Backpacking in Cambodia on a Gap Year

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Why go?

A Gap Year in Cambodia

Cambodia is climbing up the ranks as one of the best backpacker destinations in South East Asia. The country is filled with a fascinating history, tales of its dark past, and of course the famous lost city of Angkor Wat. You shouldn't miss out on a gap year in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The cities

Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital city. Here you can visit the sacred Silver Pagoda, wander around the King’s Palace, haggle at the flea markets, and walk alongside the river. Although this city may feel hectic, there is definitely a lot of charm and culture to keep you distracted.

Siem Reap is the town of temples. Here you can find Angkor Wat, and many other surrounding temples such as Banteay Srei, Preah Khan, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. In the Kulen Hills you can visit the waterfalls of Kbal Spean.  The forests and hiking trails make this place beautiful, as do the intriguing rock carvings that can be seen along the way.

Battambang is the second largest town in Cambodia. Explore the eerie Battambang bat caves; take a ride on a bamboo train, and the ancient ruins of Prasat Sneung.

The beautiful seaside town of Sihanoukville is where you can relax and cool down. Sun bath on the long stretches of white sands of Bamboo Island and discover marine life on a scuba diving trip. Cambodia has plenty to offer backpackers on their gap year.

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

The scenery

Discovering the temples of Cambodia is usually the first port of call for most travellers. As mentioned above, the biggest and most impressive is Angkor Wat. Standing as the largest religious monument in the world, once Hindu, the now Buddhist temple was built in the 12th century, and was once the capital of the Khmer Empire. The best way to see this ancient city is by hiring a bike in Siem Reap and cycling around. If you can get there before sunrise you’ll get some awesome photographs.  The weather Bayon Temple shouldn’t be missed either.

A very sobering trip to The Killing Fields in Phnom Pehn offers outsiders the chance to understand the horror that Cambodia was put through not long ago.  The memorial offers a place of remembrance to those who died in the mass genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime.

Best experiences

Top Experiences in Cambodia

When trying to come up with a summary of the best things to do in Cambodia it's tempting just to write 'everything.' That probably wouldn't be very helpful. Cambodia is a brilliant mix of bustling cities, peaceful temples, stunning scenery, and a whole lot more. Here are the things you absolutely shouldn't miss.

See Angkor Wat at sunrise

You're going to have to battle with a lot of other tourists for the best view, but it's worth it to watch the sun rise above behind this incredible temple complex, the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Party in Siem Reap

Arguably the city to reinvent itself best after the troubles of Cambodia's recent history, Siem Reap is well-equipped from travellers, whether you're after a party, a fancy hotel, or some delicious local food.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Lie on the beach in Sihanoukville

This area of Cambodia is crammed with beautiful beaches, from luxurious resorts on nearby islands Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, to party beaches perfect for backpackers like Serendipity Beach on the mainland.

The beach at Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Meet elephants in Mondulkiri

The east of Cambodia is wilder than the rest of the country, and elephants remain a huge part of the culture there. You can visit elephant experiences, and then embark on a trek into untamed jungle.

Meet elephants in Mondulkiri, Cambodia

Stuff yourself with Cambodian food

Khmer cuisine is still relatively unknown, but it easily stacks up to its Southeast Asian neighbours. The national dish is Amok, baked fish with lemongrass, chilli, and coconut, and fresh seafood is everywhere. You can even try deep-fried tarantula.

Street market in Cambodia

Explore history in Phnom Penh

Cambodia's capital city is packed with culture and opportunities to learn about the country's past. Visit the spectacular Silver Pagoda, the National Museum of Cambodia, or the Killing Fields, where 17,000 people were put to death by the Khmer Rouge.

Explore history in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Visit Angkor Thom

This great walled city is entered via truly magnificent gateways that lead through to a city packed with some of Cambodia's best monuments, including The Bayon, an awe-inspiring 13th century temple.

Angkor Thom

Shop at Psar Toul Tom Poung

This city market in Phnom Penh gives you the chance to buy from a huge range of local wares, particularly multicoloured silks. It's the ideal place to pick up some unique souvenirs.

Psar Toul Tom Poung, Phnom Penh

Learn Apsara

Okay, you're more likely to catch a show of this Khmer classical dance than learn it yourself. It's worth it, performances using costumes and choreography to tell legends of Hindu mythology.

Apsara dancing

Cruise through Ream National Park

This protected natural space boasts a huge variety of wildlife alongside pretty beaches and bays, and you can see much of it while gliding peacefully down the Prek Touek Sap River.

Ream National Park, Cambodia


Discover Quiet Cambodia

Cambodia is a beautiful and rewarding destination, still less of a tourist attraction than many of its neighbours, and brilliant as a single stop or as part of a multi-country trip. There is also a huge range of volunteering opportunities that give you the chance to settle down and do something rewarding with your gap year.

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Advice & Tips on Backpacking in Cambodia

Cambodia doesn't have the same tourist presence that Thailand has, but we like that about it. You'll really get to experience true South East Asia hospitality and culture in this beautiful and comparatively untouched country. Here's our advice on things to do, travelling around within Cambodia and Khmer food.

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