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Cambodia is a complicated country where we encountered very high highs and very low lows. Our experience in Cambodia was challenging, beautiful, and overall very worthwhile.
In this travel guide I will take you step by step through a recommended Cambodia itinerary for 3 weeks in Cambodia. I will also give some alternatives in case you only have two weeks in Cambodia (or less). I’ll cover the BEST places to visit in Cambodia that you don’t want to miss!
The Best Transportation in Cambodia- Plane, Bus, or Van?
Public transportation in Cambodia is very hit or miss, and some of the worst moments of our trip occurred on Cambodian public transport!
Luckily, we lived to tell the tale, and we can help you avoid the same tricky situations we found ourselves in. Follow our advice and reach your Cambodia destinations in comfort!
VIP Vans, Minivans, Minibuses
For us, the most important piece of Cambodia travel advice is never take a minivan or minibus anywhere in Cambodia. The minivan drivers in Cambodia drive so crazy that they make their Laotian and Thai counterparts look like drivers-ed instructors.
Seriously, if you think I’m exaggerating go read some TripAdvisor reviews of Cambodian van companies. You will find stories of the van hitting people and then continuing to drive like nothing happened. I wouldn’t believe these accounts if I hadn’t experienced first hand the horror of Cambodian minivan rides, and unfortunately we took a few of them in our 30 days of travel there.
For example, in our 8 hour ride from Banlung to Siem Reap we were packed into a small 12 seater van with 14 people. The roads in Cambodia are rough, and the driver hit bumps in the road so hard that the van caught air, causing the driver to then lose control and fishtail…multiple times. When people in the van began vomiting from the crazy driving the driver refused to pull over, and instead simply passed plastic bags back to the passengers.
Learn from our mistakes, DO NOT take a minivan in Cambodia!
Luckily there are plenty of non-minivan transportation options in Cambodia. Our favorite is with a company called Giant Ibis. They run big, luxury buses between all the major Cambodian hubs. You can use Giant Ibis to get between nearly all of the cities we list in this itinerary, and we highly recommend it!
In the photo above you can see the giant seat you get on Giant Ibis, and you can tell by my smile how happy I am to be comfortable!
For the cities where Giant Ibis does not run, I recommend using an alternative big bus company so you can avoid minivan travel.
Expect to pay $15 or less for a one way bus ride between Cambodian cities with Giant Ibis.
We did not travel by air in Cambodia because it was quite a bit more expensive than bus travel. However, if we had it to do over we would certainly spring for plane tickets rather than enduring a long van ride.
Also, keep in mind that if you are on a Cambodia vacation or holiday, flights are likely the most comfortable way to travel!
Flight prices between Cambodian cities are very affordable if you plan ahead. The ones we’ve seen cost $35 to $60 for a one-way flight.
If you plan to travel by plane in Southeast Asia, it will be MUCH easier if you don’t have to check luggage! Read about how we fit everything for 6 months of travel into just a carry on!
3 Weeks in Cambodia
If you have three weeks in Cambodia, that is a perfect amount of time to get a solid feel for the country!
Day 1-9 Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the national treasure of Cambodia, and for very good reason. This UNESCO world heritage site is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world!
I’ve seen many Cambodian itineraries that only allow for 1 or 3 days at the Angkor complex, and that is just NOT enough time to experience this incredible place. With 9 days in Siem Reap you can purchase the 7-day Angkor pass (which is a steal compared to the shorter passes), and enjoy everything that Siem Reap has to offer on your rest days from the temple.
Aside from Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is loaded with great restaurants, a fun nightlife area, and plenty of spas and massage parlors. Siem Reap is the most popular Cambodia tourist spot, so take advantage of all the amenities you’ll find there!
Where to stay in Siem Reap
I highly recommend the Bokre Angkor Hostel! Don’t be fooled by the name, this does not resemble any hostel we’ve ever seen (though they do offer a dorm room for solo budget travelers). This hotel was one of our favorites in all of Southeast Asia!
The staff was so kind, and happy to help us with any questions we had. There’s a beautiful little pool, a bar, a restaurant, and even room service! All of this for less than $20/night!
Day 9-12 Battambang and the Bat Caves of Battambang
At first we weren’t sure if we would visit Battambang. I had read mixed reviews of this small city and wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’m so glad we decided to visit as we experienced one of our favorite wildlife experiences of all time in Battambang!
Bat Caves of Battambang
At sunset every night millions (yes, you read that right- millions) of bats emerge from a giant cave on the outskirts of Battambang. For 30-40 minutes the sky is absolutely filled with bats emerging from the cave to go on their nightly hunt for mosquitos to eat.
This was one of the coolest wildlife experiences we’ve ever had as there was just no way to imagine the sheer number of bats we would see flying overhead.
To reach the caves ask your hotel to schedule a tuk tuk driver to take you. The bats emerge around 5:30pm so you will want to be there by 4:30pm to get a seat near the entrance of the cave.
NOTE: The seats are all placed out by food cart owners, and you need to buy something from them in order to use the seats. Don’t be the rude tourist who refuses to purchase a $1 beer or coconut; consider how much that $1 purchase means to the vendor!
This is a must-do activity in Battambang!
Phare Pnleu Selpak is an organization that runs a performance and creative arts primary school for Cambodian students.
Every night the students perform an incredible circus show under an old fashioned big-top tent in Battambang. The show is extremely entertaining with many very talented performers. On top of that your ticket purchase helps support this fantastic program!
This is a very touristy attraction, but we really enjoyed it! Made famous by Anthony Bourdain on his Cambodia episode, the Battambang railroad used to be a way that farmers transported goods across the countryside.
Flat, open cars that are basically just a big piece of flat wood on wheels are propelled down railroad tracks by small gas motors. They go fast, and it’s a very bumpy, but fun, ride!
Nowadays the railway is not in use except to give tourists a short ride to a nearby village that seems to make all of its money touting souvenirs to the railroad visitors.
I’m not usually a fan of tourist traps like this, but at the end of the railway Tom and I had a lovely conversation with the Cambodian woman who sold us two fresh coconuts. She told us about her life in Cambodia, and that she was very proud of her daughter who was attending an English speaking school.
If you take the Battambang railroad, her stall is the very last one to the left of the tracks!
To get to the Battambang Railroad you can hire a tuk tuk. We did this in combination with visiting the bats later in the day.
Food in Battambang
Incredibly, we ate the best Japanese food we’ve ever had at a Japanese grill in Battambang! When you are in Battambang you must eat at Chhnganh Japanese Kitchen. It is walking distance from all the major hotels, and the chicken katsu is to die for!
Where to Stay in Battambang
We weren’t crazy about the hotel we chose in Battambang, and definitely wished we had chosen a hotel with a pool. Battambang is HOT year round, and all of the activities we did were outside, so having a pool to cool off in would have made the visit far more comfortable.
How to Get to Battamnang
To reach Battambang take the Mekong Express luxury bus from Siem Reap. The trip is about 3 hours, and Mekong Express buses are comfortable.
Day 12-14 Phnom Penh
To be honest, we didn’t love Phnom Penh. It is very crowded, loud, and dirty. It is a difficult city for walking because there are no sidewalks, and the traffic is insane. Another thing that surprised us about Phnom Penh is how expensive it is! Hotels were more expensive than just about anywhere else we’d visited in Southeast Asia.
With that said, there is one must-visit site in Phnom Penh, and that is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Cambodia has a very dark modern history, and I recommend you take the time to read about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian holocaust before you visit the country.
Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor, and I highly recommend it.
Or, if you’d prefer, there are plenty of excellent podcasts that detail the history of the Khmer Rouge, simply search the term Khmer Rouge in your podcast app.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is an extremely difficult place to visit- it was once an internment camp where Cambodians were detained, tortured, and killed. The cells inside the buildings are still covered in blood stains, and many of the torture devices are on display, along with photos of the victims’ bodies.
While visiting Tuol Sleng is a difficult experience, I also feel it is an important one. Visiting this site will help you understand Cambodian history, and how modern Cambodian culture came to be.
Be sure to pay for the audio guide as the visual displays are not accompanied with explanations, and the audio guide is very complete.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
Since hotels were so pricey, we first ended up in a really uncomfortable, grimy hotel room. After a couple nights we decided to bite the bullet and pay more than we’d like for a better hotel. It was worth it.
When visiting Phnom Penh plan to budget a LOT more money than you do for the rest of Cambodia. For a very average hotel expect to pay at least $25/night.
There are relatively cheap tuk tuks everywhere that will happily give you a ride- just be sure to agree on a price before you get in! The Grab app is also very active in Phnom Penh, and we found the tuk tuk prices to be the best through the app.
How to Get to Phnom Penh
Giant Ibis does not run from Battambang to Phnom Penh, but Mekong Express does run one bus per day between the two cities. Book this bus in advance because it fills up fast, and it is the only big bus that will take you from Battambang to Phnom Penh during the day!
Alternatively, if you would like to give it a try, there is a night bus with full beds inside that runs from Battambang to Phnom Penh. A couple friends of ours had a good experience with the night bus, so it may be a good option.
Day 14-19 Kampot
Kampot is an interesting little Cambodian town that is famous for its world renowned pepper! Kampot is a great place to relax, eat delicious food, and experience some beautiful Cambodian countryside. Kampot is also home to our very favorite hotel in all of Southeast Asia!
Kampot Pepper Farm
Pepper Plantations in Kampot are known throughout the world for harvesting the very best pepper. You can tour a pepper plantation to see how the pepper is grown, and take part in a tasting to see which pepper is your favorite!
Kampot pepper makes an awesome gift for any friends who love to cook, and it really does taste different than any other pepper we’ve eaten!
Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple
Another awesome place to add to your Kampot itinerary is the Phnom Chhngok Cave Temple, which is a huge cavernous cave with a temple inside. To reach this site you will need to take a long tuk tuk ride over very bumpy roads, or you can join a day tour in a bus.
The tuk tuk was a better option for us because we got a great look at the Cambodian countryside, and when we reached the cave it was just the two of us visiting.
When you reach the cave, teenagers will ask you if you would like a private tour for $5. Usually we don’t buy things from children because they should be in school. However, in this case a local told us that in the Kampot countryside children go to school in the evenings so they can help their parents with farming and running their shops.
Our young tour guide was great, and took us through a secret passage in the cave that we never could have found on our own!
Where to Stay in Kampot
This is the easiest question for us! Our favorite accommodation in all of Southeast Asia was in Kampot.
Daom Djah Spirit was everything we could ask for in Southeast Asia lodging. This beautiful property has individual bungalows and treehouses situated along a small canal. The rooms are beautifully appointed and completely open-air with high quality mosquito nets around the beds.
Everything at this resort is off grid and sustainable. No plastic straws or water bottles, instead there is a water refill station. Composting toilets are located throughout the property and are kept spotlessly clean.
We spent hours swinging in the hammock on our lovely porch, and when we got hungry we ordered delicious food from the resort’s small restaurant and bar.
Daom Djah Spirit also has weekly events with music and campfires, and the owners are kind, laid-back people. We absolutely loved this place!
Day 20-21 Phnomh Penh
You will need to return to Phnom Penh to get transport out of Cambodia. Giant Ibis runs buses from Phnom Penh into Vietnam, or you can fly anywhere from the international airport in Phnom Penh.
In your final days in Phnom Penh be sure to visit the Russian Market for excellent souvenir shopping!
2 Weeks in Cambodia Itinerary
If you only have 2 weeks in Cambodia don’t despair! It’s definitely doable, and you can still see plenty of amazing things! With 2 weeks in Cambodia I would recommend you focus on the northern cities of Siem Reap and Battambang only.
Day 1-10 Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, and the remote Angkor Temple of Banteay Srei
In addition to the Siem Reap activities I described in the 3 week itinerary, take a day trip out of Siem Reap to visit the remote Angkor temple of Banteay Srei.
Most people never make it to this temple, which makes it a very special place to visit.
Also, take time to do some souvenir shopping in the many markets of Siem Reap!
Day 11-13 Battambang
Refer to the Battambang section of the 3 week itinerary.
Day 13-14 Siem Reap
You will need to return to Siem Reap for transportation out of Cambodia.
Giant Ibis runs bus service to Thailand or Vietnam from Siem Reap. Or you can fly anywhere from the international airport.
1 week in Cambodia
If you have only one week in Cambodia I HIGHLY recommend you spend it at the Angkor Archaeological park in Siem Reap. Exploring Angkor Wat is a once in a lifetime experience that totally blew my mind!
Travel Tips for Cambodia
No matter what you read, don’t expect to swim in anything but a swimming pool in Cambodia. The rivers, lakes, and even the seashore are terribly polluted and filled with garbage. Several times we thought that we would have a chance to swim, only to arrive at the water and realize swimming was a very bad idea.
Cambodia’s population is booming, and tourism has drastically increased in the past few years so it’s possible that even a few years ago the natural waters were cleaner than they are now. Take it from me, if you want to swim you will need to splurge on a hotel with a pool.
The only exception to this may be the Cambodian islands, which we did not visit due to the high cost of transport to, and accommodation on, the islands. However, we met travelers who said that even on the islands there is trash all over the beaches so plan accordingly.
For further reading on Cambodia, check out Lonely Planet’s Cambodia guide. We regularly used this guide to help us plan our Cambodia travel.
Are you planning a trip to Southeast Asia? Check out our Southeast Asia itinerary to help you plan your travels!
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