This is a guest post from Cameron Madden, writer, publishing posts on several different topics. He has visited Cambodia and now is glad to share his thoughts about it and best things to do in his 5-day Cambodia travel guide. Also, check his travel guide to Pompeii. Get prepared for a journey!
If you’ve got 5 days in Cambodia and need to know how best to spend that time, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this post I’ll be taking you through some things you should know before heading out to Cambodia along with the basics such as what you can expect to pay for travel or accommodation.
I’ll take you through how I’d recommend you spend your 5 days in Cambodia. This is basically my own version of a Cambodia travel guide of things to do in the country that you can’t do anywhere else!
Prices in Cambodia
If you haven’t done much travelling in South East Asia before then you may be a little unsure of prices. The truth is, in comparison to any Western culture, you’ll be paying a fraction. This also varies depending on the standard you’re expecting. In relation to this Cambodia itinerary: A bus night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap could cost you about $12.
Hostels are a little different and can vary a lot more. Hostelworld is your best friend while travelling around Cambodia. For the most part, I stayed at the Mad Monkey Hostels which also vary in price but usually cost around $20 a night, give or take. Completely worth it in my opinion but there are less commercial hostels with less facilities for half that or less.
How safe is it in Cambodia
In terms of safety, there are a few things to watch out for. The biggest issue is thefts. When you’re taking a tuk-tuk, always keep hold of your bags. The best thing to do is keep them in the middle somewhere and either wrap an arm or a leg through them, especially handbags. Many thefts take place in traffic. Usually, two people on a bike or moped will pull up next to you, grab your bag and then escape into the traffic.
A similar thing can happen when you’re walking anywhere near a road. So it’s always best to keep your bag at the opposite side of you from the road. If you’re travelling alone, it’s best to find some people you can go see the sights with, especially at night.
I never encountered any problems myself but some people, particularly women, had issues with harassment or people being a bit too forward in quite intimidating situations. Don’t let that scare you off though! There will always be big crowds of tourists in the popular areas. The best thing you can do is buy a couple of padlocks.
When your bag is going under a bus or being left in the hostel, you ideally want to have any valuable items with you or locked in a section of your bag that removes the possibility of a quick theft. In hostels you have the added benefit of being supplied with lockers (in most cases) just for a bit more peace of mind. Things will go missing though, so watch out. People I travelled with had phone chargers, shoes, books, ETC stolen within the hostels themselves.
So, you have 5 days in Cambodia. The easiest place to start your journey is Phnom Penh due it having the largest airport in the country. So assuming you’re flying to the country, this would most likely be the cheapest and most convenient airport to fly to. Unfortunately, Phnom Penh is going to be the hardest part of your trip. Out of all the things to do in Cambodia, the history of Phnom Penh will rip your heart out and shatter your soul. We’ll get to that in a moment.
There are a number of hostels to choose from in Phnom Penh. Based on my personal experience, I’d recommend the Mad Monkey if you’re travelling alone or want to do a little partying after your journey there. However, there are higher rated hostels and if you’re travelling on a tight budget, you’ll definitely find cheaper hostels.
If you’re not really a party animal, don’t rule out Mad Monkey based on that. I’m certainly not and I still had an incredible time and met some wonderful individuals through the hostel. If you need a good night’s sleep then DEFINITELY choose somewhere else to stay.
Assuming you arrive in the morning, as long as you have your hostel booked then you can dump your bags. Most hostels have this feature so don’t feel like you need to carry you bag around with you. This gives you the opportunity to go see what Phnom Penh has to offer.
When travelling around South East Asia there are tuk-tuk’s everywhere. Tuk-tuks are super cheap. So don’t worry too much about getting from A to B. Most drivers will wait for you while you go into tourist attractions but it’s always best to check.
The Killing Fields
If you don’t know a great deal about the history of Cambodia, you’re not alone. I can raise my hand and admit that I was completely clueless. If I hadn’t read it in a Cambodia travel guide during my flight over, I’d have had no idea.
Without going into too much detail, the Killing Fields are part of this gruesome history. Pol Pot, genocidal mad-man and leader of the Khmer Rouge regime ordered the capture and execution of over 1 million people: men, women and children alike in the late 1970s.
The killing fields are one of many locations where people were taken specifically to be executed. In all honesty, nothing can prepare you for what you’re going to see but it’s definitely something you don’t want to miss either.
The entrance fee is $3 and costs an additional $3 for the audio guide. This is definitely an audio guide you don’t want to miss out on. I won’t go into too much detail about the sorts of things you will see or hear but I wouldn’t advise taking young children there.
You are encouraged to take photographs as it’s a great way to raise awareness of the dark history that is so often left out of Western school’s lessons. I do ask that you be respectful though. I witnessed a few people who weren’t and given the intense nature of what you’re walking through, a little respect can go a long way.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Following on from the Killing Fields, I’d recommend heading straight to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Entry to here will cost between $3 and $6. Be warned, your experience isn’t going to get any easier from here. This is the equivalent of a Cambodian concentration camp.
People were held prisoner here and tortured. Graphic photos around the site and equally graphic descriptions from the audio guide paint a picture that you won’t soon forget. It’s been nearly a year since I was there and I can still picture some of the scenes. You walk in and around the various buildings, some of which have been left untouched for the most part.
Again, without going into too much detail, you definitely want to prepare yourself emotionally. Some of the buildings have the prisoner photos, essentially mugshots up on boards. It really punches you in the gut at just how many people of all ages where taken here.
Some photos are more graphic and show people being tortured, other boards will include stories of survivors and what they went though. One of the final buildings contains paintings from a survivor that depicts his experiences with being tortured and many, many of the methods used.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking thing is that the painter and another survivor go back there every single day to try and raise awareness to this history.
The Rest of Phnom Penh
You may want some time to relax after such a hard-hitting day. I can assure you, the rest of your trip won’t be quite as tear-jerking. If you want a chance to enjoy some Cambodian food, simply take a walk around the city. Be warned that in the evening, traffic can be at a standstill for hours.
So you might want to walk around and simply see what you can find. If you are staying at Mad Monkey, you’ll find many like-minded travellers in the bar and the hostel takes its guests out to a nearby club that can be a lot of fun. If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional then you could checkout the sunset cruises that the city offers.
You don’t need to rush in the morning but it is still best to book a bus the night before. You can check out one of the many bus companies, book online or (ideally) check with your hostel. I know that Mad Monkey offer a bus service which means you get picked up from the hostel and taken straight to the bus. You’ll be on the bus for about 6 hours before you arrive at Sihanoukville on your way to your next stop on this Cambodia itinerary: Koh Rong.
Koh Rong is an island so you’ll have to get a boat from Sihanoukville. This is very simple to do as the bus tends to drop you off right at the port. From there, simply head down to the docks to sort out your ticket. You have a number of options such as the speedboat, the ferry and a combination of the two: the speed ferry.
Prices can vary from $10-$25 per trip. The duration of the trip also varies and can take up to an hour and a half depending on the weather; although average times tend to be closer to 45 minutes. Be warned: There are not ATMS and no Wi-Fi on these islands! Prepare accordingly!
Depending on where your hostel is located, you may need to get another boat from the main pier at Koh Rong. The boat we got journeyed around most of the piers so we didn’t have that problem. Just check when you buy your ticket and they will tell you.
One spot I would definitely recommend is the Suns of Beaches hostel. The staff were lovely, the rooms are literally straw huts which is cool and the beach is indescribable. It’s an incredibly cheap hostel at around $6 per night or less. It’s not just the beaches that are the reason for your visit here though. At night, especially during the night of a full moon, something incredible happens!
The Plankton of Koh Rong
At night, the plankton in the water glow! These phosphorescent plankton give off this green colour that resembles a sort of green static electricity as you move through it: yes, you can indeed swim with them and it’s absolutely awe-inspiring!
It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and while there are many incredible historical sights to see in Cambodia, this was by far my favourite non-historical moment. Other than the plankton, the incredible beaches and perhaps a walk through the jungle, Koh Rong doesn’t have too much to do so one night here is plenty if you’ve got a tight schedule.
A Warning about Koh Rong
Before I get to the warning itself, if you happen to be in this area either the night before or the night of a full moon, there is apparently the best party in the world (or so I heard) over on Koh Rong Samloen. It’s a jungle party that is meant to be extraordinarily insane.
Before I got to Koh Rong, group after group had warned me not to go. “Everyone gets sick” was the stark warning I repeatedly heard and chose to ignore. That’s why I can’t tell you about the jungle/full moon parties myself…I was too busy being the MOST ill I’ve ever been in my entire life. It’s still a jaw-droppingly beautiful island though which is why I still recommend it!
I was there for 4 days so all the water I drank was from there, all the food was from there, I swam in the water regularly, I literally breathed in Koh Rong for days so it was expected that I may get ill. One night might be short enough that you’ll avoid it. Anyway, if you don’t brave Koh Rong based solely on that, Koh Rong Samloen is still wonderful but it just doesn’t compare to the natural beauty of Koh Rong and it also doesn’t have glow in the dark plankton.
Get a boat back to the main pier and from here, you can head back to Sihanoukville for the next step of your Cambodia itinerary. There are plenty of travel agencies in Sihanoukville from where you can get a bus to Siem Reap. You have two options here for how you want to do this next part of the trip.
Option 1: Chill at the beach either on Koh Rong or in Sihanoukville until the evening and then get the night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. Option 2: Get the bus in the morning and arrive in Siem Reap in the evening. Personally, I would recommend option 1 if you’re travelling with people and option 2 if you’re travelling alone.
My reasoning for this is as follows: the night buses are good in the sense that you can theoretically sleep. You’re not wasting money on accommodation for that night, you’re not wasting daylight travelling on a bus and they tend to be pretty cheap. However, you’re basically sharing a single bed with someone and if that person is a stranger, it can be a little uncomfortable and even intimidating.
I got both experiences and for me, travelling with a stranger who didn’t speak English was probably my worst experience in Cambodia, even above getting poisoned on Koh Rong. Not because of the language barrier but because you’re basically sleeping against each other. Either way, the journey will cost you about $12 and will take 10-12 hours.
Day 4 – Siem Reap
If you’ve glanced at even one Cambodia travel guide then you’ll have heard of Siem Reap. It’s one of the best things to do in Cambodia and if you’re seeing Cambodia in 5 days, this is definitely a priority. It is home of the famous Angkor Wat.
The temple is one of many located in Siem Reap, all of which are located in the national park. In order to visit them you’ll have to buy a ticket. As part of this Cambodia 5-day itinerary, you only have 2 days to see it.
Even if you had a week, I don’t think you could see all the temples to the extent that they deserve. In terms of ticket pricing, you’ll be best buying a 3 day ticket rather than two 1-day tickets. The 3 day ticket will cost you $62 due to a price increase that happened just before I went.
You can buy your ticket on the way to the national park. You can pick any of the temples to visit and just see how many you can get before you get temple-fatigue (it happens to the best of us). One I’d definitely recommend is the Bayon temple. It has 200 large, smiling stone faces and exploring this temple was an honour! I’m not a hugely spiritual person but you feel very spiritual in these magnificent buildings.
Another one I’d recommend is Ta Prohm. The nearby jungle has swallowed this temple up and it now has trees growing in, through and on top of some of the buildings. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones wandering around some of these ancient sites.
If you want to get a taste of some local food, there are plenty of places in Siem Reap to do just that. There are tons of Westernised areas but quite often if you ask them what local food they have, you will find something new to try. There are often markets that are a lot of fun to explore and a great place to pick up some souvenirs. I treated myself to a massage and a hena.
Don’t tire yourself too much as you have to be up early the next morning. Book a tuk-tuk to pick you up from your hostel about half-an hour or more before sunrise. It’s time to see Angkor Wat in its full beauty.
Day 5 and Sunrise at Angkor Wat
It may be a challenge to get up this early but it’s completely worth it, I promise. Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat is unlike anything else. You always have masses of people who turn up for it and there is a buzz in the air and an extraordinary energy.
Granted, many of the people there in the morning haven’t been to bed yet and are still a little drunk from the night before (guilty) but it doesn’t remotely remove anything from this scene. I wish I could describe it to you but in all honesty, words and photographs don’t do it a lick of justice.
Many people head straight back to bed after the sun has come up but as you only have 5 days in Cambodia, it’s best to coffee up and power through the sleepiness. The actual Angkor Wat structure is huge! You’ll probably spend 2-3 hours wandering around if you plan to see a good chunk of it.
Just be sure to take supplies such as water, sun cream, some food, and more water. There are some stall located around the place but you can’t rely on them being there. If you’re there in summer, it’s going to be HOT! The last thing you want it to get heat fatigue or even sun stroke.
From Siem Reap, you have to get a 6-8 hour bus journey back to Phnom Penh. This will cost you somewhere between $9 and $15 depending on the level of luxury you choose.
It was your ultimate travel guide to Cambodia and things to do in 5 days there. Have a great trip. But first, find out how to travel the world cheap!
Cameron Madden is a writer who covers many topics from travel to politics to film reviews and even questions about consciousness. His aim is to provide his readers with information that will help their journey or make them think twice about what they thought they knew. While he does have a degree in psychology, most of his blogs focus on other topics. Here, he has shared his tips about things to do 5 days in Cambodia. You can read his focused Pompeii blog or follow him on Twitter (@BakedHaggis) to keep up to date with his writing!
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