Traveling in Cambodia with Intrepid Travel

Angkor Wat at sunrise
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Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you book/buy something through one of my links, I may earn a small commission (at not extra cost to you, of course!).

Recently you may have read my review of traveling with Intrepid Travel in Vietnam. It was a fantastic trip — one of the best group tours I've been on, in fact. I loved Vietnam, our guide, and the people I was traveling with.

That tour, though, was part of a larger two-part tour encompassing both Vietnam and Cambodia and ending in Bangkok, Thailand. Known as “The Best of Vietnam and Cambodia,” the tour was too promising to pass up as I was planning my trip around Southeast Asia. After all, I knew that I would regret not visiting the Angkor temples while I was in the region.

The Cambodia portion of this tour was the “Cambodian Traveller” trip, beginning in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and ending in Bangkok. This trip was different from the Vietnam tour in many ways, which is why I've decided to write about them separately.

I will tell you straight-up that Cambodia was a very difficult place for me to travel. This had little to do with the tour itself (I still had a great tour group) and more with the state of tourism in Cambodia in general. It's easy, I think, to simply fly into Siem Reap, snap that iconic sunrise photo at Angkor Wat, and then get out of Cambodia without really paying attention to what's really going on there.

I give credit to Intrepid for creating a tour that gives tourists a less-sanitized view of Cambodia. It wasn't always a pretty sight to behold, but I think it's important for a company that is all about responsible tourism to show more than just the exterior of a place.

Here’s a look at this tour:

First, check out this video I put together showing some of the trip highlights:

Before you go

If you're wondering what to pack for a trip like this, check out my Southeast Asia packing list. Must-have items (in my opinion) include light layers, comfortable sandals, and a sleep sheet.

Intrepid requires you to have travel insurance for the entirety of your trip. You may be covered under your regular insurance plan, but if you're not, I recommend buying coverage through World Nomads. They offer the most affordable basic travel insurance out there.

When visiting Cambodia, you likely will also need a tourist visa. You can apply for an e-visa before you go, or you can get a visa at any major border. For US citizens, you'll need two passport-sized photos and $30 USD to get your visa at the border.

Where will you go?

Over the 9-day tour, we visited:

  • Phnom Penh
  • Siem Reap and the Angkor temples
  • Battambang
  • Bangkok

Who will you travel with?

The travelers in my group hailed mostly from Australia, though the U.S., Chile, and Germany were also represented. Ages ranged from early-20s to 50+. This is a pretty typical mix for an Intrepid group, in my experience. And, as always when traveling with Intrepid, our group was small — only 15 people.

Who is the guide?

Our tour leader was a local Cambodian named Youk. While it was good to have a local guide who could speak the local language, half of our group had been ridiculously spoiled by a top-notch tour leader in Vietnam. By comparison, Mr. Youk left a little to be desired. He still got us from Point A to Point B safely and more or less on time (or, as “on time” as one can be with the terrible roads in Cambodia), but he was a newer tour guide, and I think it showed. He knew a lot about Cambodia's history and was happy to chat with us about the current political situation in the country, but he often gave us too much information at once — or just simply kept talking and talking and talking. There were a few instances of language barrier/simply listening issues, too, which led a lot of us to go off on our own whenever we could.

I won't say he was a BAD tour leader, but he definitely frustrated at least a few of us in the group. I also saw him do a few things (that most Cambodians do, mind you) that made me crazy — like leave rubbish in a tuk-tuk. Set a good example for the people in your tour group, dude!

How will you travel?

We traveled mostly by private mini-bus on this trip, which was comfortable and allowed us to all chat and relax on travel days. I will warn you, though, that most of the major roads in Cambodia are NOT well-paved. So be prepared for slow, bumpy rides.

Monkey on a tour bus in Cambodia

This monkey liked our mini-bus, too!

We also traveled via a Mekong Express bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, which was actually quite comfortable. We had air conditioning, a break for lunch, and even got snacks and water upon boarding.

Where will you stay?

This trip is an Intrepid Original style of trip, which means 2/3-star tourist class accommodation. If you are traveling solo, you’ll be sharing a room with at least one other person unless you pay the single supplement fee (which I did for this trip, since it was extremely affordable).

I’m used to traveling this way — usually mid-range hotels that are not disgusting, but also not super fancy. In Cambodia, though, these mid-range hotels aren't quite as nice as they are in, say, Vietnam or Thailand. I didn't encounter any dirty rooms, but I did have a few that were dark and just kind of tired-looking. This is fairly standard in Cambodia, though, from what I've heard from others who have traveled here, too.

Cambodia hotel

Expect a shower like this, for example.

What will you eat?

Traveling in Cambodia, you'll of course have plenty of opportunities to try Cambodian food! Like Khmer curries and amoks and plenty of fish and rice dishes.

Rice noodles in Cambodia

And rice noodles!

Our tour guide in Cambodia actually advised us against eating street food in Cambodia since it's not regulated at all, though we did try some snacks out in the countryside. I would advise to just use your judgment on this — some of the street food looked perfectly fine!

Bamboo sticky rice

How about some bamboo sticky rice?

When you're on your own for dinner, I highly suggest looking for local restaurants and programs that train disadvantaged youth as cooks and wait staff. Some places I personally visited included Friends in Phnom Penh (included in this tour), Genevieve’s in Siem Reap, and Jaan Bai in Battambang.

What will you do?

Activities that are included in the price of this trip include:

  • Entry and guided tours of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh (we had a local guide for these; not our tour leader)
  • Boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake
  • A 3-day temple pass and guided tours of at least 4 temples at Angkor (with our tour leader)

This trip also included tons of optional activities. Some of these included:

  • A cyclo tour of Phnom Penh
  • Khmer cooking class in Battambang
  • Riding the “bamboo train”
  • A tuk-tuk tour of the countryside in Battambang

The optional activities were always just that — optional. They were never forced upon us; simply suggested. However, our group generally signed up for most of the optional things, since they were very affordable in Cambodia and added to the overall experience.

Rice paper drying in Cambodia

A countryside tour gave us a look into local life.

Despite a fairly full schedule, we still found ourselves with a decent amount of free time. Since roughly half the group had been together since Vietnam, many of us were confident enough by this point to do some exploring on our own. We organized a tour of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh for ourselves, went to a acrobatic circus performance in Battambang after hearing about it from a local restaurant owner, and often would make our own dinner plans in smaller groups. I even took an afternoon off from the tour to meet up with some friends in Siem Reap.

Any downsides?

Traveling in Cambodia is not like traveling in some other Southeast Asian countries. Hotels tend to be shabbier (and included breakfasts often disgusting), roads are sometimes non-existent, and the corruption that plagues Cambodia sometimes can't be ignored.

But none of this is the fault of the tour or tour company — it's just reality in Cambodia.

Would I recommend it?

Like I said earlier, Cambodia was a tough place for me to travel — but that had nothing to do with the tour. In fact, I would say that this tour helped me understand and see Cambodia much better than I would have had I just been traveling on my own. The included activities — like the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat — were extremely informative, and the optional extras helped us get a feel for the country beyond just the major tourist sites.

And, despite what I wrote about our tour leader earlier, I was REALLY glad to have him with us at border crossings, since I've heard all sorts of stories of Western tourists being forced to pay border bribes by Cambodian officials.

 

If you are wary of tackling Cambodia on your own but still really want to see the country, then a tour like this one would be a great option for you. In most cases, I was really glad to be with a group of people and a local guide on this trip.

If you want to read more about this tour, here are some posts to check out:

Would you want to travel in Cambodia on a group tour like this?

 

If you're interested in this same trip, check it out here.

 

 

*Note: I did receive a complimentary tour of Vietnam and Cambodia from Intrepid Travel. As always, though, opinions are completely my own.

 

26 Comments

  • Not sure about eating spiders or bugs. . .But overall, it is great that you still got to see the country for what it is.
    Angela Travels recently posted..Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

    • Amanda says:

      Yeah. It’s tough sometimes to differentiate between a tour and the places a tour is taking you when you are perhaps having conflicted thoughts about it. But this one definitely didn’t sanitize things for us. This sort of tour might not be for everyone, but I think it’s the only way I would have wanted to see Cambodia.

  • Laurie says:

    I agree Amanda, Intrepid is a great company to travel with. I have done a few small group adventure tours with Explore! (Peru & Nepal) and Imaginative Traveler (India & Egypt/Jordan) but Intrepid had the locations I wanted to visit. While I have done a lot of travel on my own and with friends I don’t feel comfortable on my own in some countries and t is a way of seeing more than you would on your own. I took the Best of Cambodia tour and was very impressed. The hotels weren’t the ritz but clean and locally owned and we had many meaningful experiences including staying with a local family in the countryside. I wanted to explore the southern beach area which is why I took this particular tour. Our tour leader, Thyda was fantastic so we were lucky. I left the tour in Sihanoukville with the confidence to spend time in Kep and back in Phnom Penh on my own. I definitely will be taking another Intrepid tour in the near future!
    Laurie recently posted..The magic of Cape Mary’s Ecological Reserve

    • Amanda says:

      That’s really good to hear, Laurie! The tour that includes a stay with a local family sounds really great.

      And I agree with you that there are some places that I feel more confident visiting in a group as opposed to on my own. Could I survive on my own? Sure. But I don’t see the point of strapping myself with extra stress if I don’t have to!

  • Renuka says:

    The tour does sound good. Like you said that the accommodation was extremely affordable and they show you so many places, you get a chance to taste some authentic cuisine, etc. Why not? 🙂
    Renuka recently posted..Travel Photography – My Journey So Far (Part One)

  • I’ve been considering whether or not to do this type of tour when in Cambodia this summer so really appreciate the tips! I’m not sure I’d want to do a tour in other countries but would definitely consider it for Cambodia 🙂
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..Tiny Tighnabruaich and Scotland’s Lost Street Art

  • Andrea says:

    Sad your hotel experiences were less than stellar–we stayed in one in Phnom Pehn and one in Siem Reap and loved them both! Part of the reason I loved Cambodia so much was the delicious food and the warmness of the Cambodian people. My husband and I both agreed that we didn’t have a bad meal anywhere in Cambodia! Seeing the Killing Fields was incredibly sobering, but I think it is something that can’t be ignored while in Cambodia, and taking a bus across the country definitely highlighted some of the extreme poverty. But overall, my experiences were amazing!

    • Amanda says:

      None of the hotels were BAD. If I was going on my own, though, I probably would have looked for smaller guest houses with more character. But, at the end of the day, you’re only sleeping in a hotel room, right?

  • Siobhan says:

    Hubs and are are travelling with Intrepid in Jan, doing the same trip as you, Vietnam and Cambodia. I appreciate Intrepid posting this link on Twitter as I know this site will be full of useful information. Can’t wait

    • Amanda says:

      Glad to hear you found this page through Intrepid’s Twitter account! And I hope you enjoy your trip in Southeast Asia as much as I did!

  • Very nice pics. so really appreciate the tips! I’ve been considering to go in Cambodia this summer. Like you said that the housing was incredibly cost-effective and they explain to you so many places.

  • I went on a tour with Intrepid in Jordan earlier this year and the Tour leader gave us SO much information it was painful. I thought perhaps it was a little bit of a cultural difference – maybe I am completely wrong, but I thought that perhaps they want to show that they are knowledgable and educated because it could be respected in their countries?

    Cambodia was a great place to travel for me, but I have been reading a lot lately that it is becoming worse for travellers. More crime, more corruption, which is really a shame. We only had one negative experience in Cambodia, and we travelled to some different and off the beaten path places by organising home stays, and that was in Siem Reap (which is of course, the most touristy place in Cambodia). But I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the country is catching on. I would have not felt comfortable going by myself as a single female traveller, but I was travelling with my boyfriend which always makes a difference.
    Cyra @ Gastronomic Nomad recently posted..Postcards from Álora: Dicovering the charm of Andalucía

    • Amanda says:

      That’s a really good point about the cultural differences when it comes to the info – you definitely could be right about that!

      And yes, I hear more and more negative stories about Cambodia as time goes on. I almost didn’t go because of them (and definitely would not have if I’d been traveling solo). It’s sad, and I hope it doesn’t get a lot worse!

  • Angela says:

    Hi Amanda! I’m about to embark on the Cambodian Traveller myself and I just had a quick question about the days you spent in Angkor Wat. Supposedly a three day Angkor pass is included in the tour (for Days 4-6) but we won’t arrive in Siem Reap until the afternoon of Day 4 – how many days did you actually get to spend at the temples? I’m a bit concerned it’s going to be a bit rushed and I won’t get to see all that much. I’ve tried getting answers from Intrepid but they’re a bit vague about it.

    • Amanda says:

      I think we actually spent 2 days at the temples – we did Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Banteay Srei one day, and then did Angkor Wat at sunrise and Ta Prohm another day. (At least, as far as I remember.) It *could* depend on your guide, though. But, since you do have that 3-day temple pass, you technically could go back or go to see other temples on your own time (you would just need to hire a driver). I thought I might end up wanting to do this, but we saw some amazing temples and after 2 days I was just about templed out!

      You can see the temples we went to here: http://www.dangerous-business.com/2014/04/temples-galore-angkor/

      • Angela says:

        Thanks Amanda! I’m relieved to know we should get a full two days to explore Angkor, either with the tour guide or on our own.

  • Kat says:

    Thanks for the tips Amanda – I’m about to do the Best of Viet Nam and Cambodia tour – it’s my first overseas trip and I’m going on my own. The info you have provided on the parts I’m going on are great, and a comfort to me as I’m both nervous and excited!

  • Jen Lena says:

    I’m really surprised you find the included breakfasts disgusting. Are you a fussy eater or are they really disgusting? Not being an mean here, just interested to know.

    • Amanda says:

      I’m not a very picky eater – they just weren’t very good! (As in, food that should be hot was often cold, and there weren’t very many options; even the fruit was sometimes a bit gross.)

  • Shereen says:

    Hi Amanda,

    I just stumbled across your page as I was doing some research on booking my trip with Intrepid. You have actually helped in making my final decision. I was wondering what type of Luggage did you end up bringing during your trip and do you have any packing ideas that would help?

  • Stafaine says:

    Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards
    Stefanie

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