My 1-Month Cambodia Travel Itinerary

by Audrey on June 18, 2014 · 42 comments

Cambodia was the second country I visited during my big backpacking trip around Southeast Asia, and I ended up spending a whole month there. It was a slow-paced month of travel and I managed to cover 4 different destinations: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang and Sihanoukville. Not every destination was a hit and there were a few travel hiccups along the way, but for anyone planning a similar journey, here’s a look at how I structured my month in Cambodia:

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Phnom Penh

(4 days)

Phnom Penh was not my favourite city, however, I do think it’s an important place to visit as it offers a window into Cambodian history and the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and under Pol Pot’s leadership they carried out a genocide against their own people. Our guide explained that there are no exact figures yet, but it’s estimated that anywhere between one fourth to one third of Cambodia’s entire population was brutally murdered. This becomes a sobering number when you realize that nearly every person you will meet in Cambodia lost family to this regime.

My time in the Cambodian capital started by hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take us around the city. Stops included Choeung Ek (a former orchard turned killing field by the Khmer Rouge), and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former school turned prison and torture centre). It was a sad travel day, but I think it’s important to have days like these were you learn about a place’s history no matter how sad it may be.

This is not to say that my entire visit to Phnom Penh was somber. There are many other places to visit around the city including the Royal Palace which serves as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia, the National Museum which houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, and the Independence Monument which is the setting for parades and celebrations. And if you enjoy wandering around on foot you can also peruse the Central Market (Psah Thom Thmey) which is always buzzing with activity and has great deals to be had.

Where to stay: A lot of the backpacker-friendly accommodations are located around what was once Boeung Kak Lake, while the area around Tonle Sap River caters more to flashpackers with slightly more upscale properties. You can browse accommodations in Phnom Penh here.

Visiting Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor.

Siem Reap

(10 days)

One thing draws people out to Siem Reap and that is Angkor Archaeological Park. This is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Southeast Asia and it holds the ruins of the former capitals of the Khmer Empire which stretched from the 9th to the 15th centuries. If you’re planning to do a little temple-hopping while you’re here, I would recommend going with the 3-day pass – less than that and you may not get your fix, but more than that and all the temples will start looking the same.

There are many options for getting around the temples of Angkor. You can rent a bicycle, hop on a scooter, or even hire a driver to take you around in a tuk-tuk. You can often arrange for a tuk-tuk driver directly through your guesthouse, so that’s what I did. Our driver was very flexible in terms of his schedule, so we started our days before the sun was up and were usually done by 10 in the morning to escape the heat! Rates were around $10 USD per day, though like I mentioned, we usually only lasted a few hours.

My temple hopping days included visits to well known temples like Angkor Wat, Bayon (the one with the faces), and Ta Prohm (the one were Tomb Raider was filmed), as well as lesser known temples like Banteay Srei (the pink sandstone temple) and Preah Khan (where the jungle is slowly trying to take over).

And let’s not forget about the sunrise; even if you’re not an early bird it’s worth getting out of bed early to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat! You will be no means be the only person there – hundreds congregate by the water to the left of the temple – but it’s a spectacular show of nature nonetheless.

Where to stay: I stayed at the Ta Som Guest House which was located en route to the temples of Angkor, about a 15 minute walk to the centre of town. What I liked about this property is that the staff were extremely helpful and kind, and they helped arrange everything from tours to transportation. They prepared a delicious breakfast consisting of omelet and fresh fruits in the morning, and they always greeted us with a smile. 

Visiting the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia.

Of course there’s plenty to do in Siem Reap aside from visiting temples. For a leisurely way to explore the town, you can hire a bicycle and ride the length of the river until you find yourself in the outskirts of Siem Reap. You’ll bike past residential areas where women are cooking outside their homes and children are playing in the river. It’s a nice way to see how daily life unfolds.

If you’re looking to relax a bit while you’re in town, there are plenty of places to get pampered including Doctor Fish spas where little fish nibble away at the dead skin on your feet, and more mainstream spas where you can get a foot massage or a shoulder rub.

And then you have the Angkor Night Market which is a favourite with travellers. This market may not be very different from all the other markets you’ll encounter in SE Asia, but it’s a good place to do a little shopping and pick up some souvenirs for friends and family back home. Hippie pants, anyone?

Watching in Apsara cultural dance performance in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

For more of a cultural outing, you can also watch an Apsara. The “Apsara” is a Khmer music and dance performance and it tells the story of mythical beings through a traditional dance filled with graceful movements, coy smiles and intricate hand gestures. One of the most impressive things about watching an apsara performance is seeing the elaborate costumes the dancers wear—gold headdresses, dangling earrings, bangles, anklets and rich silk dresses embroidered with gold patterns.

Visiting Battambang in Cambodia.

Battambang

(8 days)

Battambang was a nice little escape from the busyness of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Even though this is a city, it still had a small town feel and I enjoyed the slow pace of things.

One of the best things Sam and I did while in Battambang was hire a local driver to show us around. This is a city where people are eager to work and you’ll likely be bombarded by drivers offering you their services the minutes you arrive at the bus station. We ended up choosing a very friendly driver, Mr. Bay, who was always hanging around our hotel and smiling as we came in and out.

Since we weren’t familiar with the area we agreed to let Mr. Bay take us around to his favourite spots and show us more of the rural side of town. In the end this was a wonderful choice and it included visits to a fishing village, local farms, and even a roadside stand where we bought some delicious sticky rice that had been cooked inside bamboo.

Cooking class at Nary's Kitchen in Battambang, Cambodia.

Another thing we did in Battambang was take a Cambodian cooking class. We ended up choosing Nary’s Kitchen, a small cooking school that is run by Nary and her husband Toot. The class began with a trip to the local market where we familiarized ourselves with the ingredients. We purchased taro root, coconut milk, lemongrass, turmeric, chillies, and plenty of fresh produce which we then carried back to the school. Then, under close supervision, we cooked 3 popular Cambodian dishes: pork spring rolls, fish amok, and beef lok lak.

The Battambang Circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak) in Cambodia.

During one of our nights in Battambang we also decided to visit the circus. I have to admit I was a little hesitant about this, however, it turned out to be such a pleasant evening. The Battambang Circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak) is doing wonderful things for the children of Battambang; their vision is to provide a nurturing and creative environment as well as access to quality arts training and education. That night I watched children who were committed to their discipline and loved what they were doing. They beamed giant smiles on stage and truly put on a wonderful performance. Also, some of the children at Phare Ponleu Selpak have even been awarded scholarships and gone on to train with the Cirque du Soleil in Montreal. Now that’s impressive!

Riding the bamboo train in Battambang, Cambodia.

While in Battamabang I also rode the bamboo train. Known as a nori, this train is essentially a bamboo platform on wheels and it can be a fun ride through the countryside. Powered by a small tractor or motorcycle engine, the train runs 7 kilometres over to a nearby village before turning around and brining you back. I did get hassled for more money even I had already paid the pricey $10 fee to ride the train, so be prepared for that.

Aside from that, I spent the rest of my time in Battambang hanging out in various cafes. Gecko Cafe was a favourite  because it had a beautiful balcony on the second floor which overlooked the street, and The White Rose served up some outstanding milkshakes and smoothies.

Where to stay: Battambang is a relatively small city and it’s also quiet walkable. Most of the hotel properties are located around the Phsar Nath Market or overlooking the Sangker River. You can browse accommodations in Battambang here.

A sunset in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Sihanoukville

(4 days)

I’m showing you a pretty sunset photo, but I must sadly admit that I did not enjoy Sihanoukville.

I came here based on recommendations from other travel bloggers and I was really disappointed by both the quality of the beaches and the type of crowd this place seems to draw. I think part of my mistake was staying on Serendipity Beach, which is the main beach in Sihanoukville.

This places may look beautiful in photos, but once you get here you’ll find rows of hostels and bars where gap-year students are parading around with little to no clothing as they go in search of their next drink. Add to that a beach covered in litter including construction materials and several broken glass bottles floating near the shore and I knew I wouldn’t be going swimming in the ocean. There was also a rather unfortunate incident on the beach where a boy turned violent on us because we wouldn’t buy his bracelets (he came back swinging a stick at us and yelled every profanity known to man), and I just didn’t leave Sihanoukville with a very good impression.

Where to stay: I personally didn’t enjoy the main area along Serendipity Beach, but I’ve heard people say positive things about nearby Otres Beach (which 6 km outside Sihanoukville) and Koh Rong (which is an island roughly 30 km off the shores of Sihanoukville). While I didn’t get to experience either of these for myself, they might be good options for anyone planning a visit to Sihanoukville. You can browse accommodations in Otres Beach and Koh Rong here.

Things I would do differently:

  • Add a few more destinations. I comparison to my Vietnam itinerary where I covered 7 destinations in 1 month, my Cambodia itinerary was quite tame. I could have probably added another place or two to this itinerary. Maybe Kampot and Kep?
  • Time my visit right. I visited Cambodia in April which is pretty much the hottest time of the year. This made it a little difficult to spend the whole day sightseeing, particularly when we reached Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor. For anyone planning a trip to Cambodia, the best time to visit is between November and January so that you avoid both the monsoons and the extreme heat. On the other hand, you will have to contend with more travellers during this period.

Have you been to Cambodia?
Which places would you suggest visiting?
Feel free to share your insights with readers in the comments section below.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily June 18, 2014 at 8:13 pm

We only had a quick stint in Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) but I would love to go back to other destinations and learn more about the country. I like your tips on Sihanoukville – I’ve only read glowing reports about it, so it’s nice to hear another perspective.
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:33 am

Same, I had only heard glowing reports about Sihanoukville too. I can see how it would be fun for gap year students or young 20-somethings who are looking to party, however, for a nice beach holiday it fell waaay short of my expectations.

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Kaleena's Kaleidoscope June 18, 2014 at 8:48 pm

Thanks for all the info! I’m headed out on a SE Asia trip after Korea next March. I didn’t realize April was the hot time though… Guess I’ll just have to deal with it. :/ That cooking class sounds so fun! That’s always one of my favorite activities to do when I travel :)
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:35 am

That’ll be a nice change from Korea! April is stifling hot, but it’s still possible to enjoy it. I just ended up saving most of my sightseeing for really early in the morning or the late afternoon. And there was also plenty of cooling off in little cafes and 7 Elevens. ;)

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Ivana June 18, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Greetings from Siem Reap! We are staying here for 10 days and reading your post, Audrey, I guess we will want to come back to check the other places.
Yeah, you’re right, 3 days pass is perfectly enough, as you can cover all even in 2 days, if you do a tour from sunrise to sunset :)
What I can recommend is Phare Cambodian Circus, a performance of which you saw in their ‘hometown’ and then a horseriding on Happy Ranch Horse Farm. We did a ride of three hours through rice fields and small villages and it has been indeed an awesome highlight of our stay here :)
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:37 am

I hope you and Gianni are enjoying your time in Siem Reap! :) And thanks for sharing your tips about horseriding and visiting the circus – I hadn’t heard of either of those before.

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Kate June 18, 2014 at 9:57 pm

I can’t sing praises for Otres beach enough! I got stuck and spent nearly a month there I loved it so much. Serendipity definitely did not impress. Koh Rong is also amazing!
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

Aghh, I wish I had just ditched Serendipity Beach sooner and hopped over to either Otres or Koh Rong. It must be amazing if you spent a whole month on that beach! :)

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Fie the Travel Chameleon June 18, 2014 at 10:03 pm

These are interesting tips and insight especially on Sihanoukville as my colleagues have been raving about the place. Since I moved here to Phnom Penh, I’ve been doing bus trips and tuk tuk trips out of the city and so far Mount Oudung (in the Kandal district) was quite a nice experience as it was formally the Royal city before Phnom Penh. You could either take the womenss steps (200 steps) or mens’ steps (500 steps) up to see different pagoda’s and a view of Phnom Penh. We met a boy there who guided us and told us stories on each of the pagoda’s.

There’s also the local resort Kean Svay which is an hour from Phnom Penh where you can try the local food (exotic ones too) and eat in the special huts with hammock at the riverside. We also went to Kampong Cham by bus (3 hours away) to visit the sleepy town and check out the local villages and life. That was quite interesting too.

Since I’ll be here for a year, I might just take up on your Battambang trip and another trip to Siem Reap. Did you try any of their exotic food? eg frogs, tarantula spider, crickets
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

Thanks for sharing your tips about Phnom Penh and the surrounding area! It’s good to know there are a few places worth visiting in the outskirts. :)

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Zoe @ Tales from over the Horizon June 18, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Awesome post, thanks for all the tips. Cambodia is one place I really want to go.
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Aldo Rancier June 18, 2014 at 10:14 pm

I haven’t been to Cambodia yet, but it is on our list of places to go. We first need to go to Vietnam for our friend’s wedding. Maybe we’ll do a side trip to Cambodia. We’ll have to check if it’s financially feasible first.

Great pictures by the way.
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Audrey June 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

It’s quite doable if you have the time. There are lots of bus options and cheap flights from Vietnam to Cambodia. If you have a few extra days to spare, it’s worth a little detour. :)

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Ashley June 18, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Great post! Phnom Penh was not my favourite city, either. I wish I would have had more time to see Battambang and Kampot or Kep as I’ve heard good things about all three.
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Nina @ Where in the World is Nina June 18, 2014 at 10:52 pm

You should have DEFINITELY went to Kep/Kampot! Besides the temples at Angkor, the Bokor Hill tour in Kampot was the highlight for me. I stayed in Kep which was a lazy “beach” town. The beach was nice to look at but not the kind to jump in. The abandoned buildings were intriguing and they we perched up on mountains that offered AMAZING views. Not to mention the tour guide was adorable and full of info for us.

100% agree with your comments for Sihanoukville. I made the same mistakes you did PLUS the weather was miserable the entire time. Oh well…. I too think Koh Rong might have been a nice choice. But there wast a point in me going over there when the rain would.not.stop!
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Karyn @ Not Done Travelling June 18, 2014 at 11:59 pm

I didn’t go to Phnom Penh because I knew our time there would be centred around the painful history of Cambodia and I just couldn’t bring myself to dive too hard into all of that pain. However I think next time it will be a must.

When I lived in Thailand, our NGO started operations in PP revolving around the children working at the city’s garbage dump. Their difficult lives were a direct result of the socioeconomic situation the Khmer Rouge created. I actually typed out a massive explanation here but didn’t want to bore you; essentially, when a child’s example of loving parenthood gets taken away from them (as happened to so many kids between 1975 and 1979), they can find it very difficult when they later become parents themselves. Our team in PP were constantly having to help the families in our program unravel layer upon layer of misery that stems back to that 4 year period in Cambodia’s history. I actually think it will be many generations before Cambodia recovers. :(
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Sonja June 19, 2014 at 12:10 am

Indeed I have been to Camdodia in April this year. I stayed in Poipet near the Thailand border and visited the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. However I was culture-shocked at its best. The history is cruel like a nightmare. I blogged about my experience too http://monkimau.blogspot.com/search/label/Cambodia
xoxo
Sonja
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Anna @ It Started in Asia June 19, 2014 at 12:35 am

We had just under a week in Siem Reap and loved every minute of it. We had a little routine with the three day temple pass, and that was sightseeing in the morning before the temperature became unbearable, followed by a spot of lunch, some reading time, and then heading out again in the late afternoon to visit markets and just wander the streets. Along with the fish spas, I highly recommend a foot and leg rub too following the temple visits. There are so many eateries and watering holes (especially down ‘pub street’), but be sure to check out the smaller local restaurants away from the main streets as they are especially friendly with delicious food. If you have a hankering for Japanese for whatever reason, try The Hashi. It’s devine (but a little pricey).
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Camille - This American Girl June 19, 2014 at 1:08 am

Thanks for sharing! Somehow I’m one of the few people who actually loves Phnom Penh, but I realize there’s not much of a “tourist” appeal there. Personally I love the energy and life in that city between the young expats and the friendly locals.

I’ve barely spent any time in Serendipity and instead headed to Otres II (http://www.thisamericangirl.com/2014/06/04/heaven-must-look-like-otres/ ), which I liked way more than Otres I, and I had an incredible time in Koh Rong (http://www.thisamericangirl.com/2013/12/13/keep-koh-rong-right/) back in November, less so when I returned in April during Khmer New Year.

I hope you get to go back and see more!!

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Renuka June 19, 2014 at 4:50 am

Great itinerary. I appreciate the way you have shared your experiences. It will others also who would like to visit Cambodia anytime in the future. Thank you!
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Tiana June 19, 2014 at 5:50 am

Thanks for the tips! I’m religiously noting all SE Asia information I find :)
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michelle June 19, 2014 at 8:24 am

Hi, great I am going to Cambodia for a month in a week and I have read sooooooooooo much of where to go what to do I really like how you have written this article. Thank you for your help

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Lisa - Wee Wanders June 19, 2014 at 11:28 am

Thanks for the tips Audrey! I set off on my travels around Southeast Asia in just over a week. Having never been to the region before, all recommendations are welcome – I can’t wait to see Cambodia :)
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Cyra June 19, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I definitely agree that Otres is a much better choice than the main beach at Sihanoukville.

When I was there in 2012 I based myself at Otres. I walked over the cliff to Serendipity/the main part of Sihanoukville once, and was so disappointed with what I saw that I didn’t go back.

I think that it has gone really downhill in recent years, as I have friends who visited 5+ years before and said it wasn’t as bad as I found it to be.
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Amanda June 19, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I’m really pleased that you mentioned the circus in Battambang! I would say “acrobatics show” would be a better description, but I thought it was great, too.

I didn’t visit any coastal destinations when I was in Cambodia, but I, too, have good things about Otres and Koh Rong.
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Justine June 19, 2014 at 7:29 pm

I absolutely loved Cambodia. I found the people to be so incredibly nice. Of course, Angkor Wat was a highlight for me. In my opinion it’s a must-do for anyone visiting the region. I also visited Sihanoukville back in 2007. I know the town has been built up A LOT since I was there. But even then I was put off by a few things. The sewage ran straight into the main beach where tourists were swimming, so I didn’t even go into the water. And the touts selling trinkets on the beach were pretty relentless. I too have heard wonderful things about Koh Rong. And I now kick myself for not going there. Maybe your readers should check out that island if they’re heading to Cambodia. All in all these are great tips :)
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Agness June 19, 2014 at 10:17 pm

I absolutely agree with 10 days in Siem Reap. There is so much to see there. I lived there for 2 months and I still have a feeling like I have not discovered this place! properly.
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Alexis Kensey June 21, 2014 at 1:56 am

Thanks for sharing your itinerary with us- this will be really helpful in planning my trip next year!! I love that you can admit you disliked certain places- as I am sure we all get that way sometimes!
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Charlie June 21, 2014 at 3:56 am

Your route seems almost identical to mine when I was there (apart from sihanoukville, and it doesn’t sound like I missed much!) I adore Cambodia, and there’s something I really love about phnom penh. When I go back next year I really want to spend longer discovering the country, and I think I’ll heed your warning and avoid sihanoukville!
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Katie @ The World on my Necklace June 22, 2014 at 9:16 am

Thanks for the info. I had heard about Angkor Wat, Siem Riep and Koh Rong but I don’t know much else about places to visit in Cambodia so this is helpful

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Meg June 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm

That cooking class sounds great, and you’ll be be able to recreate favor dishes back home, too!
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Jeff June 24, 2014 at 5:01 am

Very detailed and informative post. Its very sad to learn the atrocities committed by Khmer Rouge. I’ve never been in Cambodia though with your informative post most likely will be in my bucket list.
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Christine @thetraveloguer June 26, 2014 at 8:10 am

Hi Audrey, great post, it made me long to be back in Cambodia!
Phnom Penh was my favourite place in Cambodia, I think because of all the history there, I find the Khmer Rouge so interesting and horrific, especially as it happened so recently.
I didn’t enjoy Sihanoukville either, there were a lot of drunken messes there, and we also had an incident with a scary kid trying to sell us bracelets. She was about fourteen and didn’t like my friend, she kept calling her ‘white skin’ because she was pale! Every time she saw us she would shout over and then follow us, ordering us to buy bracelets with a scowl on her face!
Battambang sounds great, I would love to see it, and take a ride on the bamboo train!

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Chantelle June 29, 2014 at 4:03 am

I spent 9 days in Siem Reap after quite a while backpacking around. It was lovely staying put in one place. Also whilst it wasnt my favourite city I stayed in SE Asia that amount of time meant I wasnt just ticking off travel itinerary things to do. It was a good base for some longer day trips out to sites as well – Koulen Mountain etc. We did do a LOOONG day trip out to Battambang and loved it… wish I had more time to stay a night or two there. Agreed with the Bamboo Train. Cool experience till you have to buy something to get back. I got an oil painting from a young man who was painting rather than one of the tshirts probably made in China. But still annoying forced purchase. Sadly I didnt get a glorious sunrise at angkor wat.. grey sky all day :( Have to go back.

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Chanel | Cultural Xplorer June 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm

I also visited Battambang during my Cambodia trip and cooked at Nary’s kitchen. I love the country and cannot wait to return! :)
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Candice @ The Let's Go Ladies July 1, 2014 at 4:31 pm

The anthropologist in me is so jealous that you got to explore the ruins of the Khmer Empire. I definitely need to add Cambodia to my travel bucket list!
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Yulia Taylor July 6, 2014 at 9:06 pm

We didn’t like Sihanoukville either and only spent one night… we wanted to go to Koh Rong but ended up going to Bamboo island — which most people only visit for a day trip, however there is accommodation on the island. We spent a week there and outside of the tourist hours (10-2) the island was ours… I think there was a total of 20 people on the island. We could go swimming at sunset and be the only two people in the water. It is obviously not the place to go to party as the electricity was only on until 10pm.

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Paddy July 23, 2014 at 7:39 am

Looks incredible – I’ll be in Cambodia by March, can’t wait!

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Derek August 1, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I really enjoyed Cambodia. The people were so friendly and the things to see were beautiful. It was definitely the highlight of my Asia trip. Highly recommended :)

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Derek August 5, 2014 at 3:04 pm

For anyone else interested in going to Cambodia – check out Koh Rong. The boat ride over to the island could make you see you breakfast again but the island is beautiful. You’re right on the beach with quite a few bars everywhere. Oh, and take a scuba/snorkel tour there. The sights were amazing! I saw a shark.
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Shannon August 5, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Hi Audrey,

Great blog. I was wondering what digital camera you use when backpacking?? (particularly for your SE Asia photos).
I am leaving for my 9 month trip soon and doing my research into a good/smallish/not to expensive camera! your photos are the kind of quality id like :)

Thanks! Shannon

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Audrey August 6, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Hi Shannon,

I was using a Casio Exilim when I was travelling in SE Asia (this one: http://amzn.to/1sysXBO). It was light, compact, and I loved the image quality I was able to get with it. I’ve since upgraded to a Sony Nex-3 with interchangeable lenses (http://amzn.to/1pDbd6d), which is what I’ve been using to take the photos that appear in my more recent posts from Europe and North America, but if you want something that’s small and easy to carry around, I would go with the Casio. I miss using that one! :)

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