Welcome to Cambodia, a beautiful country steeped in history, culture, and natural beauty. Located in Southeast Asia, Cambodia is a popular destination for backpackers seeking adventure, exploration, and authentic cultural experiences. From its majestic ancient temples to its bustling cities and serene countryside, Cambodia offers a multitude of attractions that will captivate any traveler.
When backpacking in Cambodia, there are countless opportunities to immerse yourself in the rich history and vibrant culture of the country. You’ll have the chance to explore the famous temples of Angkor, discover the somber history of the capital city Phnom Penh, relax on the stunning beaches of Sihanoukville, and engage with local communities in the countryside.
Cambodia, known as the Kingdom of Wonder, boasts a warm and welcoming population, eager to share their traditions and way of life with visitors. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a nature lover, a foodie, or simply seeking adventure, Cambodia has something to offer for everyone.
In this article, we will guide you through the must-see attractions and activities in Cambodia while backpacking. So, grab your backpack, put on your adventurous spirit, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through this enchanting country.
Exploring the Temples of Angkor
No trip to Cambodia is complete without visiting the iconic temples of Angkor. Located near the town of Siem Reap, the Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most breathtaking archaeological sites in the world.
The temples of Angkor were built by the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries and are a testament to the grandeur and architectural brilliance of their time. The most famous temple, Angkor Wat, is an architectural masterpiece and the largest religious monument in the world. Marvel at its intricate carvings, towered spires, and beautiful bas-reliefs that depict ancient Hindu mythology.
Exploring the complex is a spiritual and mesmerizing experience. Wander through the ancient ruins, watch the sunrise or sunset over Angkor Wat, and climb to the top of temples for panoramic views of the surrounding jungle. Don’t miss the enchanting temple of Ta Prohm, known for the giant tree roots intertwining with the stone structures, creating a mystical and ethereal atmosphere.
To make the most of your visit, consider hiring a knowledgeable guide who can provide historical and cultural insights. They will unveil hidden gems and tell captivating stories about the temples’ past. Alternatively, rent a bicycle and navigate the vast complex at your own pace.
Exploring the temples of Angkor is a journey back in time, immersing you in the rich history and spiritual significance that continues to captivate visitors from around the world. It’s an experience that should not be missed during your backpacking trip in Cambodia.
Discovering the Historical Capital, Phnom Penh
As the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh offers a fascinating blend of history, culture, and vibrant city life. This bustling metropolis is a must-visit destination for backpackers looking to delve into Cambodia’s past and experience its present-day energy.
One of the most significant historical sites in Phnom Penh is the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S-21. This former high school turned prison and torture center during the Khmer Rouge regime provides a haunting insight into the country’s tragic history. Learn about the atrocities committed and pay respect to the victims who lost their lives during this dark period in Cambodian history.
Another essential stop is the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, located just outside the city. This somber site is a reminder of the Khmer Rouge regime’s brutal actions, where thousands of innocent lives were taken. A visit to the Killing Fields allows you to pay tribute to the victims and gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s history.
For a change of pace, explore the bustling markets of Phnom Penh, such as the Central Market and the Russian Market. Lose yourself amidst the maze of stalls filled with vibrant textiles, traditional crafts, and delectable street food. Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere, haggle for bargains, and taste the flavors of Cambodia’s local cuisine.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the Royal Palace, home to the King of Cambodia. Marvel at the intricate Khmer architecture, stroll through the tranquil gardens, and visit the mesmerizing Silver Pagoda, adorned with thousands of silver tiles.
Phnom Penh is also a city of contrasts, where ancient traditions seamlessly blend with modern developments. Take a walk along the riverside promenade, where you can relax, soak in the views, and witness the city’s vibrant and ever-evolving atmosphere.
From its historical sites to its bustling markets and vibrant city life, Phnom Penh is a city that will leave a lasting impression. It is a place where you can discover Cambodia’s past, engage with its present, and gain insights into the country’s rich culture and heritage.
Exploring the Cultural Hub of Siem Reap
Siem Reap, located in northwestern Cambodia, is the gateway to the magnificent temples of Angkor and a vibrant cultural hub. While the temples steal the spotlight, Siem Reap itself offers a wealth of attractions and experiences that should not be overlooked during your backpacking trip.
Start your exploration of Siem Reap by wandering through the charming streets of the Old Market area. Here, you’ll find a myriad of shops, restaurants, and bars, offering a mix of traditional Khmer crafts and modern souvenirs. Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere and sample local street food delicacies, such as fried spiders or traditional Khmer BBQ.
Art enthusiasts will enjoy visiting the many art galleries and workshops that dot Siem Reap. Get a glimpse into the thriving contemporary art scene and admire the works of local artists who draw inspiration from Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness a traditional Apsara dance performance, a traditional Khmer dance form that tells mythical stories through graceful movements and elaborate costumes.
For a unique experience, take a trip to the floating villages of Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Cruise through the stilted houses, observe the local fishing communities, and gain insights into their daily lives. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a different way of living and a chance to understand the importance of the lake’s ecosystem to the region.
In addition to its cultural offerings, Siem Reap is also a fantastic destination for adventure enthusiasts. Embark on a quad bike tour through the countryside, exploring rural villages, rice paddies, and remote temples. Alternatively, take a boat ride on the nearby Tonle Sap River, where you can spot wildlife, enjoy the scenic views, and witness stunning sunsets.
Siem Reap offers a vibrant blend of culture, history, and adventure. Whether you’re exploring the temples of Angkor or immersing yourself in the local arts scene, Siem Reap will captivate you with its charm and provide unforgettable experiences during your backpacking journey in Cambodia.
Relaxing in the Coastal Town of Sihanoukville
Nestled along the Gulf of Thailand, Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s premier beach destination, offering pristine white sandy beaches and a relaxed coastal atmosphere. After exploring the temples and bustling cities, take some time to unwind and soak up the sun in this idyllic coastal town.
Sihanoukville is home to several beautiful beaches, each with its own unique charm. Serendipity Beach is the most popular and vibrant, known for its lively beach bars, water sports activities, and bustling atmosphere. For a quieter beach experience, head to Otres Beach, where you can enjoy a more laid-back ambiance, palm-fringed shores, and crystal-clear waters.
Take a boat trip to the nearby islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, known for their pristine beaches and stunning marine life. Spend your days snorkeling in the turquoise waters, sunbathing on the secluded beaches, and enjoying the peaceful island life. Don’t miss the magical experience of witnessing the bioluminescent plankton, which lights up the water at night.
Sihanoukville is not just about beaches; it also offers a vibrant nightlife scene. Embark on a bar-hopping adventure, where you can enjoy live music, dance to international beats, and socialize with fellow backpackers. The lively atmosphere and beachfront setting create the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable night out.
If you’re craving a taste of adventure, explore the surrounding countryside by renting a motorbike or joining an organized tour. Discover hidden waterfalls, visit local villages, and journey through lush landscapes that showcase the natural beauty of Cambodia beyond the coast.
Whether you’re seeking relaxation on the beach, thrilling water sports, or vibrant nightlife, Sihanoukville has it all. It’s the perfect place to unwind, recharge, and create unforgettable memories during your backpacking adventure in Cambodia.
Exploring the Countryside and Rural Life
While Cambodia’s cities and beach towns offer their own unique experiences, venturing into the countryside provides a chance to witness the country’s rural beauty and immerse yourself in local village life. Step away from the tourist hotspots and uncover the authentic charm of Cambodia’s countryside.
One of the best ways to explore the countryside is by embarking on a cycling tour. Rent a bicycle or join a guided tour and pedal through scenic landscapes, past picturesque rice fields, and along peaceful countryside roads. Encounter friendly locals along the way, who will welcome you with warm smiles and curious greetings.
Visit rural villages and get a glimpse into the daily lives of Cambodian farmers and artisans. Witness traditional farming practices, such as oxen plowing the fields or farmers planting rice by hand. Engage with locals, learn about their customs and traditions, and even participate in traditional activities like weaving or cooking Khmer dishes.
Experience the serenity of the countryside with a homestay in a village. Stay with a local family and get an intimate look into their way of life. Share meals together, help with daily chores, and learn about their traditions and beliefs. It’s an opportunity to form lasting connections and gain a deeper appreciation for Cambodia’s rich culture.
If you want to escape the beaten path, head to the northeastern region of Ratanakiri. Here, you’ll find lush forests, impressive waterfalls, and minority ethnic communities. Trek through the jungle, visit remote villages, and immerse yourself in the unique traditions and customs of the locals. It’s a chance to experience the raw beauty of Cambodia’s countryside and witness a way of life that remains largely untouched by modernization.
The countryside of Cambodia offers a tranquil escape from the bustling cities and tourist-filled areas. It’s a chance to connect with nature, engage with local communities, and gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s rural heritage. So, venture off the beaten path and explore the countryside to discover the hidden gems of this beautiful country.
Experiencing the Vibrant Nightlife in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap
When the sun sets in Cambodia, the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap come alive with a vibrant and exhilarating nightlife scene. From rooftop bars to night markets and clubs, there are endless possibilities for an exciting night out during your backpacking journey.
Phnom Penh offers a diverse range of nightlife options to suit every taste. The riverside area is a popular spot for both locals and tourists, offering a variety of bars and restaurants lining the Mekong River. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the promenade, stop by a rooftop bar for panoramic views, or dine at a riverside restaurant while live music fills the air.
If you’re in the mood for some dancing and live entertainment, head to Street 51, also known as “The Strip,” in Phnom Penh. Here, you’ll find numerous clubs and bars with DJs spinning a mix of international and local tunes. Dance the night away, mingle with fellow travelers, and soak up the energetic atmosphere.
In Siem Reap, the nightlife scene is centered around the vibrant Pub Street. This bustling street is lined with an array of bars, restaurants, and vibrant night markets. Embark on a culinary adventure by sampling local street food, from fried noodles to exotic fruits, and indulge in a refreshing cocktail or two from the lively bars.
For those seeking a more laid-back vibe, relax in one of the rooftop bars in Siem Reap where you can enjoy a cold drink while taking in the stunning views of the city. Alternatively, catch a traditional Apsara dance show, where graceful dancers adorned in intricate costumes perform ancient Khmer dances accompanied by live music.
The night markets in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are also a must-visit for a unique and vibrant nighttime experience. Explore the stalls filled with handicrafts, clothing, and souvenirs, and indulge in local street food delights. The bustling atmosphere, vibrant colors, and aromatic scents make for an unforgettable evening.
Whether you’re looking to dance the night away, indulge in delicious street food, or simply soak up the vibrant atmosphere, both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap offer a vibrant nightlife scene that will leave you with memorable experiences and stories to share.
Sampling Authentic Khmer Cuisine
One of the highlights of backpacking in Cambodia is the opportunity to indulge in the delicious and flavorful Khmer cuisine. Khmer cuisine is a delightful fusion of flavors, drawing influences from neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, while still maintaining its own unique character.
One of the most iconic Khmer dishes is Amok, a delectable curry dish made with fish, chicken, or vegetables, cooked in a rich and aromatic sauce of coconut milk, lemongrass, and kroeung (a blend of spices). The dish is typically steamed in a banana leaf, which helps infuse the curry with even more flavors.
Another must-try dish is Lok Lak, a popular Khmer stir-fry served with beef or chicken, marinated in a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, and herbs. It is typically accompanied by a side of fresh vegetables and a tangy dipping sauce made with lime and Kampot pepper.
For those with a more adventurous palate, don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of Cambodia’s unique street food. Try the famous deep-fried tarantulas, a popular snack among the locals. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, they are surprisingly flavorful and not as intimidating as they may appear.
One cannot talk about Khmer cuisine without mentioning the abundance of fresh seafood available along Cambodia’s coastline. Whether you’re in Sihanoukville or Kep, be sure to feast on the local specialties such as Kep crab, grilled squid, or prawns cooked in flavorful sauces.
To complete your culinary exploration, indulge in some of Cambodia’s sweet treats. Num Banh Chok, a noodle dish topped with a fish-based curry sauce and fresh herbs, is a popular breakfast choice. For dessert, try Bai Sach Chrouk, a simple yet delicious combination of rice, pork, pickled vegetables, and a side of broth.
When dining in Cambodia, be sure to pair your meals with the national beverage, Angkor Beer. This refreshing brew is the perfect complement to the spicy and flavorful dishes, and it’s a favorite among locals and travelers alike.
Whether you’re savoring a traditional Khmer dish at a local restaurant, trying street food from a market stall, or participating in a cooking class, sampling authentic Khmer cuisine is an essential part of your backpacking experience in Cambodia. Let your taste buds embark on a flavorful journey and discover the culinary delights that this beautiful country has to offer.
Participating in Volunteer Opportunities
While exploring Cambodia as a backpacker, it is also an incredible opportunity to give back and make a positive impact on the local communities. There are numerous volunteer programs and organizations throughout the country that allow travelers to contribute their time and skills to meaningful projects.
One popular volunteer opportunity in Cambodia is teaching English. Many schools and organizations are in need of English teachers, especially in rural areas where access to education is limited. By volunteering as an English teacher, you can help empower local children and provide them with valuable language skills that will open doors to better opportunities in the future.
Another rewarding volunteer experience is working with community development projects. These initiatives focus on improving living conditions, providing access to clean water, building infrastructure, and supporting sustainable livelihoods. You can get involved in constructing houses, digging wells, or assisting with agricultural projects alongside local communities.
If you have a passion for wildlife and environmental conservation, there are also opportunities to volunteer in conservation projects in Cambodia. From assisting with wildlife rescue and rehabilitation to participating in marine conservation efforts, you can contribute to preserving Cambodia’s unique ecosystems and protecting endangered species.
While it’s important to choose a reputable volunteer organization that aligns with ethical practices, volunteering in Cambodia allows you to form genuine connections with local communities and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives. It is an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the country and contribute to its development and sustainability.
Before embarking on a volunteer experience, take the time to research and understand the specific needs and requirements of the project. It’s essential to approach volunteering with respect, cultural sensitivity, and a willingness to learn from the local people.
Volunteering in Cambodia not only provides an enriching experience for backpackers but also creates a positive impact on the communities and environments in need. It allows you to give back, learn from the locals, and create lasting memories of making a difference in this beautiful country.
Enjoying Outdoor Activities: Trekking, Cycling, and Water Sports
Cambodia’s beautiful landscapes and diverse terrain make it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping adventures or peaceful nature explorations, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy during your backpacking trip.
Trekking is a popular activity for those who want to immerse themselves in Cambodia’s natural beauty and discover hidden gems. Head to the northeast region of Mondulkiri, where you’ll find lush jungles, cascading waterfalls, and indigenous communities. Trek through the forests, encounter exotic wildlife, and spend the night in remote villages for an authentic cultural experience.
Cycling is another fantastic way to explore Cambodia’s countryside and get off the beaten path. Rent a bike or join a cycling tour and pedal through picturesque rice paddies, alongside tranquil rivers, and into charming rural villages. Feel the breeze on your face as you discover the beauty of Cambodia at your own pace.
For water sports enthusiasts, Cambodia’s coastline offers a range of exhilarating activities. In Sihanoukville, try your hand at snorkeling and scuba diving, exploring the vibrant coral reefs and underwater life. Adrenaline junkies can take part in water sports such as jet skiing, banana boating, or even kiteboarding for a thrilling experience.
If you prefer a more relaxed aquatic experience, consider taking a boat trip along the mighty Mekong River. Cruise through mangrove forests, visit floating villages, and witness the peaceful rural life along the riverbanks. It’s a serene and scenic journey that allows you to connect with Cambodia’s natural wonders.
Whether you’re trekking through the jungle, cycling through the countryside, or indulging in water sports along the coast, outdoor activities in Cambodia offer a unique perspective on the country’s landscapes and culture. Not only will you get to enjoy thrilling adventures and breathtaking views, but you’ll also have the opportunity to interact with locals, learn about their way of life, and create unforgettable memories.
Cambodia is a captivating destination for backpackers in search of adventure, culture, and natural beauty. From the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor to the bustling streets of Phnom Penh and the serene beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia offers a diverse range of experiences that will leave you enchanted and wanting more.
Exploring the temples of Angkor is a must-do, where you’ll be transported back in time and marvel at the architectural wonders of the Khmer Empire. Discover the tragic history of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, visit poignant sites such as the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and witness the resilience of the Cambodian people.
In Siem Reap, immerse yourself in the vibrant cultural scene, explore the lively night markets, and indulge in the world-renowned Khmer cuisine. Relax on the pristine beaches of Sihanoukville, unwind in beachside cafes, and enjoy water sports activities in the crystal-clear waters.
Don’t forget to venture into the countryside, where you can experience the rural way of life, participate in volunteer opportunities, and explore Cambodia’s natural beauty. Whether it’s trekking through dense jungles, cycling through picturesque landscapes, or discovering wildlife and indigenous communities, the countryside offers a different perspective of this remarkable country.
As your adventure comes to an end, take with you memories of the warm smiles and genuine hospitality of the Cambodian people. Reflect on the rich history and culture you’ve experienced, and the positive impact you’ve made through volunteer activities. Cambodia’s beauty, resilience, and spirit will forever hold a special place in your heart.
So, pack your backpack, lace up your shoes, and prepare to embark on an incredible journey through the Kingdom of Wonder. Cambodia awaits with open arms, ready to offer you an unforgettable experience filled with adventure, discovery, and a deep appreciation for its vibrant culture and rich heritage.