Cambodia Tours & Holidays
Travelling in Cambodia is the ultimate South East Asian experience.
Beneath the Cardamom Mountains or on the banks of the Mekong, Khmer village life goes on pretty much as it always has (give or take the odd iPhone). And when you’re watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat or the ruins of Tha Promh, the modern world feels a long way off. While progress was for years dampened by a tragic history, Cambodia is now a country on the move. With riverside boulevards and art galleries popping up in Phnom Penh, and Siem Riep's growing reputation for hip cafes and top-notch dining, Cambodia tours aren’t just about the temple-gazing (although we have to admit, the gazing is pretty darn good!).
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Cambodia at a glance
Phnom Penh (population 2.2 million)
Cambodian riel (KHR)
(GMT+07:00) Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta
Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin) Type C (European 2-pin)
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Best Time to visit Cambodia
Any time of the year is a good time to holiday in Cambodia, with each season having its advantages. The climate in Cambodia is generally hot and humid throughout the year. Temperatures stay in the 30s (celcius) most of the year, dropping back to the 20s at night. There are officially two seasons in Cambodia – wet and dry. During November to May you can expect dry conditions, while June to October will have wetter weather.
Culture and Customs
The Khmer culture has lasted for centuries, and is based on tradition, honouring ancestors, respecting elders and living a life of honesty, humility and kindness. This is probably why Cambodians are known for being some of the warmest, most hospitable and humble people in the world. Above all these qualities, Cambodians are known for their remarkable ability to get on with life after enduring the atrocities that ravaged the country in the 1970s.
As with other neighbouring nations like Thailand, the concept of “saving face” is important. Displaying control and keeping a peaceful nature in public is paramount, as is not losing your temper or ridiculing others.
Most Khmer people are Buddhist. Monks are highly regarded and respected in society, and religious festivals and ceremonies are important parts of daily life. When visiting Cambodia, expect to see orange-robed monks and many displays of faith - from people visiting large, elaborate temples to them praying over small, humble shrines.
Despite the infiltration of modern ideas and concepts, Khmer customs and traditions are kept alive with traditional dance, art, festivals and costume enduring alongside modern pop music and dance.
Eating and Drinking
Like most other Asian countries, rice, noodle soups and stir fries are common in Cambodia. Drawing on Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, Cambodian food is strong in flavour but usually not as spicy as food from neighbouring countries.
Foods to try in Cambodia
1. Fish amok
Fish amok is fish that’s been baked in creamy coconut, ginger, lemongrass and turmeric curry sauce and wrapped in banana leaves. This silky national dish will melt in your mouth. You can also get amok with chicken, tofu or veggies.
2. Nom banh chok
A popular breakfast meal, nom banh chok is a rice noodle soup made with green fish gravy, beansprouts, banana flowers, cucumbers and lots of green veggies.
3. Lap Khmer
Not your typical cold salad, this Khmer specialty is made with lightly seared, thinly sliced marinated beef, dressed with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, herbs, greens and lots of red chillies.
4. Ongkrong saek koo
One of the more palatable insect options you’ll find on a Cambodian menu, this dish is a stir fry of beef, basil, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and lots of ants, topped with chilli and served on a bed of rice.
A remnant of Cambodia’s French-colonial past, fresh, crunchy baguettes are sold from street stalls and at markets - and make a great, low-cost breakfast or snack.
6. Tropical fruit
Jackfruit, mangoes, bananas, pineapple, dragon fruit and watermelon are all plentiful in Cambodian. Get a street vendor to mix up a fresh juice or smoothie for a refreshing treat.
7. Iced coffee
Sweetened with condensed milk, the beloved iced coffee is the drink to try in Cambodia. If the caffeine gets too much, you can always switch to fresh coconuts to quench your thirst.
Read more about what to eat in Cambodia
Geography and Environment
Bordered by Vietnam, Thailand and Laos, much of Cambodia is covered by forested area, although sadly, this is rapidly changing due to the growth of agriculture, logging and deforestation. Home to the largest lake in South East Asia, Tonle Sap (Great Lake) connects to the Mekong River and swells to four times its normal size during the monsoon season.
Most of the country is low-lying, except for pockets of mountains. Large cities like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are typically built-up, busy and filled with modern conveniences like nightclubs, bars, public transport and restaurants. Smaller towns and rural areas enjoy more peace and space, with low-density, simple housing and a reliance on agriculture for income.
History and Government
Evidence of early life in Cambodia dates back to 1500BC, and further evidence suggests that by the 1st Century, rice cultivation, fishing and animal husbandry were the basis of organised society in Cambodia. Various empires arose in the early stages of Cambodian history, with the Funan and Chenla Kingdoms reigning before the rise of the Khmer civilisation.
Regarded as one of the most powerful empires in the world, the Khmer Empire prospered from the 9th to the 13th centuries. This was a time of growth and expansion, and many of the artistic treasures and archaeological monuments that Cambodia is known for come from this era. The world-famous temples of Angkor were built during this period, and hold important clues to how life was lived back then. Temple inscriptions depicting daily life, religious ceremonies and military exploits give us important insights into this fascinating civilisation.
There are many theories that speculate on the decline of the Khmer Empire. It’s more than likely that a combination of factors including drought, the arrival of the Plague and the rise of neighbouring Thai superpower Ayutthaya resulted in the loss of momentum for a once-powerful empire. A period of decline followed, with the 15th to the 19th centuries marking a time when Cambodia had a lower profile in international affairs, until coming under French Colonial rule in 1863.
The events that have shaped Cambodia’s recent history began with the Communist Party of Kampuchea overpowering the Khmer Republic after more than 100 days of fierce fighting. What followed was a radical change in society, with Pol Pot leading the country now known as Kampuchea. This brutal regime soon set about restructuring society and was responsible for committing awful atrocities against the civilian population. Religion and education were repressed, currency and banking were abolished and people were sent to work in the fields. Business people, educators, scholars and other high-ranking members of society were hunted down and murdered by the Khmer Rouge. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of people (possibly millions) were murdered between 1975 and 1979. In addition to this, many more died of starvation and disease due to a lack of medical care and nourishment.
This nationalistic, murderous regime was finally overcome by the Vietnamese Army in 1979, signalling the beginning of the peace process and the establishment of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. In 1993, millions of Cambodians voted to elect a new government, which then ratified a new constitution, and in 2004 a tribunal was established to serve justice to the people who committed atrocities during the Khmer Rouge era.
Today, Cambodia is rebuilding and moving on from its tragic past. Many NGOs have set up programs that empower and support Cambodians with education, health care, training and counselling. While wide-scale poverty and other social problems remain, Cambodia continues to gain strength from its burgeoning tourism industry, and has recently been successful in increasing access to education and health care as well as improving overall living standards.
7 must-visit places in Cambodia
1. Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s capital may be chaotic but there are moments of peace to be found. Relax in a riverfront bar, find serenity in a local temple or soak up the grand atmosphere of the Royal Palace.
Beautiful Battambang is home to wonderful examples of French-Colonial architecture, ornate temples, peaceful pagodas and scenic villages. Choose to day trip here or stay longer to be immersed in this place of authenticity.
3. Siem Reap
With vibrant markets, cool bars, excellent restaurants and superb street food - fun times, culinary adventures and a healthy dose of retail therapy are guaranteed in sensational Siem Reap.
4. Kompong Cham
Full of old-world charm and quiet beauty, Kompong Cham is a great place to switch gears and go slow. Wander the streets to admire decaying colonial buildings, visit a Wat for a quiet moment of reflection or sit on the riverbanks and watch fishermen glide by.
The sprawling ruins of ever-impressive Angkor are not to be underestimated. From the smiling faces of the Bayon and the twisted trees of Ta Prohm, to the magnetic aura of mighty Angkor Wat, this archaeological site is both intriguing and inspiring.
Riverside Kampot is a blissful place to unwind. Acting as a gateway to nearby mountains, waterfalls, caves, ruins and national parks, this little haven of tranquillity has a great range of quaint guesthouses and cute cafes to keep travellers comfortable.
Home to rare river-dwelling dolphins, amber sunsets and a gorgeous riverfront, Kratie may be small in size but is still a great spot to stop and get away from it all for a few days.
Highlights of Cambodia
1. Angkor Wat
After watching in awe as the sun rises over the incredible Angkor Wat temple, join a local guide to uncover the history and mysteries of this incredible 12th-century temple complex. You may also like to visit a monastery to experience an ancient ritual where you’ll be sprinkled with holy water and blessed with good luck for the rest of your travels.
2. Tonlé Sap
Known as the Great Lake of Cambodia, Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is an essential food source for many Cambodians. Hop in a boat and cruise through floating villages where people live in silted houses, study in floating schools, pray in floating churches and temples, and eat in floating restaurants.
3. Kompong Cham
Brimming with vibrant shops, Art Deco buildings, lazy streets and wide riverside boulevards, Kampong Cham oozes old-world charm. Cycle across the famous bamboo bridge, climb the pink French Tower for impressive cityscapes, explore the 11th-century Wat Nokor complex, or tuck into tasty street eats at the market.
Kampot’s delicious pepper is known by international chefs as the world’s best. Visit the Pepper Project to learn about (and taste!) why it's so famous, explore the ghostly (but beautiful) buildings near Kep’s waterfront, or enjoy a massage by a blind masseur or masseuse while supporting the local charity, Seeing Hands.
5. Phnom Penh
Welcome to Cambodia’s bustling capital. There’s lots to see and do in Phnom Penh, whether you want to marvel at the grandeur of the Royal Palace, eat local specialties at the night market, people watch with a cocktail, or learn about Cambodia’s sobering history.
6. Krong Battambang
Discover the beautifully preserved architecture and friendly Khmer people of Battambang – Cambodia's second-largest city – and its surrounding countryside. Enjoy a leisurely bike ride through rural villages, join locals for early morning yoga or folk dancing, or learn how to make amok and spicy fried chicken at a cooking class.
Cambodia Family Holidays With Teenagers
7. Siem Reap
Experience a traditional shadow puppetry show, peruse the old market for silks, silver and sarongs, or get to know other travellers and locals over a cold beer on Pub Street. When you’re in Siem Reap, don’t forget to try amok – a Cambodian curry dish served in a banana leaf.
Markets are plentiful in Cambodia - from the large markets like the Central and Russian Markets in Phnom Penh, to the smaller, local markets in regional areas. As with most markets in Asia, bargaining for a good price is commonplace. It's also a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand generally have strict quarantine laws.
Local groups and NGOs have worked to provide training in textile production and help disadvantaged families earn an income. If you are looking to take home a piece of Cambodia, consider purchasing a traditional item from a social enterprise.
Things to buy in Cambodia:
- Silver jewellery
- Stone and wood carvings
- Traditional Cambodian scarves (known as ‘kramas’)
- Hand-woven baskets
- Silk clothing and sarongs
Festivals and Events
Most of Cambodia’s festivals stem from Theravada Buddhist rituals. Though they are meant to be spiritual in nature, Cambodians always find a way to inject a lot of fun into them. Some of the most important festivals in Cambodia are:
1. Water Festival
This three-day festival, which marks the end of the monsoon season and the start of harvest, is a national holiday. Cities across Cambodia flock to the water each November to celebrate, but the festivities in Phnom Penh are by far the biggest. Featuring colourful boat races, illuminated ornamental boats, fireworks, concerts, and plenty of food and drink.
2. Khmer New Year (Chaul Chnam Thmey)
An important celebration in the Khmer calendar, the Cambodian New Year sees three days of people taking part in rituals, playing traditional games, performing gestures of goodwill towards others and enjoying feasts. Most Cambodians return to their homes to spend time with their families during this time.
3. Pchum Ben (Ancestors Day)
“Ancestors’ Day” involves Cambodians visiting pagodas bearing food, flowers, rice and gifts, which are given to monks to offer to the afterlife. Cambodian beliefs are steeped in superstition. The reason for the offerings is not only to commemorate lost loved ones but so the dead do not return to haunt the living.
Figuring out which country to travel to can be hard, especially when there are countries right next to each other that seem so similar! So you don't have to roll the dice or pick your next destination out of a hat, we've put together a comparative guide on all things culture, cuisine, and cities (among other things) to make your decision a bit easier.
Popular destinations in Asia
Discover our popular destinations in Asia.
We have a variety of similar destinations, trips and routes that you could consider! Tie another trip into your holiday, or, see how we can help you get from A to B. We have tours departing from a variety of locations within Cambodia. The options below may be of interest:
Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok
Phnom Penh to Hanoi
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
Tours from Phnom Penh
Tours to Siem Reap
Hanoi to Siem Reap
|First They Killed My Father||Loung Ung|
|When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge||Chanrithy Him|
|Angkor: Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples||Dawn Rooney|
|Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War||Karen Coates|
|The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine||Somaly Mam|
Cambodia travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
E-visas are now available for most nationalities through the official website. Please note there have been reports of fraudulent e-visa websites that mimic the official site. Intrepid recommends only using the official website listed above or arranging your visa through your booking agent.
Visa on arrival
Visa on arrival is available for most nationalities at airports or land border crossings for approx. US$30 (cost subject to change). You will need a passport photo for your visa.
If you are not eligible for an e-visa or visa on arrival you may need to submit an application through your local consulate. Allow up to 3 weeks for processing.
Tipping isn’t expected in Cambodia, but it's always appreciated. Feel free to tip drivers and restaurant staff if you feel the service has been good.
Internet access is growing in Cambodia. Internet cafes are easily found in large cities, but the speed may be slower than what you’re used to.
Mobile phone coverage is generally good in Cambodia’s urban areas, but may not be available in rural areas. Ensure global roaming is activated with your service provider before leaving home.
Squat toilets are the most common in Cambodia, but western-style toilets can be found in large hotels and in tourist areas. Be prepared to pay a small fee when visiting public toilets, and always carry your own toilet paper and soap as they are usually not provided.
Cambodia's unit of currency is the riel (KHR):
- Street snack = KHR 2,000-8,000
- Bottle of local beer = KHR 2,000-12,000
- Simple meal at a local restaurant = KHR 8,000-40,000
- Sit-down dinner at a fancier restaurant = KHR 12,000–40,000
It isn't recommended to drink the tap water in Cambodia. Remember to avoid drinks with ice and to peel fruit before eating it. Help the environment and try to avoid buying bottled water. Instead, fill a reusable water bottle with filtered water. Your leader or hotel will tell you where to find filtered water.
Credit cards are usually accepted by modern hotels, large retailers and tourist sites but are less commonly accepted by smaller shops, cafes and market stalls in rural areas. Always carry enough cash for smaller purchases in case credit cards are not an option.
ATMs are widely available in larger cities, like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but are less common in small villages or rural areas. Make sure you have enough cash before leaving urban areas.
- 1 Jan: New Year’s Day
- 7 Jan: Victory Day
- 8 Mar: International Women’s Day
- 12 Mar: Meak Bochea Day
- 13 Apr: Cambodian New Year
- 1 May: Labour Day
- 13-16 May: King Sihamoni’s Birthday
- 13 May: Royal Ploughing Day Ceremony*
- 18 May: Birth of Buddha
- 18 June: Former Queen’s Birthday
- 19 Sep: Pchum Ben Day*
- 24 Sep: Constitution Day
- 29 Oct: Coronation Day
- 2-4 Nov: Water Festival*
- 9 Nov: Independence Day
- 10 Dec: International Human Rights Day
*Please note that these dates may vary. For a current list, please see the World Travel Guide's website for more information on public holidays in Cambodia.
Everyone should feel comfortable when they travel with Intrepid and we know that many of our travellers are part of the LGBTQI community. It’s important for our travellers to be aware of the local laws and customs in the destinations we visit as some countries have laws that discriminate against LGBTQI people. We recommend you visit Equaldex and/or ILGA before you choose your trip for up-to-date advice and information about LGBTQI-related laws.
On the whole, Cambodia is a hassle-free destination for LGBTQI-travellers. The former King was a keen supporter of equal rights for same-sex partners, and as a result, most of the population is fairly accepting. Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have small gay scenes, though they are decidedly more low-key compared to some parts of Asia. Be aware that Cambodian people typically do not engage in public displays of affection, regardless of sexual orientation.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Cambodia is not always an easy country to travel to for people with mobility or vision disabilities, due to uneven and often broken footpaths, bumpy and potholed roads, crowded public transport and steps galore at temples. In saying this, local people are extremely hospitable and are likely to help out any travellers in need. The country’s biggest drawcard, the temples of Angkor, has had some ramps added in recent years but the paths are generally uneven and stairs challenging even for travellers without disabilities. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports have had recent upgrades in terms of wheelchair ramps and some higher end hotels may have accessible rooms. Many guesthouses and hotels have ground floor rooms although may not have other accessible facilities. Taxi and remorks can be easily and affordably hired to get around for city tours.
Cambodia has two types of weather: hot, and hot and wet. Loose, breathable clothing will be appropriate year-round, and if you’re travelling from June through to the beginning of November, you’ll want to pack a raincoat.
Intrepid believes half the fun of experiencing a new country is getting there, and getting around once there! Where possible, Intrepid uses local transport options and traditional modes of transport - which usually carry less of an environmental impact, support small local operators and are heaps more fun.
Depending on which trip you're on while in Cambodia, you may find yourself travelling by:
Take the slow road and see Cambodia from the ground level while being pedalled through the streets by a friendly cyclo rider.
The Cambodian version of the tuk tuk is a fun way to get around and perfect for short trips.
Get to know the countryside of Cambodia while riding a bicycle. Glide past fields of rice and wave hello to passing locals.
Travelling with Intrepid is a little bit different. We endeavour to provide travellers with an authentic experience to remember, so we try to keep accommodation as unique and traditional as possible.
When travelling with us in Cambodia you may find yourself staying in a:
Experience rural life while staying with a local family. Make new friends, eat traditional, home-cooked meals and explore the Cambodian countryside.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or you’re about to embark on your first trip, travelling can be as intimidating as it is exciting. That's the beauty of a small group tour. From handling the logistics and organising amazing cultural activities to local leaders who know each destination like the back of their hand (like which street has the best markets and where to get the most authentic food), travelling on a small group tour with Intrepid will give you unforgettable travel experiences without the hassle that comes with exploring a new place. Plus, you'll have ready-made friends to share the journey with. All you have to do is turn up with a healthy sense of adventure and we’ll take care of the rest.