No South East Asia backpacking trip is complete without a visit to some of Cambodia’s most famous sights. From the vibrant Siem Reap to the remote islands on the coast of Sihanoukville, here’s what to do on a backpacking itinerary in Cambodia as part of the Lot Pass from Stray Asia!
On arrival into Cambodia from our trip down Laos via about 3 buses, two border controls, customs, visa signings, and one “medical certificate” we finally made it to Siem Reap. We freshened up at our accommodation and soon headed out to take a look around.
We made it to the infamous Pub Street in search of food. Having been in the remote areas of Laos for a couple of weeks, the hustle and bustle of city life was a bit of a shock. However, once we were used to more people, traffic, and activity, we knew we instantly liked Siem Reap. The relaxed and cheery attitude was appealing, but some of the locals could get a little too cheeky and try and milk you a bit.
Day 1 – Hostel perks
The first full day in Cambodia we completed some errands, and started to plan our next few days. We had made the decision to stay on in Siem Reap, using our 4 extra days here rather than further along. This was because we had an instantly good feeling about it here, we were extremely comfortable in the hostel, there was lots to do, and we would be able to see the unforgettable Angkor Wat sunrise!
Where to stay in Siem Reap
I am a huge advocate of the Living Quarters Hostel, the wifi was amazing (Netflix worthy! Such a treat! And forevermore the benchmark of all wifi…), the aircon was almost TOO good, the food was great, (perfect mix of Western and Cambodian on offer) the staff were friendly, it was small and uncommercial, close to plenty of amenities and…. HAD A POOL. Yes, that’s right. We got the enjoy a whole week of glorious Cambodian sunshine all with cooling off with a refreshing dip. Bliss.
For an incredibly affordable price we managed to stay at the hostel for around $5 per night in a 16 bed dorm. This might sound like a squeeze but the large, well ventilated room has an en suite and external bathrooms to use too. And, being just a short walk from the centre of town, we couldn’t have been happier!
After a chilled afternoon of wandering around and finding a great supermarket stocked with international products, we treated ourselves to Italian food for dinner, as Siem Reap is especially known for their wide variety of cuisine and excellent cooking schools. However, we were reminded that we were in Asia when a sudden powercut left us sitting and sweating in pitch black, with no hope of returning energy for a while… Only in Asia! This was going to be a good week to recover from hectic and long travelling, reach some normality levels again, before working downwards towards the coast and back into backpacker lifestyles.
Day 2 – Angkor Wat
Next on our list of great memories to make, was a very early start as we were to take a tuk tuk to Angkor Wat. You can read all about our day trip to the Angkor Wat temple complex here, and for now I shall leave you with the advice to DEFINITELY make the time to go when in Siem Reap, you will not regret it for a second. It will absolutely be worth the early morning start, and the history learned throughout the day along with seeing it all for yourself is unforgettable.
Days 3 & 4 – Siem Reap
The next few days followed a pattern of light sightseeing around Siem Reap, eating delicious food, enjoying the culture and of course relaxing at the beautiful pool when things got too hot.
Particular highlights included trying my first Amok Curry, a delicious mild curry native of Cambodia traditionally served and made in banana leaves, and attending a free Apsara Dance Show, which showcased some amazing dancers and musicians telling folk tales through live performance. Both of these activities of eating and live arts are favourite hobbies of mine, so they really stood out for me! Siem Reap is especially lovely at night, with bright lights adorning the river and streets, and with plenty of night markets and things to see and do, it made sense for us to relax in the day and head out in the slightly cooler evenings.
Day 5 – Battambang
After several days of enjoying our freedom, the day finally came to leave Siem Reap behind and jump back on our bus provided by Stray Asia.
Along the journey, we stopped at a roadside hut which sold food. Sounds normal until I mention the fact that the food they sold was barbecued rat on a stick! Not being a big meat lover, I absolutely did not want to try it at all, but I am assured that it tasted great, even the brains… I’m not here to judge!
Once we arrived at the village not far from Battambang where we’d be staying the night at a homestay, we briefly visited the school to drop off some books and supplies for the children, and have a play with them after school. The inquisitive and cheeky little ones were lovely, and after singing a song for us were appreciative of all the attention they received!
A little further down the single street of this village we stopped off at a ‘crocodile farm’. This turned out to just be a pit with far too many crocs than should be in there, and we heard from the owner how they were going to be cold in China for their meat and skin. Although this bit wasn’t exactly pleasant to hear or know about, I do think it’s important to try and embrace everything a culture has to offer, even if it means facing the more immoral stuff that is yet to be prevented.
Once at the homestay, we hung out with the little kids of the family, helped prepare the spring rolls for dinner, and generally enjoy each others company. This homestay was a very different experience to the Laos homestay; this home seemed more developed and used to visitors, and were well equipped to dealing with a relatively large group of guests. After a novel bucket shower and delicious curry dinner, we settled down to play some card games, and try the dreaded Cam Cam “wine”, or cobra blood whisky, we were offered. We only tried the smallest amount and I can say I won’t be trying it again in a hurry! Like I’ve said, I’m not a whisky fan at the best of times so I stomached it for the claim that I said I’ve tried it! As we were all tired from an exciting day and had a long drive ahead tomorrow, an early night was much appreciated by all.
The following day we were treated to a ride on the Bamboo Train, a railway line that runs from Battambang around 7km south east. This rickety and at times extremely speedy rollercoaster was so much fun, and the novelty of having to pick up your cart to allow others to pass didn’t get old. We loved speeding down the track, and after safely returning to our bus felt relieved after experiencing such unstable tracks!
Day 6 – Arrive in Sihanoukville
After a long 12 hour drive with few interesting stops along the way, we finally reached the southern coast of Cambodia, and entered Sihanoukville! This town is famed for being a real backpacker attraction, as it’s proximity to the Cambodian Islands makes it a popular holiday resort for relaxing, partying and generally chilling out. It reminded me a little of Thailand, with an overwhelming number of choices and people vying for your attention and patronage. As a fan of the quieter destinations, I was looking forward to our beach time next!
We went for a lovely dinner right on the beach, and right by all the bars. Before our evening, we were warned by our Stray guide of theft being a common occurrence in this town, so as the swarms of kids approached us selling trinkets and bracelets we defiantly stood our ground – but they did their best in attempting to be persuasively cute.
Day 7 – Island Boat Trip to Bamboo Island
For a bit of relaxation and Cambodian nature we were off for a private boat trip to a few islands and some snorkelling. I was so excited for this because I’m a total water baby, and it felt as though it had been a while since having a proper swim and enjoy the marine life this new country had to offer.
The snorkelling was great to see some awesome fish, we could have spent all our time splashing around and jumping off the boat but sadly that wasn’t the agenda. It didn’t matter though because we had a really wonderful day together and spent most of the afternoon on Bamboo Island, which is hard to put into words so all I can say is that it was paradise. Pure, beautiful sand, crystal blue waters, accompanied by tasty food and wonderful people it could easily be one of my favourite beach days of the trip. The only problem with being so distracted by having fun was that we all managed to get pretty awfully burned… The already existing tan may have hidden its full effects but boy could I feel the burn. When will we learn! Dinner and drinks once back on the mainland was lovely, and followed by cuddling some adorable puppies made the day a memorable one.
Sihanoukville and Bamboo Island
Day 8 – Kampot
From Sihanoukville we made our way to Kampot, a pretty and unexpectedly well kept old French town along the coastline known for Durian (an awful smelling fruit) and salt and pepper production. These are proudly shown as statues in the centre of a roundabout in the town, something that most towns seem to enjoy doing in South East Asia! The weather was pretty bad here, which put a halt to any major outdoor activities. Things did start to perk up later however, as we took a somewhat impromptu boat trip down the river to see some fireflies. We weren’t expecting to see much, but it was actually really good fun to spot the busy dots float around the water and trees.
Day 9 – Koh Tunsay
The following morning was a short drive to Kep, another sea side town, where we would then be catching yet another bumpy boat to the little island of Koh Tunsay, otherwise known as Rabbit Island. Unfortunately there’s no rabbits, but instead lots of dogs and chickens roaming around.
This was the perfect chill out spot, so that’s exactly what we did. With no internet connection and only the small resort to stay at, we made the most of the peace and quiet. A massage at sunset and pleasant dinner followed after a tough day of sunbathing and floating around the sea. It’s such a tough life being a traveller!
Have you visited Cambodia? Where was your favourite stop along the way? Let me know your stories!