Cambodia Travel Guide

This travel guide features the top places to visit in Cambodia, the best way to get around, safety, top tourist scams to watch out for, logistics, and more to help you plan your visit.

Cambodia is full of enchanting temples and archeological sites, rich cultural history, and friendly locals, all to help you understand why this country is sometimes touted as the Kingdom of Wonder.

Note: This Travel Guide and posts on Cambodia are updated as of January 2023.

Top Attractions In Cambodia

Angkor Archeological Park

Angkor Archeological Park is rich with amazing ancient temples. Although there are about 50, the top three include the world-renowned Angkor Wat, one of the most famous tempest in the world, captivating Ta Prohm, which is still mostly emtragled by the jungle, and the Temple of Bayon in the ancient royal city of Angkor Thom.

All three are in relatively close proximity to each other and easy to visit from Siem Reap, which makes it the perfect base for a visit.

Ankgor Wat

The temple of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument by land area, is Cambodia’s most visited attraction. Despite its massive size, this temple exudes reverence.

This cultural wonder is richly carved with scenes from both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, while its five towers symbolize the peaks of Mount Meru, which is considered the home of the Hindu gods.

Angkor Wat isn’t the Cambodia Travel a Guide
Angkor Wat

Located a short drive (or tuk tuk ride) north of Siem Reap, it’s one of those places you really must visit in person as no photos even begin to do it justice. Expect to spend 2-4 hours here, depending on how much detail you like to see.

The ideal thing to do is arrive at 5 AM to photograph the temple reflected in the water at sunrise, then come back later in the day to see it in the afternoon light.

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm, famous from scenes in the movie Laura Croft: Tomb Raider, is very enchanting. The fact that it’s still entangled in the massive tree roots of the jungle, makes it very picturesque, and one of the most popular places to visit in the Angkor Archeological Park.

Ta Prohm is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Ta Prohm

It’s also one of the rare temples here that has inscriptions remaining, providing more insight into the temple, including how many people were required to maintain it and the riches that it held (real gold plates, precious jewels, diamonds, and more).

Located a short distance northwest of Angkor Wat, this rambling complex was once home to more than 12,000 people. You can’t go inside the temple, but it’s amazing to wander around the grounds and see all the tree roots devouring this temple.

The Royal City of Angkor Thom & The Temple of Bayon

The royal city of Angkor Thom, built in the late 12th century, was once the capital of Cambodia. There are several sites in this ancient city, but the most famous is the Temple of Bayon, which is located in the center of Angkor Thom.

Bayon Temple isn’t the Cambodia Travel Guide
Bayon Temple

Located about a mile north of Angkor Wat, Bayon is known for the many serene, smiling faces carved into its towers. It’s lower levels are carved with detailed artwork, displaying daily Khmer life and scenes from ancient battles. Like Angkor Wat, there is a mix of Hindu and Buddhist imagery here as religious beliefs changed.

Bayon Temple is one of the top temples of Anchor Wat

Expect to spend about an hour here, walking up the temple stairs and downs its stone jumbled halls to see it in more detail.

Other sites in the ancient city of Angkor Thom include the Terrace of the Elephants, the Terrace of the Leper King, Baphuon, and Phimeanakas.

Other Temples In Angkor Archeological Park

If you want to experience a temple that’s a little more off the beaten path, visit Banteay Kdei or Preah Khan. Both are similar to Ta Prohm, but are smaller and get fewer visitors. This means you can explore in relative peace. It’s also perfect if you want to do some photography without dodging other tourists.

Phnom Bakheng is another popular temple, mainly visited for its hilltop view of Angkor Wat. Especially near sunset.

Other Temples Of Interest

Just outside Angkor Archeological Park is Banteay Shrei, a 10th century temple devoted to Shiva. This temple is renowned for its detailed carving in it’s red sandstone, some say one of the best stone carvings in the world. As the sandstone is red, the temple has a pink cast to it, so sometimes called the “Pink Temple”.

Banteay Shrei is one of the top temples of Angkor Wat
Banteay Shrei

For true temple lovers, there’s the ‘lost city’ of Mahendraparvata, about 25 miles (40 km) north of the Angkor Complex. This former Khmer capital, from the 8th and 9th centuries, was quite sophisticated with temples, palaces, and a water management system for a large population.

It’s still under excavation, and still mostly covered by jungle, so there’s not much to see. It’s also recommend to visit with a guide as there may be unexploded land mines in the area.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the best place to stay when visiting Angkor Archeological Park. It’s a very charming town, especially the Old Town area, with its French colonial and Chinese architecture, many accommodation options, and cafes with international cuisine. The locals are also very freindly and it has a lively night life. Plus the key temples are just a short ride away.

There’s a street in Siem Reap called Pub Street, a pedestrian street, which, as you can guess, is lined with pubs (and restaurants). A great place to compare notes on temples with other travelers. If you want something quieter, walk down the side streets. There’s also a night market nearby, which is fun to explore. There are reportedly over 200 stalls here!

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, in south central Cambodia, is Cambodia’s vibrant and bustling capital and economic center. It was once known as the “Pearl of Asia” and one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina. This bustling city also has its darker side, with its Khmer Rouge history, which, scarily, was really not that long ago. Yet there’s more to Phnom Penh than it’s recent history and it’s definitely worth a visit.

Royal Palace

Located near the riverfront area, the Royal Palace is one of its the most popular tourist attractions in Phnom Penh. It’s gleaming in gold, although my photo below on a cloudy day does not begin to show its splendor.

This Palace has been the residence for Kings since it was built in the 1860’s (except during the rule of the Khmer Rouge).

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a highlight in the Cambodia Travel Guide
Royal Palace Throne Hall, Phnom Penh

Top sites here include the Throne Hall, which was the coronation site for Khmer Kings, the Moonlight Pagoda, which is an open-air pavilion for dance, the Khemarin Palace, the King’s official residence, and the gardens.a

Silver Pagoda

The Silver Pagoda, once covered in silver and jewels, is one of the only temples not destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime. It was, however, pillaged during subsequent invasions. One of its highlights is the floor, which is covered with 5 tonnes of silver! It’s located adjacent to the Royal Palace and included in the palace ticket price.

The Riverfront

Near the Royal Palace, is a pedestrian area on the river lined with restaurants, bars, and parks. It’s very popular to walk along the riverfront, take a cruise, or visit one of the many bars and restaurants. Best times to visit are early, to see the sunrise, and at dusk.

The Riverfront Night Market, Psar Reatrey

Just north of the Royal Palace is the open-air night market. Open only on weekend evenings, this is a great place to try a variety of Cambodian street food, negotiate for souvenirs, and listen to live music.

The Killing Fields

On a more somber note, you can also learn about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh. In the 1970’s up to 2 million citizens were killed, while much of the world was unaware.

Families were forced to leave the cities and work grueling hours on rural farms. Many were executed outright, especially the wealthy and educated, while others died of starvation and overwork. There are multiple “killing fields” on the outskirts of the city where these atrocities were carried out. It’s really quite chilling…

The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek are a must see in the Cambodia Travel Guide
Choeung Ek

The most famous of the Killing Fields is Choeung Ek, where almost 9,000 bodies have been found. Sadly, when it rains, bones and fabric still become unearthed. The photo below shows mass graves that have been emptied, leaving depressions in the earth. It’s located about 10 miles (17 k south) of the city center.

The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek are a must see in the Cambodia Travel Guide
Choeung Ek

Sihanoukeville

Sihanoukeville, once a sleepy little beach town in southwest Cambodia, is a popular beach resort. Once considered a paradise of white powdery sand, it unfortunately is now known as becoming a victim of its own popularity, overdeveloped and overused by tourists.

The nearby islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, however, are still relatively undeveloped and full of natural beauty. Several ferries operate in Sihanoukville providing transportation to the islands.

Cambodia Travel Guide: Best Time To Visit

Cambodia’s dry season is from mid-November to April, making it a good time to visit. Within that, November to January has the most comfortable temperatures, making it peak tourist season. While temperatures are not terribly hot in February, the heat and humidity starts becoming more intense in March and April.

Cambodia Travel Guide: Languages

Khmer is the official language, but English is also very common. Everyone I met was able to speak english fluently. Chinese and Vietnamese are also spoken.

Baphuon Temple

Cambodia Travel Guide: Money Matters

Currency: The Cambodian Riel (KHR) is the national currency of Cambodia. Currency exchange rates as of January 1, 2024 are:

  • USD (1) = 4,096 KHR
  • Euro (1) = 4,515 KHR
  • CNY (1) = 574 KHR

Credit Cards & ATMs: Cash is king here, but credit cards are becoming more widely accepted. Especially for big ticket items in touristy areas. US dollars are also widely accepted, with cash being given in US dollars and Riel. If using US cash, be sure to have crisp bills, or they may be rejected. Also, note that you may need your ID to use your credit card. ATMs are widely available, sometimes even dispensing US dollars. They will, however, charge fees on top of your banks fees. Therefore, it’s best to bring cash and convert upon arrival or use a card with no fees. Note that different ATM banks will have different fees, so unless you have a debit card that rebates fees, like Schwab, research the best choices.

Tipping: Tipping is not expected in Cambodia, but always appreciated. Sometimes, a service charge will be included on your bill. This, however, will not go to the server, so leave extra in cash if you want to acknowledge outstanding service. If you leave it as credit, it will go to the owners.

Cambodia Travel Guide: Safety

Cambodia is safe, and although petty theft is rare, it does happen. Take normal precautions, but always be vigilant and take time to familiarize yourself with typical tourist scams (see below).

Always check the latest situation on your government website. It’s also a good idea to sign up for STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), or similar with your country to be updated if an issue does arise.

Angkor Wat sunrise in the Cambodia Travel Guide
Angkor Wat at Sunrise

Tourist Scams In Cambodia

Although Cambodia is generally safe, there are a few scams to watch out for.

  • If you must carry a purse, keep it close, as people on passing motorbikes have been known to snatch them. If they do, don’t hang on, as you could be dragged away and seriously injured. Also be careful with your cell phone for similar reasons. A passing motorbike may pull it right out of your hands.
  • Cambodian police sometimes resort to bribes, as they are not highly paid. Bribes at the borders are known to occur, sometimes citing the need for ‘additional’ paperwork.
  • Sometimes scam artists will pose as police officers, asking for your passport, then demanding money for its return. Ask to see a badge when police ask for something from you. Also, it’s best to only carry a photocopy of your passport with you.
  • Some motorbike rental agencies have been known to steal the bike you rented, or say you damaged it, then charge you to get your passport back. Bring your own lock and test drive the bike before renting to make sure there are no mechanical issues. I would also suggest taking detailed photos of any damage prior to renting.
  • You may be asked to buy milk to feed a child. It may seem harmless and inexpensive to do so, but either the shop owner will be part of the scam, charging outrageous fees, or the milk will be simply be returned for cash.
  • Sometimes scam artists will dress as monks to sell you goods, with the proceeds going to criminal gangs. Know that genuine monks never peddle goods.
  • Guys, if you pick up a girl in a girly bar and take her home, it is very possible that you will wake up having been drugged and robbed.

Getting Around Cambodia

Visiting the Temples in Siem Reap: Arranging a tuk-tuk is one of the most popular way to visit the temples. To avoid being overcharged, either arrange through your guesthouse or book via a ride hailing app like Grab or PassApp. Motorbike drivers can also be arranged. Both tuk-tuk and motorbike drivers will likely only know a little English, so if you want to learn more about the temples it’s best to hire a guide. Bicycles are also a popular way to get around, but it can get quite hot during the day in Cambodia, so make sure to bring plenty of water if you do.

Getting to Siem Reap: The cheapest way to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh is via bus or minibus. The trip will take 6-7 hours and cost $10-20 USD. A shared taxi is a similar cost, but much less comfortable as the cars are often overfilled. The fastest way is via plane, which will take less than an hour. A ferry is another option, but safety has been noted as a concern with the ferries here.

Traveling around Phnom Penh: Tuk-tuks are the most popular way to get around Phnom Penh. If you’re not sure of costs, ask, or book, through your hotel or hostel. Taxis are also becoming more popular. Both can be arranged via ride hailing apps in Cambodia like Grab and PassApp.

Monks in Angkor Wat

Visa Information for Cambodia

US, European, and Chinese citizens can apply for an eVisa in advance, for stays up to 30 days. A visa upon arrival is also available. See the Visa Policy of Cambodia for more information and details on other countries.

Cambodia Travel Guide: Top Destination Blogs & Stories

Click the icons below for more detailed information on the key sites in Cambodia.

If this travel guide has been useful in planning, or just dreaming about visiting Cambodia add a comment below.

Safe Travels!

Julie

Note: all efforts have been made to provide accurate information in this travel guide to Cambodia, but things do change from time to time. If you see something incorrect, please contact me.

To read more about me and my philosophy on travel, see my about me page.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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