The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

April 11, 2016

I’ve been traveling and living in Cambodia for four months as a solo female traveler. Cambodia quickly became one of my favorite countries in the world, and not for obvious reasons. It’s not an easy country to travel through and is a bit behind Thailand in regards to tourism. But this is what makes it so unique.

There’s so much culture, history, and so many places to see that are still untouched by the common tourist looking for a quick getaway. So many parts of Cambodia are unvisited by many travelers, which allows any backpacker visiting these places to feel as though they’ve discovered a paradise of their own: which, in many ways, they have.

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Cambodia has unspoiled beaches, national parks, and a famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh will bring you back to the horrific past in which many Khmers are still recovering from.

If you’re looking for a more unique adventure, put Cambodia on the top of your list. I have traveled through Cambodia extensively as a solo female, and have never felt unsafe or at risk. I also make sure to never put myself in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation.

I quickly fell in love with Cambodia, and I promise, you will, too. 

In order to get into Cambodia, I did one of the most infamous land border crossings in the world. I crossed the border from Thailand into Poi Pet via train and foot. The journey was long, arduous, and stressful. I did a lot of research beforehand, so I knew when the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to scam me (DON’T get your Cambodian visa BEFORE you leave Thailand!!). Once over the border, I had to find a taxi to Siem Reap. After dodging dozens upon dozens of drivers trying to get me to get into their cab, I finally managed to split a taxi with three other backpackers I had met.

I found this complete guide on how to cross the border safely and efficiently without getting scammed, and let me tell you, it helped a lot.

Here is a complete guide to backpacking in Cambodia.

Siem Reap

I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t fall in love with Siem Reap. I found it to be hectic and chaotic. I felt as though I couldn’t walk more than 50 meters without tuk-tuk drivers following me around asking if I needed a ride. However, this is my personal opinion. I have met many other backpackers who loved the city and decided to stay there for an extended period of time!

I went to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples, which were some of the most remarkable things I have ever seen. I opted for the one day ticket which costed $20. You can also opt for the three day temple ticket, which will cost $40. Buy the three day ticket if you wish to see the temples further away that are not surrounding Angkor Wat. 

The Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Where to Stay

I stayed at Downtown Siem Reap hostel for $6 a night. The hostel itself was decent, sociable, and fun. There was a bar in the hostel and a swimming pool. It was near a lot of restaurants and a ten minute walk to Pub Street.

What to Do 

Angkor Wat

Visiting Angkor Wat is pretty simple. Ask your hostel to set up a tuk tuk driver for you who will drive you between the temples for the entire day for a set price. Many people opt to go at sunrise (which is when I went), but you can also go at sunset.

There were a ton of people at sunrise, which ruined the experience a little bit (the crowd was lit by iPads and iPhones). But regardless, going at sunrise is surreal. You arrive at Angkor Wat in the pitch black darkness, and cannot see anything until the sun peaks above the temple, illuminating the entire grounds. You then have the entire day to bop around from temple to temple. 

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There are two different tours you can do, one is longer than the other and a bit more expensive. Food inside the park is quite expensive, so if you’re on a budget, I suggest bringing snacks! 

Pub Street

You can also spend a night partying on Pub Street and visiting the famous ‘Angkor What?’ bar. Each bar serves cheap liquor and is full of backpackers. It reminded me of a less busy, less fluorescent version of Khao San Road. 

Complete Guide to Cambodia

Phnom Penh

I took a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh for $7 with Sorya Transport. There are a lot of different companies you can use. I used the cheaper company, but a lot of backpackers go with Giant Ibis. Their busses are very comfortable, usually on time, and offer free wifi.

You’ll like Phnom Penh if you’re looking for a bustling city with a lot of history. Backpackers stop here to visit The Killing Fields and the S21 Museum, both of which are very moving. There is a pretty decent nightlife, too (make sure you don’t do what I did and end up in the prostitute area!). 

Where to Stay

I stayed at the White Rabbit hostel, which was near the center of town (and walking distance from some delicious, $2 dumplings!) for $5 a night. The rooms are comfortable and have A/C. There’s also a bar in the common area and delicious food. 

What to Do

The Killing Fields and S21 Museum

Ask your hostel to set up a tuk tuk driver for you to visit the Killing Fields. The more people you have in the tuk-tuk, the cheaper it will be.

The Killing Fields are incredibly moving and heart-breaking. I found it more beneficial to break away from my group and do the walking tour on my own (they give you an audio headset for the tour). On the tour, you learn all about the genocide that took place not too long ago.

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Allow yourself to have a few hours on this tour. There are benches along the way where you can sit and absorb some of the victim’s stories, which I highly recommend doing. 

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

You can also visit the S21 museum, which stands for Security Prison 21 (S-21), where prisoners were kept during the genocide. 

Sihanoukville

From Phnom Penh, I took a bus to Sihanoukville for $8 with Sorya Transport. The same bus companies operate between these cities as they do from Siem Reap.

I got stuck in Sihanoukville and have been living here for four months, specifically in Otres Beach.

Personally, I don’t like Sihanoukville. It’s not necessarily safe, especially at night, and there is a large party scene on Serendipity Beach which I’m not too fond of. The beach is also filthy and full of garbage.

Where to Stay

If you want to stay in Sihanoukville, I recommend staying in either Monkey Republic or The Big Easy. Both have wonderful, air conditioned dorms, good food, and a lively bar.

What to Do

Booze Cruise

I recommend participating in Dolphin Shack’s booze cruise, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday. For $15, you get a boat trip, singlet, two free drinks, and dinner.

Pub Crawl

This is a great way to meet other backpackers and visit some of the best bars in town. You get a few free drinks and a t-shirt which is included on the pub crawl for $5. You can sign up at The Big Easy hostel. 

Serendipity Beach & Town

Spend the day relaxing on Serendipity Beach. The town of Sihanoukville is full of restaurants that serve delicious food. I highly recommend eating at Slum Dog if you’re looking for cheap, delicious Indian food (a tray of Thali starts at $2.50). Olive & Olive serves delicious and huge $5 pizzas. Shin is a sushi restaurant that has “Happy Hour” sushi early in the evening, with $1.50 avocado rolls and $2 salmon rolls. Titanic is a Khmer style restaurant that serves large portions of food (chicken, burgers, curries, breakfast items, sandwiches), for around $2-3. 

Otres Beach and Village

Head over to Otres Beach from Sihanoukville which is a 15 minute tuk-tuk ride (don’t pay more than $4!). The beach is gorgeous and lined with relaxing bars and guesthouses that play great music.

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Have I mentioned there are gorgeous sunsets?

sunset

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a guesthouse or dorm on Otres Beach, I recommend staying at Otres Corner, Seagarden, Shin, and Blame Canada. 

Hacienda is another dorm in Otres, specifically in Otres Village. They offer a free dorm for backpackers (the first night is $3, and after that it’s free) and only ask that you spend money at their bar (how can you resist $1 beers?!). They also have a paid dorm for $3 a night in addition to bungalows for rent.

I recommend eating at a local Khmer restaurant called Tony’s Sivily Shop in Otres Village. The owner, Tony, and the three other family members that work there are very genuine and friendly.

I also recommend Green Lantern, which serves delicious and cheap Thai food. Their portions are huge, too! Another restaurant is Jin, which serves some of the best burgers I have had while in Cambodia. Try their Jin Burger: it’s loaded with cheese, onions, and other random ingredients that are making my mouth water as I write this. Wake & Bake is a fairly new coffee and donut shop that serves cappuccinos, espressos, lattes, and fresh, home made donuts: You will not find them anywhere else in Cambodia!

What to Do

Otres Market

Every Saturday, Otres hosts Otres Market. It starts around 4 p.m. with live acoustic music and delicious food stands until around midnight. Then, a DJ comes on and plays funky beats until 5 in the morning.

Kerfuffle

Every Wednesday night is Kerfuffle, a rave in the jungle. I currently promote for Kerfuffle and can say it’s the best party in Cambodia!

It starts at 10 pm and goes until 10 am. It’s free entry from 10-11 pm, and then it’s $5 entry. There’s a ferris wheel, international DJs, cheap drinks, hula hoop girls, and a 3D amusement park.

Kerfuffle takes place during the high season only, so it starts in the beginning of January and ends around the middle of May.

Want a taste of some of the music that plays at Kerfuffle? Check out some of my favorite DJ’s Soundclouds: Mr. Squires and Paul Fitzsimmons

Kampot and Kep

Kampot is the perfect place to escape and relax. It’s a quiet town next to the Mekong river where you can swim, kayak, and sway peacefully on a hammock.

Where to Stay

I stayed at Samon Village and Blue Frog. Both are inexpensive, budget friendly places to stay that are both right along the river. Samon Village has treehouse bungalows that come with a fan and a mosquito net, while Blue Frog has both a dorm and bungalows.

Mad Monkey Hostel also offers air conditioned dorms between $5-$8 a night. They even have a swimming pool!

Where to Eat

Don’t visit Kampot without visiting The Rusty Keyhole. They have the best ribs I have ever had in my entire life! For $6, you get a half a rack of ribs, coleslaw, and French fries, mashed potatoes, or a baked potato.

There are quite a few hole in the wall cafes in Kampot as well. Cafe Espresso (try their veggie burger and cappuccino) and Epic Arts Cafe (try their couscous and cappuccino) were two of my favorites and had the best coffee I’ve had in Cambodia. I spent a lot of time in both cafes!

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Kep is another relaxing town not too far away from Kampot. Though the town lacks a city center, it boasts some spectacular sunsets and mouthwatering seafood. 

What to Do 

Eat Crab in Kep

Don’t miss out on the crab in Kep. It’s an easy motorbike ride from Kampot, about 18 kilometers through rural Cambodia. You can have lunch in Kep and dinner in Kampot. 

For around $5-7.50, you can eat two or three large crabs fresh out of the ocean. I ate crab at So Kheang Restaurant, and I can highly recommend them. They serve their crabs with the most delicious Kampot pepper sauce I have ever had. Paired with lime, it made one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in Cambodia! 

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Rock Climb with Climbodia

Looking for more of an adventure? Climbodia offers half day tours which include rock climbing, abseiling, and caving. It was exhausting and one of the best activities I’ve done in Cambodia! Half a day tour costs $40. 

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Motorbike Up Bokor Mountain

From Kampot, rent a motorbike for the day and drive up the meandering road to the top of Bokor mountain, where an abandoned casino sits. It’s a couple of dollars to enter the park. Make sure you go on a clear day to ensure you have a 180 degree view of the ocean and surrounding cities from the top of the mountain!

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

You can get a bus or mini van to Kampot from Sihanoukville. A bus is around $5 and a van is around $7. The ride takes about 2 hours.

A Complete Guide to Backpacking in Cambodia

Koh Rong Samloem

This island has the most beautiful beach I have ever seen in my entire life. You’ll be awestruck from the pearl white sand, a peacock-blue ocean, and a waterlogged, wooden dock that seems to stretch into the horizon.

I found the island to be quite expensive. Food is around $5-8 a dish and bungalows start at around $30 a night.

Where to Stay

I stayed at the Beach Island Resort, which has the cheapest accommodation I found. One double bed is $13 a night, but if you share it with someone, it’s only $6.50 each. This hostel is in a really convenient location right next to the pier. 

Mad Monkey Hostel is another hostel in Koh Rong Samloem that has a wonderful, social and party atmosphere and is perfect for the solo traveler. You have to take a boat from the pier to Mad Monkey. 

There is no electricity on this island from noon until 6 p.m. and barely any wifi. You’ll wake up to the sunrise across the ocean every single morning, and are able to hike through the jungle to watch the sunset near Lazy Beach (where food is a bit cheaper). 

Reflections After 6 Months of Solo Backpacking

Once a month, Koh Rong Samloem hosts a Full Moon Party in the jungle, so plan your visit around the moon if you’re looking for another jungle rave!

You can easily get here from Sihanoukville by taking the Speed Ferry for around $20 return. The trip is about 45 minutes. 

Koh Rong

Looking to party? Come to Koh Rong! This island has beaches lined with bars and restaurants. Beware, though: about half of the people that come to Koh Rong get sick from the water. Not necessarily from drinking it, but from food that is washed with water or even utensils and plates that are washed with the water. There is really no way of telling if you’ll get sick or not, but you’ve been warned!

It’s a bit cheaper than Koh Rong Samloem and there is more of a backpacker community here. Getting here is the same as getting to Koh Rong Samloem from Sihanoukville, you can take the Speed Ferry for around $20 return. The trip is about 45 minutes.

You can also get to each island from the other islands. 

Why I Love Traveling Slowly

Koh Ta Kiev

This island is even lesser developed than Koh Rong Samloem. It’s very quiet and secluded with barely any wifi. It’s an incredible escape from reality to a beautiful part of Cambodia. There are only a few places for accommodation on Koh Ta Kiev. You can reach the island from Otres Beach. A one way boat is $4 and it takes a little over an hour. 

I recommend staying at The Last Point. Bungalows are $20 a night and you will wake up to the sunrise. 

 

What to Do

Visit the Fisherman’s Village. Hike through the jungle to arrive at this sea side village run by local Khmer people. They will make fresh crab and fish with vegetables from the ocean for $10. It is absolutely delicious!

Battambang

Battambang is one of the only cities left in Cambodia that still resembles how Cambodia was a decade ago. It’s a small city with a few scattered temples and a bamboo railroad. Though this city is a bit out of the way from everything else, it is definitely worth the visit. You can easily get here via bus from Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. The journey from Siem Reap is only a few hours, while it is around 6 or 7 hours from Phnom Penh. 

Visa Information

Cambodia offers a one month visa upon arrival when you fly in or cross the border and is about $35. You can extend this visa for one month without having to leave the country for $52 (any tour agency will do it for you). Then, you have to do a visa run.

You can also opt for a business visa, which is only around $5 more than the tourist visa. I mistakenly did not get this visa when I initially arrived. The business visa allows you to extend it for one, three, or six months, and is a better option if you’re looking to stay for a longer period of time.

Budget Expenses

I found some things in Cambodia to be quite expensive, while other things to be quite cheap. The food is more expensive than in Thailand (in Thailand you can get some meals for 60 cents, which does not happen in Cambodia!).

Food is around $2-5, and dorms are around $5 a night depending where you go. Transportation from city to city is about $10. If you’re getting around in one city, opt to take a mototaxi instead of a tuk-tuk, since they will always be cheaper.

Alcohol is very cheap. Beer is 50 cents at the store and $1 in any hostel or restaurant. If you don’t mind the taste of alcohol that burns your throat when you swallow it, buy a bottle of Mekong for $1. Cheap whiskey at its finest!

Regardless, it’s quite easy to budget yourself on $10-30 a day in this country.

Travel Insurance

Never travel without travel insurance. If you’re injured while traveling in Cambodia, you’re better off getting treated in Bangkok or Singapore, since their medical professionals are more properly trained and they have better suited equipment. To prevent paying a $20,000 fee if you need to be airlifted to another country and other exuberant medical costs, purchase travel insurance. I STRONGLY recommend World Nomads, as they cover a lot of ground, are honest, responsive, and have extensive knowledge about other countries, especially countries in the third world.

Have any more tips on traveling in Cambodia? Share below!

4 comments

  1. Comment by tpetriano

    tpetriano April 11, 2016 at 7:37 am

    Thanks for such a great description of your travels through Cambodia!

    • Comment by Globe Trottica

      Globe Trottica April 14, 2016 at 10:02 pm

      Thank you so much for following! :]

  2. Comment by Bogdan Onofrei

    Bogdan Onofrei April 14, 2016 at 6:32 am

    Everything looks so pristine, and i can see no tourists in your photos. Is it because you visited different places at unusual hours, or that’s just how it is in Cambodia? I’m asking because i love that. Also, great photos!

    • Comment by Globe Trottica

      Globe Trottica April 14, 2016 at 10:05 pm

      Thank you so much, Bogdan! Some places, like Bokor Mountain, parts of Otres Beach, and Koh Rong Samloem are not very touristy at all. And then in places like Angkor Wat and the temples it is pretty touristy, but it’s also easy to sneak off and find a secluded area on your own because it is so big. I’ve found Cambodia to be a lot less touristy than Thailand!

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