Are you bored with the same old travel experiences, visiting the same attractions that everyone visits and being surrounded by loads of annoying tourists? Do you want to return home with unique memories that will last forever and amazing stories? Well, you can – you just need to know how to avoid the ever-growing crowds of tourist travelers who only go where their guidebooks tell them. I have created my favorite itinerary for Cambodia in 2 weeks that I want to share with you. It avoids the main Cambodia tourist spots.
What my biggest challenge is when planning a trip, is which places to go in the time frame I have. I take a lot of time scanning the internet (reading blogs, asking friends etc.). I don’t want to go to one of the touristy Cambodia destinations where everyone is going, as I know that these are not the moments that will last in my memory. As I spend quite some money on traveling I don’t want to be disappointed.
Off course there will always be places that are must sees and where it is not possible to avoid tourists, like Angkor Wat for example, but besides these must sees I always try to find the hidden gems.
Below is my suggested itinerary for a 14 day Cambodia tour. Per location I will highlight a few places that are worth bringing a visit. It can be from a restaurant, a place to sleep or something to see or do.
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia still breaths that relaxing vibe, the slow pace of live and friendly people as ten years ago. Although the city has changed a lot from the outside this has stayed the same. If you have the time to stay a few days then I can definitely recommend. If you want to understand Cambodia as a country, then bringing a visit to the Tuel Sleng and Cheoung Ek museum I can really recommend. Both sights are impressive and heartbreaking, but it reminds us of what happened and that this should never happen again. Furthermore the Royal Palace is worth a visit. It is a beautiful complex with a lot of Khmer architecture.
If your stomach is craving from some food then go to Friends. It is without doubt one of the best socially sustainable restaurant AND serves amazing food! It empowers street children and marginalized people by teaching them hospitality skills that they can put into practice. Another fabulous restaurant is Malis (136 Norodom Boulevard). It serves amazing authentic Cambodian food. It is a more upscale restaurant for Cambodia and a bit more pricey than other restaurants, but you then will also have an excellent meal. For some delicious handmade noodles and dumplings go to Noodle House. It is located on the Street 130 not far from Riverside, a lovely area to stroll around as well. For some good shopping go to hip 240 street and its connecting streets.
From Phnom Penh go by fast boat via the Tonle Sap lake to Siem Reap and see the floating villages along the way.
Siem Reap is most famous for the Angkor Wat temple complex. Angkor Wat draws two million visitors every year. It will take you at least 3 days if you would like to fully explore the 400Km2 large area. Don’t forget to bring a passport size picture. Visit Angkor Wat at sunrise and don’t stop like many others at the entrance and the water, but walk inside. Then watch the sunrise not at the entrance, but at the east side of the complex. Visit not only Angkor Wat, but also the less touristy complexes of Ta Prohm, Bayon and Banteay Srei.
If you are ready for some refreshment and a bite then go to Peace Cafe Angkor. It provides fresh healthy vegetarian food, delicious juices, a bakery and a fair trade shop. It is located next door to the An Kau Saa Pagoda. If you are craving for some western-style food in the evening I recommend going to Il Forno. They serve excellent Italian food. Another great place is Abacus Garden Restaurant. This lovely small restaurant serves authentic French cuisine cooked to the highest standards and at very reasonable prices.
If you want to dive into the local culture then visiting a monastery and joining a monk for a day is a really nice experience. You can learn about the daily activities and practices of the monks and participate in meditation. You can also spend the night at a local village. If you even are interested to help or volunteer at a local school and immersing in village life then Chiro Village run by the friendly Sophal is a good place to go.
From Siem Reap take a plane to Banlung. The road connection is really bad between Siem Reap and Banlung so flying is the only option.
Hidden away in the remote Ratanakiri province in northeast Cambodia is the small yet active town of Banlung. Banlung’s nickname is ‘Red City’ due to the red dust in the dry season. Visit the central market. The vast majority of shoppers here are locals and so it has a very authentic feel. You will stumble over the many pigs. Take a refreshing shower under the many waterfalls in the area, like Tuk Chrou for example. This waterfall falls down via 7 different stairs. Another great and stunning adventure is hiking through the vast jungle of Virachay National Park for a few days.
Spot sweet water dolphins of which there are only 60 left in this area. Bring your own lunch and enjoy it at the edge of the river. This is only possible in the dry season.
From Banlung drive back to Phnom Penh in 4 days and visit Kratie on the way.
The French colonial town of Kratie is a nice stop on the way. Stroll around the local market and spot the rare freshwater Irrawaddy Dolphins. The best time of the year to see the dolphins is between March and August, when the waters are lower. You can take a tuk tuk or motorbike taxi to the village where you can hire a boat and driver to take you out to see the dolphins. Experience the relaxed island vibe of Ka Trong. See how the monks live, see how they build boats for only 150 dollars and ask the locals about the Mekong mud turtles. At last but not least enjoy the sunset some of the best Mekong sunsets that you will ever see. A nice place to stay is the Sala lodge, a traditional rural guest house that serves excellent authentic Cambodian food.
Spend one night in Phnom Penh before heading further south in the direction of Kep and Kampot.
Kep is a small seaside town nestled between the ocean and the hills of Kep National Park. It used to be an old seaside retreat for the French elite. Nowadays you still see some of the heritage of this French period. The streets are still scattered with old colonial houses, most of them are ruins. The village is famous for its crab market with a dozen restaurants. You can eat some of the best crab in the world.
There is not much activity in Kep so it is perfect for a day-trip from Kampot, unless you are looking for some relaxation, enjoying fresh seafood, and hiking or mountain biking through the green hills.
I personally found Kampot more atmospheric with better amenities, and would recommend using it as your base. Kampot used to be Cambodia’s bustling port town. Now it has a reputation of beauty and calm and is a favorite among both locals and tourists who like a slower pace of life. Stay at lovely Mea Culpa, where French doors open onto a patio with river views. Rooms cost around 25 USD a night.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong Samloem Island is one of those places that you want to stay as it is and keep it your own little secret. The island is still very underdeveloped. Unlike Koh Rong and Sihanoukville, this island hasn’t been spoiled by tourism yet. Apart from a few accommodation options there is not much else. It has a beautiful pristine beach where you can relax, enjoy the sea breeze and re-boot yourself.
Are you looking for the good old days of southeast Asia’s rustic island living? Well, then Koh Ta Kiev is maybe your bet. It only has a handful of budget options.
Ferries depart for Koh Rong Sanloem’s Saracen Ba, Koh Rong’s Koh Tuch Beach and M’Pai Bay at least three times a day from Sihanoukville. It takes you less then an hour to get there.
You can also explore the National Park of Botum Sakor. It is still an unexplored and one of the main Cambodia hidden gems as it is squeezed between the ocean and the Cardamom Mountains and therefore not easy to reach. It is considered one of the most beautiful rain forests in Southeast Asia. Exploring this vast jungle of the Cardamom Mountains will leave you feeling overwhelmed. What are the hidden places you have discovered in Cambodia? Please share them with me, would love to hear!