Shannon Bros Guide to Cambodia

Below is our guide to Cambodia, written from the viewpoint of what we “wish we had known” before arriving in each city.  We’ve tried to keep it concise so that each city can be browsed in less than a minute.  Make the adventure your own… but trust these suggestions when in doubt.  We guarantee a great time!

Also check out our guides to Vietnam and Laos – please share with anyone that might benefit 🙂

After 28 days in Cambodia, here is the best of the best and everything we’ve learned in between:

General

  • Cambodia Visa is 30 days on arrival for $30 USD.
  • Two currencies: USD and Riel (1,000 Riel = 25 cents ; 4,000 Riel = $1 USD).  Both currencies are interchangeable and accepted everywhere.
  • Use Canadia ATMs/Banks to take out money.  They still have the lowest fee but no longer offer “no-fee” service.
  • If continuing on to Vietnam, consider a Mekong River tour leaving from Phnom Penh as an alternative to a flight or bus ride.
  • If preparing a Visa for another country in advance through your hostel or a local travel agency, be sure to double check that the activation date is accurate when your passport is returned.  This simple check would have saved us much time, money, and confusion when entering Vietnam.
  • We recommend the city order below when travelling West to East in Cambodia.  A variation of the cities below, starting with Phnom Penh and ending with Siem Reap, would work best from East to West.
  • We didn’t visit the far North or East of Cambodia.  The cities in those regions are more difficult to get to and didn’t offer any “must see” attractions in our opinion.

Siem Reap

  • Stay at Garden Village, Funky Flashpacker, or Mad Monkey.  All three have cheap dorms/rooms, a diverse community, and a pool.  Nothing feels better than collapsing into a cold pool after 6 hours of temple exploring in the Cambodian heat.  Trust us on this.
    • We stayed in Garden Village, loved it, and would stay there again.
    • Funky Flashpacker has air conditioning in the dorms which seals the deal for some people.
    • Mad Monkey is a hostel chain throughout Cambodia.  They offer free merchandise when you stay or buy drinks at one or all of their locations: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot, and Koh Rong Samloem.
  • MUST do a 3 day Angkor Temple pass if you have time, which DOES NOT have to be used on consecutive days.  You simply cannot do the temples justice in 1 day, though you can certainly try.
    • We rented bicycles for $1 USD each day to tour the temples.  It is far more fun (and much cheaper!) than hiring a Tuk Tuk for the day.  We wouldn’t do it again any other way.
    • Sunrise at Angkor Wat is crowded but worth doing once (though you should still start very early each day).  We never stayed for a sunset.
  • Otherwise your strategy should be counter-clockwise.  The popular temples (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Prasat Bayon) are always crowded, whereas the lesser known temples (though no less spectacular) are virtually empty until later in the morning.
  • Start at Angkor Wat each day and head East instead of North:
    • On Day 1, do the “Short Loop” – start at Angkor Wat and head East along the main road.  Turn left (West) when you hit Prasat Banteay Kdei.  Take another left (South) at Prasat Bayon (after entering Angkor Thom).  Stop at every temple along the way.
    • On Day 2, do the “Long Loop” – start at Angkor Wat and head East along the main road.  Turn right (continuing East) at Prasat Banteay Kdei.  Follow the main road all the way back to Angkor Wat.  Stop at every temple along the way.
    • On Day 3, cover anything you missed or return to your favourite places.
  • Pub Street is the backpacker hangout and a ton of fun.
    • It’s easy to find 50 cent Angkor draught here.  If you are paying more than that at the beginning of the night, keep looking.
    • “Angkor What?” is a notable late night spot.  You can immortalize your stay by signing the tables, chairs, and walls with sharpie.  We had a couple memorable nights here.
  • The fruit-shake stands in and around pub street are a highlight.  Try our avacado, mango, banana mixed shake for $1 USD and thank us later 🙂

Battambang

  • We made a mistake and missed Battambang.  If we were to do Cambodia again we would definitely check it out.
  • The main attraction is the Bamboo Train and there are also museums and temples in the area.
  • It is a unique riverside town, and easy to get to from Siem Reap.  You can easily go by bus, but the boat ride from Siem Reap is more adventurous and has a fantastic reputation.

Phnom Penh

  • Stay at White Rabbit or Mad Monkey.
    • We stayed at the Royal Guesthouse.  Highly recommended for a quiet, comfortable stay, but it lacked the backpacker community that other hostels have.
  • Skip the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and National Museum.  Our hostel owner (born and raised in Phnom Penh) advised against these attractions.  A fellow traveller who did visit also told us they weren’t worth it.  We don’t regret missing these sites in the slightest.
  • MUST visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison Museum).
  • The Russian Market and Wat Phnom are also worth a visit.
    • Hire a Tuk Tuk for the day (easily arranged by your hostel) and hit the Killing Fields in the morning, then stop at the Russian Market to eat, chill out, and do some shopping.  Next go to the Genocide Museum in the early afternoon, and end the day with a visit to Wat Phnom.
    • Be prepared.  The Killing Fields and Genocide Museum will change your perspective on life.
  • MUST eat at Chilly Noodle House at least once (we ended up there nearly every meal).
    • Order the handmade pork dumplings and the hand-pulled noodles.  Be sure to sit near the front where you can watch the chef work.
  • We had fun bar hopping at night but didn’t find anywhere that we fell in love with.
    • The rooftop bar at Top Banana Guesthouse has a good reputation but it was closed for the night when we visited.

Sihanoukville

  • Stay at One Stop Hostel.
    • It has clean dorms, showers that are separate from the toilets, great community, and a beautiful pool.
  • If One Stop is full, check out Big Easy or Monkey Republic.
  • Stay at Mushroom Point on Otres Beach if you’re after a quieter vibe away from the main scene.
  • Check out Otres Beach, Sokha Beach, and/or Independence Beach during the day.  You will have your share of Serendipity Beach at night.
  • Nightlife starts on Serendipity Street each night.  Follow the noise to find the most popular spot.  Big Easy, Monkey Republic, and Utopia are notable hangouts.
  • From there the party moves down to Serendipity Beach.  Again, follow the crowds and the noise.
    • When in doubt, head to Dolphin Shack.
    • Try at least one Joss Shot, preferably before the night gets out of hand (you won’t have to look hard).
    • The flaming limbo setup makes an appearance most nights.  It is a lot of fun and makes for some great pictures.
  • We couldn’t find any restaurants worth mentioning.  Most of our meals were eaten at the various hostels, which all seem to have better kitchens than the local restaurants/cafes.

Koh Rong Island

  • Stay at Island Boys if you are in Koh Rong to party.
    • They have cheap dorms, provide 3 free drinks per night, and provide free drinking water (just bring a bottle).
  • For a quieter stay, inquire down the beach beyond the main pier (the whole strip takes less than 10 minutes to walk).
    • Quick tip on islands: it is almost always better to negotiate room/dorm prices on arrival.  Competition is steep for the restricted backpacker flow so hostel staff are willing to discount their posted prices.  The exception is during major island parties, festivals, special events, etc.
  • MUST check out the Koh Rong Boat Tour:
    • Full day trip includes: snorkelling and exploring at a small coastal island, open ocean fishing with hand-held line, beach BBQ (chicken, rice, veggies, and your freshly caught fish!) on Long Beach while watching the sun set, and swimming with bioluminescent plankton.
    • A small bottle of water, one beer, and one shot is also included, but BYOB is highly encouraged.
    • Trips are advertised on chalk boards in front of nearly every hostel for $6-10 USD depending on the season.
  • Food on Koh Rong is outstanding for a small island community:
    • MUST try the fruit at any of the independent fruit stands along the main strip.
      • Skip the fruit shake and go for the small ($1 USD) or large ($2 USD) fruit box.
      • My favourite: a large mango, banana, avacado box 🙂
    • MUST eat at Sigi’s Thai Food, the best Thai we’ve had so far.
      • Arrive on the earlier side of dinner to avoid the crowds.
    • Check out Chai Family Restaurant for delicious, cheap, Khmer food.
  • Nightlife is as straightforward as it gets here.  Follow the crowds and the noise to any of the hostels along the main strip.
    • When in doubt, head to Island Boys.

Koh Rong Samloem Island

  • There is a free ferry from the Koh Rong main pier to Koh Rong Samloem leaving at 8am SHARP every morning.
  • We never made it to Koh Rong Samloem, but heard it described as a, “quieter, pricier version of Koh Rong.”
  • That said, we also heard some great stories of island exploring to pristine beaches.
  • The diving also has a good reputation, though it doesn’t seem to be quite on par with Thailand.
Kampot
  • MUST stay at Arcadia Hostel, at least for a night.
    • It’s like summer camp for adults, enough said.
  • Otherwise stay at Mad Monkey in Kampot proper.
  • MUST rent a scooter and do a day trip to Bokor National Park.
    • Incredibly fun driving, amazing mountain views, and tons to explore.
    • DO NOT miss Le Bokor Palace (abandoned casino), the old Catholic Church (be sure to climb the adjoining hill), and Wat Sampov Pram.
  • Check out Thmor Ta Da Sachang waterfall, North West of Arcadia Hostel.
    • This is a local Khmer vacation spot; don’t expect to see any other foreigners here.
  • Rent kayaks from Arcadia (or any other riverside hostel) and go jungle exploring down the Praek Tuek Chhu river.
  • MUST eat at Ciao Italian restaurant, the best Italian food we’ve ever had.
    • Show up early for dinner before they run out of seating, or even worse, food.
  • Check out Ecran Noodle And Dumpling House for amazing handmade dumplings and hand-pulled noodles.
  • Two places: 1. Ellie’s, and 2. Espresso, were recommended to us for brunch but we never ended up visiting.
  • MUST find the local Khmer man selling coconut ice cream.
    • 1,000 Riel (25 cents) for a cone!
    • This is a little-known local secret and the best dessert in all of Kampot.
    • The man rides a bicycle with ice cream cooler attached and a small red siren lamp extending from the rear wheel.
    • Find him cruising around the neighbourhood most nights ringing a handbell.  Do a few laps and keep your eyes peeled.  Good luck!
  • Nightlife is mostly contained to the backpacker scene at each of the individual hostels: Arcadia, Mad Monkey, Bodhi Villa, Naga House, and Samon Village.
Kep
  • Kep can easily be visited by scooter as a day trip from Kampot.
  • Stay across from Kep Beach (if you decide to spend the night, as we did).
    • Show up and negotiate a dorm/room rate at one of the many guest houses here.
  • MUST rent a scooter to check out Wat Kiri Sela (combine with Sothy’s Pepper Farm).
    • A bit of a pain to get to but way off the the beaten track and absolutely stunning.
    • Swim in the hidden “swimming cave,” wander the flashlight-guided underground temples, and explore the Jurassic Park terrain.
  • MUST rent a scooter to visit Sothy’s Pepper Farm (combine with Wat Kiri Sela).
    • Take a free tour of the plantation and buy some Kampot pepper as a souvenir.
  • MUST visit the famous Kep Crab Market.
    • Buy a kilogram of fresh crab and pay $1 USD extra to have them fry it up with Kampot pepper right in front of you.
  • MUST have dinner at Kimly Restaurant and order the full-sized Kampot Green Pepper Crab dish.
Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay)
  • If you need some rest and recovery, Rabbit Island is the place to be.
    • It is a Khmer vacation destination and was repeatedly recommended to us by locals in Kampot.
  • Book a boat ride to the island from any travel agency or guesthouse in Kep.
  • Negotiate a cheap bungalow rate upon arrival (there are only a few options for accomodation).
    • Don’t expect more than a hut, bed, mosquito net, and toilet.
    • Generators switch on from 6-10pm for your electricity needs.
  • Days here consist of island exploring, swimming, and hammock time.
  • There are several simple restaurants all serving roughly the same Khmer and Western dishes.
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