Entering Cambodia leaves you with a couple of options and will depend on where you are travelling from. You could fly in via an international flight or enter through one of the neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Thailand or Laos. Regardless of how you enter, you will need to apply online for your travel visa and this can be done at https://www.cambodiantouring.com/apply
This procedure is simple and payments can be made online. You will receive your travel visa by mail and will be advised to have this printed for your entrance into the country.
We entered via Vietnam, after a bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City. This trip took us from the city centre in Vietnam, through the border post, and onwards to Phnom Penh. Please check your travel plans before-hand as you will have to state on your visa application which border entrance you will be using. The journey itself was uneventful with a good quality bus with lots of space and comfort. Do not be alarmed, you will be required to hand over your passport to the bus assistant, who will be handling your entrance. Remember, the border post serves two functions, your exit from Vietnam, and your entrance into Cambodia. Most of the time you’ll probably stand around not knowing what to do, until someone yells for you to come over, stand in this queue, walk this way, until you find yourself on the bus again. No fear, the bus is not going to leave without you so someone will make sure you get through the process.
The difference in lifestyle and standard of living will hit you immediately as you leave Vietnam and enter Cambodia. There are also many casinos lining the streets as you enter the country, all within close proximity to the border post. Gambling is illegal for locals but not for foreigners so there is big business in providing gambling facilities for Vietnamese tourists/visitors crossing the border.
The trip to the main city of Phnom Penh is not too far from the border post with accommodation options that cater for all. Our stay here was not to be a long stay. We wanted to visit S21 prison and The Killing Fields, before travelling North to visit Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples, before moving further South down to Kampot, in search of wind.
If you’re travelling through Phnom Penh then a visit to the Tuol Sleng S21 prison and The Killing Fields is a must. This offers a glimpse into the dark history of Cambodia and a time that is, thankfully, in the past.
A word of warning. This is not for the faint-hearted and can be quite a traumatic visit.
Under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, the people of Cambodia lost a quarter of it’s population through starvation, imprisonment and execution. The Tuol Sleng S21 prison was just one of many but due to the conditions it was found in and the precision of it’s prison records, it showed the atrocities that were inflicted on the people of Cambodia. Once a prisoner was of no longer use, they were processed and sent to the killing fields where they were brutally executed. Children were not spared this horrific end.
If you do enter, we advise you to make use of the audio guides. These are quite affordable and the instructions are clear as to how to use them. You play certain audio clips as you move around and listen to information regarding the different areas. We were initially put under the impression that there was a movie screening at certain times of the day, but could find no such event, or any information regarding it. While photography is prohibited in some parts of the prison, it is allowed in the fields.
Both these sites can be visited in one day.
From Phnom Penh we travelled up towards Siem Reap to visit the famous Angkor Wat temples. It was during this time that we realised that the Khmer new Year was in full swing. This was not on our agenda or even radar and we only found this out once we had arrived in Siem Reap. This was great fun and lasts well over a week.
Warning: You will get wet – You may get soaked
During this time the streets are transformed into a giant, non-stop water fight. Locals, as well as tourists arm themselves with pump-action water guns, roam the streets and blast and get blasted as much as possible. This is a big party, and as stated before, lasts well over a week. Do not travel into these areas if you are looking for a quiet evening out. You will get wet, you most probably will get soaked. Leave valuables at the hotel, and keep cameras and mobiles protected. We found that a GoPro was the perfect piece of equipment to record and document these celebrations.
Every evening we were picked up by our driver and the 3 of us, on a scooter, made our way to the “war zone”, getting sprayed, splashed and drenched on the way to the city centre. This is the home of Pub Street and yes, you guessed it, it’s just pubs, and it’s loud and it’s happening. We would then find a nice place to eat (if soaked tourists were permitted) which was followed by some “street skirmishes” and the drive back to the hotel.
Warning: Try to keep all other travel during this festive time to a minimum. We found this out the hard way. You will struggle to find available services (as they are well booked up) and you will struggle to get to meeting points on time. The bus services in Cambodia are also not the best, so you never really know how you are going to get there, or even if you are heading in the right direction. Our bus trip out of Siem Reap was a “sleeper bus” which has to be seen to be believed. We were wet, uncomfortable, had no idea where we were or where we were heading.
Probably the main tourist destination in Cambodia, this collection of temples is more like a city, and viewing the entire area would take days. There are the more popular areas which are packed daily with some of the 500 000 tourists that visit each year, and some areas we found that were just as breathtaking, and completely void of any other visitors. These temples offer fantastic opportunities for any photography enthusiasts, but in our advice, find the quieter temples where you can set up and take great pictures without anyone entering your frame and ruining your shot.
Find a driver, possibly at your hotel, and arrange that he be your guide for the day, and ask for the quieter temples, and possibly a bit of time at the main attraction. There is an entrance fee and the driver will take you to the registration area and get you sorted.
This is one reason why visiting during New Year celebrations is not advised, the place is packed with locals who are all enjoying time off from work, and we found the normal serene atmosphere spoiled by blaring music and a disregard for littering regulations. We did find some quiet buildings where we wandered for hours, marveling at the structures and enjoying the peaceful surroundings we found ourselves in. There are some areas where nature has clearly reclaimed some space and mighty buildings have been felled by mighty trees.
Tip: Although they were not operating during the New Year celebrations, we really wanted to visit this site by bicycle. After doing two trips with them in Vietnam, we were really keen to contact https://www.grasshopperadventures.com/ to do their Angkor Wat trip, but they were sadly shut down. We can highly recommend this company. Check the Vietnam clips at https://searchingforcoconuts.com/vietnam/
The main reason we visited this region was the possibility of wind and kite surfing, but the wind did it’s usual thing and did not come through. There are many other things to see and do in the area so we made the best of it, and the area also has some fantastic restaurants. Accommodation and restaurants included in the Tripadvisor reviews listed below.
Getting around is easy and can be done by rented scooter, and one drive that must be done is a visit to the Bokor Mountain drive. If you’re a scooter/bike enthusiast, this is a great drive with open, winding roads and great views. Pack a picnic and choose a spot to relax and enjoy. It’s not a short drive and it can get a bit chilly so take some warm clothing.
We also took a drive to visit some of the caves in the area. This is also a great ride through some beautiful areas. Upon arriving at the caves we were lucky enough to bump into some people who were doing some cave exploring with a company known as https://www.climbodia.com/. This was a lucky encounter and we followed their instructions, drove back to their offices, and signed up for the following day. They offer adventure tours through the caves as well as climbing activities, and were a great bunch of guys. Can’t recommend this enough… was really a blast…
The area also offers river tours at sunset which was great. There are some bigger vessels that depart from the town centre and are more lively tours. We opted for a private trip through our accommodation, with cold beers and a beautiful sunset.
Then it was the dreaded bus journey back through to Vietnam and on to our international flight.
Please note: All Tripadvisor posts were updated shortly after our visits. We do not believe in giving negative reviews unless we have made a personal request or comment to senior staff, allowing the relevant designated persons an opportunity to respond and rectify any shortcomings we might have experienced.