Cambodia travel guide

Cambodia is painted as a one-trick pony, home to the magnificent temples of Angkor Wat and little else. Tourists whizz through between Thailand and Vietnam, ignoring the fact that beyond the crumbling temples there is an entire country waiting to be discovered.

Ironically, Cambodia’s number one calling card could be its downfall, as thousands pour into Siem Reap and drain its resources, neglecting the rest of the country and contributing little to support its resilient, warm-hearted people. And while Cambodia’s coast and countryside may not match up to its heavyweight neighbours, these smiling Khmer people are really what universally astounds and delights travelers, especially given Cambodia’s dark – and very recent – past. They welcome young travelers with open arms, cook the most extraordinary dishes and beam for tourists.
A Cambodia vacation is a chaotic, crumbling, life-affirming shock to the senses, and far from being a detour, it could end up being the highlight of your Southeast Asian trip.
Delving into Cambodia – by boat, ox cart, tuk tuk or on foot – reveals hidden pre-Angkor temples, floating villages, pepper and rice fields; strange river dolphins and faded French architecture. Find out more in our Cambodia travel guide.
Cambodia Is/Isn't

A Cambodia vacation is...

Moving, inspiring and enlightening.

A Cambodia vacation isn’t...

An extension of Thailand. There’s a whole country to discover.

What we rate & what we don't

UNDERRATED

Kep

A Cambodia vacation can’t really compete when it comes to …

Khmer culture

Cambodia has one dominant ethnic group and no long-necked women …

Phnom Penh

The gateway to Cambodia is often just seen as a …

Ratanakiri

Sparsely populated, this far-flung province borders Vietnam and Laos, and …
RATED

Angkor Wat sunrises

It’s a testament to the temple’s ancient architects that no …

Traveling by boat

Whether you sail here up the Mekong River from Saigon, …

French architecture

The French left behind their bread, coffee and colonial architecture. …

Genocidal tributes

Visiting mass-graves and sites of torture may not be on …
OVERRATED

Skimpy clothing

Yes, it’s hot in Cambodia, and of course you want …

Orphanage volunteering

With poverty and landmines contributing to fill orphanages, helping out …

Ticking off sites

Angkor Wat is just one in a vast complex of …

Seedy Sihanoukville

Cambodia’s biggest beach resort is a mess of high-rise hotels, …

Food, shopping & people

Eating & drinking
Khmer cuisine shares much with its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours – including coconut, fish sauce, kaffir lime and jasmine rice.
Popular dishes include Amok Trey, a fish and coconut curry often served in a coconut shell, and Bok L’hong, a savoury salad made with unripe, green papaya.
In Phnom Penh, have lunch at the Lotus Blanc Restaurant, managed by a charity that works with street children.
Alternatively, try the famous deep-fried tarantulas in Skuon.
People & culture
Thank a Khmer: “aw-koon”
Unlike much of Southeast Asia, Cambodia has just one main ethnic group – the Khmer. Khmer is the official language of the country, and 95 percent of the people are Buddhist. Khmers traditionally wear a checked krama scarf – as a headscarf, sarong, towel or for carrying babies.
Cambodians greet each other using the Sampeah – a slight bow with palms placed together.
“Wat” means monastery temple
Shadow puppetry is a traditional Khmer art and the puppets are wonderfully intricate. The custom is dying out, though – go and support the performers who keep it alive.

Our top Cambodia Vacation

Vietnam and Cambodia 15 day tour, tailor made

Vietnam and Cambodia 15 day tour, tailor made

See two wonders of the world in just two weeks

From £1648 15 days ex flights
Tailor made:
Everything is tweak-able, giving you the freedom to build a unique and personal trip for your chosen date. Upgrade your accommodation for all - or just part - of your trip, slow down the pace with few extra nights here and there or add a few more active adventures along the way.
Helpdesk
Hello. If you'd like to chat about Cambodia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help. Rosy & team.
Gifts &
shopping
The abundance of NGOs here means not only great support for its artisans – but also a guarantee that the money you spend during your Cambodia vacation ends up in the right hands. Leave plenty of room in your suitcase!
Artisans Angkor employs over 1,000 people in rural Siem Reap province, and is a champion of traditional Khmer crafts including silk weaving, stone carving, lacquer ware and silver plating. Visit their shops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Look out for sought-after Kampot peppercorns; said to be the tastiest pepper in the world. You can buy them from markets – but taste them to ensure authenticity!
Heads are the 'highest' part of the body – never touch a Cambodian’s head or hair. The feet are the lowest – never show anyone the soles of your feet as it’s highly offensive.
How much does it cost?
Tuk tuk ride around town: 60p
Meal in a market: 90p
Large bottle of Angkor beer: 75p
Entry to Angkor Wat: £11.90 per day
Tuk tuk hire to travel around
Angkor: £7.70 for one day

A brief history

Cambodia’s history is messier than most, having been the unfortunate piggy-in-the-middle for centuries between the Thais and Vietnamese, the French and Japanese, Communism and the United States. The Kingdom of Cambodia became an independent country in 1952, following nearly a century of French rule – still visible in its elegant architecture – and a brief period of Japanese occupation during the Second World War. But the Vietnam War edged ever closer and in 1965, forced off the fence, Cambodia allowed North Vietnamese guerrillas into the country to help them in their fight against the US. In 1969 the US began the secret carpet bombing of the guerrillas, and Cambodia’s bloodiest period began as many thousands of civilians were killed in the conflict. The head of state, Sihanouk, was overthrown in a coup, and the new Prime Minister of the now “Khmer Republic” began fighting the North Vietnamese in Cambodia, sparking a civil war which killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Read more
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Balint Földesi] [Is/Isnt: Milada Vigerova] [Kep: fabulousfabs] [Khmer culture: Sam Sith] [Phnom Penh: Jorge Cancela] [Ratanakiri: Lukas Bergstrom] [Angkor Wat sunrises: @felixtriller] [Traveling by boat: ND Strupler] [French architecture: shankar s.] [Genocidal tributes: Christian Haugen] [Skimpy clothing: Chris Feser] [Orphanage volunteering: Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter ] [Ticking off sites: Daniel Lienert] [Seedy Sihanoukville: Damien @ Flickr] [Eating & Drinking: Kent MacElwee] [People & Culture: Davidlohr Bueso] [Quote: Chadica] [Gifts & Shopping: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra] [How much does it cost?: Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi]
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