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The Highlights of Cambodia in 10 Days

This 10-day Cambodia itinerary is a loop, or rather a triangle, covering the main highlights of the country, with three main stops. It itinerary logically starts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, where you have a couple days to visit its main attractions.

Obviously, no Cambodia itinerary would be complete without a discovery of the temple of Angkor! Therefore, second stop is Siem Reap, allowing for an in-depth visit of the Angkor region as well as the Tonle Sap Lake.

The last part of this itinerary focuses on discovering the Cambodian coast with its dream islands and natural areas. From there, it is easy to come back to Phnom Penh and close the loop.

This itinerary doesn’t have the goal of seeing it all, but if you have only 10 days, it’s a great itinerary for first-timers in Cambodia – It is the one I followed, that’s why I wanted to share it with you.

The Itinerary at a Glance

  • Trip Type: Backpacking, independant travel
  • Itinerary Shape: Loop
  • Starting Point: Phnom Penh
  • Ending Point: Phnom Penh
  • Duration: 10 days
  • Mean of Transport: Bus, plane
  • Main Stops: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap & Angkor, Sihanoukville

Phnom Penh

1.5 Days

Welcome to Cambodia! What’s better than starting the discovery of a new country with its capital city?

Phnom Penh has a lot to offer to travelers and many would argue that one and a half days is not enough and it’s probably true, but again we are trying here to get a good first overview of things as we only have 10 days, and you will be back to Phnom Penh at the end of the itinerary so you will have some more time to visit a few more places.

  • The first thing you will probably want to do is have a stroll along Sisowath Quay and its riverside park, which is great to get immersed in the atmosphere of the city.
  • The absolute must-see in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace. Its fabulous architecture is a real work of art. Remember to keep your shoulders and knees covered in order to visit it.
  • The Museum of Cambodia is located right next to the Royal Palace, and makes a really interesting journey into the History of Cambodia.
  • Wat Phnom is a hillside temple, located not too far from Sisowath Quay and is also a nice visit and a nice immersion in the local culture.
  • The Central Market is another option for a good stroll, I have even found a nice carry-on luggage to buy there!
  • The Night Market takes place at night at the northern end of the riverside park, and is a nice evening walk.

You can also read a really good and complete list of things to do in Phnom Penh here.

Hotel Options in Phnom Penh

Booking.com

Phnom Penh → Siem Reap

Bus | 320 km (200 mi) ⁝ 6 hours

It’s now time to start your discovery of Cambodia’s interior and get closer to its world-class attraction: Angkor! Its an easy 6-hour bus ride from Phnom Penh, crossing the Cambodia countryside with palm-dotted fields and small villages.

You can find a bus ticket on the spot, or you can choose to book one in advance for peace of mind, using the form below.

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Siem Reap

4 Days

We are now in the heart of Cambodia! I am suggesting to spend 4 days in Siem Reap and its region, and buy a 3-day entry ticket to Angkor. 3 days might seem like a lot, and you might think that once you have seen 3 or 4 temples, you feel like seeing something else.

But honestly, I have seen 17 temples in the Angkor area with this 3-day ticket, and I did not get tired of them at all. Each temple has its own charm, its own architecture, its own interesting details… and it’s really fascinating to explore them.

The other big attraction of the region that you can absolutely not miss is the Tonle Sap Lake. I will suggest two different visits on and around the lake.

So let’s see what you can do during these 4 days:

Hotel Options in Siem Reap

Booking.com
  • Temples of Angkor

Angkor… That name always has a special flavor for all exploration-minded travelers. The vision of these incredibly old temples temples buried under a thick jungle is enough to wake up any desire for adventure.

These astounding trees growing huge roots along the temple walls (Tetrameles nudiflora – locally known as “spung“) are a real postcard of Cambodia and South-East Asia.

As I was saying earlier, I got the 3-day pass, that allows you to enter all the temple of the region during 3 days. Just in case you were considering it, don’t expect to buy a cheaper one-day pass and try to sneak in other temples on the following days – Officials are there at each temple and they carefully check the validity of your pass. I know it quickly adds up if you are several people, but the temples are fantastic and well worth the price.

The best advice I can give you is to hire a tuk-tuk driver who will pick you up at your hotel in the morning and take you from temple to temple inside the Angkor area, in a very pleasant and comfortable way.

Quick Info

Best way to go: Tuk tuk from Siem Reap. Make friends with your driver on the first day and negotiate a good price for all 3 days if it is what you choose.

Entrance fee: Big increase since Feb 2017
1-Day Pass: US$ 37 – Valid on the day of purchase,
3-Day Pass: US$ 62 – Valid 3 days within 10 days,
7-Day Pass: US$ 72 – Valid 7 days within a month.

Duration of visit: I recommend the 3-Day Pass.

Clothes: Knees and shoulders must be covered to visit Angkor Wat. If not covered, you will be denied entry.

Best season: November to April for the weather, but can be quite crowded.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Angkor Temples

Explore various temples of the Angkor region, without the crowd (11 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

On my first day, as it was too late to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, it was kept for the next day. My first Angkor Temple was the Bayon, with its famous monumental faces sculpted in the rock, followed by various other temples in the Angkor Thom area.

On the second day, as planned, the tuk-tuk driver was there very early not to miss the sunrise over the world-famous Angkor Wat Temple. It was nice but I wasn’t alone to have had this idea… The top section of Angkor Wat opens later in the morning, so expect some waiting time if you were there at sunrise.

Another important temple that I visited that day is Ta Prohm Temple, with the super famous spot where a huge spung tree grows roots on the walls.

On the third day, I had the chance to visit some last temples closer to Lake Tonle Sap. If you ask your tuk-tuk to take you to Kampong Phluk (see below), don’t hesitate to ask him to stop at Preah Kô, Bakong and Lolei Temples. They are not among the cluster of temples surrounding Angkor Wat (but not far), but they are still part of Angkor and you will need your pass.

It was a surprise, but the great big famous Angkor Wat temple is not necessarily the one I preferred. Yes it is absolutely huge, it is a jewel and an extremely precious monument; but I feel that I took at least as much pleasure to explore some smaller temples that are less visited and have these huge trees growing on them. For instance, I have a great memory of the Preah Khan Temple. Ta Keo and Pre Rup Temples were also wonderful, overlooking the forest around.

Trying to avoid the crowds – I don’t know if you’re like me, but when I find myself lost in an ocean of other tourists, invading the whole area, queuing forever to take the same exact picture at this very precise spot… in the end I just glance at the stuff I came for and tend to naturally run away from that crazy crowd. The magic of the exploration is totally lost. And the visit is a bit of a failure. This is sometimes inevitable for very famous places and monuments like the Temples of Angkor.

When I am about visit a place that I know will be fantastic, exceptional, spectacular, memorable for the rest of my life, I want to make sure I will find my little “privileged” personal moment in connection with the place.

First of all, I went slightly off-season, in April. The peak season for Angkor is supposed to be more around November-February, when the weather is OK. In April it was damn hot. That’s why the “spung” trees growing on the walls had lost their leaves, because of the drought. At the hottest hours of the day, it was well close to 40°C/104°F, you can imagine how it felt being surrounded by all these hots stones. But it there were still some people anyway, specially in the most famous temples like Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm.

One thing I did was trying to visit some of these more touristic temples at around lunch time. Already much less crowded.

I did explore some temples that were really empty and it was fantastic! But the bigger ones, were never empty. So, instead of walking with the crowd from the entrance straight to the exit, I just walked around waiting for the crowd to go away, basically waiting to have my little moment with the temple between two waves of tourists.

TRAVEL MAP – Angkor Temples

Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas in the virtual tour to help you prepare your trip to Angkor.

Click Here to View The Map

The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!

  • Tonle Sap Lake – Kampong Phluk

In the heart of Cambodia, Lake Tonlé Sap is so huge that it looks like an inland sea. It is the largest lake in South-East Asia. Along the lake, some villages are quite popular among visitors. One of them is Kampong Phluk.

During the rainy season (June to October), the annual flood of the Mekong River impacts the lake and make it grow impressively from 2,500 km² to 16,000 km². It was declared as a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 1997.

In the middle of this immense area that gets flooded every year, men chose to settle and build the village of Kampong Phluk. Often described as a “floating village”, it is actually built on tall stilts. Many tourists like to sail on small wooden boats between the houses of the village.

But if like me you go in the dry season, you will be visiting a water village… with no water!

Quick Info

GPS: 13°12’33.63″N, 103°58’25.15″E

Best way to go: Tuk-tuk or taxi from Siem Reap

Cost of tour: Around US$ 20 for a boat tour. Some scams have been mentionned by other travelers, be careful!

Duration of the boat tour: Around 2 hours

Best season: All year long, but June to October to see it flooded

Like I have mentioned, I was in Cambodia in April, during the dry season, and there was hardly any water (and no other tourist)! The small boat was struggling to pass between the other parked boats on the narrow almost dry river, and at some point it was not possible to continue and disembarking to continue on foot was the only choice.

I didn’t get to experience the water village but it was actually quite surprising to see all these houses, this whole village perched on these tall stilts. During the rainy season, the waters can rise up to 7 meters above our heads and reach the houses, the guide said. That’s a really impressive quantity of water!

VIRTUAL TOUR – Kampong Phluk

View an interactive 360-degree image of the surprising village of Kampong Phluk (1 panorama).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

The village has a straight main street, with a row of houses on both sides. In this season, it’s all dry and dusty. People partly live on the ground under their house, and rest in hammocks. The village has a temple with some nice golden stupas, and a school.

At the end of the village, a new structure has been built in what is known as “the flooded forest”, flooded like the village during the rainy season, with only the top branches coming out of the water. They built a nice wooden walkway among the trees and even a terrace on which you can sit and have a drink and a snack.

At the time of my visit, the walkway was not finished (it probably is by now), and it supposed to take you all the way to the lake.

  • Tonle Sap Lake – Chong Kneas Floating Village

This time, it’s a real floating village, in the middle of the lake. It was a suggestion from my tuk tuk driver and it turned out to be an interesting visit. I got a private boat (that I even had fun driving on the lake for a while) and could discover several parts of this village.

It’s a quite unique place to see. It is even very different than other lake villages I have seen such as on the Inle Lake in Myanmar. The buildings are quite spread out and you can find surprising stops such as a crocodile farm!

It’s always interesting to be able to witness such a different way of life and it’s one of these moment you feel you are really far from the world. If you plan your visit in late afternoon, the Tonle Sap Lake will fill you with wonder with its golden shining waters.

Siem Reap → Sihanoukville

Plane | 320 km (200 mi) ⁝ 1 hour

For this trip, you have the choice between an hour of plane, or a whole night of bus. There should also be vans available.

Having already done a long Phnom Penh – Siem Reap bus trip a few days before, and in order to save time, this time I chose to spend a little more and take the plane. But of course, if you are on a shoe string and don’t mind long bus rides, you can definitely take the night bus.

If you’d rather take a bus, you can search using the form below!

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Sihanoukville

3 Days

Sihanoukville is the gateway to Cambodia’s dream coastline. There are a number of places and islands to visit in the area, and I will give a couple of suggestions.

Arriving from Siem Reap, you will probably feel a little tired after the long trip, so it is nice to just relax and discover the beautiful beaches of the area. Otres Beach, Serendipity Beach, Sokha Beach at all beautiful and worth seeing.

What I did is take advantage of this slow day to book a couple tours for the next 2 days. I chose to visit Koh Rong Samloem island, and Ream National Park.

Hotel Options in Sihanoukville

Booking.com
  • Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samloem can be considered as the little sister of Cambodia’s most famous island, Koh Rong. It’s a nice option if like me you don’t have much time to explore the Cambodian coast and islands.

I opted for the Party Boat (despite the name, it is not really some floating night club): $25 for the day. It takes you to Koh Rong Samloem and back, with some not-too-bad snorkeling along the way. The boat leaves from the Serendipity Pier – Serendipity Beach in Sihanoukville, and you can buy your ticket at their booth on the pier.

Seems like the day was not well chosen as there was a huge storm cloud just over the Party Boat (photo on the left), and we were all waiting for the small boat to take us to the big one, under the rain. The waves made it complicated to embark and disembark as the small boat kept banging hard against the pier and then against the Party Boat! But hey, that’s adventure.

During the sailing the weather improved and we could go on the roof of the boat for the best view possible (and not to get sick).

Koh Rong Samloem is still a largely untouched island (but not for long I am sure). The long beach of Saracen Bay is where the boat takes you. A shallow turquoise warm water awaits you for a very enjoyable swim, with the jungle-covered hills of the island around.

The turquoise sea with really dark and threatening clouds in the background can make really cool photography opportunities!

20 mins later, the cool photographic background inevitably turned into rain that lasted for the rest of the day. Even though the first reflex is to be disappointed by the weather, I decided that I should try swimming under the rain. And it was fun! One of the best memories I have of this island.

Quick Info

Address (tour booking and meeting point): Serendipity Pier, Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville

GPS (embarking point): 10°36’20.83″N, 103°31’16.59″E

Best way to go: Day trip from Sihanoukville – Booked at the Serendipity Pier

Cost of tour: US$ 25 for the day trip with the Party Boat

Duration of tour: Around 8:30 hours, 9:30 am to 5 pm

Best season: November to April

VIRTUAL TOUR – Koh Rong Samloem

Discover Saracen Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches on Koh Rong Samloem (1 panorama).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

A long portion of Saracen Bay is still wild, but some bungalows and “eco resorts” are slowly being built. More and more tourists will go to this island, spend a night there, and more facilities will probably be built for them in the years to come. If you want to catch a glimpse of this island while it is still relatively wild, go NOW!

Koh Rong Samloem

Koh Rong Samloem, Saracen Bay

  • Ream National Park

18 km (11 miles) south of Sihanoukville, Ream National Park was established in 1993 to protect a patch of coastal rainforest and marine areas, 21,000 hectares in total. It is at the extreme south of Cambodia, almost on the border with Vietnam. It is a nice addition to your Cambodia itinerary if you enjoy nature and the sea.

The journey on a small boat with a park ranger takes you on the Prek Toek Sap river from which you can observe a thick mangrove on both sides. I always enjoy sailing in mangroves. It is a really fascinating environment, and there is often a lot of life to be observed among the forest of roots.

There is also some intriguing man-made features: long poles sticking out of the water. They were installed by fishermen who have set their nets in the river. In order to do so, they use long branches that they stick in the river bed.

Quick Info

Address (embarking point): Phum Smak Daeng, National Hwy 4 18 km / 11 mi south east of Sihanoukville

GPS (embarking point): 10°35’7.83″N, 103°40’26.89″E

Best way to go: Organised day trip from Sihanoukville with local agency

Cost of tour: US$ 15-20 for a tour booked via your hotel with a local agency. US$ 65 for a private boat tour.

Duration of tour: Around 8 hours, usually about 8am to 4pm

Best season: November to April

As you get in the estuary, you can spot the waves of the sea in the distance – the Prek Toek Sap River is meeting the Gulf of Thailand. But the contemplation didn’t last very long, as the boat got stuck in the mud! The only thing left to do was to get off the boat and make it on foot until a village on the other side of the estuary.

In the mud, there were millions of tiny but pointed shells. I realized later that these shells start their life here on the estuary, and end it on the beach on the other side of the hill where I have later found the big empty adult shells.

From the village we got to cross some cultivated areas and some jungle to arrive at the main beach of the park. On the way, we came across a road that was freshly built in the forest, and along the beach a new hotel was being built. I heard this road and hotel are a Chinese investment in the park. I am not sure how good this is for a protected area. Unfortunately, dollars often wins the battle against trees.

VIRTUAL TOUR – Ream National Park

Take a look at the shallow waters of the Prek Toek Sap River estuary and discover the dream wild beach of Ream National Park (2 panoramas).

Click Here to View The Virtual Tour

The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.

The beach was beautiful. The sand is very fine and makes a strange and funny cracking sound when you step on it. If you ignore the Chinese hotel construction, the beach is pure wilderness.

But just like the island of Koh Rong Samloem, I have the unpleasant feeling that it won’t take long for this wilderness to be gone forever as the Ream National Park and the country open more and more to tourism.

It’s a good way to imagine how the concrete-covered tourist-invaded destinations of the region like Phuket of Koh Samui (Thailand) used to look like, when Nature was still untouched.

In any case, a tour to the Real National Park is a cheap and pleasant way of spending a day around Sihanoukville, in a mostly preserved environment. A tour for nature and wild beach lovers!

Sihanoukville → Phnom Penh

Bus | 230 km (145 mi) ⁝ 5 hours

Unfortunately, time has come to leave the paradise coastline of Cambodia and go back to Phnom Penh. The easiest way is by bus, the trip takes around 5 hours.

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Phnom Penh

Last Day

That’s it! We are now back to where we started, in Phnom Penh. Depending on your flight schedule, you might need to book a last hotel room, take the time to visit a few more places, or go straight to the airport.

Last Thoughts About This Itinerary

There are a thousand possibilities and alternatives to craft an itinerary in Cambodia. The country is very rich in terms of cultural, archaeological and natural assets, and there is something for everyone.

But I believe that in only 10 days, it is best to see the most important sights first and that’s what this itinerary is doing, mixing a bit of everything. In any case, I hope that this page is valuable to you and will help you prepare your own Cambodia itinerary!

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