Group of Asian elephants graze in a clearing in the jungle as part of the Elephant Valley Project

Our favorite Cambodia tours and excursions

Get an insider’s perspective on daily life in Cambodia with our hand-picked, hands-on experiences, each one designed to get you beneath the surface of the local culture.

What do we mean by “experience”? Well, what we don’t mean is cookie-cutter walking tours and ticking off TripAdvisor’s top-ten list. These experiences will take you inside the lives of ordinary Cambodians, putting you in touch with the culture through some of its most extraordinary people.

We get it — not everyone is a fan of guided day tours. Maybe that’s you. But then again, maybe you just haven’t been on a really great one yet. If that’s the case, let us be the ones to persuade you — because a tip-top tour or a hands-on cultural experience can absolutely make your vacation.

People are the key — we can’t stress that enough. We’ve combed the country for the most knowledgeable and engaging guides, and we’re rigorous about ensuring that the experiences we support benefit local communities. What’s more, we only ever recommend experiences we’ve tried and loved ourselves.

Take our bike tour of the Battambang countryside, for example. Sure, anyone can just rent a bike and go. But would you be able to visit cottage industries to see the craftspeople at work? Would you get to hear the local legend about that quiet, rural temple? Or be able to ask the village silk weaver how she does it? These are the little differences between a good experience and a great one; between seeing Cambodia and really experiencing it.

Our top picks

You won't want to miss out on these must-dos hand-picked by our expert team

Phare Circus

Phare, The Cambodian Circus

Siem Reap

When it comes to Phare, “circus” barely begins to cover it. This is world-class performance art — telling the stories of Cambodian legend and history through ambitious choreography, spine-tingling live music, and almost terrifying acrobatics that’ll have you gripping the edge of your seat.

As if that weren’t enough, it’s also a social enterprise that provides a vocation for disadvantaged young people, helping to fuel a Cambodian cultural renaissance in the wake of the Khmer Rouge. We know circus might not be high on your Cambodia bucket list but trust us: just go!

Buffalo cart in village near Siem Reap

Villages of Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Today, Siem Reap is a buzzing tourism hub packed with hotels, hostels, bars and shops, so it’s difficult to imagine that just a few years ago it was little more than a rural backwater.

That is, until you head a few minutes out of town and suddenly find yourself among farmers planting rice, weaving thatch, harvesting vegetables, and transporting fresh produce to market by oxcart. This countryside tour is a chance to immerse yourself in the rural activity of Siem Reap, and a window into a way of life that can feel as though it hasn’t changed since Angkor was built.

Floating villages of Tonle Sap

Kayaking on Tonlé Sap Lake

Siem Reap

If exploring Tonlé Sap’s sunken fields and stilt villages by longtail boat is like taking a bus, we like to think of kayaking as the waterborne equivalent of a leisurely stroll.

Under your own steam – and without the annoying buzz of an outboard motor – you’re free to slow it down, explore, and perhaps spot things you’d never have noticed otherwise. We also find it’s the best way to interact with locals, as you can stop to chat at your leisure or hop off for lunch at a floating café. For us there’s no question: this is the best way to see Tonlé Sap.

Ziplining in Angkor

Angkor zipline

Siem Reap

Take a monkey’s-eye view of the jungle as you fly, climb and swing though the treetops on a mixture of ziplines, hanging bridges and platforms.

This conservation-friendly tour does not damage the trees in any way, using a clever rigging and counter-weighted system to keep the equipment in the canopy. Even better, a percentage of their profits go toward reforestation and primate rehabilitation, and you might even be lucky enough to spot a gibbon as you soar through their home! At the very least, your dedicated “Sky Ranger” will be able to tell you some fascinating facts about the surrounding jungle and wildlife.

Angkor Wat temple complex

Angkor Temples

Siem Reap

Magnificent in both scale and artistry, half-supported and half-consumed by buttress-rooted silk-cotton trees, the temples of Angkor are among the most fantastic man-made sights on the planet.

The biggest mistake you can make is underestimating just how much there is to see — and since you’ll never cover it all, the secret is to mix it up. Check out the big hitters, but combine them with root-strangled Preah Khan, or Banteay Samré. These amazing ruins are on the Grand Circuit but they barely get a look-in, and the chances are you’ll have them almost to yourself.

Prison at Tuol Sleng

Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields

Phnom Penh

Between 1975 and 1979, as many as two million Cambodians — a quarter of the country’s population — were persecuted and killed by the Khmer Rouge. While it’s tempting to turn away from such nightmares, grappling with them is the only real way to appreciate the incredible resilience, determination and drive of the Cambodian people.

The genocide is commemorated at the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former school that served as a Khmer Rouge prison camp, and at the Killing Fields, where prisoners were taken to be executed. Visiting these sites is a profoundly chilling experience but, we think, an important one.