Most first-time travellers to Cambodia opt for a trip like this – the bulk of the time spent exploring Angkor Wat and a quick trip to the capital Phnom Penh. Experiencing the grandeur of Angkor and the rustic charm of Phnom Penh allows first-time travellers the opportunity to see two extremes of the Cambodian nation.
In a short trip to Cambodia like this you're you're visiting just the two locations – both of which are well-connected by boat, road and air – but there is ample opportunity for side-trips and extensions. Both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have international airports, so if you're in a hurry, look to fly in and out of the country. Those with more time can overland in and out of the country – Cambodia has overland borders with all of its neighbours.
Cambodia has two distinct seasons – hot and wet and hot and dry – with the least hot dry part of the year, between November and January, being the most popular time to visit. Dry season runs from November to April on the back of the northeast monsoon and the wet season runs from May to October courtesy of the southwest monsoon, bringing with it some three quarters of Cambodia's annual rainfall. July to September are the wettest months characterised by some transport difficulties, especially in rural areas where roads can be damaged, and flooding – we're looking at you Phnom Penh.
As November to January is the most popular time to visit, it is also the most crowded and risking a bit of rain can pay off with slightly reduced crowds. Wet season does bring with it some minor advantages – Angkor Wat for one can be spectacular after a monsoon thunderstorm – just pack an umbrella. Cambodia's islands are not recommended in the height of wet season.
The suggested minimum time for a trip like this is four days, though at least a week is far more comfortable. With more days, you'll have enough time to slow down and smell the coffee so to speak, be that enough time to see points of interest in and around Siem Reap aside from Angkor Wat – visiting the Tonle Sap perhaps – or more time to explore fascinating Phnom Penh.
If you have less than four days, say two or three, then we would strongly recommend visiting just Siem Reap OR Phnom Penh – as if you try and fit both in you'll be spending most of your time shuttling between the two and really won't have enough time to get much out of either. Which one to drop? Well, if you've never been to Cambodia before, Angkor is about as close as it gets to a must see, so we'd be going with Siem Reap (the launching point for Angkor) and saving Phnom Penh for another time.
One day: fly from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
Two days: Fly into and out of Cambodia – both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have international airports.
Two days: Not far southwest of Siem Reap lies Battambang – a small, less touristed riverside town: visit ruins, see village life and take a ride on a nori!
Two days: Head north from Phnom Penh for an overnight stay at Kompong Cham where you can visit temples, silk villages and explore tributaries of the Mekong River.
Three days: Head south from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville – Cambodia's premiere seaside destination. Note though this is not recommended in wet season.
To help you work out how you'll get around, we've listed the trip durations for the various forms of transport available. Note that with the exception of flight times, these are average trip times, so no hate mail if you take the slow train.
|CAMBODIA: One week explorer|
|Siem Reap||Phnom Penh||1:10||5:00||-||6:00-8:00||Check rates|
|Phnom Penh||Kompong Cham||-||4:00||-||-||-|
|Phnom Penh||Kampot||-||3:00||-||-||Check rates|
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.