1. Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s capital teems with tuk-tuk drivers and street food vendors. Weave through the city, spotting roadside pagodas nestled amongst grand French colonial houses. Why not try a local delicacy, deep fried tarantula? If that doesn’t tempt your tastebuds, there are plenty of other delicious Khmer dishes to try, including fragrant curry amok – you can even eat it out of a coconut shell at Titanic restaurant down by the river! Head along the banks of the Mekong when cocktail hour calls, and catch a sundowner at the grand Foreign Correspondence Club, a place with a significant colonial history and still a magnet for people from every country in the world.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh
You’ll get your money’s worth even at the grandest hotels in Phnom Penh, as luxury is tantalisingly affordable. The leafy neighbourhood around Street 63 is a pleasant place to base yourself, with cheap hostels like the Mad Monkey guaranteeing a lively atmosphere, near to the party strip, Street 51. Tuck yourself away somewhere quieter at Blue Lime Hotel, where, from a mere £31* a night, you can drift away in the pool and enjoy rooms with much-needed air-con and a mini-bar. Oh, and it’s right next door to the Royal Palace.
2. The Killing Fields
Just outside Phnom Penh lies one of the largest mass graves sites in Cambodia, where it is estimated over one million Cambodians were executed during the Khmer Rouge regime. Though it’s the most sobering of Cambodia’s tourist attractions, the scale of the site, coupled with the tales told over your audio guide, is deeply moving and provides real insight into the country’s violent past, as well as the regime’s enduring legacy. You can couple your visit here with a trip to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh by bargaining with a tuk-tuk driver.
3. Angkor Archaeological Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is quite possibly Southeast Asia’s biggest attraction and is certainly one of the top things to do in Cambodia. Hire a tuktuk or rent bicycles to make the short journey north of Siem Reap and visit the magnificent remains of the old Khmer Empire, dating from the ninth century. Head out before dawn to catch the sunrise behind the site’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat or head to a quieter temple like Phnom Bakheng to escape the camera-laden crowds (most people tend to go here for sunset instead). Be sure to check out Ta Prohm, made famous by Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider films, and atmospherically overgrown with banyan trees.
Where to stay
Siem Reap is the closest city to the Angkor sites and makes the obvious place to stay if you’re spending a few days here. If you’re desperate to be first on the scene at sun-up, the serene bamboo huts at Palm Village Resort & Spa are within 2 miles of the Archaeological Park, handy for the airport and offer a bit of peace and quiet away from the notorious Pub Street melee in Siem Reap!
4. Siem Reap
The drop-off point for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap has developed into a tourist hub in recent years and makes a good base for holidays in Cambodia. Grab a few bargains and catch some Khmer-style entertainment at the huge night market, or get a fish pedicure for pennies, before heading to Pub Street for…well the name says it all really! If you’re a little ‘templed out’, head to Wat Bo Village and relax in the gardens of the oldest Buddhist temple or embark on a floating village tour to nearby Tonle Sap Lake. Beware the tourist scams at Chong Kneas and opt for Kompong Phluk for a more authentic experience, especially during the rainy season in October and November when the waters swirl below the fascinating stilt houses.
Where to stay
Pub Street and its surrounds offers up a decent crop of budget dorms, but if you like to party hard and still get a good night’s sleep, look for accommodation south of the river. Try Babel Guesthouse for private doubles and triples that work out very affordably if you’re travelling with a group of friends, plus a lovely patio area with bed-sized garden chairs, perfect for a lounge after a hard day’s temple exploration.
Fondly referred to as ‘Snooky’, the main reason to stop here is the beaches, beautifully sandy and not as crowded as Thailand’s. With six sandy spots to chill out in, all you’ll need is a good douse of suncream and a bar with a happy hour (there are many). Less popular than Victory or Serendipity Beach, Otres Beach is usually quieter and a good spot to try your hand at windsurfing or kayaking. At sundown, head to Otres Night Market for live music and high-quality crafts, amongst BBQ food stalls and pop-up bars.
Where to stay
If you’re travelling Cambodia on a shoestring rather than an end of year bonus, beach huts are dotted along the coast and cost as little as $10 a night (less if you’re happy to share). Most of the best hotels are closer to the beach than the slightly rundown town centre; The Tamarind is more family-oriented than most, with friendly service and a nice little outdoor pool if you’re looking for a touch more comfort.
6. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem
Forget Koh Samui, Koh Rong is the new desert island paradise. Only accessible by a small local ferry, not many travellers make the short ride out from Sihanoukville (around 45 minutes) to this picturesque spot. With 23 pristine beaches to choose from, you’ll be tempted to laze the days away in the sunshine. For the adventurous, there’s plenty of opportunities for hiking, diving and snorkelling. You’ll find cheap cocktails, tasty Khmer food and the best sunset sea view at Monkey Island. And if it’s not quite remote enough for you, tiny and largely undeveloped Koh Rong Samloem, a few miles further, should satisfy all the Robinson Crusoes out there.
Where to stay
About the author
Cat McGloin // @catmcgloin
Caffeine-fueled travel planning obsessive, novice yogi, and Skyscanner’s Travel Editor.