One of the best countries in the world to backpack your way through…that’s Cambodia! There is so much to do and see in this South East Asian paradise; stunning landscapes in the form of beaches, dense forests and mountains, a history dating back centuries, architecture unlike anywhere else in the world, super friendly locals, plenty of philanthropic opportunities in the form of volunteering, a great nightlife, easy to travel through, and service always with a smile – just some of the reasons why Cambodia is such a popular destination with backpackers. While the country’s main claim to fame is the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in the city of Siem Reap, there is a whole lot more that makes Cambodia a country worth visiting.
Phnom Penh, Siem Reap…. and more
When backpacking through Cambodia, most travelers usually cover the popular cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. But remember, there is a lot more to see in addition to these two cities. Consider starting your trip in the city of Phnom Penh in the southern part of the country, and make your way west to the little town of Kampot by the riverside, followed by a further westward visit to Sihanoukville, the beach town and party village of Cambodia. Moving up further north from here is Battambang, home to caves and temples and quaint villages; follow this up with Siem Reap, the crowning jewel of Cambodia and home to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex.
Phnom Penh by the Mekong River
A city that has risen from a gruesome, tyrannical past to resurrect itself into one of the most happening cities in the county – that’s Phnom Penh for you. Located by the Mekong River, it’s an important city to visit to get an idea of the country’s past that was smeared by the Khmer Rouge regime and its despotic leader, Pol Pot. Visit the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison to understand how the country suffered genocide and the impact of the regime on its people.
On a more upbeat note, head to the Silver Pagoda to check out the green crystal Buddha, among other national treasures housed in the temple. The Silver Pagoda is located south of the Royal Palace. The Independence Monument and the National Museum are worth checking out as well. And once you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, head to the popular Central Market for some souvenir shopping. Phnom Penh is a relatively cheap city to explore; hostels are reasonable and concentrated in the south and central parts of the city.
Go green in Kampot & Kep
Buses depart from Phnom Penh to the riverside village of Kampot frequently, and the trip takes about two and half hours in all. Nestled at the foot of the Elephant Mountains, this town is great to explore by foot or cycling around. Highlights include the French colonial architecture that’s visible in various parts of the town, and cruise down the river. Try and make it for a sunset cruise, and enjoy the added bonus of fireflies for company! A short drive from Kampot brings you to the village of Kep that’s filled with pepper plantations. There’s a national park in Kep that makes for a great trek – head to the top of the hill to check out a breathtaking view.
Sihanoukville – the party town
After you’ve got a heady dose of green, book a bus or a taxi to Sihanoukville, 124 kms from Kep. Sharing a taxi is a good idea and a quicker way to get to the beach town in the province of Krong Preah Sihanouk. Now this is where you get to let your hair loose. Soak in the beaches of Sihanoukville while you party your days and nights away. Otres Beach to the south of Sihanoukville is a magnet for backpackers. Lots of beach parties, cheap bungalows to rent out and a guaranteed good time overall!
Battambang, where you leave tourism behind for a slice of real Cambodia
The town is quaint. Hire a motorbike and ride through the countryside of this utterly beautiful town. If you prefer peace and quiet, this is where you’d want to spend more time on your backpacking trip through Cambodia.
The crown jewel, Siem Reap
The best is always left for the last, and rightly so in this case. Siem Reap is the crown jewel of Cambodia, home to the Angkor Wat Complex. Minivans or buses ply between Battambang and Siem reap and take about three hours to reach. Set aside a couple of days to a week to enjoy this beautiful city. The city of Siem Reap is traditional; here you will be greeted often with a ‘Sampeah’ or bowing in front of visitors, with hands folded, making for a very warm welcome! And this warmth is extended to almost everything you do and see in this ancient Khmer city of Cambodia. While Angkor Wat is the city’s biggest claim to fame, Siem Reap has much more to offer backpackers. Stepping into this city brings you face-to-face with a fun kind of chaos and hustle-bustle. Cambodia’s gem, the Angkor Wat Temple Complex, is worthy of all the praise it receives, including pride of place on the country’s national flag. It’s no surprise that this mammoth complex is the biggest attraction that beckons travelers from the world over. It’s also the largest religious complex in the world. You can opt for a 1-day, 3-day or 7-day pass, depending on how detailed a visit you want at the complex. And the pass entitles you to entries to all the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park, and not just the Angkor Wat Complex.
Moving beyond Angkor Wat, there’s a lot more on offer. Pub Street is where all the fun action is. Lined with bars, pubs and nightclubs with a relaxed and laidback atmosphere, you can consider spending your evenings pub-hopping. There are even pub-hopping tours that include visits to pubs, games and fun activities – a huge hit with backpackers! And once the pubs get too much, stop by the famous street markets of the city to take back some inexpensive Cambodian souvenirs!
For low-budget travelers and backpackers, Cambodia is a great option for a wholesome backpacking holiday!