Make your Cambodia travels truly unforgettable by including these bucket list things to do in your Cambodia itinerary! This guide shares details on how to see and do these bucket list experiences.
Cambodia has no shortage of adventures and experiences that will stay with you long after your trip is over. Some of the things to do in this Cambodia bucket list are major bucket list ticks, like exploring a Wonder of the World, while others are unique local experiences that will make your trip memorable, like sampling the best of the local seafood. Here are the top 10 bucket list experiences to have in Cambodia!
Cambodia Bucket List Experiences
While visiting Cambodia itself might be a huge bucket list tick for you, there are a lot of cool things to do in Cambodia that should definitely be on your itinerary. Whether you’re interested in visiting iconic sites and diving into unique cultural experiences, or more aligned with soaking up the natural beauty, this Cambodia bucket list is perfect for you.
Fitting all these bucketlist experiences into your Cambodia trip can be challenging, so be sure to check out my Cambodia itineraries (the 3 -week itinerary includes all of the things recommended here).
1️⃣ Explore a Wonder of the World
It’s no secret that Cambodia is home to one of the Wonders of the Modern World; I mean, it’s literally on the national flag. The temples of Angkor are a MUST-see for your Cambodia Itinerary. Head to the gateway city of Siem Reap to visit the temples and dive into the ancient history of Cambodia.
Spanning multiple kilometres, the temples of Angkor are not only a work of art but a beautifully preserved glimpse into the ancient Khmer Empire. The most iconic temple in Cambodia is Angkor Wat, but Siem Reap is actually home to lots of temples so be sure to include some more in your trip; the crowd favourites are Bayon, Ta Phrom and the Angkor Thom Gates.
2️⃣ Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton
Cambodia is one of a handful of places in the world where you can swim with bioluminescent plankton. Head to the tropical islands of Koh Rong (or Koh Rong Samloem) for this bucket list experience!
Invisible during the day, these tiny plankton are activated by movement in the water and emit light. Come dark you can see them glow in the water. Sometimes if the light pollution is low you can see the bioluminescent plankton from the beach, but often you need to dive into the water and splash around to see them glisten and glow.
How to see the bioluminescent plankton in Koh Rong
While you can see them by swimming out from the beach, you will have to wait until the middle of the night for this as any nearby light pollution from hotels/resorts and restaurants will prevent you from seeing the plankton glow.
We chose to take a sunset boat tour which took us further away from shore for increased visibility of the plankton. You can book one of the sunset or night boat trips on the main street in Koah Touch (where the ferry arrives) on Koh Rong.
3️⃣ Play in the Rivers of Kampot
Nestled between mountains, rivers, jungles, and beaches, Kampot is one of the best places to unwind and reconnect with nature. Kampot is a great place to release your inner child by embracing the many water activities.
Kayak down the Green Cathedral, a narrow meandering area north of town, or spend the day splashing around one of the many waterparks in Kampot. Many of the riverside resorts, like Retro Kampot Guesthouse*, Champa Lodge* and Meraki Kampot*, do rentals for $5/hour.
You can find a waterpark at Arcadia, with a dizzyingly fast waterslide, blob, and other floating water activities to try out. For only $5/day, this is a great place for backpackers to hang out. Another great-looking water park is Dong Prek Park, where you can zipline, take on the 50m rainbow slide or navigate the floating water course.
Stay in a riverside bungalow
Another great way to experience the riverside charm is a bucket list stay in one of Kampots cute bungalows. We spent a blissful night in the riverfront bungalows at Eden Ecovillage*, but Retro Kampot Guesthouse* was a close runner-up. With direct access to the water, you can spend your days diving off the deck into the river and making use of one of the free kayaks.
4️⃣ Hike with Wild Elephants
Get off the beaten path for a unique bucketlist experience; spending time with Cambodia’s remaining wild elephants. Head into the lush mountain region of Mondulkiri, 320km north of Phnom Penh, known for its ethnic tribes, waterfalls and wild elephants. Take a tour with a local NGO, The Mondulkiri Project who rescue elephants from captivity in Cambodia.
5️⃣ See the World-Famous Phare Circus
Of all the things to do in Cambodia, don’t skip seeing a show by the Phare Circus. Our evening seeing them was a highlight of our entire trip to Cambodia, igniting laughter and awe. More than a conventional circus show, the Phare Circus artists incorporate dance, music and acting, along with jaw-dropping acrobatics, to create a mesmerizing show. There is a Phare Circus theatre in Siem Reap and a theatre attached to the creative arts school in Battambang, so be sure to include it in your Cambodia itinerary!
Tickets support the non-profit creative arts school in Battambang, training the next generation of Cambodian artists.
💰 $10+ depending on seating
6️⃣ Ride the Historic Bamboo Train
Riding the infamous bamboo train is a must-have experience in Battambang, a right of passage if you will for backpackers.
The “train” is very barebones; a plank with wheels and a motor on the back. But this is half of the thrill as you race through the countryside hitting speeds of up to 40km/hr. The bamboo train pays homage to the ingenious of the locals who created the bamboo platforms to get between trackside villages.
The tracks, once abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime, are being used again by the Royal Railways trainline so you might have to wait for the next arrival to safely pass before starting your trip on the bamboo train.
How to ride the bamboo train in Battambang
There are 2 bamboo trains in Battambang; the historic one and a new one created for tourists. After some research, we decided to visit the original bamboo train for an authentic experience. We enlisted Mr Kim, a tuk-tuk tour guide from Battambang, to take us to the bamboo train as the tracks are in the countryside.
📍 The original bamboo train on Google Maps here
💰 $5/person if sharing (+ change to support the villagers at the end of the track by buying a drink).
7️⃣ Eat Fresh Seafood at the Crab Market
The beach town of Kep is renowned for its fresh-caught crab and a trip to the iconic Crab Market is work a spot on your Cambodia bucket list. The market is a vibe unto itself; dark and moody with everything from fresh produce to restaurant vendors.
The coolest part of this market is watching the crab crate come out of the ocean, getting to pick the crabs yourself and watching it be cooked right in front of you! We bought 1kg of fresh crab from a fisherman and had it cooked in a Kampot pepper sauce for only $10! The crab is soft-shell so easy to eat, and the sauce was sweet and spicy.
💰 $8/kg + $2 to cook
8️⃣ Watch Sunrise over Angkor Wat
I’d hazard a guess that watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat has long been on your Cambodia bucket list – it might even be the reason you’re planning to visit Cambodia! This iconic Angkor Wat experience is a firm favourite among travellers and worth including in your Cambodia itinerary.
To visit Angkor Wat at sunrise you will need to leave Siem Reap around 5am, so it’s important that you organise a tuk-tuk the night before and have your ticket in advance. The most popular sunrise spot is inside Angkor Wat, at the ponds to the side of the central walkway, where you watch the sunlight rise above the dark outline of the temple scape.
💰 Tuk-tuks typically charge an additional $5 for sunrise pick-up
⏰ Arrange pick for 5am
9️⃣ Witness Millions of Bats at the Bat Cave
This isn’t your average bucket list activity but, trust me, this spectacle will have you in awe of nature. Head to the city of Battambang where millions of bats flood the evening sky, making waves in the sunset glow as they embark on their evening hunt.
There are two places to see the bats. The first is at the foot of the hill, where street vendors have tables and chairs for you to grab a drink and watch. Alternatively, the “secret bat viewpoint” can be found by hiking up the side of the hill towards the exit of the bat cave, bringing you close to the action and away from the crowds.
Phnom Sampeau (find the trailhead to the secret bat spot here).
5:30pm onwards (timing varies; for us, the bats started to emerge at 6:30pm).
🔟 Go Tropical Island Hopping
While nearby Thailand is definitely more famous for island hopping, Cambodia has its own collection of lesser-known tropical islands to rival its neighbour. Picture palm-lined beaches and crystal clear water, afternoons spent snorkelling and evenings watching the sunsets from the powdery white sand beaches.
The two most popular islands to visit are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Trust me, you’re going to want to set aside some time to visit the islands during your travels in Cambodia.
Now your Cambodia bucket list should be brimming with ideas to include in your Cambodia itinerary for your trip!
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Planning a Trip to Cambodia?
For more information on planning a trip to Cambodia, including detailed guides to all these beautiful places, be sure to check out my Complete Cambodia Travel Guide which includes everything you need to know for travelling around the country.