Things to do in Cambodia

Cambodia’s top attractions

Think South East Asia is just a place of touristy beaches, full-moon parties and neon paint? Think again. Come to Cambodia and you’ll be treated to magnificent early civilizations, jungle-clad ruins and superlative wildlife.

  1. Visit Angkor Wat
  2. Marvel at the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
  3. Run amok
  4. Hunt for kramas
  5. Take to the water
  6. Relax at the beach
  7. Learn about Cambodia’s history
  8. Explore Angkor Thom
  9. Trek around Sen Monorom
  10. Watch apsara dancing
  11. Spot fabulous wildlife
  12. Explore Ream National Park
  13. Discover Banteay Chhmar

Most travellers have heard of the mighty Khmer Empire of Angkor, and it’s famous temples, but there are plenty of other things to do in Cambodia too. From the soaring spires of the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh to lush junglescapes, idyllic beaches and the mighty Mekong River, you’ll be overwhelmed with choice when deciding what to do in Cambodia.

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1. Visit Angkor Wat

If you’re wondering if all the hype is worth it, then the answer is, emphatically, yes. This unforgettable temple, crowned with soaring towers and embellished with intricate bas-reliefs, represents the zenith of Khmer architecture. It rises out of the forest like the classic lost-in-the-jungle ancient ruins of every Hollywood filmmaker’s wildest dreams.

Best for: Everyone. Simply put, Angkor Wat is one of the Earth’s must-sees

When to go: Dawn and dusk are particularly atmospheric.

2. Marvel at the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Undoubtedly one of the most iconic things to do in Cambodia, the extravagant Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, in the heart of Phnom Penh, are home to fabulous murals and a treasure-trove of Khmer sculpture. Their roofs are adorned with soaring golden nagas and spires that glint against the sky.

Best for: Culture vultures

When to go: Early morning to avoid the crowds - also note that staff start to close up 30min before the actual closing time (5pm).

3. Run amok

Longing to have your taste buds tickled? Look no further than Cambodia’s national dish, amok. Although no two recipes are the same, the best amoks are soothingly mild, with intense lemongrass flavours, seasoned with coconut and galangal and a hint of spice. You’ll find amok on menus the length of the country, so getting some for lunch or dinner should be no problem.

Best for: Foodies

When to go: For a traditional breakfast dish, try kuy teav, a noodle soup.

4. Hunt for kramas

Shopaholics will be able to sate their addiction in Cambodia’s markets. To take home a traditional souvenir, shop for kramas – these versatile garments are used in Cambodia as scarves, bandanas and even as children’s hammocks. Kompong Cham Market, the Angkor Night Market in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh’s Russian Market all offer fertile karma-hunting territory. Check individual markets for the best days and times to visit.

Best for: Shopaholics

When to go: Make for a night market to savour a traditional meal as the sun goes down.

5. Take to the water

Lakes and rivers are writ large on the map of Cambodia. Exploring the Tonle Sap floating villages is among the best things to do in Cambodia, but you can also go dolphin-watching or kayaking on the Mekong or the Tatai River, or relax on a sunset river cruise in Kampot and Phnom Penh.

Best for: Waterbabies and nature lovers

When to go: Dolphins are most active during the early morning and late afternoon, when they feed.

6. Relax at the beach

It doesn’t take much effort to find your own strip of pure-white sand on one of Cambodia’s idyllic islands. Scene-stealers include Long Set Beach on Koh Rong, Lazy Beach on Koh Rong Saloem, the beaches of Ream National Park and Koh Totang’s pretty shores. For a truly relaxing holiday without having to worry about the details, consider Cambodia holiday packages

Best for: Those seeking sun, sea and TLC

When to go: Humidity and temperatures rise slightly during the hot season (March–May). This is the time to hit the coast.

7. Learn about Cambodia’s history

It may not be one of the cheeriest things to do in Cambodia, but it’s well worth getting acquainted with the nation’s grisly past.Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek are harrowing monuments to the Khmer Rouge’s murderous rule. Tuol Sleng is a torture prison; Choeung Ek, the best-known of the so-called “Killing Fields”. Most people visit these sites in conjunction. Logically, the museum at Tuol Sleng (S-21) should be visited first, as prisoners were taken from S-21 for execution in the open fields. However, many visitors do the opposite because, as the day goes on, crowds and heat increase at Choeung Ek.

Best for: Anyone with a bent for history

When to go: Plan around your schedule, but start your day early to avoid the heat and begin at Choeung Ek.

8. Explore Angkor Thom

Angkor’s greatest walled city is entered through magnificent gateways and houses some of the country’s finest monuments, including the haunting Bayon state-temple. The last capital of the Khmer Empire belonged to kings hailing from the tenth and eleventh centuries. Muse on the people who have walked here before you: it’s a magical place.

Best for: An atmospheric wander

When to go: Most coach parties arrive from mid-morning to early afternoon, so try to visit early in the morning (7–9am).

9. Trek around Sen Monorom

Fancy yourself a bit of an Indiana Jones? From the laid-back town of Sen Monorom, in the remote highlands of eastern Cambodia, you can trek through the jungle with elephants (try to coincide with feeding time!) and visit remote ethnic-minority villages. Challenge accepted.

Best for: Natural explorers

When to go: Sen Monorom is a major centre for ethical elephant tourism - you won’t find any elephant rides here.

10. Watch apsara dancing

Those hankering after some traditional culture should seek out an apsara dance performance. This is Khmer classical dance at its most elegantly stylized, with beautifully costumed performers evoking the legendary apsaras of Hindu mythology.

Best for: Anyone interested in traditional dance

When to go: Look out for the times of individual performances - dinner shows are especially popular.

11. Spot fabulous wildlife

Nature lovers won’t come up short in Cambodia. From walking with the elephants in Mondulkiri to gibbon-spotting in Ratanakiri, Cambodia offers a wealth of natural attractions.

Best for: Wildlife lovers

When to go: If you’ve set your heart on seeing a particular animal, be sure to check when it’s most active.

12. Explore Ream National Park

With abundant wildlife, secluded beaches and bays, and the beautiful mangrove-fringed Prek Touek Sap River, the only danger of visiting Ream National Park is that you’ll never want to leave.

Best for: Nature enthusiasts

When to go: Dolphins often put in an appearance between December and April.

13. Discover Banteay Chhmar

Fancy seeing a spectacular temple without the crowds? Look no further. As fine as almost anything in Angkor itself but with only a trickle of the visitors, Banteay Chhmar offers up majestic jungle-covered ruins and an extraordinary array of carvings. Visit now, before the coach parties arrive.

Best for: Crowd-free culture

When to go: The site opens at 6am, and seeing the ruins at dawn is a truly memorable experience.

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