Planning an epic adventure to the Khmer Kingdom? This 3-week Cambodia itinerary will have you exploring some of the country’s highlights, relaxing on white sand beaches, and tasting sensational Cambodian cuisine.
Cambodia was a country I knew little about before I went, and I absolutely fell in love with this Southeast Asian gem.
A trip to Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat. But besides this famous temple complex, what else is there to see and do in Cambodia?
Let me tell you, friend, there’s a lot.
Get out into the countryside and explore some of Cambodia’s picturesque landscapes in Battambang. Treat yourself to a few days of complete relaxation on Koh Rong. Explore the country’s rich culture and sobering history in vibrant Phnom Penh. Most importantly, eat your way into a food coma on amok curry, Khmer curry and Kampot pepper crabs. Cambodian food is So. Damn. Good. 10/10 would go back to Cambodia just for the food.
THE BEST TIME TO GO BACKPACKING IN CAMBODIA
Speaking from experience, April is not a good time to go to Cambodia. With temperatures reaching 39°C in Siem Reap I was a sweaty mess for most of our trip. Instead, a better time to visit is between November and February. This is Cambodia’s dry season and the country sees little rain and milder temperatures.
BACKPACKING CAMBODIA ON A BUDGET
In 18 nights we spent $393.90 USD on accommodation, averaging out at $21.90 per night and $10.95 per person. We stayed in private rooms in hostels, low budget hotels and guest houses (including a stay at an eco-resort on Koh Rong Island). You could do this cheaper if you were staying in dorm rooms.
Entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park is expensive, with a a 1-day pass starting at $37 USD. Most other attractions and entrance fees are fairly cheap.
Food is very affordable in Cambodia. You could expect to pay as little as $1-$2 USD for a delicious Cambodian curry, while Western food is slightly more expensive.
Transport in Cambodia is also inexpensive. A 6-hour bus trip could cost around $9-$12 USD.
Like in a lot of Southeast Asian countries, backpacking Cambodia is very affordable. Your daily budget will depend a lot on your travel style, but if you’re anything like me $30-$35 USD is a good suggested daily budget for Cambodia.
CAMBODIA QUICK TIPS
Currency: The official currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR). However, USD is widely accepted (we used USD for the majority of our time in Cambodia. 1 USD is equivalent to roughly 4035.51 riel.
Language: Khmer is the official language in Cambodia, with over 90% of the population speaking it. English is widely spoken, especially in the larger cities and tourist destinations.
Credit Cards & ATM’s: ATM’s are available all over Cambodia. Restaurants and hotels in larger cities will likely accept payment by credit or debit card, but it always pays to carry cash with you.
Plugs: The power plugs and sockets are type A, C and G. The standard voltage in Cambodia is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.
Safety: Though I never felt unsafe when I was in Cambodia, there is some risk of violent crime, petty theft and bag snatching. As always, be sensible and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home. Make sure to check your local travel advisory before you go.
3-Week Cambodia Itinerary: Where To Go & What To Do
- Phnom Penh: 3 Nights
- Battambang: 3 Nights
- Siem Reap: 4 Nights
- Sihanoukville: 1 Night
- Koh Rong: 3 Nights
- Kampot: 3 Nights
- Kep: 2 Nights
Phnom Penh: 3 Nights
Any 3-week Cambodia itinerary should begin in colourful, culture-filled, chaotic Phnom Penh.
Once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’ a lot of Phnom Penh’s shine was damaged by the impact of war. But today the city is an alluring place, and exactly what you dreamed a Southeast Asian city would be.
Filled with erratic motorbike drivers, tantalising street food stalls and bright temples, Phnom Penh is the perfect place to start your Cambodian adventure.
Killing Fields & S21 Museum
Your trip to Phnom Penh should include a trip to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. While they’re not easy places to visit it’s essential to do so to gain an understanding of an important and tragic part of Cambodia’s history.
During Pol Pot’s genocidal reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979 it’s estimated that up to 2 million Cambodian’s were murdered. A lot of them met their ends at Choeung Ek after being tortured at Tuol Sleng Prison. Today an audio guide will take you around the site. You’ll hear harrowing stories of survivors and accounts from Him Huy, a guard and executioner at Choeung Ek. It’s one of the most haunting places I’ve ever been.
The S21 Museum and Choueng Ek Genocidal Centre each cost $6 USD including audio guides.
Royal Palace & National Museum of Cambodia
Phnom Penh also offers a vibrant cultural scene. The Royal Palace should definitely be on your Phnom Penh bucket list. It’s the official royal residence of the King of Cambodia and makes for a fascinating visit. You could easily spend a couple of hours wandering the ornate buildings and manicured grounds.
Another place that’s worth visiting is the National Museum of Cambodia, home to one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer art. Entrance to the Royal Palace is 40,000 riel (roughly $10 USD) and entrance to the National Museum is $10 USD.
Eat: For tasty modernised dishes with a social enterprise twist check out Friends the Restaurant. They also have a shop next door called Friends ‘n’ Stuff that sells products that change lives, and it’s a great place to shop for souvenirs. Opposite from Friends the Restaurant, Kabbas serves affordable and delicious Cambodian food.
Battambang: 3 Nights
For a big city with not much to do, Battambang is surprisingly endearing. We spent 2 days here and that was plenty of time to soak in some of the chilled vibes and get to know the local people.
On the first day we didn’t really do much, just rented bicycles and rode lazily along the brown Sangker River, stopping for an ice block when the day got too hot.
While in Battambang make sure to get out and explore the surrounding countryside. We did a tour with Huot of Battambang Amazing Tour by Huot and it made for a great day. Despite some pressure to give a 5 star TripAdvisor review, Huot was a friendly and knowledgeable guide. He took us to ride the bamboo train, up Banan temple, to the Killing Caves and to a ‘secret spot’ to watch the bats fly at sunset.
Eat: Coconut Lyly offers cooking classes, and I really regret not taking the opportunity to learn how to prepare Cambodian cuisine (honestly you need to go, it’s just that good!). The small restaurant also serves delicious Khmer and amok curries.
Siem Reap: 4 Nights
If I can offer you one tip, friend, it’s don’t go backpacking Cambodia in April. After three months traveling through Southeast Asia I thought I had acclimatised to the heat and humidity. Nope, it turns out Siem Reap in April is on a whole new level of sweat.
On the plus side, visiting in April does bring the opportunity to visit the temples during Khmer New Year. Though Angkor Wat will be crowded with festive locals, you’ll get to experience what feels like a massive street party right next to the ancient ruins.
Located just outside of Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap is the perfect base to explore the area. I recommend spending three full days in Siem Reap to fully explore the ruins and see as many temples as you can before you get templed-out.
Get up bright and early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, check out the faces carved into stone at the incredible Bayon, or get your Lara Croft on at the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple Ta Prohm.
If you’re in Siem Reap for a few days you should head to Beng Melea for a magical temple experience. It’s about 1.5 hours’ drive outside of Siem Reap and you have to get there early before the tour buses start shuttling tourists in. But if you can drag yourself out of bed you’ll be rewarded with deserted ruins that feel straight out of Indiana Jones.
Before you visit Angkor Archaeological Park you’ll need to get an Angkor Pass, only available at the official ticket centre around 4km away from Siem Reap. You can buy a 1-day pass for $37 USD, a 3-day pass for $62 USD or a 7-day pass for $72 USD.
Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus
A highlight of our time in Siem Reap was a visit to Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus. “The Brightness of the Arts” is a social enterprise aiming to improve the lives of Cambodian young people through art schools, educational programs and social support.
The circus itself was put on by young people, and although not as polished as Cirque du Soleil, the passion, energy and skill of the young performers made it a compelling watch. Tickets start from $18 USD.
Read More: The Ultimate Southeast Asia Bucket List
Sihanoukville & Koh Rong: 4 Nights
When you think ‘Southeast Asian island’ you don’t really think Cambodia, do you? Instead your mind jumps straight to Thailand. While I can’t deny the appeal of Thai islands, there’s a hidden gem waiting for you on Koh Rong.
To get to Koh Rong Island head first to Sihanoukville, but don’t spend long there as the town is uninteresting and the beach covered in litter. We flew to Sihanoukville from Siem Reap. There are generally a few flights running each week, and the flight time is only one hour. Otherwise the bus takes 9-11 hours.
From Sihanoukville catch a boat across to Koh Rong Island and make for Lonely Beach.
Located on a remote inlet miles away from the island’s party beach, Lonely Beach is pure tranquillity. Spend a relaxing few days here on the white sand beach, snorkelling in clear warm waters, and watching the sunset while sipping a mojito at the beach bar. Honestly, I didn’t want to leave.
Stay: If you stay on Lonely Beach there’s only one accommodation option; Lonely Beach. As an eco-resort it’s not luxurious, but if you can cope with bucket showers and limited internet access, the resort is pure paradise. From your beach bungalow it’s only steps to the beach, where, let’s be honest, you’ll probably spend your days. We paid $50 USD per night for a bungalow with sea views.
Kampot: 3 Nights
Located by the Kompong Bay River sleepy Kampot was one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia and one of the highlights of our 3-week Cambodia itinerary.
On first glance it might not look like much, but look beyond the crumbling buildings and you’ll find a town brimming with charm where the pace of life is best described as slow. There’s not an awful lot to do in Kampot itself but it has started to become something of an expat hub, nomads bringing with them an influx of cafes offering good coffee and great brunch.
Take a sunset cruise along the river, meander slowly through town or get out and explore some of the stunning countryside. Whatever you do, anticipate spending at least a few days here; there’s something about Kampot that practically begs you to stay just a little longer.
Kampot Pepper Farm
Kampot is the home of world-class pepper, and while in Kampot you should take the opportunity to visit a local pepper farm. We hired a tuk tuk to take us out to La Plantation, a family-run farm that produces black, red and white Kampot pepper.
While at the farm you’ll get a free tour of the pepper vines and a sample tasting of some of the peppers. I’m by no means a pepper connoisseur, but I swear you can taste the difference with Kampot pepper. A pepper farm tour might not be what you think of when you think Cambodia, but it does make for a fun experience.
Bokor National Park
Bokor National Park makes for an unmissable day trip from Kampot. Most hotels and many tuk tuk drivers in Kampot will offer tours that will take you to the various sites, including the crumbling old Catholic Church, graffiti-covered Black Palace and Popokvil Waterfall. A highlight of the tour was exploring the atmospheric abandoned casino, a great place for taking photos.
You could also rent a motorbike and drive up to Bokor Hill Station yourself.
Eat: If you’re heading to Kep from Kampot make sure to stop at Khmer Roots Café. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere the café offers a cooking class which would probably be fantastic if you had time. We stopped for lunch, and the curries prepared from scratch in front of us were some of the best I’ve ever had. For something a little more upmarket head to Rikitikitavi, a superb fusion restaurant with views of the river.
Kep: 2 Nights
Coastal Kep was the last stop on our 3-week Cambodia itinerary. We only had a day to explore but Kep isn’t big and that was enough time to see the main sites and taste the famous Kampot pepper crab. Kep could easily be done as a day trip from Kampot.
While in Kep make sure to check out Kep Butterfly Farm. Located a bumpy tuk tuk drive out of town, the colourful, flower-filled gardens are filled with a myriad of exotic butterflies.
While in Kep you should also check out the derelict villas that dot the countryside. Once the homes of Cambodia’s elite, the crumbling mansions are now even more bleakly beautiful, and some have been painted with vibrant murals.
WHAT TO PACK FOR 3 WEEKS IN CAMBODIA
Wondering what to pack for your Cambodia adventure? I’ve got your back! For a list of the travel essentials I take on every trip, read this post next.
I also recommend packing:
- Light cotton pants you can wear to cover up at temples
- Small day pack you can wear on the daily
- Unlocked mobile phone (so you can buy a Cambodian SIM card)
- First aid kit (with basic essentials)
HAVE A LITTLE EXTRA TIME IN CAMBODIA?
If you have longer than 3 weeks in Cambodia you could check out Koh Rong Sanloem, an island off the coast of Cambodia that’s said to resemble Koh Rong of the past (before it became the party island it is today).
Or, you could head to Kratie to try and catch a glimpse of Cambodia’s elusive river dolphins. Kratie is one of those laid back, charming Cambodian towns that’s starting to become a backpacker mecca.
Cambodia is an enchanting country, and three weeks here felt like barely enough to scratch the surface. From exploring the nation’s chaotic capital and witnessing a sunset at one of the world’s most impressive religious sites, to relaxing in tropical paradise and falling in love with sleepy Kampot, Cambodia has a lot to offer the adventurous backpacker.
Even writing about it has me longing to go back. Friend, I have a feeling you’re going to fall in love with the Khmer Kingdom.