Cambodia is one of the most amazing but also one of the most challenging countries that I have ever travelled to. I mean, in just three weeks I got pissed on by a bat, almost stranded in Battambang, bitten by Fire ants (my mom came off worst) and almost thrown out of a tuk-tuk! (Read my Cambodia travel stories here). But was it worth it? Absolutely! The ancient temples, sacred mountains and friendly people made it such an amazing trip. I spent three weeks there and today I’m sharing my top Cambodia travel tips to help you to make the most of your time in the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’.
Top Cambodia Travel Tips
Get a Decent Backpack!
A backpack is certainly the best type of luggage to travel with in Cambodia. The roads are often bumpy and dusty in Cambodia (especially Siem Reap) and so they are real not suitable for rollable suitcases. A sturdy 50-60L backpack will be plenty for 2-3 weeks in Cambodia.
Pack light for travel in Cambodia – the more you pack the more you have to carry and you will probably find that you don’t need half of it when you get there! You can completely pair down your make up for a start as the weather will be so humid that make up will slide off your face! (Here are my travel makeup kit essentials). Buy a Kindle instead of taking hardback or paperback books – it will save on space and weight. For clothes, you don’t need jeans or jumpers – cotton trousers, T-shirts and vest tops will do, with a sarong to use on the beach and as a scarf for temples.
Download the Pass and GRAB app
Tuk-tuks are the main cheapest way to get around in Cambodia. It’s difficult to know how much to pay and whether you are getting into a trustworthy tuk-tuk. One of my top Cambodia travel tips is to order tuk-tuks is by getting a Cambodian SIM card or an Asia SIM card with Airalo and then downloading the GRAB and PASS Apps. GRAB and PASS are the Cambodian equivalent to UBER and you can request a ride and know exactly how much to pay. The rates are quite low for the drivers through the apps and so if I get a good one I often tip.
Pack your Sunscreen and Bugspray!
The weather in Cambodia is extremely hot and humid, lending itself to sun burn and insect bites. Get a decent sunscreen factor 30+ and a good bug spray. Bug sprays with DEET work well (such as Jungle formula) but DEET is not so good for the environment and so you may want to consider an eco friendly alternative (OFF is only around 7% DEET and works very well in Cambodia). After bite or hydro-cortisone cream and antihistamines are also good to pack to take allergic reactions to bites down.
There’s no need to Book Tours in advance!
If you really feel that you want to book tours online in advance there are some fantastic trips with Viator and Get Your Guide. However, it’s much cheaper if you wait to book your tours when you arrive, especially for Angkor Wat. Local tour companies and tuk-tuk drivers are competing with each other and most hotels and hostels will have links with local guides.
Take plenty of crisp $1 Bills
Cambodia works on a dual currency system – the official currency of the Cambodian Riels and the unofficial $USD. It’s easier to work with dollars as the Riels are almost worthless – it’s 4000 Cambodian Riels to the dollar! I found that having a lot of crisp $1 bills was great for paying for everyday stuff like drinks, food and tuk-tuks – it’s one of my best Cambodia travel tips. There were a few times in Cambodia where I had notes refused (it happened to me on the Preah Vihear tour at the transport ticket office).
Book your buses direct with Mekong Express
Always book buses direct with the Cambodian bus company and not through any third party websites such as Bookaway or 12go.asia. I had a serious problem with a bus ticket booked with Bookaway where they had not communicated my return ticket to the bus company. I was nearly refused my seat and basically had to pay again and then ask for a refund from the third party booking site. Most main cities in Cambodia are accessible by Mekong Express buses and you can book with them direct here.
Internal Flights are Great!
Internal flights are really great in Cambodia and when you are looking at prices of sometimes $10 for a bus ticket or $30 fo a flight, the best option is often the latter. We flew from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh with Lanmei Airlines and it was extremely fast, easy and comfortable – 1 hour instead of 6-7 and much less hassle.
Be a little Flexible with the language difference!
Sometimes you might get double what you ordered, sometimes you might get different to what you ordered and sometimes your food order might not arrive at all! Remember that this is Cambodia and not UK or US. Sometimes things get lost in translation with the language difference and sometimes customer service isn’t what you would usually expect. Chill out and go with the flow – it will help you to handle it!
Pack a Water Bottle
Most hostels and hotels in Cambodia offer free drinking water and so a water bottle is a good thing to take (and more eco-friendly than repeatedly buying plastic bottles). If you are wanting to drink tap water but not sure whether to trust it, I recommend a Life Straw – a water bottle with a two stage integrated filter straw for hiking and travelling.
Remember to Haggle!
Remember to bargain hard if you go shopping in Cambodia, especially in the markets. Most department stores and supermarkets will have fixed prices, but this is not the case when you shop in the night markets and buy from street sellers. It’s always a good idea to find out the prices that locals pay for certain items and then bargain to get as close to that as possible. It’s possible to get T-shirts and skirts for just $1-2 in Cambodia!
Further Reading on Cambodia
- What to do in Phnom Penh
- Phnom Penh Royal Palace Guide
- Phnom Penh Killing Fields Tour
- Backpacking Cambodia – Top Travel Tips
- Phnom Penh Tours