Backpacking in Cambodia
Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Cambodia? Here you will find information on working in Cambodia, Cambodia visas, Cambodia hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Cambodia
- Top Things to Do
- How to Travel Around
- Hostels & Budget Accommodation
- Know before you go: Entry Visa, Health, & Safety
- Volunteering & Backpacker Jobs
Facts About Cambodia
Peace and stability have slowly started to return to Cambodia and the steady influx of aid has been building up the infrastructure and clearing away land mines and other remnants of fighting. This means Cambodia is gradually becoming a viable mainstream tourist destination.
For now, it is best to stick to the well-travelled tourist trails to avoid the banditry and land mines that are present in some of the more rural areas. That being said, sticking within these areas still offers enough to make Cambodia a good stop off point on any tour of South East Asia.
- Cambodia Currency: Riel (CRI) = 100 sen
- Time Zone: GMT + 7
- Cambodia Language: Khmer, Chinese and Vietnamese, English is spoken by younger generations
- Telephone Services: Country Code +855, International calls must go through an operator
- Emergency Numbers: In Phnom Penh only: 722-353 Police, 723-555 Ambulance
Cambodia Weather and The Best Time to Visit
Cambodia’s weather is governed by its typical tropical monsoon climate. Temperatures are hot with the monsoon season running from May to November and the more pleasant dry season running from November to April.
The northern part Cambodia experiences slightly colder winters but you won’t need any special clothing with temperatures rarely dropping below 15 degrees Celsius except in the highest altitude regions.
Things to do in Cambodia
When wondering what to see in Cambodia, there are a few well-traveled options. The temples of Angkor Wat and the historical cities of Phnom Penh and Battambang are some of the best places to visit in Cambodia. If you’re traveling by yourself or are unsure of where to go in Cambodia, take a look through these ideas, or join one of the many group adventures tours that will take you to Cambodia’s best places to visit.
Phnom Penh – The Capital of Cambodia
Much of Phnom Penh was built during French colonial occupation and despite being somewhat dilapidated in places, the city retains a lively and busy atmosphere.
By far the most magnificent sight is the Silver Pagoda, its floor is tiled with over 500 silver slabs, each weighing about a kilogram. The impressive Cambodian temple is also home to a 90kg solid gold Buddha and a baccarant crystal Buddha as well as many other smaller artefacts.
Many tourists also make a pilgrimage to the Choeung Ek Cambodia killing fields just 20 minutes south of the city. This somewhat grisly memorial is the site where the Khmer Rouge killed over 17,000 Cambodian people. The Memorial Stupa is a display of about 8000 skulls catalogued by sex and age serving as a reminder of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. The onsite Tuol Sleng Museum is dedicated to educating the world about the crimes committed by the oppressive Khmer Rouge.
Most travellers come to Cambodia solely to visit the much-celebrated temples of Angkor Wat. The nearest town is Siem Reap which is only a few kilometres from the temples and is primely situated to offer tourists food and accommodation.
Angkor Wat itself was a former religious centre with most of the temples having been built between the 9th and 13th centuries. Angkor Wat was subsequently abandoned around the 1400s and the site was gradually lost to the encroaching forest. Today restoration work still continues and many of the Cambodian temples have been beautifully restored. The highlights are undoubtedly the Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm temples.
Battambang is Cambodia’s second largest city and is situated right on the banks of the river and boasts an airport of its own. The town boasts the best-preserved French Colonial architecture in the country and recent improvements in facilities make this town an ideal base for visiting the surrounding temple sites. As well as the numerous Wats, Battambang also boasts a nearby lake and a museum of 9th-century artefacts.
Unique Activities in Cambodia
A good way to get an idea of things to do in Cambodia is to scan the activities offered by Get Your Guide or Viator. They work directly with local Cambodia tour operators, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
If you know your schedule ahead of time, a great insider tip is to buy tickets for major Cambodia tourist spots ahead of time. Tiqets has entrance tickets and skip the line passes for major attractions in Siem Reap so that you can avoid the lines and save precious time for more exploring.
How to Travel Around in Cambodia
Travel to Cambodia
If you’re flying to Cambodia or plan to take short flights within the country, we recommend using a few different flight comparison search engines. Kiwi is a new favourite among travellers. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Cambodia with them compared to the other websites out there.
Of course, it is always worth checking Skyscanner to guarantee you’re getting the best deal. Both websites offer great flexible search options, allowing you to search the whole country to find the cheapest Cambodia airport to fly into, and also see prices for a full month if you’re flexible on travel dates.
Train travel in Cambodia
There are some Cambodian rail companies operating in the country, which although cheap tend to be much slower than buses due to the state of disrepair plaguing the rail network. There are plans to re-establish the international link from cities in Cambodia to Bangkok but there is still a lot of work to be done before this can become a reality.
Bus travel in Cambodia
The best way to travel in Cambodia is by bus or share-taxi, these are normally run by enterprising locals and are incredibly cheap. It is worth noting however that despite being faster than the trains you will still not have a comfortable ride in store.
The countries roads are in an absolutely appalling state making for very bumpy trips indeed. It is also worth reiterating that travelling in Cambodia outside of the main tourist routes is not advised as there are still areas of minefields and isolated reports of banditry in more rural areas.
Backpacking tours in Cambodia
Though part of the fun of backpacking Cambodia is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group. For these times, a popular option among backpackers is G Adventures. They hand-select local guides to ensure authenticity and quality. This is especially a good option for those backpacking Cambodia alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. Their most popular trips to Cambodia include their 17-day classic Essential Vietnam and Cambodia tour, and their 30-day Indochina Discovery tour for 18-to-thirtysomethings.
Cambodia Hostels & Budget Accommodation
Phnom Penh and Siem Reap now boast numerous international standard hotels including everything from budget backpacker style accommodation right up to luxury 5-star hotels. Throughout the rest of Cambodia, small hostels and guest-houses are available but the standards tend to be quite basic.
We have had good experiences finding hostels in Cambodia on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation while backpacking Cambodia is by checking hotels.com and booking.com. With both sites, you’ll not only find hotels, but also homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodation. We have discovered some great finds and have appreciated the ability to book ahead.
You can use their advanced filtering to narrow your results by budget, location score, overall review score, and amenities. Many of the places to stay on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip to Cambodia.
Cambodia visa requirements
All visitors to Cambodia must hold a valid passport with at least 3 months validity from the time of entering Cambodia. All visitors require a Cambodia visa, tourist visas are available from your local Cambodian Embassy or Consulate. A tourist visa which allows 1 months stay normally costs about CRI15.
You can now apply for a visa directly through Cambodia e-Visa.
Health and Safety in Cambodia
The standard of emergency healthcare in Cambodia is quite basic and doctors will require cash payments before treatment. This coupled with the fact that airborne evacuation may be required means that you should have a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy before travelling to Cambodia.
There is a risk of Cholera in Cambodia and you should consult your GP for up to date information, particularly on if vaccination is required. Vaccinations for polio and typhoid are recommended and can be obtained from your GP for around CRI40. Malaria is present all year round outside the capital including strains resistant to chloroquine, you should consult your GP for the most appropriate anti-malaria treatment to carry with you.
Water in Cambodia is not safe to drink and water used for washing or consumption should have been boiled or sterilised first. Where possible it is best to stick to bottled water. Dairy products in Cambodia are un-pasteurised and should be avoided in all parts of the country. Vegetables should be peeled and washed before consumption and meat should be thoroughly cooked and eaten hot.
Cambodia is generally safe aside from some remote areas in Phnom Penh, which should be avoided after dark. The people are generally hospitable and friendly, but unfortunately, there is a rise in activities such as purse snatching and extortion which tends to happen whenever an impoverished country has an influx in tourism. However, there is a very low incidence of violent crime in Cambodia. Nevertheless, always be sure to have travel insurance in case something happens to cover your belongings in case of theft or damage.
Foreigner Work Permits and Cambodia Backpacker Jobs
In developing countries such as Cambodia, it is often difficult for foreign backpackers to find work given the state of the economy. Most who visit Cambodia and other Asian countries on gap years do so once having built up enough resources to fund the trip to Cambodia by working in the UK or in Europe beforehand or take part in volunteer projects to feel part of the development process of this country.
As is the case with other Asian countries job and volunteer opportunities are mainly focused on teaching English, usually in schools. Cambodia is still picking up the pieces after its devastation by civil war and so a lot of programmes also concentrate on rehabilitation and orphanage strategies. The organisations below are just a handful of companies who welcome volunteers every year to take part in their projects.
Volunteering in Cambodia
Volunteers with Outreach can work in a number of fields. Landmine and polio victims, street-children, and orphanages are some main focuses of aid, as well as teaching English, music, and sport in schools.
The opportunities to give support to the Cambodian people are endless and volunteers gain an enormous sense of well being from helping those who have been less privileged than those growing up in the West. Volunteers are provided with accommodation with other members of staff on the projects in or around Phnom Penh, which is the main area for volunteer projects in Cambodia.
As with most volunteer organisations of this kind, volunteers are expected to raise their own money to fund the projects. For a three month project with Outreach you will need CRI3100 and CRI400 for every month thereafter, which covers travel, insurance, food, accommodation, and support etc.
VentureCo‘s 16-week programme combines aid projects with expeditions from Cambodia, through Vietnam, to Laos, and finally China. The first three weeks are spent in what is known as ‘cultural orientation’ consisting of visiting various places to visit in Cambodia guided by a team who introduce you to the culture and traditions of the country, and learning the Khmer language.
The following four weeks consist of community aid work in Koh Kong, involving teaching and food distribution to underprivileged children. A 9-week expedition then follows taking you through Vietnam: Saigon, HoiAn, China Beach, and Hue City; Laos: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and the Mekong River, and finally China: Kunming, Lijiang, the Yangtze, Xi’an, Beijing, and finishing with a trek on the Great Wall of China.
Programmes with VentureCo are self-funded and can cost you up to CRI5000, which includes travel, food, accommodation, transport, and fees for the activities themselves.
Volunteer projects with i-to-i take place in Phnom Penh and involve the teaching of English in high schools and agricultural universities. Once you arrive in Cambodia you will be given orientation and basic language classes.
An eight week project will cost you CRI1295 and a nine to twelve week project amounts to CRI1395. Accommodation is provided by the organisation but varies; usually you will be placed in university dorms or homestays. Volunteers are also given a weekly budget for food.
Volunteer in Cambodia
Experience life in Cambodia while volunteering your time to teach conversational English with Volunteer in Cambodia. Living as part of a group of international volunteers in Phnom Penh for 13 weeks, you’ll be part of a new project providing affordable English language courses for local students to raise money for the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), a local organisation working to improve the living conditions of rural communities. The cost is US$850 for 13 weeks to cover accommodation and meals, and includes cultural orientation, language sessions, and support from experienced staff. Join us for an invaluable learning experience!
Useful Links for Backpacking in Cambodia
- Tourism Cambodia provides travel advice for Cambodia.
- Kiwi and Skyscanner – Flight comparison search engines to find cheap flights to Cambodia and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and things to do in Cambodia. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- Tiqets – Website selling entrance tickets and skip the line tickets for major tourist spots in Cambodia
- G Adventures – small group backpacking tours in Cambodia, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip with a guide
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find accommodation while backpacking in Cambodia. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site. Hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodation in Cambodia with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- Travel Insurance – read our comprehensive overview of Travel Insurance and some recommended providers
There you have it, the ultimate Cambodia backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking in Cambodia.
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