Last Updated August, 2020
I definitely got a certain type of attitude towards Cambodia. This country shocked me so much that I felt almost depressed when leaving it after one month stay there. Part of the reason was about all scams and lies Mark and I experienced from locals, another part included loads and piles of trash (I swear, I have never seen so much garbage in just one place,) corruption and some type of chaos.
I guess our mistake was not to think in advance what places to visit in Cambodia and choose “local” life over touristy things. But at the same time, it provided us with an excellent opportunity to see Cambodia in a way that many tourists never get to see.
Honestly, if I never visited this Southeast Asia country, there wouldn’t be much to lose. I don’t imply you should skip Cambodia, no and absolutely not. I know, when your curious mind is eager to tick off one more country on your list, nothing will change this intention anyways. Yet, I believe this is not a destination for a long-time journey. One week is more than enough unless you are coming to spend time just at the hotel or take it very slowly.
So, here is my one week Cambodia itinerary that includes only the best (to me) attractions and sightseeing. In the end, I’ll also mention where I don’t recommend to travel and why. In fact, this itinerary is good not only for those who are spending one week in Cambodia, but you can also easily turn it into two weeks. Just spend more time in each place.
SIEM REAP, KAMPONG PHLUK AND KAMPONG KHLEANG – 1-2 DAYS
When we were arriving in Siem Reap, I somehow thought that this city had so much to offer. Some sources were saying that Siem Reap was a cute bustling city full of activities and entertainment. In reality, it turned out to be not nearly as impressive as local tourism boards were trying to present it.
Except for Angkor Wat (which is technically not in the city,) main street, a few museums, cooking classes, the floating village (which is also outside the city) and markets there is not much to do. Poor infrastructure, hectic traffic, and loads of trash take away any desire to explore around on foot.
One day is enough to walk through Pub Street (it’s actually more famous for the nightlife,) visit a few local temples, get a massage, try some local exotic dishes and go to a historical landmark.
If you are not into museums and walking all day long is not your thing, do a side trip to Kampong Phluk and/or Kampong Khleang. These are small villages with hand-made houses built on water. A trip here is a good half a day excursion. On the one hand, it is a tad sad visiting these villages (at least for us) because you see how poor people are and how hard they try to survive on a daily basis. On the other side, seeing this picture is eye-opening and it helps to re-evaluate our own priorities.
A lot of tour agencies in Siem Reap sell these tours. Although we thought that going with a tuk-tuk driver was easier, cheaper, and more authentic.
If you are into a spa and massages, my best Cambodia travel advice for you is to choose Frangipani Spa. It offers excellent service, high quality of treatments, and a super relaxing atmosphere. I honestly wouldn’t recommend getting massages at the night market at all, even though they are cheap. Frangipani Spa is really the best. And it’s one of the must things to do in Siem Reap.
If you happen to be in the Northern part of Siem Reap, visit Wat Thmei, a “killing field”. I actually highly recommend visiting this part of the city too, especially since it’s a short ride from a center. Wat Thmei is one of those places where thousands of people were killed during Pol Pot’s time. There, you can learn some history, visit the pagoda and even buy locally made clothing (all the money for it goes to people in need.) You’ll find an exhibit with displays showing skulls and bones and telling lots of facts on such a horrible period of time for Cambodians.
Check out this detailed post on all interesting things to do in Siem Reap, it has more ideas for a few days in this city.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMBODIA:
Budget Travelers: Shining Angkor Hotel. If you are a budget traveler, this hotel will be perfect for you. It is so much more comfortable and elegant than any hostel or cheap guesthouse. We originally booked a guesthouse not far from this hotel (wanted to experience some local life, you know) but ran away to Shining Angkor hotel. For less than $25 per night, we experienced a bit of luxury just on a smaller scale. They even got a cute pool where you can recharge on a hot day.
Mid-range: Pavillon Indochine and Nita by Vo Luxury are located in the same neighborhood where Shining Angkor hotel is. Nita by Vo is one of our favorite hotels in Siem Reap where you can hide from the busyness of the city. The location is perfect, just a few kilometers away from the center and the same distance from Angkor Wat. Rooms are exceptionally clean and comfy, the staff is phenomenal, garden, rooftop pool, restaurant, and spa are simply amazing. It is just a perfect luxury spot where every detail is delivered at the highest level.
Prince d’ Angkor Hotel & Spa – I do not recommend staying at this hotel since they are not as luxurious as they claim to be and often fail on delivering what they promise. But if you are staying somewhere without a pool, you can come here for a quick dip. The hotel’s pool and the area around it are pretty and right in the center.
Luxury: Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra, Raffles Grand Hotel, Jaya House RiverPark. All of these hotels are simply gorgeous and there will be no single thing you’ll wish to be better. Jaya House RiverPark prides itself on being green and sustainable. We visited all of these properties and thought they were a delight from top to bottom.
WHERE TO EAT IN CAMBODIA:
Siem Reap has quite a few nice restaurants, most of them are located in the city center. But I wanted to highlight two that we loved so much. One of these places looked more like a street food cafe while another one was a nicer casual option.
Au gre du Soleil – an owner of this place is a French guy who moved to Cambodia a few years ago and opened this restaurant. The place is very neat and the food is amazing. A cook, a Khmer lady, makes absolutely delish dishes. An owner tries to go above and beyond to make each visitor happy.
Yellow Bamboo Restaurant – a big choice of Khmer food prepared by a lovely Cambodian family. The setting and the restaurant is very simple, the food is cheap but very good and always fresh.
We had some negative experiences when in many places around Cambodia waiters didn’t give us change in full or lied about the price of a dish. You can read more about it here. But in these two places, we felt very comfortable. The owners were honest and genuine. Restaurants were simple yet still excellent. If you are staying at the hotel that has a nice restaurant, I advise eating there. In this case, you won’t be experimenting and should have only positive moments.
1 WEEK IN CAMBODIA ITINERARY
ANGKOR WAT – 1-2 DAYS
Angkor Wat is probably the only place in Cambodia worth traveling for. In our experience though, two days in this temple complex is more than enough. We had one full day from sunrise to sunset, thought we got plenty and canceled our 2nd day. For us, it was unbearably hot and humid, we simply couldn’t take it.
Some people choose to spend 3 to 5 days there but in my opinion, that’s too much. In a few hours under the scorching sun, you start understanding that all temples look alike. Although, Angkor Thom (a big circle) trees are probably more impressive than those in Angkor Wat (a small circle.) They are huge and overgrow the ruins.
Most likely, you’ll be visiting that area only once in your lifetime so it’s probably better to dedicate more than one day and explore it thoroughly. However, if you have time and desire, try to venture to one of these lesser-visited Cambodian temples.
It is worth hiring a tour for the day (not just a tuk-tuk driver) to avoid too much walking in the heat. Walls of Angkor Wat has seen and heard a lot, so having someone who can tell you all important details and history is a must. Also, try to find a tour guide with decent English. It’s almost annoying paying for a guide and barely understanding what he is saying.
Do not buy entrance tickets from a driver, hotel staff, or tuk-tuk guy. It’s easy enough to purchase them at the visitor center a day before you go.
PHNOM PENH – 1-2 DAYS
We had a lot of hope for the capital of Cambodia. But it turned out to be as disappointing as other cities. With lots of trash, beggars, and extremely high level of pollution, it was very unpleasant to be in this city. Overall, we spent almost two long weeks in Phnom Penh, and most of the time we were either inside of the apartment or in a nearby coffee shop.
Still, we managed to visit the Royal Palace and a few Buddhist pagodas, night market, do a river walk, go on a city tour and check out a rooftop bar.
Rooftop bars in Phnom Penh, by the way, can help you not only get to know the city from above but distract from the capital’s routine. Visit SORA – the tallest rooftop bar in the entire country. Its location on the 37th-floor guarantees sweeping views and stunning sunset.
Le Moon Rooftop Lounge, located right along the river in downtown, offers fantastic views of Wat Ounalom temple, river and street life. Eclipse Sky Bar was our favorite. It has an amazing view from the 23rd floor, excellent food, good service, and a wide selection of drinks.
For other attractions in Phnom Penh, you can go on a cruise on the Mekong River or boat trip around Phnom Penh. We also wanted to do that but after witnessing how locals threw trash in the river, bathed in it, and pooped in it, we changed our mind. We are too sensitive, you know. Seeing all that stuff takes all the enthusiasm away.
For a cultural experience, I recommend checking out Bophara Center which is more like a research center on Cambodian heritage. It’s a very unique place that covers a wide range of subjects and shows free movies.
Phnom Penh Museum and National Museum of Cambodia are also good options for those who want to learn about history. But honestly, do not expect a lot.
I am absolutely convinced that one full day will be enough time for you to get to know the city. Chances are you’ll want to run away.
But, walking around, dining out, and visiting the main attractions can be done during one day. In case you really want to take it slowly, plan for two days.
KOH RONG – 2-3 DAYS
Some people say that Koh Rong is home to some of the finest beaches not only in Cambodia but in entire Southeast Asia. Perhaps. I haven’t seen every single beach around this part of the world so can’t attest to that.
When we spent 4 full days on the island, we thought the sand and water were absolutely gorgeous. But a sea of rubbish and bad service partially ruined our experience. We stayed on the very east of the island and it was a mistake.
If you want to check out the coastline of Cambodia, do not stay on the mainland and better come to Long Beach in Koh Rong. There, you’ll find a slice of tropical paradise with soft white sand, clearest aquamarine water, and a few stunning hotels.
The reason I put 3 days is that you may end up loving a place so much that will want to stay longer. Do some research on accommodation before booking a one-week itinerary because Koh Rong may captivate your heart.
WHERE TO STAY: We got the impression that most of the accommodation on the island include guesthouses or beach bungalows that look nicer in pictures than in reality. If it says that a hotel is a 4-star hotel, most likely it will be a 3-star one.
The best hotel in the best spot on the island is newly built The Royal Sands, located right on Long Beach in an absolutely gorgeous setting. But the price is too high, especially for Cambodia. Nearby Soksan Beach Resort is a much cheaper option. Everything else is pretty average, unfortunately. There are plenty of choices to choose from, just keep in mind they are not as good as portrayed on the Internet.
PLACES THAT ARE NOT WORTH ADDING TO YOUR CAMBODIA ITINERARY
Sihanoukville – neglected dirty town with filthy beaches, poor infrastructure, and absolutely zero things to do. Instead of wasting your time there, better take a boat to Koh Rong, Koh Rong Sanloem, Koh Ta Kiev or Bamboo Island.
Kaoh Tonsay – is a small island, not far from the mainland, from Kep province. Even if you have more than a week in Cambodia, I still believe coming here is a waste of time and money. This island is very small and there is absolutely nothing to do here. Only a few overpriced bars and low-grade bungalows for a night stay. The beach is dirty and very average. Boats are very old and the ride is sketchy.
Banteay Chhmar – is a remote village in Western Cambodia, home to a Seventh Wonder of the World an ancient Khmer temple “Citadel of Cats”. Visiting this place is once in a lifetime experience but if you plan to spend only one week in Cambodia, going here will steal a lot of your time. Except for the temple, there is nothing else to do and the ride alone from Siem Reap will take around 3.5 hours one way. For the most part, there is no gravel road between these two locations so the ride will be also bumpy.
Eastern part of the country – this part of the country is the least developed one and has the biggest amount of explosive submunitions dropped by the U.S. during the Vietnam war. Most of them are found in eastern and northeastern areas bordering Laos and Vietnam. It will take a long time to deactivate those landmines. Do not go to the Eastern part of Cambodia by yourself, you’ll need to have a guide. On a week-long journey coming here probably doesn’t make sense at all.
When working on your Cambodia itinerary, take a look (if you haven’t yet) into scams and lies of Cambodia or daily life in Cambodia to be aware of what to expect. If you are planning to be adventurous when it comes to food, read our guide on food, and drink safety when traveling in Southeast Asia.
To be able to take delight in your trip, do not expect a lot from this country. Also, probably try to plan as much as you can. In such a destination as Cambodia travel without a plan may take all joy away.