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A small and cheap country in Southeast Asia that’s been well lived by budget backpackers for decades, it’s not surprising that so many of us still head to Cambodia as part of our adventures in this region of the world.
Especially given the amount Cambodia has lot of to offer, including beautiful islands, a chequered history and, who could, forget the amazing UNESCO site of Angkor Wat too.
So if you’re looking to join the crowds like I did and head to this Southeast Asian gem, here’s my list of the 10 best things to do in Cambodia that will have you visiting and experiencing the truly highlights of this nation.
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#1 Watch Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Ok straight in at number 1, it’s the big daddy of them all – Angkor Wat.
Cambodia’s most famous sight and a source of immense national pride, Angkor Wat is a huge temple complex that really does take some beating when it comes to temple complexes!
Until I came to Cambodia, I thought (in my ignorance) Angkor Wat was one temple, or perhaps a small collection at best, but it soon became clear to me that it was so much more than that.
You can get 1 or 3 day tickets to this complex, and I definitely the latter so you have enough time to walk, cycle and tuk-tuk around as many temples as possible.
I took this amazing cycle tour with TakeMeTour in Angkor Wat and couldn’t recommend it enough.
Taking a 3 day ticket will also allow you to experience both a sunset and sunrise, with the latter definitely being a highlight among the things to do in Cambodia.
Don’t expect to have the place to yourself at sunrise, but come prepared for the crowds (armed with a few sly tips) and this is still a magical experience!
Learn everything you need to know, including top anti-crowd advice in my post about how to experience the best Angkor Wat sunrise.
Angkor Wat is accessed from the Cambodian city of Seam Reap, where I recommend solo backpackers stay at Onederz Hostel and couples or those wanting a bit more privacy head to the Ibis Siem Reap.
#2 Grab a Massage
I’ve got to be honest Southeast Asia is not my favourite region for the food, the climate or the nature, but it is my favourite region to get a massage in!
If you’re well-accustomed to the brilliant brutality of a Thai massage, then you’ll likely be simply delighted with the Cambodian offering!
In all major tourist destinations in this country, you can grab an affordable and amazing massage, but I think the best I had was in the southern town of Kampot at the social enterprise space of Banteay Srey Project.
If you’re heading onto Vietnam after Cambodia, then why not save your massage in this town as a final treat before you make the border crossing from Kampot to the Ho Chi Minh, the capital of Vietnam.
#3 Learn about Cambodia’s Shocking History Phnom Penh
It might sound like a fairly strange thing to do in a country as a tourist, but learning about Cambodia’s shocking recent history is crucial to understanding this country, its people and its sense of standing in the world.
Part of what many called “dark tourism”, a trip to Cambodia’s Killing Fields and its S-21 prison are both accessible via a day trip from the capital and are well worth visiting.
Shocking, harrowing, scary and sad, there’s no question this is not a day of light entertainment, but like when I visited Auschwitz in Poland or the Genocide Memorial in Armenia, I do believe that it’s important as a traveller to pay witness to tragic historic events or the worst kind, in order to help ensure they never happen again.
If you’re staying overnight in Phnom Penh, then I recommend backpackers bed down at the excellent Feliz Hostel.
Onederz Hostel in this city is also a good option.
Although not as spacious, they provide $8 USD shared tuk-tuk day trips to both the Killing Fields and S-21 prison – a great option for solo, budget travellers.
Otherwise, check out this bestselling hop-on hop-off joint tour if you want to book in advance, or have the option of an afternoon visit as well.
THE BEST TRAVEL INSURANCE FOR CAMBODIA
I wouldn’t dream of travelling anywhere in Southeast Asia without coverage and always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads, which I’ve used throughout my time in Cambodia and beyond.
I love this company’s easy online claims process, as well as their great customer support and the fact that you can buy or extend your travel insurance with them even if you’re enjoying your travels already.
#4 Chill on Koh Rong Sanloem
Maybe I’ve peaked too soon, or maybe this will just wet your appetite for more, but either way one of the absolute best things to do in Cambodia, in fact probably the highlight of my time there, was chilling on the tiny island of Koh Rong Sanloem.
Only accessible via a crazy boat ride from the coastal of Sikhounville (which you should avoid spending anytime in FYI!) Koh Rong Sanloem is a tiny gem in Cambodia’s waters.
The smaller sister of the nearby Koh Rong island, Sanloem is definitely more relaxed and has an unflinching no-shoes, salty-hair, hammock-swinging kind of vibe.
There are several beaches / areas around the island to choose from, but the less manicured M’Pai Bay suited me down to the ground.
Here I spent 5 blissful days at the great Hornbill Guesthouse.
Most people end up spending way longer there than they planned on Koh Rong Sanloem, which is just another reason this island paradise is probably worth scheduling for the end of your Cambodia things to do list.
Whatever you do, just don’t miss it!
#5 Take a Cooking Class
Not as famous as Thai or Vietnamese cuisine, Cambodian cuisine nevertheless taps into a lot of the same influences and, for most people, is a major reason they travel to this part of the world.
As such, taking a cooking class is absolutely one of the top things to do in Cambodia and with so many options, across so many destinations, it’s more about finding a day in a place that you want a more relaxed schedule than heading anywhere specific.
Check out this highly recommended hands-on Cambodian cooking class from Siem Reap for more ideas.
That said, Kampot and Battambang are both good cooking class destinations, as these are good places to travel at a more relaxed pace and enjoy activities that aren’t based around big sightseeing box ticks!
5 PACKING ESSENTIALS FOR CAMBODIA
#1 Lonely Planet Guidebook – The Cambodia Lonely Planet is excellent and very helpful for any trip to this part of the world with lots of top tips and useful information including good places to eat.
#2 Birkenstocks – A good pair of sandals are king in Cambodia and I love my Birkenstocks which are perfect for keeping my feet cool, supported and for kicking on and off easily when you visit temples or hit the beach. Literally wore them all day every day in Cambodia!
#3 European & British Power Adapters – Cambodia use a mix of power outlets, but generally opts for a mix of European and British ones, so make sure you come prepared with a Skross world adapter.
#4 Camera and Lens – I love my Sony A6000 mirrorless, which was ideal for capturing this crazy and beautiful country.
#5 Sarong – A great multi-purpose travel item that can be brilliantly used in Cambodia as a beach towel / dress , a pillow / blanket on bus rides and for covering shoulders when you visit temples. A good sarong is a Southeast Asia travel must-have in my book.
#6 Check the Bats at Battambang
It doesn’t sound much, but trust me it’s a pretty cool spectacle when thousands upon thousands, perhaps even millions, of bats exit a famous cave mouth at a former mass grave / now tuned temple complex just outside the city of Battambang.
Grab a tuk-tuk driver and a few friends to make the journey out here for sunset, where you can hike up to the top monastery / cave / former mass grave and then pull up a pew for your sunset viewing with a beer in hand.
Free to watch, this is pretty mind-blowing spectacle and certainly makes a short trip to Battambang worthwhile.
Plus you can also ride a bamboo train in this town too – double whammy!
I recommend at least 1 night stay in Battambang and the great little hostel called Pomme is the perfect choice.
The lovely guys that run the place will give you all the info you need about the bats and train!
#7 Cycle through Kampot
And along with Battambang, Kampot is another less frequently visited destination, that makes the perfect place to chill for a few days and enjoy some gentle travel activities.
Top of my list is cycling in and around this city, but kayaking on the river here is just as enjoyable, as is taking a yoga class.
There’s also hiking to enjoy here in the nearby Bokor Hilltop Station or why not enjoy a sunset cruise on the river too.
Otherwise, Kampot town centre boasts lots of nice cafes (Simple Things was my favourite) and some cool clothing and vintage shops too – a clear indicator of its ex-pat resident community.
Don’t miss the pepper farms or the colonial French architecture either.
Yes definitely one of the top things to do in Cambodia, relaxing in the peaceful setting of Kampot is a must and a stay at Ganesha EcoLodge makes the perfect accompaniment!
BOOKING BUSES TO / AROUND CAMBODIA
You can book bus tickets both across borders into Cambodia, as well within the country online via the secure website 12Go, who I used throughout my time here and highly recommend.
Secure, easy and with lots of options, it’s definitely the best and most convenient way to grab your bus tickets in this country.
#8 Island Hop Near Kep
And just down the road from Kampot is the coastal destination of Kep.
Either you can hire scooters and day trip here to enjoy seafood yumminess (if that’s your thing) or you can actually come by bus with a plan to stay – either in the town itself or one of the islands.
Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island) tends to be a favourite just off the coast of Kep, so head here and hit it up local-style in a wooden hut on the beach to enjoy the solitude.
#9 Eat at a Night Market
So because we’re in Southeast Asia, there’s no question eating and night marketing are absolute musts on any itinerary in this area.
And Cambodia is no exception, with nightly food markets here a large part of local culture and a huge traveller drawcard.
The major difference that you might see in this country however is the amount of insects and creepy crawlies at food markets, with everything from scorpions to ants on offer – yum!
Disclaimer – vegetarians may struggle in Cambodia!
Cheap, delicious and plentiful, eating traditional Cambodian food at a night market is definitely one of the best things to do in this country and it honestly doesn’t matter where in the country you are, or how small the town is, you’ll always find a night market!
#10 Kayak on the Mekong
And last but not least, this is sadly something I didn’t get around to trying during my time in Cambodia, but have it from several friends on good authority that they thoroughly enjoyed it and that is kayaking on the Mekong.
Very popular from the eastern town of Kratie, it’s a little bit of detour to get out here (unless you’re headed to Laos) but is worth it for the lack of tourists and the chance to spot the extremely shy, but totally unique Irrawaddy dolphins.
If you are heading to this town, then why not continue onto Laos by heading up the Mekong, to explore the apparently amazing Four Thousand Islands near Si Phan Don.
PIN IT TO PINTEREST!
And so there you have it, the 10 best things to do in Cambodia.
Have you travelled this Southeast Asian country?
Do you have any favourite destinations or activities to add to the above?
If so, please help other travellers out, by leaving your thoughts in the comments below…