Things to do in Cambodia

April 11, 2019

things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap temple

What are things you can do in Cambodia? There are three cities you'll need to see while you are here: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Cambodia has lots to offer, from culture to night life to shopping and even great beaches. The things you can do in this country is so varied, you'll be left wondering where your time went.

Cambodia has surprised us. We didn't expect to like it as much as we did. While the country still is largely underdeveloped and you will find communication an issue as not all Cambodians are well versed with the English language, we really did have a great time here. 

On thing to note about Cambodia, is that the currency used in Cambodia is USD, in most cases, change will be dispensed by the local currency - Cambodian Riel. There's no need to change currency, most people will transact in USD.


Siem Reap


Siem Reap is synonymous with AngKor Wat. But there is definitely more to this city than just Angkor Wat. I won't deny that the temples are just beautiful and I could spend days just walking among the ruins and discovering more but let's face it, most of us have a few days to cover as much as we can see while on holiday.

Temple passes are available for 3 day as well as 1 day. We opted to spend a day covering only Angkor Wat and see what else we can do in Siem Reap besides the temples. 


While in Siem Reap, I highly advice starting at the Angkor National Museum. The audio tour is well presented and the museum has on display most of the artifacts from Angkor Wat. We found that because we did the museum first, it gave us perspective to whatever we were seeing on our temple tour the next day.


things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap temple
Angkor National Museum

Leaving the hotel room very early in the morning, in darkness, just to catch the light breaking through over Angkor Wat is definitely a must do. If not for the great views, it was surprisingly calm to experience the light coming in and illuminating the place bit by bit. The most peaceful experience I've had till date. Still gives me goosebumps thinking about it.


things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap temple
Angkor Wat Complex

Angkor Wat was built in the early 12th century as a Hindu temple to revere the god Vishnu. By late 12th century, it was transformed into a Buddhist temple. As you explore Angkor Wat, you'll see some buddhist statues still in their places and still being offered prayers. But a good majority of the relics have been shifted to museums.

things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap temple angkor thom
Angkor Thom (Bayou)

Angkor Thom (Bayou), accessible by tuk tuk from Angkor Wat, is an interesting place to see. Mostly in ruins and packed with tourist, its tough to get photos without getting anyone else in your shot. There isn't much information at the site itself and you'll need to employ a guide if you're interested in the history of the place. 

Angkor Thom (Bayon) established in the late 12th century was the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. The Bayon was the state's temple located in the middle of the city. King Jayavarman VII created Angkor Thom to be the Khmer Empire's capital city which housed a population of about a million people until it was abandoned in the 16th century.

things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap temple Ta Prohm



Ta Prohm built in the late 12th and early 13th century was a Buddhist monastery and university. It was by far, the most photogenic place with trees and root systems growing among the ruins. The site was used in the Tomb Raiders movie.


It is easy to lose yourself here on exploration. While I'd like to say that it’s serene, unfortunately, prepare to share these places with lots of tourist. The best time to visit would be early morning while everyone else is flocking to Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise.

things to do in cambodia angkor wat siem reap war museum
War Museum

We decided to visit the Landmine Museum and War Museum for the inner military man in the hubby. More information on the war museum can be accessed at http://www.warmuseumcambodia.com/. We enjoyed it more for the history that was told. Well in all honesty, that's what I enjoyed. The hubby was more excited about the weapons and machines.

The Landmine Museum touches on the history of the country, the war and its after effects on the communities. It also highlights the unwavering efforts of people who came together to try and make a difference in the country. Definitely worth a visit if you want to know the history behind what happened in  Cambodia. More information on this place can be accessed at this link: http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org/.

Over the 3 nights in Siem Reap, after our day sight seeing, we'd head over to Pub Street, the night market and walk the town to experience whatever we could. The Night market had great shopping especially for souvenirs and knick knacks. It is a pleasant place to walk around as its next to the river.

Pub street is exactly what it says it is. An entire street filled with restaurants,  pubs, loud music and people out to party the night away. If that's your night time scene, then this place is definitely worth a night out. If you're into live music and ambience, Hard Rock Cafe is also located nearby and the band is pretty good too.

Cambodia has surprisingly cheap alcohol and pretty decent food. The Khmer dish Fish Amok is a must try when you are in Cambodia. We have tried it throughout our trip from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville and there are variations as you travel but they all taste good. You'll also need to get your hands on the very cheap Angkor Beer while in Cambodia.


Phnom Penh


We travelled from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh via bus. The Giant Ibis bus service was the one we were advised to take and we weren't disappointed. They picked us up at the hotel and transferred us to a bigger bus and we were off. Book your tickets before you travel at http://giantibis.com/. The bus ride was comfortable albeit a few close calls. I'd recommend Giant Ibis because the operators speak English and are very helpful. You're allowed one change of timing per sector and they handle it quite well over the email.

Phnom Penh is vastly different from Siem Reap. While Siem Reap felt like it was more laid back and relaxed, Phnom Penh felt like a busy capital city. There are a few interesting things you can do here like the museum, historical places, cultural shows as well as shopping.

While in Phnom Penh, take a stroll along the Sisowath Quay, next to the Mekong River and you'll be surprised to find how open the place is compared to the rest of Phnom Penh. It was filled with small stalls and people out walking and chatting. It was quite refreshing considering how busy the city is. We decided to head to the FCC restaurant in the same area. Once again, the Fish Amok was delicious. We sat and had our drinks and stared out at the Mekong river and people watched. The FCC is definitely worth a visit while you're in Phnom Penh.

things to do in cambodia tuol sleng genocide museum phnom penh
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum


Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum has chronicled the genocide Cambodians suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge Regime. It was known as S-21 (Security Prison) and was a former high school. They have audio tours available and its quite comprehensive.

things to do in cambodia killing fields choeung ek genocidal center phnom penh

We left the place filled with sadness. I have no words to truly express what I've learnt about the country's past. It saddens me to know what the Cambodians have gone through. Yet, when you travel here, people show nothing except friendliness, happiness and the drive to carry on with their lives.

After about 2 hours, we made our way to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center via tuk tuk. Audio tour is available here as well. The site was a mass grave of victims of the regime. This place is also known as the "Killing Fields". The thing that affected me most was that, children were not spared from being executed. And while I'd recommend coming here, at that point, we left the place and felt like we had had enough. We couldn't read or listen to anything anymore. Oddly, the place felt peaceful, which was in total contrast to the atrocities that were committed here.


Shopping in Phnom Penh

The three main places to satisfy the shopaholic in you would be the Night Market, Central Market and Russian Market. I've found that the prices at the Russian Market for similar items found elsewhere is the cheapest. It is also the most interesting and the shopkeepers are nicer. The Night Market was interesting as it had a sort of variety show on a stage, people sitting and having dinner and a section for shopping.

things to do in cambodia central market phnom penh
Central Market

Central Market is the place to go to for everything from electronics, toiletries, jewellery, art, souveniers, paintings and so much more. While the inner dome had everything from electronics to toiletries and clothes, the outer shops had souvenirs and paintings. You'll find a food and fruits market here as well.

We found the prices here are more expensive for the same items you'll find in the Russian Market. My advice would be to head to the Russian Market first before you head out to the Central Market or Night Market. Shopkeepers in the Russian Market are also much more friendly. 


things to do in cambodia russian market phnom penh
Russian Market

The Russian Market was far more interesting. It was filled with everything from souvenirs to clothes to hardware items. Shopkeepers were very friendly and we had a great time mingling and talking to them.

things to do in cambodia russian market vietnamese coffee phnom penh
The best Iced Coffee at the Russian Market

We chanced upon some amazing coffee at the food section of the market. The owner of this stall, who is super friendly, urged us to try his coffee. We did not regret it. It was really good iced coffee. So, if you're ever at the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, head over to this stall and try the coffee. Oh, and stay and chat with the owner a while.


Catching a dance performance in Phnom Penh

things to do cambodia apsara dance phnom penh
Apsara Dance performed by the Cambodian Living Arts Company

On our last night in Phnom Penh, we decided to catch the dance performance by the Cambodian Living Arts company. We loved every second of it and wished it went on an hour longer. While people go on about catching an Apsara performance while in Cambodia, this company showcased dance from across the country. Also, support them in any way you can, they are tirelessly trying to preserve their heritage after losing so many artiste to the Khmer Rouge regime. 

You can read more about this phenomenal company and what they do here: https://www.cambodianlivingarts.org/

They perform at the National Museum in the evenings and shows can be booked here: https://experience.cambodianlivingarts.org/

Alternatively, you could buy the tickets in the day at the museum itself. Performances do sell out, we missed the first night's slot and opted to purchase it for the next night in case we missed it too.


Sihanoukville


Back on the Giant Ibis bus, albeit a smaller one this time compared to the Siem Reap to Phnom Penh sector. It took us approximately five hours to get to Sihanoukville where our driver conveniently forgot a passenger behind. Yes, it happened, even after doing a head count. I'd highly advice that you stick to your timings and stay close to the bus during the break times.

Sihanoukville was the one place where we decided not to venture out. We literally parked ourselves at the hotel and enjoyed the ocean. Two whole days of it. So while I'd like to say more about Sihanoukville, I have no experience here. What I can say, is that we loved the beach and we loved having our two days to decompress. We did opt for a nicer hotel here and one with a private beach. We stayed at the Independence Hotel Resort and Spa and it was worth every dime we spent. Between lazing away at the beach and taking in spa treatments, we spent our time catching the sunsets and sitting at the jetty at night. There are also small to medium sized shacks on the beach just off the hotel's private beach entrance, where you can get pretty decent seafood and alcohol so you aren't stuck with hotel food.

things to do in cambodia sihanoukville
Sihanoukville Jetty

As we headed back to Phnom Penh to catch our flight, we realized that, Cambodia has surprised us; from the amazing people who have taught us so much about the resilient nature of humans, to the beautiful ruins that were surprisingly peaceful and the breathtaking beaches. We can't wait to set foot here once again, hopefully soon.....


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