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First-Timer's Guide To Cambodia

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Beatrice Lee

Klook Travel Curator

Home to the largest religious monument in the world

Lonelyplanet describes Cambodia as a “charming yet confounding kingdom” and it’s not difficult to see why. Ancient temples may be the country’s biggest asset, but the burgeoning city on the cusp of modernity is proving to be more than just a backpacking destination for college graduates these days.

If it’s your first time visiting Cambodia, we recommend covering both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh at the same time. Most people fly into Siem Reap for a good dose of culture, then to Phnom Penh for bargain shopping.

Read on to find out what you can do in Cambodia and kickstart an adventure of your own!

Dressing in Cambodia


In Cambodia’s tropical climate, it’s best to stick to light and comfortable clothing. On hot afternoon days, sunscreen, sunglasses and hats are your best friends! It’s good to carry a scarf around to shield yourself from the sun or use as a cover-up should you need to. For rainy seasons, make sure to carry an umbrella or have a raincoat handy with you.

While there are strict dress codes imposed in public areas, there are extra considerations when you’re visiting temples and other sacred sites. In places like Angkor Wat, Royal Palace, and more, visitors are required to dress accordingly by covering their knees and shoulders. If you’re underprepared, there are typically sarongs for sale at the ticket booths to use as cover-ups.

Klook activities in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh


1. Angkor Temples Private Tour by Tuk-Tuk

This is perfect for small groups up of four people or less! Cover the best of Siem Reap from the comfort of your very own private tuk-tuk so you won’t have to worry about navigating the streets on your own.

Start: 8am End: 4.30pm

Places of interest covered:

  • Angkor Wat
  • South Gate of Angkor Thom
  • Bayon Temple
  • Terrace of the Elephants
  • Ta Keo Temple
  • Ta Prohm Temple
  • Banteay Kdei Temple

Do note all guests will need to purchase an Angkor Pass (excluded from package price) for entry to Angkor Wat. Guests can choose from a One-Day Pass (USD37), Three-Day Pass (USD62) or Seven-Day Pass (USD72) which needs to be used on consecutive days.

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2. (Sunrise) Angkor Temples Private Tour by Tuk-Tuk

We assure you waking up early for this tour is all worth it! Nothing beats seeing the sun rise over the horizon from one of the wonders of the world. After that, explore the other architectural wonders of Cambodia from the comfort of your very own tuk-tuk.

Start: 4.30am End: 4.30pm

Places of interest covered:

  • Angkor Wat
  • South Gate of Angkor Thom
  • Bayon Temple
  • Terrace of the Elephants
  • Ta Keo Temple
  • Ta Prohm Temple
  • Banteay Kdei Temple

Do note all guests will need to purchase an Angkor Pass (excluded from package price) for entry to Angkor Wat. Guests can choose from a One-Day Pass (USD37), Three-Day Pass (USD62) or Seven-Day Pass (USD72) which needs to be used on consecutive days.

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3. Phnom Penh Half Day City Tour

Even if you’re not staying long in Phnom Penh, you can visit the famous landmarks of the city in a half day tour. Learn about the history of Phnom Penh and marvel of the beautiful architecture at the different locations.

Start: 1.30pm End: 6pm

Places of interest covered:

  • Victory Monument
  • Royal Palace
  • National Museum
  • Wat Phnom

Do note all guests will need to purchase entrance fees for the selected attractions covered in the tour. Hence, prepare enough cash for the Royal Palace (USD10), National Museum (USD10), and Wat Phnom (USD1).

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4. Phnom Penh Tuol Sleng Museum & Choeung Ek Memorial Half Day Tour

Looking to delve deeper into the dark past of Cambodian history? Learn about the chilling events and darkest moments of the Khmer Rouge regime back in the 1970s at the Penh Tuol Sleng Museum and Choeung Ek Memorial.

Start: 8.30am or 1.30pm End: 1pm or 6.30pm

Places of interest covered:

  • Tuol Sleng Museum
  • Killing Fields

Do note that the entrance fee (USD5) is not included in the tour and with additional fees, guests can also be provided with an audio guide (USD3) and tour guide (USD2).

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Things to do in Siem Reap


1. Angkor Archaeological Park

Home to the world-famous Angkor Wat, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the reason many travellers visit Cambodia from all across the world. The ruins of Angkor Wat sits at the heart of the archeological park, surrounded by approximately 50 Buddhist and Hindu temples dating back to the 12th century.

Aside from the iconic Angkor Wat, there are also many other lesser-known temples to visit if you wish to avoid the large crowds. The temples worth venturing to include Ta Som, Bayon, Ta Prohm, just to name a few.

2. Tonlé Sap Lake

A look at the map of Cambodia and you’d easily spot out Tonlé Sap Lake, the most popular Siem Reap attraction after Angkor Wat. This Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake is known for its floating villages and nature sceneries.

Kompong Phluk Floating Village built on stilts in Tonlé Sap Lake is a unique ecosystem of 3000 or so fishing people. The way of life of the inhabitants of the fishing village are distinctly and dependant on the changing seasons of the lake. Did you know that half of the fish consumed in Cambodia comes from Tonlé Sap Lake?

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3. Pub Street

As you’d expect from the name, Pub Street is teeming with pubs, bars, clubs and more. Cheap drinks, vibrant atmosphere and endless choices are the reasons why visitors love coming to Pub Street after the sun goes down.

Although Pub Street is Siem Reap’s main nightlife spot, you can also find many restaurants at any time of day to grab a bite. From Khmer cuisine to international selection like Tex Mex or Spanish tapas, there’s plenty to explore on that busy street.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/SWXagb

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Things to do in Phnom Penh


1. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Striking in its intricate structure and ornate design, the Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh’s most impressive architectural wonders. Serving as the official residence of Cambodian royalty, certain parts of the palace are restricted from the public.

Visitors, however, are free to roam the throne hall and selected surrounding buildings. The Silver Pagoda adjacent to the palace is also open to public. Do note that guests are expected to dress accordingly, with bottoms that past the knees and tops that cover the elbows. Otherwise, you can purchase a sarong to cover up at the ticket booth.

2. Tuol Sleng Museum

In the heart of Phnom Penh is a former high school used as a Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime back in the 1970s. Holding grisly memories of the past, the prison has been mostly preserved to show the horrors of what the prisoners went through.

Tuol Sleng, translating to "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" or "Strychnine Hill", was only one of approximately 150 execution centers established by the Khmer Rouge. A visit to Tuol Sleng may be shocking and distressing but it serves to remind us that these crimes against humanity should never happen again.

3. Psar Thmei (Central Market)

One of the major attractions in Phnom Penh, Central Market is the go-to spot for shopping enthusiasts to grab some bargained goods. With a wide range of products, you can find everything from clothing and jewellery to household goods, food items, silverworks, and many more.

You can also find a slew of vendors on either side of the walkway leading in to the entrance of the market. Whether you’re up for some serious shopping or casual browsing, the wide selection at Central Market has it all.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/CjVU1n

4. Tuol Tom Poung Market (Russian Market)

Besides Central Market, the Tuol Tom Poung Market in Phnom Penh is also another top attraction amongst visitors. More famously known as the Russian Market, it was a popular market amongst the Russian expats back in the 1980s, hence the name.

The best way to explore the market is to get lost in its network of narrow walkways and try your hand at bargaining with the local shopkeepers. You can find souvenir items like ceramics, handmade silk scarves, jewelry, and more. When you need a breather, simply take a break at one of the food and drinks stalls.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/6ZYuaV

Must-try food in Cambodia


Fish amok

Easily deemed as Cambodia’s signature dish, fish amok can be found everywhere throughout Cambodia. It’s prepared with fish and a special curry paste of pounded spices, turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime, and more. Steamed in banana leaf shaped into a bowl and served as is, the fish is melt-in-your-mouth and absolutely addictive!

Khmer red curry

Less spicy than its Thai counterpart, the Khmer red curry might be milder in spiciness but it surely doesn’t lack any of it bold flavours. The curry fish is made with chicken, beef, or fish, with added vegetables like potatoes, eggplant, and green beans. Owing to the French influence, the Khmer red curry is typically served with baguette slices, to mop up every single drop of the gravy!

Photo Credit: yourphnompenh.com

Ang dtray-meuk (Grilled squid)

Cambodians are big on grilling skewers of meat, seafood, and even insects like tarantulas! Spiders surely aren’t the most enticing but the squids are definitely a must-try. Barbecued whole and brushed lightly with marinade or additional flavours, they’re great as snacks or side dishes. These grilled squids are most commonly found at coastal towns with local vendors selling them along the shore.