d suggest visiting Cambodia in, and it would be a better idea to stick to one area so you don’t lose time travelling.
How much money do I need per day in Cambodia?
It’s easy to live cheaply in Cambodia, so you could spend $10 – $15 per day and still enjoy yourself. Obviously, if you want to join tours and explore the country a bit more thoroughly, then increase your budget but it would be hard to spend $40 a day for 2 weeks here!
What is the best currency to use in Cambodia?
The riel and the US dollar are both used in Cambodia, but the dollar is actually more common. Take mostly dollars but a few hundred thousand riel too just in case.
Do I need a visa to visit Cambodia?
Yes. You can usually get an e-visa (depending on your nationality) for $30 but getting a visa on arrival is also an option.
Is Cambodian food spicy?
Dishes like the famous Khmer amok and red curry tend to be mild due to the creamy coconut flavours. You can find spicy food, especially around Kampot where they use their famous peppercorns!
What is ‘happy pizza’?
If you’re not into drugs, don’t order one! A happy pizza is one sprinkled with marijuana. There are plenty of pizza restaurants openly selling them, but I personally don’t recommend doing it!
Have you been to Cambodia? Did it meet your expectations? We hope you enjoyed this Cambodia travel guide – let us know what you thought in the comments below!
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