The Top 8 Things to See in Cambodia on Your Gap Year

Written by: Vicky Philpott


With temples, rain forest and the Mekong Delta, as well as boasting an optimal location between Thailand and Vietnam, it’s no wonder Cambodia has wriggled its way into your Southeast Asia itinerary.

You’ve certainly made a good choice – with all its unique history, beaches and wildlife there are so many things to do in Cambodia. With so much country to cover and so little time you’ll need some help narrowing down the must-see sights.

So here you go, no worries, we’ve done it for you.

Top Attractions in Cambodia

1. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Walk across, or try to get as close as you can, to the sparkling, shiny and extremely fancy silver floor inside Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The entire floor is made of silver, but that’s not all. This extravagant labyrinth of mosaics, precious gems and brilliant works of art is fit for the home of any king, making it easy to understand how many have lived here since the 1800s. It’s worth the $5 entry fee just to get a little taste of life as a Cambodian Royal.


2. The Killing Fields

Not too far from the capital of Phnom Penh, you’ll find one of Cambodia’s most chilling historical sites. The Killing Fields mark the final resting place of the millions murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime in the ’70s.

As such a big part of the country’s recent history, you’ve got to do the day trip here to learn the story and see the five thousand skulls displayed as a stark reminder. On the way back, do a tour of S21, the former school turned prison during this time period. It’s now a museum, offering real insight into a horrific story.

3. Mondulkiri

For a fix of Cambodia’s rampant nature head to Mondulkiri in the east of the country. It’s all dense greenery, rolling hills and rainforest that house the ancient Bunong tribes people, as well as bears, leopards and elephants.

Get up close to the latter at the Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary where you can walk with these magnificent creatures, wash them and stay in a nearby lodge. The money you spend goes back to protecting the local area, which means you can indulge your wild side and give back at the same time.


4. The Angkor Temples

Angkor lies in Siem Reap and is a criss-cross of various temples, canals and monuments that mark it as the ancient capital of the Khmer Kingdom. Naturally it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and even two days wouldn’t be enough to fit in every intricate archway and sacred spot here.

If you’re short on time, you must make seeing a sunrise over Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world, a priority, before seeking out Angkor Thom, the Faces of Bayon and Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed, remember that?)

For a one day pass you’re looking at $20, but the three-day pass at $40 is recommended – there’s just no getting bored of this holy hotspot.

5. Sihanoukville’s beaches

In Cambodia, the best of the beaches are in the city of Sihanoukville and its nearby islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. You can wile away the days bayside or get stuck into the coastal activities of diving, mountain biking or visiting the island waterfalls.

Other beaches to enjoy back on the mainland include Otres, Occheuteal and Serendipity. All have hostels, huts and hammocks ideal for resting up that backpacker booty for a few days.


Food and Drink in Cambodia

6. Eat Amok

This is one of the best-known Cambodian dishes and one you have to try. Basically it’s a curry made with all the usual items of coconut milk, veggies, spice leaves etc, commonly served with fish.

Super tasty and extra sweet, it’s steamed and served up in a banana leaf bowl. The best places to try it are Siem Reap’s Khmer Kitchen and Phnom Penh’s Khmer Saravan.


7. Golden Muscle Wine

Wash all this down with a drink you can only get in this crazy country. Of course by now you’ll be used to the likes of Angkor, Beer Laos and Tiger beer, so shake things up with what’s known as Golden Muscle Wine. This black concoction is made from deer antlers and herbs. Mix it with some coke and test your taste buds with this unusual (surprisingly appetising) mix.

8. New Hope Restaurant

When you’ve been on the road for a while, street food, restaurants and hostel dining can start to all seem the same. In Siem Reap, you can inject a little life into your lunchtime by visiting this unique restaurant.

New Hope is a facility run by former sex workers who are being trained to serve delicious grub. With a school, medical centre and a 5-star chef it’s a restaurant with a difference and a trip here means you get to see some of the good going on, get involved with the NGO and leave with a full belly.

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