Cambodia Travel: 5 Tips For A Great Trip
Updated: Jul 19
Cambodia is an awesome place for budget travellers. You can really make your money stretch here. I spent a full month in Cambodia and honestly could have stayed longer. From the delicious food and cultural wonders to the remote villages and magical islands - Cambodia is worth the time and effort to get there.
My 17 year old daughter and I entered Cambodia by bus from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and we left the country by walking across the far northern border into Loas. Our travel route was like a large crooked cross, from the south-west to north-east and then from the southern islands to northern most regions. Here are the top 5 travel tips from my own personal experience wandering Cambodia.
Thanks right, get your butt on a bicycle and wander. Take side roads and cross fields. Stop in villages and then see the next town and the next one.
Bikes are cheap. Most hostels and guest houses offer them for free or you will pay $1-$2/day to rent one. I found it very safe. (We never cycled after dark) Most of the bikes are old and crappy but if your $1 bike breaks down there will be 10 people who will offer to fix it for you for free. It's a great way to meet new people. Of course in many places, you can always rent a high end mountain bike if that is more to your liking.
I found that, especially in rural areas, things are spread out and the most interesting places and people are not on the tour bus routes. Just wander. You will not regret it.
This is especially true for those travelling long term. Budget travel burnout is a very real thing. You can only do so many nights in hostels and you just need your own space. I found accommodation in Cambodia very cheap. Especially when booking online. There are lots of deals. If you want to pamper yourself for a couple of nights, this is the place to do it. $20-$30/ night will get you something you would easily pay $50-$60 for in many neighboring countries. If you can afford it, this is the place to live it up for a few nights and recharge your batteries. The photo below is an example of an $15/night room we stayed in.
The same goes for clothing. I tend to travel very light and then replace items as needed along the way. Cambodia has a huge textile industry and it is a good to replace some of your well-worn items or maybe get something unique to bring home.
3) ADVICE FOR VISITING THE KILLING FIELDS:
Part of what makes the people of Cambodia so incredible is their collective resilience and perseverance through one of the most horrific atrocities in modern history. Many people travelling through the capitol, Phnom Penh, opt to visit the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum to learn about what took place in Cambodia in the 1970s. I recommend that you go but please know that it is not for the faint of heart. And I would have serious reservations about bringing young or sensitive children to either of these sites. There are human remains on display and the stories recounted are beyond what your worst nightmares could imagine.
Most tours offer both the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in one day with transportation provided between the two. It is also cheaper if you do it this way. I would like to suggest otherwise. Both the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum are very intense places that will leave most people feeling quite disturbed. I highly recommend not doing both on the same day. If you have the time visit the Killing Fields and give yourself time to process what you just experienced. In a few days or even a week go to the Genocide Museum. If your time is limited at least try do them one day apart.
4) BUG SPRAY:
No, this is not for mosquitoes. I wish. First of all let me say my pet peeve is travel writers who focus on the dirty toilets, big bugs and poor hygiene they encounter on their trips. I find it a tad arrogant, like a some kind of desperate attempt to feel superior to others. Saying that I'm going to be a hypocrite and talk about a very real issue we faced in Vietnam, Laos but mainly in Cambodia. This is the issue with fucking huge-ass spiders. I'm a nature lover and when I see a spider outside in its natural habitat I'm cool with it, even fascinated. Come into my bedroom and we cannot coexist. Haters, I envy your courage but I'm just not there yet.
After the first couple experiences we bought a small can of the Cambodian equivalent of Raid. I think it was called Raider. I didn't ever use it on regular house spiders, only the Godzilla variety. And if you are thinking that we must have been staying in some pretty bad shit-holes, think again. Our worst incident was in a pretty nice hotel room on the 5th floor. The Raid was a last resort. We learned to give our rooms a good shaking up and see what came crawling out from underneath and behind the furniture. If I could shoo it out of the room, it was a win-win situation. If I could not - sorry bro. Don't freak out and think you will see horrific spiders in ever hotel, just be prepared. Out of a whole month I would say there were 5 "incidents" and only twice ended in Raid. This is just something I wish we had been mentally prepared for, thus I'm sharing our experience and our solution.
5) GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH:
This is my final tip and I think my most important one. We got to some amazing places around Cambodia. I will narrow this down to my 3 favorite places we visited to give you an idea of what's out there off the main tourist loops.
We learned that in the south the locals tend to go to Kep whereas the tourist flock to nearby Kampot. We headed to the sleepy seaside village of Kep. It wasn't like there were no other travellers in Kep but we were just a handful. We were the only ones booked into our guesthouse. It was beautiful stone mosaic room on the edge of the National Park run by the loveliest family. We woke up in the morning to the sound of elephants trumpeting in the forest around us.
From Kep we went Rabbit Island. Boats leave first thing in the morning from the Kep pier and come back to pick you up early in the evening. You can also spend the night on the island in one of a handful of beach shacks. They are $10/night. You get 1 hour to charge your phone but no other electricity is available. There is also no indoor plumbing so you need to be cool with outhouses in the tropics. The first time we went, there were less than 10 people visiting the whole island. The second time was a cloudy (but beautiful) so it was even less. Meals were $1 for a curry and rice. Giant fruit smoothies were an additional $1. Hammocks and makeshift beach gazebos are free if you order food. There was no WiFi or phone coverage on the island. If you want to unplug and live rugged, Rabbit Island is a great hidden gem.
Lastly is our adventure getting up north to Kratie. I'm not gonna lie, I am very used to all modes of transportation but this was some seriously rough travel. If you can tough out the temporary (at least 8 hours) discomfort it is well worth getting here.
Not only is Kratie situated in the remote far northern regions of Cambodia but the small town is nestled along the banks of the majestic Mekong River and home to the highly endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin. We hired a very kind local boatman to take us out in search of these rare freshwater dolphins. He asked us to tell others to make sure their boats stops the motor once they reach the dolphin's habitat. There are less that 92 individuals left on the planet spanning 3 countries. Our guide told us that it is likely we may not see them. We were very lucky and a group of about 4 swam around our boat for over an hour. This experience was pure gold and one of my favorite travel memories ever. Learn more about the Irrawaddy Dolphin HERE.
My final words to you are give yourself some time in Cambodia to explore, to meet the wonderfully hospitable people who live there and partake in their natural wonders. I found Cambodia to be such a safe and friendly place to really explore and have a few great adventures. I'm seriously itching to go back.