Cambodia is an amazing place — delicious food, a deep and interesting culture, complex cities, history both ancient and recent.
It was the highlight of our trip to Southeast Asia, and I’m always looking for an excuse to go back. And when I do, these are the top ten things I’m looking forward to in Cambodia.
1. Visit Angkor Wat Historical Park.
There’s not only Angkor Wat, there’s also the Angkor Thom complex and dozens of other temples to visit. Access to the park starts at US$37 per person for one day, and a tuktuk driver to take you around will cost at least US$15 per group. Check out the Tourism Cambodia page for more information.
2. Tour the Artisans D’Angkor facilities and silk farm.
This sustainable tourism venture apprentices students in traditional crafts, and is a good way to spend a morning in Siam Reap. You can tour the complex, drool at the shop items and catch a free shuttle to the silk farm where you can follow the process from worm to woven goods. The coffee here is also excellent.
3. Eat fish amok.
One of many delicious Khmer delicacies, this was our favourite. The spicy fish dish is often served in a coconut-leaf bowl accompanied by steamed rice. Really this should be number one in this list… just thinking about it is making my mouth water!
4. Visit S21 and the Phnom Penh Killing Fields.
It’s grim, but a visit to the political prison S21 (T Seol) is an important step in understanding the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime and its effect on current Cambodian culture. Follow it up with a tuktuk ride out to the killing fields, where over 20,000 victims were dispatched and dumped over a period lasting less than four years.
5. Travel by boat and see the floating villages.
The river journeys between cities are scenic and memorable, with stops in floating villages to buy snacks along the way. The trip between Battambang and Siem Reap is highly recommended. Ask around before you go to make sure the river is high enough for boats to get through — running aground is no fun!
6. Ride the Norri bamboo train.
Outside Battambang (one of our favourite stops in Cambodia) locals zip along the disused railway line on bamboo platforms powered by motorbike engines. For US$10 or so per “carriage” you can spend an hour on the rails, helping to disassemble your vehicle whenever you meet an oncoming norri. We visited the bamboo train as part of an excellent tuktuk tour from Battambang, which also incorporated stops at some local temples, the only winery in Cambodia, and a killing cave. It was an eclectic day.
7. Catch a documentary at the Metahouse, Phnom Penh.
The German cultural exchange, Metahouse, has reasonably priced house wines and often plays documentaries in its rooftop theatre. Pick up an English schedule from them when you arrive or check out their website for details of what’s on.
8. Wander the Royal Palace complex.
The luxurious Royal Palace complex in Phnom Penh houses thousands of finely carved statues, small museums and fantastically decorated shrines and pagodas. The mural running right around the inner wall was a favourite attraction.
9. Hike in Ratanakiri.
Boasting the most spectacular hiking in the country, this is a fantastic chance to get wild in the jungle. A local guide is recommended to safeguard against wandering into landmine zones or encountering unwanted attention.
10. Give some time to a volunteer programme
Help Cambodia recover from the effects of civil war. It’s been a rough ride for Cambodia and many grassroots NGOs are looking for volunteers, even if just for a day. You’ll be given plenty of opportunity to help out but make sure you’re comfortable with the ethics of those you’re helping.
As an added bonus, the beaches of Cambodia are being developed in an attempt to rival neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. Visit now to enjoy the quiet, undeveloped spots before they all disappear.
Where to next?
Many people visit Cambodia as part of a larger trip through Southeast Asia. We arrived overland from Vietnam and continued on to Thailand and Laos; you may want to incorporate a visit to Malaysia, Myanmar, or China as part of your journey. Budget flights from companies like Air Asia have made this kind of travel so much easier!
Make sure to check visa requirements before you go. As a New Zealander, I find the Wikipedia article about Visa requirements for New Zealand citizens a great place to start, though I always confirm my findings with embassy websites too.
Visas for many Southeast Asian countries have become easier to obtain over the past few years: visitors from many countries can get visas on arrival or eVisas for Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar; while to enter Malaysia and Thailand many people don’t need a visa at all. If you’re heading to China, though, make sure to get a visa in advance (don’t make the same mistake I made when travelling to Ukraine!). If you need help with getting a visa for China, visa companies like Travel Visa Pro can take the stress out of the process!
Wherever you go and whatever you do in Cambodia, you’re sure to have an amazing time. What have I missed off this list? Let me know in the comments below.