A trip to Southeast Asia is incomplete without a visit to Cambodia. This incredibly country is home to some of the world’s best sights and attractions, including the majestic Temples of Angkor, which attracts over 2 million tourists each year! There’s far more to Cambodia than just these remarkable remains though. With jungles, beaches, unique wildlife, party islands and more, there’s something for everyone. Squeezing it all into a short amount of time is tough. To help, here’s a backpacker’s guide to Cambodia to help you experience all the best bits in as little as 10 days.
What You’ll Find in this Article
- Best Time to Visit Cambodia
- Things to Pack for Cambodia
- How to Get Around Cambodia
- Accommodation in Cambodia
- The Perfect 10-Day Cambodia Itinerary
Best Time to Visit Cambodia
In reality, the best time to head to Cambodia is up to you.
November through March is peak season. That’s when tourists and travelers arrive in droves to enjoy the warm, dry weather. However, these are also the months when it’s super busy and the prices are higher.
May through early October is off-peak time and rainy season. There will be a lot less people and prices will be cheaper, but it will also be wetter, with monsoons likely hitting between August and October.
It’s worth noting that temperatures are warm throughout the year, even during off-peak times. To avoid the crowds and excessive prices on food and accommodation, I’d consider planning a trip to Cambodia during off-season.
Things to Pack for Cambodia
- Mosquito/Insect Repellent: This is definitely a worthwhile investment for a trip to Cambodia! Midges and mosquitoes abound here (especially in rural areas). To protect yourself against things like malaria and dengue, be sure to use quality insect repellent.
- Bite Cream: Likewise, pack something soothing to ease the itch of the bites you will inevitably get!
- High-Quality Backpack: This amazing country offers many great outdoor opportunities, and having a good backpack allows you to really experience the best of Cambodia. Equally, its cities and transportation systems can be tough on your luggage, so a high-quality backpack is important.
- High-Quality Rain Jacket: Having a waterproof jacket of some sort is pretty essential in Cambodia, as you never know when a shower will strike (especially in rainy season). I found a lightweight rain jacket to be the most useful, as they pack away small while remaining nice and watertight.
- Perfect Money: This is less something to pack and more something to keep in mind. Cambodians use US dollars for most transactions these days, but if there’s even the slightest mark on your bills they won’t accept them. Literally any tear, mark or rip on your $50 bill means it is off limits – at least until you can swap it for another (and this’ll cost you if there’s any sort of issue with the original). Make sure your US dollars are in perfect condition whenever you withdraw money. FYI, the issue does not apply to Cambodian riel (Cambodia’s official currency).
How to Get Around Cambodia
A good bus network connects most parts of the country. The capital, Phnom Penh, is the hub of bus transportation and many bus routes pass through here on the way to other destinations.
Tuk-tuks are great for shorter distances, but you’ll end up spending a lot of money if you take them regularly. Drivers are absolutely everywhere in Cambodia, so it is always easy to catch a ride.
You can also rent a scooter. These are popular forms of transport for locals and travelers alike. For a few dollars per day (approximately USD $5-8) you can hire an automatic scooter without needing a license. This is a great way to explore wider areas when staying in a certain location, and they give you far more flexibility with your plans too.
Accommodation in Cambodia
There is no shortage of accommodation in Cambodia. It is incredibly well traveled and the travel infrastructure is set up accordingly. Backpacker hostels, hotels and guest houses abound all over the country.
Prices vary though, with dorm rooms in certain places (generally in bigger cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) costing as little as USD $2-3 per night. The average price tends to be between USD $8-10 per night though, and can go up to USD $10-15. Expect higher prices during peak season!
To make life easier for you, we also went ahead and listed our recommended hostels/hotels for each stop on our itinerary.
The Perfect 10-Day Cambodia Itinerary
There’s a lot to see and do in Cambodia, so it can be a challenge deciding exactly what to see and do in a limited time frame. I’ve put together a suggested itinerary for Cambodia to give you a helping hand!
It will take you from the temples in Siem Reap in the north to the wilds of Mondulkiri in the east, and all the way down to the chilled out beach vibes of the sunny south. This route highlights some of the best places to visit in Cambodia in 10 days!
However, before we get to itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get to this Cambodia itinerary already!
Day 1: Siem Reap
I recommend the scintillating Siem Reap as the first stop on your 10 day Cambodia itinerary. Situated towards the north of the country, you can fly directly into the city.
There’s a huge amount to see and do here, and assuming you’ll have the second half of the day to play with upon arrival, make the most of the afternoon by heading to one of the floating villages.
Of the three main villages that grace the shores of the Tonlé Sap Lake (Chong Kneas, Kompong Khleang and Kompong Phluk), Kompong Phluk is most accessible, so this may be your best bet. It’s positioned on the northeastern side of the lake, which makes it a short tuk-tuk ride from the Siem Reap town centre.
These amazing places are built on stilts above the surface of the lake. The people here are born and raised in the water, swimming from place to place and fishing for their dinners and livelihoods. As a visitor, you can pay to be taken around by boat to explore these unique environments. You’ll be drifting through ancient, petrified forests, swimming if you choose and dining in floating restaurants.
After you’ve returned from the floating village, be sure to chill out in Siem Reap’s buzzing and lively centre.
There are markets, restaurants and bars galore, with an entire street known as Pub Street (you can guess what you’ll find there). It’s incredibly touristy and vastly different from the ancient wonders up the road, but it’s great for unwinding and enjoying a night out.
Day 2: Angkor Wat
Next up on your Cambodia itinerary is the archaeological site of Angkor – the world-famous UNESCO World Heritage Site that may well have brought you to the country in the first place.
You might wonder why I saved the temples for day 2. After all, with only 10 days to play with, it might be tempting to head straight to the temples on day 1. However, it’s simply not worth spending less than a full day in this sensational place.
The Temples of Angkor offer you a portal back to a lost world. Iconic masonry collide with immense nature to create an unparalleled encounter with ancient history and a lost civilization. They are truly remarkable.
And the benefit of being here for a full day is that you can do a ‘sunrise to sunset’ tour of the main temple attractions.
There are two main circuits of Angkor (a ‘Small’ and ‘Grand’ one) that are designed to take you around the highlights in relation to the amount of time you have. With just one day on site you should opt for the small circuit. But don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see all of the main temple attractions.
Begin your day by watching the sunrise at the awe inspiring Angkor Wat (along with the hundreds of other people doing the same thing!) before following the route around the other popular temples, including Angkor Thom, Baphuon and Ta Prohm (the ‘Tomb Raider’ Temple). Finish with the sunset at Phnom Bakheng to enjoy picturesque views of the surrounding area.
This is a long, tiring day, so be sure to get some rest in the evening!
Day 3: Phnom Penh
On your third day in Cambodia head to the country’s capital. Here you’ll find all types of fun things to experience. Phnom Penh is a 6.5-hour bus journey from Siem Reap though, so you’ll need to leave pretty early.
After a long time cooped up in the bus you’ll probably want to stretch your legs in the afternoon! Why not do so by exploring some of the capital’s hot spots?!
Start by walking along the riverfront of the monumental, 2,700-mile long Mekong River. Plenty of bars and restaurants line its banks in case you want to stop for refreshments.
Next, head to the Royal Palace to see the home of the King of Cambodia., On the southern side of the palace complex is the Silver Pagoda compound that features the renowned Wat Preah Keo royal temple. This pagoda is another major tourist attraction famed for its ornate decoration and national treasures housed inside.
For your evening entertainment, continue along the riverfront until you reach the night market. Street food and clothes stalls are everywhere in this lively outdoor nighttime venue. Popular with tourists and locals alike, it is a great place to grab a bite to eat and watch live stage performances.
Day 4: Phnom Penh
Another full day in Phnom Penh gives you the chance to experience more of this lively city and delve deeper into the country’s past.
Cambodia has a bloody and traumatic recent history, suffering at the hands of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime of the 1970s. Now’s not the time to go into this in detail, but Phnom Penh is the perfect place to learn more about it.
Many people visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek for this purpose. Thousands of innocent men, women and children were held, tortured, murdered and ultimately buried in mass graves here. The site is a tuk-tuk ride outside of town and a bizarre, dark place that’s bound to evoke mixed emotions. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is another place with a similar story and reputation that will educate you on the atrocities of this scarily recent regime.
However, for a lighter historical experience you could consider the National Museum of Cambodia. Here you’ll learn more about the long and proud history of the country, experiencing firsthand some of the amazing masonry, stories and statues of the Temples of Angkor.
In the late afternoon/early evening head to the Russian Market to explore the depths of a tangled maze of clothes stalls and street food. The atmosphere is well worth experiencing, as your senses will be awakened by the colors and smells of everything that’s for sale.
Day 5: Sen Monorom
Wake up early again on day 5 to hop on a 5 to 6-hour bus ride to the east of the country to visit a town called Sen Monorom in the Mondulkiri province. This might seem like it’s super far from Cambodia’s main attractions, but it is absolutely worth a visit.
The further east you go the wilder the country gets, with thick jungle and bushland stretching all around. Though you’re far from alone, it has a completely different feel from the tourist-heavy vibes of places like Siem Reap.
Sen Monorom is all about discovering the jungle and wildlife within it. On your first afternoon here walk the 5 kilometers out of town to the Sen Monorom Waterfall, a relatively small waterfall where you can swim and relax in the midst of rich, beautiful nature.
After you return from the jungle, be sure to catch the sunset on Sunset Hill at Phnom Doh Kromom Pagoda. It’s located on the hills behind the air strip and is easily accessible by scooter or tuk-tuk. Head up to watch the sun go down over endless expanses of thick jungle that stretch to the horizon.
Day 6: Sen Monorom
Day 6 is when you get to really immerse yourself in the nature here. Now’s the time to take an organized jungle hike in this awesome place.
Don’t do it alone though – it is simply too dangerous. There are many tour operators in Sen Monorom who will take you deep into the jungle. You get to see and swim in more waterfalls, see wonderful wildlife, explore and learn about the fauna and flora.
Certain companies (such as the Elephant Valley Project) also offer the chance to see elephants in their natural environment as a part of these hikes.
However, be sure to check the reputation of the operator. Elephant tours and encounters are heavily criticized by many people, and though some operators assure the welfare and respect of these immense animals, others are less reputable.
If you happen to have more time to spare, then I recommend going on an overnight jungle hike, where you’ll spend the night in a hammock or under canvas, cooking and sleeping next to campfires and under the stars above!
If time is of the essence, hop on an overnight sleeper bus to your next destination: Sihanoukville. The bus will run through the night all the way from Sen Monorom to this beautiful southwestern seaside town (with a brief stopover in Phnom Penh).
Day 7: Sihanoukville/Otres Beach
Having taken the overnight bus from Mondulkiri to the south of the country, on your seventh day in Cambodia you’ll definitely notice a significant contrast to the east! The vibe here is totally different!
Welcome to Sihanoukville and, slightly further along the coast, Otres Beach.
White sands and turquoise waters welcome you to this chilled out, picture-perfect part of Cambodia. This is stereotypical beach life, with bars, restaurants and cafes lining the sand.
The Serendipity Beach area of Sihanoukville is where you go to party, and backpackers regularly flock here to enjoy the nightlife. If you prefer a more chilled out atmosphere, Otres Beach might be a better fit for you.
After everything you did in the east, rest up and unwind here in the sunny south. But don’t go to bed too late because the beach life beckons early in the morning…
A visit to the south of Cambodia is incomplete without a trip to one of the islands off the coast. There are a bunch of options for you to choose from, each with a unique atmosphere (see below for more detail). You’ll need to book the boat ride to your chosen destination the evening beforehand, so be ready to live the island life on day 8.
Day 8: Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, or Koh Ta Kiev
There are many islands to choose from, and like I just mentioned, each comes with its own unique allure. For resorts, nightlife, beach parties and island paradise all in one, consider a trip to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem. These are two of the most popular island destinations in Cambodia, where people sail to in droves to enjoy all of the above.
If you prefer a more peaceful paradise, consider an island like Koh Ta Kiev. It is back to basics here, with electricity only at certain times and dry toilets only. However, it is a genuine paradise island and there’s plenty of space for everyone.
However, these three islands are by no means all there are to choose from. From Sihanoukville and Otres Beach ask around and you’ll be sure to find the one that’s right for you.
Having booked the boat to your island the night before, all you need to do is wake up and wait on the beach for it to pick you up (usually from the beachfront outside the most popular accommodation options). Arriving early in the day gives you the remainder of it to explore the jungles that hug the shoreline, swim in crystal clear waters and relax in a hammock between palm trees.
Watch the sun set and the moon rise while getting to know your fellow island inhabitants over a cool beer at the bar.
Day 9: Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, or Koh Ta Kiev
One beer can easily lead to two on an island paradise, so you’d be forgiven for feeling a little woozy on the morning of day 9! Hungover or not though, I recommend spending another day on the island.
It’s a fantastic way to wind down after what might otherwise feel like an intense, busy Cambodian adventure. Frolic your penultimate day away in the same blissful manner as before: sunbathing, exploring, reading, soaking in the sea, drinking at the bar, and dozing in the hammocks – however you wish to spend your time on what’s your final full day in the country.
It’s your last day tomorrow though, so let the owners of your accommodation know you’ll be leaving to ensure the boat will be there to take you back to the mainland in the morning.
Day 10: Phnom Penh
You’ll begin your morning on the island before cruising back to Sihanoukville. If you’re lucky enough to have the time, spend your final hours enjoying the beachfront cafes and restaurants.
From here you’ll need to take the bus back to Phnom Penh, where you’ll likely catch your flight back home.
Day 11 and Beyond
Here are some additional ideas for your itinerary if you’re spending longer than 10 days in Cambodia!
1. Additional Time in the Angkor Temples
It’s nearly impossible to tackle all of the best things to do in Cambodia in 10 days. However, if you’re able to stay in Cambodia slightly longer, then you could (and maybe should!) consider spending more time at the Temples of Angkor. There are literally hundreds of temples in this region of Cambodia, and a visit to these wonders should be savoured and unrushed.
It’s worth noting that tickets to this UNESCO World Heritage Site are limited to either 1, 3 or 7 days, so your hand is forced if you want more than a single day here. With a 3-day pass I’d say you could experience the Grand circuit and all the major temples, as well as most of the lesser ones too.
If you’re able to spend more than 2 weeks in Cambodia, then you should consider visiting the cool, laidback riverside town of Kratie. It’s about an 8-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, so no easy feat, but it is well worth the effort, and you can easily spend a couple of days here.
Kratie is best known for its boat trips to see the wonderful Irrawaddy dolphins. These beautiful animals swim in the freshwater of the Mekong, but they’re now severely endangered. Seeing them close up, in their natural habitat, on the waters of this mighty river is a magical experience.
If you’re lucky enough to see them, encourage your driver to keep their distance and turn the engine off where possible (if they don’t do it on their own accord) to minimize disturbance.
3. Banlung, Ratanakiri Province
Once you’ve made your way to Sen Monorom, I recommend making the short trip over to Banlung in the neighboring Ratanakiri Province!
Banlung is another lively location in the wild east, with an awesome central market and lake to wander around. Its most famous attraction is Lake Yeak Laom – a 700,000-year-old crater lake that’s considered sacred.
Yeak Laom is a truly unique, beautiful place to walk around and have a swim in. Waterfalls and thick jungle are other major attractions around Banlung to enjoy too.
4. Kampot & Kep
While you’re down in the sunny, sandy south, you could also think about taking the short bus ride to the cool, eclectic and beautiful town of Kampot.
It is positioned on the banks of the Kampong Bay River and offers amazing riverside vibes, fascinating dilapidated European architecture, and a variety of bars, restaurants and markets to enjoy.
Ever heard of Kampot pepper? Well, it’s famous in restaurants around the world and it’s made right here! You can visit a pepper farm to learn more about how it is grown, to sample different varieties of pepper and to see how the corns are sorted.
Kampot is also the gateway to Bokor National Park, where you can visit the eerie, abandoned, old French hill station. Hire a scooter to really explore here. It’s a bizarre place in lots of ways, with abandoned buildings, a giant Buddha, a giant imposing casino and Soviet Union-like constructions next door to an ancient temple.
Bizarre human development aside, the national park is beautiful and provides stunning views over the surrounding area.
Next door to Kampot sits Kep: a tiny, beachside alternative to enjoy. There’s no city centre here, which makes for a slightly odd, disjointed atmosphere. However, Kep is famous for its crab, and the crab market there is definitely worth visiting. A huge selection of mouthwatering, freshly caught fish, crab and other marine life are available on the grills and in the stalls.
The clash of the ancient and modern worlds in Cambodia makes for an experience you’ll never forget. We recommend staying for as long as possible so you can soak in as much of the culture and fun as you can, but if you only have 10 days, then follow this itinerary so you can journey through the best of Cambodia.