Nicole Berry – The Backpack That Could
A Cambodia Itinerary for Backpacking in Cambodia
Traveling in South-East Asia, as a solo female traveler takes patience, courage, and an extreme leap out of most people’s comfort zones. However, the reward is well worth it. While I was backpacking in Cambodia, I felt so very much appreciated yet so very out of place all at the same time. The most common vibes I got from the Cambodians I met were ones of love, appreciation and gratitude. Backpacking in Cambodia has taught me that adventures off of the beaten path are adventures worth living for, so I highly recommend you visit Cambodia.
And adventures are exactly what I had! Cambodia has always been on my bucket list, however before backpacking in Cambodia, I never knew the massive hardships this country has had to struggle through. Just as my Cambodia itinerary was quite undefined when I arrived in the country (my Cambodia itinerary took shape only from word of mouth suggestions from other backpackers), my knowledge of Khmer culture was also quite limited. In talking to others I met in the course of my Cambodia travel, I realized many have also been blindsided about Khmer culture by many other world issues.
Backpacking Cambodia Supports the Local Economy
Making the decision to travel to Cambodia I felt a desire to contribute and give back to Khmer culture by volunteering, teaching English, or even assisting in their farming culture. However, I quickly realized that this is not something the Khmer individuals need. From the Khmer people I met, I learned that they are still healing from the Khmer Rouge, just a mere 40 years in their recent past and that one of the ways I was most able to support the local culture was through participating in their tourism industry. Tourism in Cambodia provides many people with jobs and fuels the larger economy, both huge aspects of the country’s development.
So, based on all the word of mouth suggestions I got while I was backpacking in Cambodia, here is my off the beaten path Cambodia itinerary. If you have any questions or comments about all of this, feel free to leave us a comment below.
My Cambodia Itinerary
If you want to walk in my Cambodia travel footsteps, just start at A and end at D. Or of course, feel free to explore in any way you’d like. I suggest you use a minimalist travel backpack so that it’ll be easy for you to move about this splendid country.
Siem Reap – Essential for Every Cambodia Itinerary
Siem Reap is full of lively pubs, Khmer food and the incredible Angkor Wat. It is also chock full of cheap massages, beautiful temples, delicious food, incredibly genuine people and exciting night markets. Make sure to spend at least 3-4 days here, as you won’t run out of things to do. During your time in Siem Reap make sure you check out pub street and try a yummy, crunchy scorpion!
My days in Siem Reap consisted of waking up at my fantastic hostel, the Onederz Hostel Siem Reap, seeing the sunrise during my Angkor Wat tour, which I was able to book through Onederz for an affordable US$12, and then heading into the evening for a delicous US$4 curry from Home Cocktail. Eventually, I ended my night at Temple Club on Pub Street. I enjoyed each day in Siem Reap so much, and I always dreaded them coming to an end. Definitely make sure Siem Reap is on your Cambodia itinerary.
Phnom Kulen National Park – Siem Reap
Just about an hours drive north of Siem Reap is Phnom Kulen National Park. Basically, think “outdoor playground” and you’ll have the right idea. The views from the cliff in the Mahendraparvata area – an age old city which was part of the Khmer Empire era in Cambodia only discovered in 2012 – are absolutely spectacular. I highly recommend you include this in your own Cambodia itinerary.
Where to go after Siem Reap? This was something I struggled with quite a bit. Since it’s possible to go east to Campong Cham, west to Poi Pet, north to the Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary and south to Battambang, the options felt virtually endless. But I wanted to make the right choice, so after much deliberation, I decided Battambang would be the next stop on my Cambodia trip. And, I highly recommend you make the same decision during your own Cambodia travel.
How to Travel from Siem Reap to Battambang
There are tons of ways to get from Siem Reap to Battambang, but I took a bus, and I recommend you do the same thing. In particular, the Mekong Express Company provided me an efficient and safe way to get to Battambang.
Battambang – Off the Beaten Path Cambodia
This is a town off of the beaten path. There are not many other travelers in Battambang, but it is full of history and you’ll be happy you took time to visit this quiet Cambodian town. There are not many options for accommodations in Battambang, but I highly recommend The Place Hostel.
In this small, hectic city you will find yourself wondering how you are going to spend your days as it’s easy to overlook the many activities that are on offer. As you will have learned by now, Tuk Tuks are your best friend for finding a friendly driver who can show you around and take you to all of the locals’ favorite spots. So, that’s what I did!
Must See Sights in Battambang
For US$5 for about a 30 min ride, you can experience this unique transportation system. Technically, the tracks run all the way to Phnom Penh, but since most of the tracks are in disarray, the flatbed cars only run about 7 km. Regardless, just make sure you wear plenty of sun screen when you take a ride, and you’ll be all set for a great time.
Wat Samrong Knong
Located just a few kilometers north of Battambang, Wat Somrong Knong is definitely a place worth experiencing. It was constructed in the 19th century, and the Khmer Rouge used the temple grounds as a prison. It is thought that approximately 10,000 people were executed here. Today, the temple is comprised of the beautiful main pagoda and a smattering of ancient ruins, glitzy modern structures and memorials to those who perished here. My tuk tuk driver gave me all the time I wanted, so I spent about half an hour here. It cost US$2 to enter.
The Killing Cave
Once a horrific Khmer Rouge execution site, this is now a place where you can do a bit of trekking in order to enjoy the beautiful views at the top of the cave. It’s a strange contrast to see such beautiful views at the site of such a terrible tragedy. If you go in the evening time, hundreds and hundreds of bats fly out of their cave and into the night. It’s magical to watch, and when you’re done, your Tuk Tuk driver can take you back to your hostel.
How to Travel from Battambang to Kampot
Kampot – A Necessity for Your Cambodia Itinerary
Kampot is known for its backpacker partying lifestyle. However, if you are not in the mood to party it is still a wonderful place you won’t want to miss out on going to. Depending on your social mood at the time, you may want to check out Mad Monkey Hostel. The rooms there are clean and there is a pool which you’ll want if you go there in summer time. Here you can also rent a tuk tuk or scooter for the day depending on what you want to see while you are here.
I love being on my own, so I rented a scooter one day and rented a tuk tuk another day. Also, I used the tuk tuk to go to La Plantation, the Kampot Pepper Plantation. I decided to do this because the ride on a scooter was quite long and dusty, and I didn’t feel safe doing it. Your tuk tuk driver will also be able to show you the “secret lake” on the way to the pepper plantation to taste all of the yummy types of peppers! If you’re having a good time, get your driver to take you to a nice lunch stop as well. He’ll know all the yummy places!
Bokor National Park
If you choose to rent your own scooter, I highly recommend riding it up to Bokor National Park and spending the day there. The ride takes over an hour but is well worth it.
My personal favorite element of Bokor National Park was the Popokvil Waterfall. I brought a snack and sat there for an hour watching the water peacefully flow down the river. There is an old chapel, incredible temples, an old casino and rice plantations that await your exploration!
Preaek Tuek Chhu River Boat Ride
You can also take a boat ride on the Preaek Tuek Chhu River to check out some of the floating markets.
Want a good place to eat at the end of your adventurous day? You should check out Rikitikitavi! This place has the best happy hour deal, 2 for 1 cocktails (the margaritas are a must) and deals on food before 6pm. This restaurant is walking distance from Mad Monkey and other popular hostels in the area. It’s also surrounded by shops, has a beautiful view of the river and is also a place where you can catch one of Cambodia’s amazing sunsets.
After a couple of days, or maybe weeks in this beautiful town you should be ready to move on to Phnom Penh, as frenetic and overwhelming as it may seem. Before heading to Phnom Penh I felt a bit intimidated, as I knew there were many emotionally trying sites, but I went anyway, and I’m glad that I did.
How to Travel from Kampot to Phnom Penh
Again, book your transportation via the Mekong Express Bus Company or via the reseller 12goasia. Alternatively, transportation can also be booked through your hostel and will only cost a few dollars more than if you book directly through the bus company. The main benefit of this option is getting a direct pick up from your accommodation.
Phnom Penh – A Must For Every Cambodia Itinerary
This busy capital city is full of families that are healing and recovering from the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Their recent and painful history has fully engulfed many of their lives, and it shows. I had no idea what to expect coming to this infamous place.
The main sites here are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields Museum. These emotionally heavy places were tough to visit. Learning about Cambodian culture and how the Khmer Rouge destroyed the love within this country was extremely challenging. Being face to face with the sites where these terrible events took place just a short 40 years ago, was equally as challenging. But in spite of how hard it was, it was equally as eye opening, and I think it’s important for everyone to learn this history. This is the reason I travel. If everything was always rainbows and butterflies I would never truly be able to appreciate the incredible things in life and be able to understand just how lucky I am for all that I have.
Accommodations in Phnom Penh are bountiful, but I suggest you book a place on the river so that you are close to a beautiful view, good restaurants and are in a safe location filled with other travelers. Booking a room with Onederz Phnom Penh. It was a great choice for me! There is free breakfast, comfortable beds and wonderful staff who are very helpful. Through the hostel you are able to book tours for all of the sites in the area including the genocide museum, the killing fields and to the airport or other cities if needed.
Essential Travel Tips for Backpacking in Cambodia
Apps to Download for All Cambodia Travel
- Hostel World (iOS, Android)
- XE converter (iOS, Android)
- Grab app (cheapest and easiest way to get around) (iOS, Android)
- Google Maps (iOS, Android)
Useful General Cambodia Travel Tips
Make sure you don’t:
- Go around alone at night.
- Have too much cash or valuables on you while you are exploring. Lock it up at your accommodation.
- Touch any kids on the head. It is culturally disrespectful.
- Buy jewelry/handcrafts from children during school hours. It encourages them to skip school.
Make sure you:
- Get a travel SIM card. You can find them everywhere. They are inexpensive and helpful.
- Respect the Khmer culture, and acknowledge what the country has been through.
- Participate in tourism activities, as it helps their country grow.
- Learn how to say thank you (pronounced: arkoun).
- Most importantly, enjoy your time in this beautiful country!
Other Adventures After Your Cambodia Travel
If you like the vibe you got from Cambodia, you should definitely further explore Southeast Asia. Just a quick flight west to Phuket, and you’ll be able to check out the many things to do in Koh Yao Yai, one of Thailand’s most overlooked (and off the beaten path) islands. If you’re keen to head eastward, the Philippines are a bit farther away, but El Nido, Palawan is a fascinating place to explore. And, since flights are often routed through Hanoi, while you’re there make sure to sample some of the best street food in Hanoi. And, no matter what you do, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below, and we’ll get back to you just as soon as we can!
Nicole was born in Hawaii into a bicultural family. With an American father and a Swedish mother, Nicole has been raised on countless colorful travel stories. Inspired by such, she’s developed her own travel itch and has now traveled extensively throughout Europe and Southeast Asia. She currently lives in Australia, via her working holiday visa, and she shares about her travel experiences on her blog, The Backpack That Could.