Welcome to my Cambodia travel guide. I grew up in a tiny city-country called Singapore. Growing up in a lower to middle income family, my parents always told me that travel was a luxury. My first trip was to Australia when I was 12. Our family saved for over ten years for this holiday.
I remember feeling so appreciative during the entire trip to Australia. My love for travelling was truly realised after I graduated from university in Singapore and scored a job in London for two years. This experience in the United Kingdom opened my eyes to the endless beauty of the world.
Travelling around Europe was such a wonderful experience. I learnt how to appreciate the diversity of cultures and to understand people from different walks of life. However, travelling around Europe also made me realise that I had overlooked Southeast Asia as a travel destination.
I guess the things closest to us are often taken for granted. After my two year stint in the UK, I moved back to Singapore to explore countries closer to my heritage and roots. Countries like the amazing Cambodia.
Inspiration to Move to the Beautiful Cambodia
Moving to Cambodia was never part of my life plan. I guess Cambodia is always overshadowed by its neighbours like Thailand. My move to Cambodia was quite a story. My then-fiance was offered a posting to Phnom Penh. He was offered the job one month before our wedding.
My mind and heart were racing. Yes, I longed to work overseas but I was thinking along the lines of London again or perhaps New York. I’m an extrovert and need entertainment – definitely a city girl at heart.
Yet, here was an opportunity for me to live overseas but in a third world country that I would have never considered. Moreover, the last time I was in Phnom Penh was in 2015 on a backpacking trip with my sister. All I could think about was what would I do after work and on the weekends?
Would I simply have to visit Angkor Wat every weekend?! My fiance then flew up to Phnom Penh for a weekend to scout the city while I started Googling things to do and places to travel around Cambodia. After some discussion, we both decided that Cambodia was extremely underrated.
So we made the decision to start our married life in Cambodia. Two weeks after our wedding we moved to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Exploring the Hidden Gems of Cambodia
I have barely scratched the surface of Cambodia. I’ve been based in Phnom Penh for almost a year now and there’s still so much I haven’t explored. Immersing in the local culture takes time. I’ve made a few true Cambodian friends and I love that I’m invited to family dinners and temple visits.
It gives me glimpses of their lifestyle and where they travel. I consider myself really lucky to be based in Cambodia during these covid times. The country has been fortunate to not have a serious community spread.
The big cities that I’ve been to so far are Kampot, Battambang, Poipet and Siem Reap. I’m actually writing this article in Siem Reap right now! But there’s still so much left of Cambodia to explore. I’m taking this time to do as much domestic travel as possible – exploring the hidden gems.
I want to show that there’s more to Cambodia than just Angkor Wat!
My Favourite Place in Cambodia: Kampot
My personal favorite place right now is Kampot. It’s such a hidden gem! Pairing Kampot Pepper (the only pepper in the world to be granted with a Protected Geographical Indication status) with its neighbouring seafood province of Kep – and you have yourself a gastronomical treasure trove.
I love food and Kampot/Kep have some of the best restaurants in Cambodia. Kampot also sits along the Praek Tuek Chhu River. You can find beautiful hotels and go swimming and kayaking here. It’s also home to the beautiful Bokor National Park with amazing waterfalls and hikes.
Ok, I’m starting to ramble but there’s really a lot to love about Kampot!
Best Attractions of Cambodia
The most popular places of Cambodia are popular for a reason. While you certainly want to get off the beaten path and explore hidden gems – you should still want to tick off the best attractions that this country has to offer. Below are my top seven must-see attractions of Cambodia.
1. Temple Exploring at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
All the temples within the Angkor Archeological Park are so beautiful. It’s definitely a must-do in Cambodia. Get lost within this massive park and stumble upon temple after temple. Then watch the sunset majestically over Angkor Wat. Siem Reap also has a lively nightlife to enjoy.
2. Explore the Burgeoning Metropolis of Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh has changed so much in the last five years. This city is filled with great restaurants and bars catered to all different budgets. Try to find hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The quality of the food will blow you away.
3. Eat your Way through Kampot and Kep
If you haven’t tried fresh pepper in your life, then Kampot is the place to do so. Kampot pepper has enjoyed a reputation as the world’s best for several decades. The pepper here is extremely delicious. It just makes all the dishes taste better. Make sure you visit one of the many pepper farms of the area.
4. Ride a Motorbike up Bokor Mountain
Ride a motorbike up Bokor Mountain and explore Bokor National Park. The national park is famous for its collection of abandoned French colonial buildings which were built as luxury resorts and retreats for previous royal families. There are also a range of beautiful waterfalls to explore.
5. Watch Bats Fly Out of Battambang Bat Cave
Head to the awesome Battambang to watch a stream of bats fly out of nearby caves at night. The famous caves are located just down the road from the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau. Visitors gather at sundown for an incredible spectacle of thousands of bats flying out of caves.
6. Learn about the Dark History of Cambodia
Cambodia is a country with a long and fascinating history. However, in recent times the nation has lived through some atrocities. The Cambodian genocide was perpetrated by the communist group Khmer Rouge and led to the deaths of between 1.5 to 2 million people in 1975 – 1979.
There are more than 300 killing fields scattered throughout Cambodia. The main two sites are found in Phnom Penh and in Battambang. Although it’s a grotesque and sickening thing to see – these fields also provide tourists with knowledge and understanding of one of history’s darkest chapters.
7. Chill on the White Sand Beaches of Koh Rong
Koh Rong is an island situated off the coast of Sihanoukville. The island is known for its white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters. Stay in Koh Touch village with the friendly locals and immerse yourself in the culture. You can also visit Koh Rong’s sister island of Koh Rong Samloem.
Hidden Gems of Cambodia
There are a couple of hidden gems in Cambodia which could be considered up-and-coming destinations. Mondulkiri is a favourite hangout for local Cambodians who visit for the beautiful nature reserves, boutique guest houses, glamping accommodation and elephant sanctuary.
Both of these hidden gems are a tad difficult to get to because they are so off the grid that they can’t be searched for on Google. Language barriers may also be an issue so it’s important to bring local friends with you. Many people in these spots won’t know a word of English.
Immersing in the Local Culture of Cambodia
Cambodians are the nicest and warmest people I’ve ever met. I work with many Cambodians and they are so inclusive and always inviting me over for family dinners, family outings and even weekend double dates.
Even though I don’t speak Khmer (something that I’ve been trying to pick up), they always go the extra mile to make me feel included in a group setting. Something else that I’ve noticed is that they are all multi-talented.
Because they have gone through the toughest of times during the Khmer Rouge, Khmer people are so hungry to learn new things and try out new jobs. I work with a very talented carpenter who runs a furniture shop and he told me that he has a degree in website development.
However, he decided to help his wife build her business because there was an opportunity there. They are not afraid of hard work and their drive to succeed is extremely inspiring. On a more lighthearted note, all Cambodians love to sing. They love their karaokes dearly!
Awesome Local Cuisine of Cambodia
Check me out on Instagram (@thenisepassport) for all the food inspiration you will ever need! You can get great food in the major cities of Cambodia. Phnom Penh itself is a melting pot of food cuisines. If I had to list the best places, it would be a long list. For Khmer cuisine in the capital try:
Street Food (USD 2 – USD 10 per pax)
- Lumiere Street Food Stall
What you Need to Know Before you Go
My main recommendation would be not to limit yourself to just Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Perhaps stay more than two weeks (even a month) so you can travel around the whole country. Read travel blogs like this and The Nise Passport before coming to Cambodia. It’s always good to be prepared.
If you come to Cambodia with an open mind and adventurous spirit, then there’s no doubt that you will fall in love with this Southeast Asian country. Thanks for reading my Cambodia travel guide! Enjoy your travels.