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A visit to Cambodia could span weeks, yet for many a five-day trip is enough to experience the richness of Angkor Wat and the bustle of Art Deco-era Phnom Penh. There are so many exciting things to see in Cambodia, and this five-day itinerary will help you make the most of your trip.
Cambodia is a country rich in history both charming and tragic. Visitors to Siem Reap begin to understand the Khmer Empire of the 11th and 12 centuries and their impressive architectural skills, while another Khmer regime plays heavily in Phnom Penh history. Sometimes it is not pretty. The Khmer Rouge murdered millions of people in the mid-20th century, yet it is an important part of Cambodia’s history and for that reason, it is included in this 5-day Cambodia itinerary.
Best Time to Visit Cambodia
Cambodia is a perfect year-round destination. It has a warm, tropical climate and is warm and lush all year long. Like other tropical destinations, Cambodia has a dry and a wet season.
The best time to visit Cambodia is between October and April, which is the dry season. There are often seasonal rains during the wet season (May to September), but if you don’t mind getting a little wet, there’s not a bad time to go. Temperature-wise, March through June can be unbearably hot, while December temperatures stay in the mid to high 20s — perfect weather for exploring Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
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5 day Cambodia itinerary: what to do in Cambodia in 5 days
5 days in Cambodia: Day 1 – Siem Reap
The best way to experience Angkor Wat is by tuk-tuk. The site is incredibly huge, and it will take quite a while to get around on foot. To make the most of your time, strike a deal with a tuk-tuk driver who will charge you a fixed price for the entire day. Alternatively, you can get a guided tour like this that includes sunrise at Angkor Wat.
On day one of your Cambodia itinerary, begin with sunrise at Angkor Wat. Ticket sales open at 4:30 am. I don’t suggest actually going into the site for sunrise, as it will be very busy. Instead, find a spot a short distance away to watch the sun come up at this famous temple.
After witnessing the sunrise and getting some beautiful photos of the sun coming up over the peaks, head for Bayon Temple, one of the largest and most impressive temples in the Angkor Wat complex. Bayon was built by King Jayavarman in the late 12th century. It is a multi-towered, multi-faceted temple with over 11,000 impressive bas reliefs of not just warfare but also of everyday life in the Khmer Empire. They also depict a naval battle on Tonle Sap Lake. However, Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the 216 stone faces on the towers which jut out from the upper terrace and cluster around its central peak.
From Bayon, head for Ta Phrom, one of the most famous temples in Siem Reap thanks to Lara Croft/Tomb Raider. Chances are, Ta Phrom will be busy, but it’s well worth the time to explore. Here, massive tree roots curl around the temple entrances and over the roofs, left in situ as they grew over when the temple was abandoned in the 15th century. Despite its look of neglect, Ta Phrom is actually well preserved and maintained due to the influx of tourists, and it is fascinating to explore!
Next on your list should be Prasat Kravan, a grand, symmetrical temple with five brick towers surrounded by a moat. The 10th century Prasat Kravan is dedicated to Vishnu, preserver god, and protector of the universe.
Another monumental visit is the Neak Pean, a structure in the center of Jayatataka baray. Many believe that Neak Pean has healing powers and was built for medicinal purposes; it is also believed that the lake surrounding the temple has healing powers.
Finally, end your day at Angkor Wat with sunset at Phnom Bakheng Temple, one of the oldest temples within the archaeological site. It is set on a hillside 60m above the surrounding temples and is constructed over seven levels representing the seven Hindu heavens, so there are plenty of places to watch the sunset from.
When you get back to town, head for the Siem Reap night market, a bustling market with all sorts of handicrafts, clothes, fabrics, souvenirs, and street food. After exploring, go for dinner on the neon-lined Pub Street, a vibrant street lined with a variety of Asian and Western restaurants, all filled with locals and tourists grabbing a tasty bite before going out for the night.
If you’re not up for a night out, after the early morning and a full day of exploring Angkor Wat, you might want to opt for a traditional massage back at your hotel.
5 days in Cambodia: Day 2 – Siem Reap
Today is the day to visit the main Angkor Wat temple. Go whenever you like, though you might want to wait until the sunrise tourists have moved on to other temples. You have time to explore the complex up close and at leisure, today, walking through the great doorways and up the ceremonial steps.
Upon returning to Siem Reap, spend your last evening at the Smile of Angkor Grand Epic Show, a multi-audio-visual live celebration of Cambodian history, portrayed through song, dance, martial arts, lights, lasers, and acrobatics. It is a fascinating walk through time, beginning with the building of the Angkor temples through the various religious celebrations and more. The show employs local Cambodians to share their story and culture with the world.
You might also be interested in: How to spend 2 days in Siem Reap.
5 days in Cambodia: Day 3 – Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
This morning, head out to Tonle Sap Lake. This vast fresh water expanse is the largest inland lake in Southeast Asia and is home to a number of Vietnamese who have lived and worked here for decades. It is a unique place to visit. The settlers are mostly fishermen who supply fresh fish to the Siem Reap restaurants. They live and work in floating houses or ones on stilts, and you’ll find entire communities in the water here. There’s even a crocodile farm you can visit to learn more about the trade of Tonle Sap. More tamely, you can also see the lotus flower fields on the lake.
After leaving Tonle Sap, you’ll head to Phnom Penh. It is a five to seven-hour drive, depending on the type of transport used, or an hour-long flight. A private car is the fastest land transport, at around five hours and $75-100. A small public bus will cost around $12-15 and take six or so hours, while a large public bus will take up to seven hours but only cost a few dollars. A flight is the most expensive, but the fastest. There are several carriers that operate small propellor planes between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Once you arrive into Phnom Penh, settle into your hotel so you can rest up before tomorrow!
5 days in Cambodia: Day 4 – Phnom Penh
The bustling Phnom Penh is very different from the vibrancy of Siem Reap, but you’ll start off your time here in a familiar spot, a temple. Wat Phnom is the largest temple in the city, a temple that began as a shrine to Buddha and was raised to its higher status in the 15th century. The complex contains a large pagoda, stupa, shrine, and statues and art that tells the story of Buddhism and local Cambodian culture.
Like other Southeast Asian cities, Phnom Penh was under French colonial control in the early 20th century, so it has plenty of interesting Art Deco buildings. One such architectural gem is the iconic central market, which is home to hundreds of stalls selling everything from flowers to silks to souvenirs. You can easily spend hours here, browsing and bartering.
Next, begin to learn more about the history of Phnom Penh and Cambodia during the difficult years of the Khmer Rouge Regime. The National Museum stands as a memorial to the many curators and employees, as well as the millions of Cambodians, who were murdered during the regime. Numerous works of art were also destroyed, making the collection that remains at the museum a source of national pride for Cambodians.
After lunch, visit the Royal Palace, located on the banks of the Mekong River. While still the home of the King of Cambodia, visitors can explore the grounds and buildings, including highlights like the Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion and the Silver Pagoda. When you leave the Royal Palace, visit the modern Independence Monument, a striking lotus-shaped stupa created to mark the independence of Cambodia from France in 1953.
End your first day in Phnom Penh with a dinner cruise along the Mekong River. This sunset cruise is a great way to get an overview of the city sights and hear a little more about the city’s history and daily life.
5 days in Cambodia: Day 5 – Phnom Penh
Today is likely going to be an emotional day, as it’s time to visit the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, two of the most important sites in the Khmer Rouge history. You can visit them in either order and the best way to get between the two is to hire a tuk-tuk driver.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are located a short way outside of the city and are where thousands of executions took place during the Khmer Rouge regime. Today, it is a place of memorial to those who lost their lives during the regime. There are hundreds of mass graves. An audio-guide will allow you to learn more about the history of the site while remaining quiet and respectful.
Tuol Sleng, or S-21, is a former high school that became an interrogation prison during the Khmer regime. Over 17,000 people passed through its doors, and only 7 survived. Their stories are shown throughout the museum.
After leaving this emotional site, and after taking time to reflect, you can spend the remainder of the day at the Tuol Tompoung Market, also known as the Russian Market. Like the Central Market, Tuol Tompoung hosts a number of stalls with all sorts of goods and foods, and you can explore at your leisure.
In the evening, if you’re feeling up to going out, the best place to go is one of the Sky Bars. These many rooftop bars have great views of the city and excellent cocktail lists.
You might also like my 2-day Phnom Penh itinerary.
Where to stay in Cambodia
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
I stayed at the Royal Angkor Resort in Siem Reap, a luxury hotel located out along the main road between the airport, Angkor Wat, and the town center. It is the perfect place to stay to explore the archaeological site. Rooms are spacious and clean, with touches of local culture featured throughout. There are also public dining rooms, a large outdoor pool, a traditional Cambodian spa, and lush gardens.
Siem Reap has plenty of accommodation choices, from budget backpacker hostels to five-star resorts.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
I stayed at the Sunway Hotel, a four-star business hotel with a great location for visiting all of the city center highlights in Phnom Penh. It is located on a wide, tree-lined boulevard in CBD and features spacious rooms with all the Western comforts, and a spa, fitness center, and business center.
Like Siem Reap, Phnom Penh also has a plethora of accommodations, from luxury hotels like the Rosewood to budget backpackers.
Tips on Visiting Cambodia
While Cambodia is, in general, a safe place to travel, there are always things you can do to ensure your safety while in a new and foreign country.
- Always drink bottled or boiled water, or use a reliable water filter bottle to avoid stomach discomfort during your trip. Make sure to check the seal on store-bought water bottles to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.
- Keep valuables and travel documents in your in-room safe when they are not in use. Do not take passports or valuables out of the hotel with you.
- Always be aware of your surroundings and avoid walking alone at night.
- Wear cross-body bags or money wallets to keep your valuables close to you at all times. These can deter thieves who might try to rip a shoulder bag off as they pass.
- Remember to wear appropriate and respectful clothing at all times, especially when visiting temples, palaces, and pagodas. This includes long pants or skirts and long-sleeved tops (covering knees and shoulders) for both men and women.
- Be vigilant when crossing the road as traffic in Southeast Asia is notoriously chaotic, and vehicles usually come from all directions.
- Be careful when purchasing food and drink from street vendors. While often food cooked on the street is perfectly safe, they may not use filtered water or other ingredients that might mess with a western constitution.
This five-day Cambodia itinerary is a starting point, with two days in Siem Reap and two days in Phnom Penh. If you have more time, you can explore more of the exciting Siem Reap or spend more time in the capital, Phnom Penh.