Cambodia is one of my favourite countries in Southeast Asia; it has everything from fascinating culture and history to beautiful landscapes, beaches and islands. And the local people are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met.
I’ve visited Cambodia a couple of times, for about a month each visit and, although it changed a lot in the five years between my trips, it still had that underlying charm and intrigue that I loved so much about it to start with.
If you’re planning a trip to this wonderful country, be sure to include these top 6 things to do on your Cambodia itinerary.
1: Siem Reap: Angkor temples
Probably the most famous attraction in all of Cambodia and the reason a lot of people visit is the huge and incredible Angkor Wat temple complex.
Located just outside the town of Siem Reap in the north of the country, Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Make sure you visit the main temple of Angkor Wat for sunrise, but don’t miss out the other temples in the area which are just as fascinating.
In some cases, huge banyan trees are taking over the temple ruins!
Common ways of visiting the temple complex are by tuk tuk or motorbike, but I recommend you follow in my footsteps and explore Angkor Wat by bicycle.
Prices for Angkor Wat temple complex:
- One day: US$37
- Three days and ten day validity: US$62
- Seven days and one month validity: US$72
2: Phnom Penh: Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital city and it has a lot going for it. Take a walking tour to discover the different attractions, the Royal Palace, the river and the night markets.
But, as you’re visiting this country, you should also get to know the recent history of the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970s, which resulted in the brutal murder of more than one million people between 1975 and 1979.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng (S-21) Prison are the locations of many of these horrific crimes against humanity, and tourists are usually encouraged to visit them both in one day.
Tuol Sleng is located in the city, whereas Choeung Ek is about 11 miles south. Be prepared for an emotionally gruelling day.
I visited Choeung Ek first. This is the site where 8,895 bodies have been found in mass graves, usually shallow and dug by the victims, who were weak from exhaustion and starvation, before their death.
The area is now a memorial to those victims and you can walk around the graves and pay your respects. You may see human bones and teeth coming through the earth; many new ones surface after a heavy rain as the graves are so shallow.
There are a few notices around and boxes of the victims’ clothes and bones, but it is best to get the audio guide on your way in for a full understanding of what happened here.
The Buddhist stupa that you can see from the entrance contains more than 5,000 human skulls, and you can enter the ground floor to take a look at them behind the screens.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is the site of Security Prison 21, or S-21, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
The building was originally a high school, but was taken over and used as a prison, torture and interrogation centre from 1975 to 1979.
The museum covers all four blocks; Buildings A, B, C and D.
As with Choeung Ek, it is best to get an audio guide upon entry for a detailed understanding of what happened here.
Two of the buildings hold the cells in which prisoners were kept; one has large cells where many prisoners were kept shackled together with long iron bars and one still has the smaller cells that were built in the classrooms. These are made of wood or brick, and you can go inside to see how small the space was for the prisoners.
Another building has displays of thousands of photographs of the prisoners, some upon arrival at the prison and some after death. The last building displays some torture instruments.
While visiting these two places makes for a very difficult day, I think it is important for tourists to know what happened in Cambodia’s recent history and to pay respects to the millions who suffered under the Khmer Rouge.
Prices for the Killing Fields and S-21:
- Choeung Ek Killing Fields: US$6 (includes entry and audio tour)
- Tuol Sleng / S-21: US$6 (includes entry and audio tour)
- Return tuk-tuk journey: around US$10 – $15
3: Sihanoukville: Otres Beach
Head down to the coast from Phnom Penh and you’ll reach Sihanoukville: a coastal town that has changed drastically in recent years.
There has been a lot of development here, mostly of Chinese-owned casinos, so the backpacker party vibe that I remember from 2013 seems to have pretty much disappeared.
Thankfully, however, my favourite beach in the area has not changed and is still peaceful and beautiful.
Otres Beach is located outside of the main town and is much quieter. There are plenty of accommodation options here along the gorgeous beach, where you can often see bio-luminescent plankton in the waves at night.
Chilling out in Otres is definitely one of my favourite things to do in Cambodia.
4: Cambodian Islands: ‘The Rongs’
A short boat ride away from Sihanoukville are Koh Rong and its sister island, Koh Rong Samloem.
I say a short boat ride away – ours was considerably longer than usual due to horrendously choppy waters! I would definitely recommend making the trip on a calm day if you can.
Koh Rong is the busier of the two islands, and there are many accommodation options, from the touristy backpacker area of Koh Touch, to more peaceful, family-friendly areas.
The boat will drop you off at Koh Touch and most of the backpacker hostels are near the pier, but if you turn right and walk along the beach for a short while you will find quieter accommodation.
Koh Rong is still unoccupied in its centre and all of the settlements are on its (many) beaches. And the beaches are the main attraction here; they are simply stunning.
Koh Rong Samloem’s main tourist area is Saracen Bay, a stunning white sand beach with accommodation options from basic backpacker to luxury resort.
Another (cheaper) option is the village at M’Pai Bay. There is a nice beach here and some cheap local eating opportunities.
If you’re looking for beautiful beaches to relax on, the Koh Rongs are a fantastic choice and some of the best places in Cambodia.
Another of my absolute favourites in this Cambodia travel guide is Kampot.
I missed this gem on my first visit to the country, but I’m so glad I made it there the second time around.
Kampot is located further along the coast towards Vietnam, and is set beside a river.
There are many awesome things to do in Kampot, such as take a scooter up the eerie Bokor Mountain, visit a pepper plantation, eat and drink at some of the many restaurants and bars, browse the markets and more.
There is a certain charm about this town that you just can’t ignore; we planned on only staying here for a couple of days but that turned into weeks as we didn’t want to leave!
6: Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island)
The next town along from Kampot is Kep, a lovely little fishing town well worth having a wander around.
From Kep you can catch a boat over to Koh Tonsay, or Rabbit Island. This beautiful island has some quaint little bungalows that you can stay in, along with some lovely restaurants and stunning beaches.
The island only has about 4 hours of electricity per day, so on a clear night you’ll be able to see all the stars!
This is the perfect place to unplug and unwind away from the towns of the mainland.
Final thoughts on things to do in Cambodia
There are still so many things I’d love to do and see in Cambodia, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of visiting.
Once you’ve learned about the history of the country, both ancient and recent, you’ll appreciate your surroundings a little more and notice things that you may not have done otherwise.
Despite the horror that Cambodians went through 40-50 years ago, they’re still very happy and friendly and will make sure that you feel welcome in their country.
I recommend getting to know some local people, whether it’s your tour guide or the staff at your accommodation or anyone else that you meet along the way. It’s always such a pleasure and it helps you get to know more about the country and the culture.
Is Cambodia on your bucket list? Where would you love to visit the most? Let me know in the comments! 🙂
Want more like this? Check out these articles:
- 8 Great things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- 7+ Reasons to stop in Kampot, Cambodia
- Luggage List: Packing for Southeast Asia
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