Lessons Learned – Cambodia

Reise / September 9, 2015

This post is for any travellers who have set their eyes upon exploring the Kingdom of Cambodia. After exploring Cambodia for three weeks, I’m going to share hands-on knowledge to help you get in the right direction. Perhaps I’ll also tempt some of you dreamers out there? Cambodia is an amazing country that will blow your brain out. I hope to make your trip easier with some insights on where to go and what to do, but maybe more importantly share what not to do and where not to go. If you live in Norway (or a short hop away), getting a flight with Norwegian Airlines to Bangkok will probably be the best and cheapest option. From Bangkok, take a short flight to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

So my dear dreamers and explorers, I proudly present a list of trip enhancing advice that I wish someone had shared with me before I visited Cambodia. I have also created a sample itinerary for how you can spend 14 days in this amazing country. For more detail on the different places, please go back to my Crisscrossing Cambodia posts part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Firstly, let’s start with the ‘Good To Know’ stuff:

  • You can pay for everything in dollars. $$$
  • You can negotiate any price, and they will normally not try to rip you off too much. Ask for ‘local price’ and show off your most charming smile (it helps being a girl in these kind of situations).
  • Bring two backpacks: one big main one (max 70 L) and one small one (max 30 L). Use the small one as hand luggage for your valuables when travelling with buses, as whatever is put under the bus (in your big bag), well, let’s just say that it is easily attainable for anyone.
  • If you do go in the low-season make sure you have rain covers for all of your bags.
  • Bring your own sun cream from home, as it is hard to find good quality sun cream around here.
  • Get a handheld fan; it will make waiting time and hot bus journeys a lot more bearable.
  • Bring layers. Not only because evenings and transportation can be chilly with freezer like AC, but also some religious sites require knees and shoulders to be covered.
  • Always bring antibac and tissues with you (you will thank me when you see the toilets here).
  • Remember to have at least two passport photos printed with you, as you will need it for the visa. You also need to remember to take out dollars before you arrive in Cambodia, as there are no ATMs at the Visa arrival point.
  • People generally speak basic English.
  • Aside from the very touristy destinations, people are generally laid back and not too pushy.
  • Very little visible crime, but use your common sense, don’t be naive and don’t leave your stuff unattended.
  • Most places only take cash. So before you withdraw money, do your research on which ATMs do not charge you. You can easily end up having to pay 3 pounds extra on top of your credit card fees, and since most ATMs only let you take out $100, it will add up in the long run.
  • Most accommodations (private rooms with fan, double bed) are between 10-15 dollars per night. Of course if you have the budget for it there are more expensive options.
  • Tuk-tuks are normally the easiest way to get around.
    Motorcycles are extremely dangerous for people who do not know the roads. I’ve met countless travellers with nasty wounds. No prizes here for guessing what caused them.
    It is normally too hot to travel by bicycles, and it is far from safe.
    Taxi is definitely a safer option, but a lot more expensive and you do not get to experience the surroundings in the same way as with a tuk-tuk.
  • For longer journeys, buses are normally the best option; cheap, relatively fast and comfortable. Taxis and shared vans tend to be faster, but they like overfilling them so the safety and comfort take a back seat.
    Tuk-tuks aren’t the fastest transport on earth, so double the journey time it would take for a car.
  • Most buses leaves early in the morning (7-8am), which is a great way of escaping the midday heat.
  • Make sure you have booked your bus/boat ticket at least a day before as they fill up and you will end up having to waste another day just waiting to the next morning for a new bus/boat.
  • Know where you are going. It is very useful to have an offline map on your smartphone so you have some idea of where you are when travelling between places. This helped us avoid getting off at the wrong bus stop so many times. We would have been so lost without Google Maps.
When To Go
  • Try to go in the low-season (which is from May to October), as it is a lot cheaper, calmer and greener (but, it will be rainy).

For some of you, these pointers might have been common sense. However, for my travel mate and I, these are things we had to learn the hard way or through someone else’s hard way. “Learning by doing” they say… Well, now YOU know, and hopefully I have saved you a lot of travel headaches! Okay, let’s move on to the fun stuff; the actual traveling. The trip I have put together underneath is what I personally would have done if I was going to revisit Cambodia for the first time. I believe with 2 weeks you can get a proper taste for this wonderful country. Of course, if you have more time, lucky you!

1. The Capital’s Dark Past

Start in Phnom Penh. This is the capital, though, I would not spend too much time here. However, the Killing Fields at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is definitely worth a visit (as seen in my 1st blog post for Cambodia).
Key words: busy city, main hub for all kind of transportation
– 1st night

2. Get Ready For The Dreamy Island Life

Get an early bus to Sihanoukville. This is the place to go to when you want to explore the southern Khmer islands. If you arrive in Sihanoukville late (which you probably will), and you want to take a boat the next morning over to Koh Rong Samloem. Call the ‘Dive Shop Cambodia‘. A comfortable and reliable way to secure transportation over to the island, plus you get a free breakfast with yummy donuts and coffee.
Key words: southern islands main hub, relaxed, quite
– 2nd night

3. Floating Paradise

Koh Rong Samloem is probably going to be one of your highlights if you go in the low season. This is a much calmer island compared to its big party brother, Koh Rong. If you have a little hiker in you, get to the other side of the island for an even more authentic and serene island experience. You will love it (visit my 2nd blog post for more details)!
Leave early in the morning with a boat from Sihanoukville. The boat will drop you off at the main harbour where most people will be staying. However, my partner and I felt a bit adventurous and went on a 40 min jungle hike to get to the dreamy Robinson’s Bungalows resort. We had a whole magical beach to ourselves! After an indulgent stay at the island you will have to get back the same way. If you do not manage to get back to Sihanoukville early in the morning, you might have to stay one night in Sihanoukville and then grab a bus to Phnom Peng the next morning.
Key words: beach, clear water, bungalow life, relax, jungle
– 3rd, 4th, 5th nights

4. Long Time No See, Phnom Penh

Go back to Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, you will have to ‘waste’ one night in Phnom Penh as buses normally only leave in the mornings.
– 6th night

5. Fall In Love With The Mountains 

Oh my, Mondulkiri. Do not skip this! This is probably my favourite place in Cambodia. See my 5th and 6th blog post to find out why. The place you should stay is Nature Lodge. They will help you organize the most memorable day trips filled with waterfalls, elephants, and views.
Key words: mountains, elephants, waterfalls, nature, cooler temperature
– 7th, 8th, 9th nights

6. Time For Traveling 

I’m sorry to say this, but you will most likely have to get back to Phnom Penh, again. Everything from Mondulkiri is far away, so staying one night in Phnom Penh is probably best in terms of comfort. However, if you do not mind spending a full day on the bus there are buses going over to the northwest side (where you will find Battambang and Siem Reap) of the country.
– 10th night

7. Kill Some Time With Bats And Bamboo Trains

If you’ve got a few days to spare, Battambang is an okay place to visit. I’d describe it more like a ‘filler’ destination, somewhere to use up time if you’ve got it to spare (have a look at my 4th blog post for more info). The bus journey from Phnom Penh will take up most of the first day, so if you have the time it might be wise to have two nights here. Try the coffee at Kinyei, or get a break from the heat and eat some great food at Jaan Bai.
Key words: bamboo trains, bats, cocktails, food, coffee
– 11th night

8. Temple Alert, Turn Down For Wat! 

Siem Reap is probably what Cambodia is most known for; the home of Angkor Wat. Keep in mind that you can take a bus from Mondulkiri if you want to skip Battamgbang. Personally, I don’t think you will need more than 1 day at the temple park, which gives you more time to explore the amazing Siem Reap city in itself. When the midday heat gets too much, take a tuk-tuk to The Lady Temple. The 30 minute tuk-tuk ride takes you through beautiful countryside and the breeze is a welcome respite.Siem Reap has a few really good places to just pamper yourself: try Body Tune for a relaxing massage, and do ‘splurge’ ($5 dollars) on afternoon tea at FCC, mmm… Have a look at my 3rd blog post for more details.
Key words: temples, Angkor, tourism, shopping, massages, food orgasms, luxury
– 12th, 13th, 14th nights

Then you might want to get back to Phnom Penh (which will take you another day) in order to fly home or you can go straight to your next backpacking adventure in another country from Siem Reap.

Hopefully, you found my humble recommendations useful and that I have managed to persuade some of you to jump on a flight to the so-out-of-this-world-amazing country. Feel free to contact me for further information on making your visit in Cambodia successful, or if you have any other tips I’d love to hear them in the comments below.


Best Regards


on September 10, 2015

Lett og godt skrevet . En god forklaring til de som ønsker å reise dit. Til å med jeg fikk lyst til å dra. Ser helt fantastisk ut👏😀

    on September 11, 2015

    Tusen takk, og super tilbakemelding :D

on September 14, 2015

You amazing person! Perfect idea and addition to the blog. Just given me the ideal impromptu quarter/mid/three-eighths life crisis holiday.

Also…. MOTORCYCLES – I know there isn’t a prize but I am still taking this as a win :)

on September 21, 2015

Wow, for en fantastisk guide! Og guri for noen herlige bilder! Cambodia har alltid stått høyt på ønskelisten min (gjerne kombinert med Laos og Vietnam), og jeg lurer på om ikke jeg må få karret meg på første og beste fly så fort jeg er ferdig med masteroppgaven min… For et fantastisk sted!

    on September 21, 2015

    Tusen takk! Helt klart Christina, virkelig å anbefale :D alle tre land er unike, og det er noe for hver sin smak. Alltid hyggelig å høre at jeg inspirerer for nye reisemål ^^

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