When we think of gorgeous, tropical beach destinations in Asia, it’s places like Thailand and Bali that immediately spring to mind. Yep, they’re beautiful and, yep, they can be very budget friendly too. But, did you know, Cambodia is just as stunning, offering a budget-friendly escape to a country filled with incredible culture, amazing food and beautiful beaches. If you’re looking for some serious travel inspiration, these Cambodian destinations are sure to stoke your travel flame.
1. Siem Reap and Angkor Temples
Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples will most likely be the first image that pops into your mind when you think of visiting Cambodia. Unless you’ve eaten Cambodian food before, in which case the food will top your list! So good.
A lot of the time the big cities and their main tourist attractions struggle to live up to the hype, Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples are not one of these disappointments. A sunrise at the temples is an amazing experience for photography lovers and anyone who loves to stop once in a while and marvel at something beautiful and other-worldly.
Stay at the Pavillion Indochina Hotel, for budget travellers, Nita by Vo or Siddhartha Boutique Hotel for luxe. Of course, the main thing to do is visit the temples and you can organise guided tours if you’d like to. When you find yourself hungry and thirsty, visit Genevieve’s Restaurant and Georges Rhumerie, for drinks head directly to Miss Wong Cocktail Bar and Picasso Bar.
2. Phnom Penh
One of the most interesting, authentic capitals in Asia, Phnom Penh is a must-visit for a number of reasons. The mix of old-world architecture and raw natural beauty collide to make a city that really is a feast for the senses. You’ll find coffee shops and boutiques set under tamarind trees, with temples, villas and markets mixed in for good luck. It’s a city that really shows off the beautiful heart of the Khmer people in a city that’s interesting and wonderful.
Stay at The Plantation, if you cash to splash or Kambuja Inn if you’re on a budget. Be sure to eat at Romdeng for amazing local food (and scary treats) with a great cause behind it. Stop in for drinks and a wild night at Pontoon or Mao’s and take a trip out to Silk Island to watch locals create all manner of beautiful things from hand-woven silks. Be sure to visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda for great photo opportunities.
Sihanoukville has the reputation of being a backpacker destination, but don’t be too quick to dismiss it because the nearby islands are home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Asia. Must-visit destinations include Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, both of which are home to very affordable beach front bungalows and resorts, with prices starting at around $40AU per night.
Some of the local beaches to put on your must-see list include Otres beach, Victory Beach, Independence Beach, Occheuteal, Serendipity Beach and Sokha Beach. You’ll find some more popular with backpackers than others, but it’s worth visiting as many as you can. Stay at Sokha Beach Resort, the Deluxx Boutique Hotel, visit the Kbal Chhay Waterfall and be sure to eat at The Starfish Bakery & Cafe.
You won’t realise just how advanced Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are until you move away from them, into the more remote areas of Cambodia. Battambang is one of the best-preserved towns from the French colonial area and this vibe oozes in the architecture all around you. You’ll find it home to some pretty fantastic ancient temples and, in town, some pretty cool coffee shops and restaurants too.
Stay at the low-key Bric-a-Brac hotel, visit the Battambang Bat Caves, take a guided bicycle or bus tour with a local, enjoy a cooking class or just wander around photographing everything you see. Be sure to eat at Jaan Bai Restaurant and Choco L’Art Cafe.
When you’re ready to head to the hills and see a completely different side to Cambodia, head to Mondulkiri. The area here is home to the Bunong people, with strong traditions, as well as spectacular jungles, waterfalls and native animals. Almost everything about Mondulkiri is different from the other main areas of Cambodia, at an elevation of 800m it’s much cooler, just be sure to avoid the wet season.
One of the main things to do in Mondulkiri is visiting the Elephant Sanctuary, just do your research before you go. I’m a personal believer that elephants are our friends and not meant for hard labour or joy rides for sweaty tourists. Expect accommodation here to be very low-key, take a look at the Mayura Hill Hotel & Resort and grab a bite to eat at Cafe Phka and Mondulkiri Pizza. Be sure to visit the Bousra Falls and, if you’re game, take a private motorcycle tour around the hills.
6. Prasat Preach Vihear
There’s one very good reason to visit Prasat Preach Vihear and that is to visit the incredible temple sitting atop the Dangkrek Mountains. This spot forms one heck of a post, marking the border between Cambodia and Thailand. The crumbling ruins really are a sight to behold, with part of the temple seemingly falling off the cliff. The temple is thought to be some 300 years old and offers unbeatable views of Northern Cambodia.
No tips on where to stay, eat and play as it’s more of a passing through destination, making a stop to see the temple, then taking off again.
Ratanakiri is undoubtedly gorgeous, home to the Virachey National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Cambodia. If you love the outdoors, hiking and trekking, this is the spot for you. The area is home to some spectacular jungle waterfalls, a clear, volcanic lake and much, much more. Ban Lung, the main city of the province, is where you’ll want to base yourself for your adventures.
You’ll want to visit the 25 metre high Chaa Ong waterfall, set in a jungle gorge, where you can climb up behind the waterfall. Just be warned, it dries up from January through to May. You’ll also want to visit the Ka Tieng waterfall, again where you can climb all the way behind it and swing off on some vines. The third main waterfall in the area is Kinchaan Waterfall, complete with swimming spots.
This riverside town is mellow and laid back, with Mekong sunsets that absolutely should not be missed. It’s also home to the Irrawaddy dolphins, which live in the Mekong but are in rapid decline. While French architecture in many other parts of Cambodia has been badly damaged, you’ll find Kratie is home to intact buildings too gorgeous to be true.
Stay at the slightly out-of-the-way Rajabori Villas Resort or Le Tonle Guesthouse, for budget travellers. Visit Koh Trong beach for swimming and a gorgeous sunset, take a Kayaking Adventure Tour, watch the sunrise at Phnom Sombok and eat at Le Tonle Guesthouse or Sorya Cafe.