Top 11 Things to Do on Vacation in Cambodia

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Travelers who want an authentic and affordable experience in Asia should definitely consider booking a trip to Cambodia this year. With Siem Reap as the main tourist hub, there are lots of temples, historical ruins, and archaeological sites in this unique country to check out. But it’s also fun to soak up the sun at the beach, marvel at beautiful landscapes, and sample all the traditional foods here during your trip. To help you plan your itinerary, here are the top 11 things to do in Cambodia.

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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap
Angkor Wat at sunset Siem Reap Cambodia.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Angkor Wat is probably the most famous visitors’ attraction in Cambodia, and every first-time visitor should check it out. There are lots of tourists that show up very early, at least by 5:30am, to watch the sunrise over this Wonder of the World. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and tells the story of the Khmer Empire with a worldwide reputation and beautiful design. The monkeys that call this area may look cute, but be cautious of them because they’re known to steal things out of your hands and climb on tourists!

Bayon Temple, Siem Reap
Bayon Temple Entrance Angkor Thom gate Siem Reap Cambodia

Bayon Temple, Siem Reap

This temple is at the center of Angkor Thom, built around 1190 AD to celebrate the ego and creativity of a highly celebrated king of the country. This is a great place to visit in the morning and at sunrise because the temple faces east. This temple may not look as impressive from all angles as Angkor Wat, it’s uniqueness becomes very clear when you get up to the third level. The smiling image on the huge stone face of the temple is believed to be of King Jayavarman VII and has been called the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia.”

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap
Tree roots and ruins, Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor, near Siem Reap, Cambodia

Ta Prohm, Siem Reap

While some temples in Cambodia are in surprisingly immaculate condition, Ta Prohm is crumbling and left that way. This is how most of the temples here were actually found before they were rebuilt and renovated. But at Ta Prohm today, you can see a temple in its natural state, tree roots and all. This temple is known as the “Tomb Raider Temple” because it was used in the 2001 movie. This ancient and hidden temple offers a unique atmosphere that you really have to experience in-person to understand.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Phnom Penh
A fenced enclosure and sign marks a mass grave at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center commonly known as the Killing Fields.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, Phnom Penh

You can get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penhon a highway that cuts through the country on a road that is mostly paved. It’s a very interesting journey for sure, and one where you’ll see many aspects of Cambodian life that you probably wouldn’t experience if you just stayed in the main city for your whole vacation. The Choeung Ek Memorial and the Tuol Sleng Museum are commonly referred to as the Killing Fields as a reminder of the country’s difficult and dark past. These are important stops on a trip to Cambodia to learn about the tragedies of lost human lives. Just prepare yourself for thousands of human skulls on display and mass grave sites for the approximately 1.7 people who were victims of genocide.

Ride a Tuk-Tuk
A tuk tuk parked outside Ta Prohm temple at Angkor Archaeological Park of Siem Reap in Cambodia

Ride a Tuk-Tuk

One of the most quintessential experiences for visitors to Cambodia is to take a ride in a Tuk-Tuk. This is a popular activity in downtown Siem Reap and elsewhere in the country. Not only is riding in a Tuk-Tuk an experience all its own, but it’s also an efficient way to get around. Carriages pulled by motorcycles are particularly good at getting through congested streets to deliver you back to your hotel or to another sightseeing destination.

Relax on the Beach at Koh Rong
Landscape photo of beautiful white sand exotic beach on Koh Rong island in Cambodia

Relax on the Beach at Koh Rong

For a little rest and relaxation, head to Koh Rong for white-sand beaches and bright blue seas. There are a few small islands off the coast of Sihanoukville, only some of which are inhabited, and Koh Rong has been gaining popularity among backpackers. Come here to party, mix, and mingle.

 

Archaeological Sites at Koh Ker
Koh Ker temple complex, death pyramid Prasat Prang, Cambodia

Archaeological Sites at Koh Ker

Koh Ker is another great place to learn about history and architecture in Cambodia. This place was a capital site many centuries ago but was left abandoned for a long time after that. Koh Ker makes a great day trip from Siem Reap and has a few dozen structures to check out. Make sure to see the Prasat Thom temple pyramid, which has seven tiers and is often compared to Mayan-style architecture.

Tonlé Sap Lake, Siem Reap
Cambodian woman in Tonle Sap Lake Cambodia

Tonlé Sap Lake, Siem Reap

To get a better sense of local life in Cambodia, consider paying a visit to Tonlé Sap Lake and taking a boat to the floating villages here. This is an impoverished area of the country with primitive fishing villages and shacks that stand on stilts to prevent flooding. You’ll often find local residents selling food and handcrafted items, so consider making a purchase to support them and their way of life.

Popokvil Waterfall at Bokor National Park
Popokvil Waterfall, Bokor National Park, Cambodia

Popokvil Waterfall at Bokor National Park

To get out in nature in Cambodia, head to Bokor National Park to see the Popokvil Waterfall. This is a two-tier waterfall that is quite stunning, especially during the rainy season when the water is really flowing. Come here on a hot day to take a swim or to view the native monkeys and other wildlife.

Watch a Apsaras Dance Performance
Cambodians Apsara dancers in Angkor Wat Siem Reap Cambodia

Watch a Apsaras Dance Performance

One must-do experience that visitors to Cambodia should add to their itineraries is to watch an Apsaras dance performance. You can find these performances regularly in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The dances celebrate ancient gods and celestial beings with unique hand and body movements and stunningly beautiful costumes. Keep an eye on the performer’s extremely flexible fingers. Aspiring dancers begin training for Apsara very young while their fingers are still growing so they can perform the flexible hand and finger movements of this style of dance.

Ream National Park, Near Sihanoukville
Ream National Park is a popular day trip from Sihanoukville

Ream National Park, Near Sihanoukville

Another national park worth visiting in Cambodia is near Sihanoukville and has everything from waterfalls to islands, coral reefs, forests, and beaches. Ream National Park is a favorite spot among bird watchers because there are hundreds of different species that live here. Boat trips and forest hikes are popular here to see the unspoiled nature of Cambodia that hasn’t yet been touched by developers.

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