Cambodia is easily one of the most popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia. It is most famous for its ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. While that is definitely a must-see in Cambodia, many people don’t know that Cambodia is also home to beautiful beaches and also holds a very dark history.
Vietnam is probably known today for its war in 1970, but apart from that, it is also home to world-class coffee farms, motorbike destinations, and of course, tasty local dishes. It is a famous destination for young backpackers for its affordability and ease of travel.
In this article, I will show you a sample of 3 weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam itinerary. I will give you an idea of how many days to spend in each top destination in both countries, how to get to each place and other travel tips for your holiday here. Of course, you don’t need to follow my itinerary religiously, just want to give you a visual idea to help you write and plan your own.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM
Before we get to the juicy part, let’s first talk logistics and basic planning. I know many of you are like me who have limited annual holidays and want to make sure this destination is suitable for the type of vacation you need. I will also explain why it’s a good idea to combine Cambodia and Vietnam on this trip.
Why Cambodia and Vietnam
While it’s pretty easy to spend 3 weeks in Vietnam, Cambodia is a bit smaller and 21 days can be too much. I personally experienced that combining two places will maximise your use of your holiday which is our main goal in this site.
Vietnam and Cambodia share a land border making it’s easy to hope between the two countries. In this itinerary though, I recommend you fly as it will save you time and it’s very affordable.
Cambodia and Vietnam also experienced a tragic war during the 70s, the war in both countries are also somehow related.
If you travelling all the way from North and Latin America, that will be a significantly long journey, I want to make sure that you are making the long-haul flight worth the trip.
In Cambodia, you will get to explore the world-famous Angkor Wat, see the luminous planktons, and ride Battambang’s popular bamboo train. While Vietnam will showcase the beauty of Halong Bay, Sa Pa, and the historic city of Hanoi. Both Angkor Wat and Halong Bay are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre list.
When is the best time to go to Cambodia
November to February is a good time to go to Cambodia. During this time, the temperature is much cooler and less rain. However, it is also the time when most tourists come, this means, the crowd can be bigger, lines longer, and booking tour tickets (especially for Ankot Wat) must be done in advance. Some services like accommodations and flights may also be more expensive during this time.
If you don’t mind the rain, May to October is the rainy season. While not until September that the rain pours non-stop. Between March to May, it can be very hot and going outside or doing anything during the day can really be uncomfortable.
When is the best time to go to Vietnam
For this 3-week holiday, I will be focusing on the Northern part. Vietnam, even though in Southeast Asia, experienced four seasons, especially in the north. Hence, it’s important for you to know when to visit Vietnam to make sure you get to enjoy your holiday without weather conflict.
October to November or February to March is the best time to visit Vietnam. There’s very little chance of rain and the temperature is bearable. You should also look up “Tet holiday”. and avoid coming to Vietnam during this time. It is the Lunar New Year (the dates change every year, but happens between the end of January to the end of February), and it lasts for nearly 2 weeks. Every airport, bus station, and hotel will be booked and busy. Many restaurants and tourists sites will be closed as well.
However, if you come from December to January, it can be very cold in this area requiring you a decent winter jacket. You should avoid coming between April to May, it is the hottest time of the year. While June until September is the rain season.
Visa in Cambodia and Vietnam / COVID-19
Cambodia is one of the few countries that have straightforward visa rules (which I really love). Unless your passport is from Southeast Asia (which gets a free visa) – all you need to do is either apply for an evisa online or get a visa upon arrival.
Cambodia is not open to tourists. Vaccinated travellers need to do a rapid test upon arrival while unvaccinated tourists will have to do 14 days quarantine. Travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage will also be required.
You may apply for an evisa The fee is about $25-$35, depending on which port you are entering from, and the visa is valid for 30 days.
Vietnam changed its visa policy during COVID extending visa-free to some European countries. If you are from Southeast Asia, you will be able to enjoy a visa for free between 21 and 30 days. Chilean nationals now can enjoy 90 days visa-free.
The rest of the world, except Africa, the Middle East, and some South Asian countries need to apply for a visa in advance. While most of Latin, North America, Europe, Central Asia, and Oceania can apply for an evisa valid of 30 days.
Vietnam is now open to all vaccinated visitors. People with passports from visa-free countries may stay between 15 to 21 days. Many tourists can apply for an evisa valid for 30 days (this cannot be extended). You must present your vaccination card, negative test result taken not more than 72 hours prior to departure, take a rapid test when you arrive, and present travel insurance with COVID-19 coverage.
Currency in Cambodia and Vietnam
While Cambodia has their own currency called Cambodian Riel, US Dollar is more common here and cash is still the king. Whether you are paying for a hotel room, taxi, restaurant, or street vendor – you can pay with USD. While that sounds pretty good, Cambodia doesn’t use pennies or coins. This means, that almost everything that is sold on the street cost $1 and if your total bill in a restaurant is $2.50, you will be paying $3.
You can still use Riel, but ATM spits out USD, which would mean converting your USD into Riel.
Vietnam uses Vietnamese Dong, which is about $1=22,000 VND. Vietnam doesn’t use coins and the biggest current is 500,000 VND which is about $25. When booking tours and paying for hotels, you should be able to use USD, GBP, and Euro – but in shops and on the streets, you have to use VND. There are many currency exchange shops all over the country, however, many ATMs will only spit out $150-$200 at a time.
Plan in advance
If you are coming during peak season, it’s vital that you plan in advance. For example, tickets to Angkor Wat are limited per day to keep the area monitored and preserved. Hotels will also be booked up early and only the bad and expensive ones are left available.
During typhoon season, flights get delayed or cancelled. Not to mention the traffic, if you plan on taking land transportation, you should put allowance in case you get stuck in traffic or your transportation get cancelled or delayed. 3 weeks in Cambodia fly quickly for people on limited holiday, you don’t want to waste any of it due to misplanning.
Getting around Cambodia and Vietnam
The most common way to get around Cambodia is to take a domestic flight or bus. Within the city, tuk-tuks are the most common mode of transportation. But before you hop in, let the driver know where you are going and agree on the price to avoid hassle or overcharge.
On the other hand, getting around Vietnam is much easier. There is plenty of app for ride-hailing to use, Grab is the most popular, followed by GoViet, GoJek, and Be. When you use these apps, you can either pay by cash or set up your car. You can also choose between booking a car or a motorbike.
COVID in Cambodia
Cambodia has an over 80% vaccination rate among its population as of the first quarter of 2022 and gets an average of 20 cases a day. While booster shot campaigns are also ongoing. Cambodia opened their borders to vaccinated tourists. While the government thought this bordering opening will rush tourists back in, that didn’t happen. But this is mostly due to a lack of flights and the Omicron wave.
Personally, if you have the means, are vaccinated, follow entry requirements, and will take precautions to avoid spreading the virus, I recommend you visit Cambodia. With fewer tourists, this time will be the best time to visit Angkor Wat with no big crowd.
COVID in Vietnam
Vietnam shut its border in March 2020 and is yet to open to tourists. The government announced in November 2021 that they are targeting Mary or June 2022 as the main opening of the international border. The policies change quite often and it will depend on the COVID situation.
The country itself is about 80% vaccinated and booster shots are also on the way. However, it is currently suffering from an omicron variant.
MUST-SEE PLACES IN CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM (pinned map)
Click the top right corner to enlarge the map. Credit: Map data: Google
3 WEEKS IN CAMBODIA AND VIETNAM ITINERARY
Now to the fun part! In this itinerary for Cambodia, I will be covering Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville. Then we will take a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam to explore Halong Bay, Sa Pa, and the other popular destinations in the north.
Siem Reap and Krong Battambang for 6 days
Siem Reap has a popular international airport, so flying in here shouldn’t be a problem. The first thing I recommend you do is to plan your visit to Angkor Wat. Because it is being preserved, tickets are sold in limited for daily visits to keep the area in order. Spend your first-day buying a ticket or booking a tour if you haven’t done so. Once that’s on the books, it’s easier to relax knowing you won’t miss visiting this major attraction.
It is common to book a tour of Angkor Wat for 2 days. It’s a massive place and if you want to cover the entire area, spending 2 days is a good plan to not rush yourself.
Must-see places in Siemp Reap
- Angkor Wat – book a full-day sunrise tour or 2-day tour sunrise or 2-day sunrise and sunset tour
- Angkor Thum/Thom
- Bayon Temple
- Ta Prohm Temple
- Pub Street
- Tonle Sap Lake Floating Village or Kompong Phluk Floating Village
- Angkor National Museum
- Join a food tour or cooking class
- Phnom Kulen Waterfall
Must-see places in Battambang
Battambang is only a 3-hour drive from Siem Reap. Most people don’t plan on staying in Battambang and simply book a day trip from Siem Reap.
- Ride the Bamboo Train – you can book a tour that leaves from Siem Reap
- Well of Shadows
- Wat Samrong Knong
- The Killing Cave
- Phnom Banan Temple
- Killing Field at Wat Samrong Knong
Phnom Penh for 2 days
To get from Phnom Penh from Siem Reap, you can either take a 5.5-hour bus ride or a 30-minute flight (but the bus is much cheaper). Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia and sits right next to the famous Mekong River. While there are many places to see here, most tourists come to the capital to learn more about the war and genocide that lasted from 1975 to 1979 with estimated death of 1.5-2 million. There are plenty of guided tours and places to can visit to have a deeper understanding of what happened during the war.
Must-see places in Phnom Penh
- Royal Palace
- Killling Fields/Choeung Ek Genocide Centre
- S-21 Prison/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – you can book a combined tour for S-21 and Killing Fields
- Join a city tour or city tour and Mekong River boat trip
Sihanoukville and Koh Rong for 3 days
Sihanoukville and Koh Rong is Cambodia’s pride when it comes to stunning beaches. It is located about 5 hours from Phnom Penh by bus. Sihanoukville is filled with resorts casinos. While I believe Sihanoukville is a charming beach town, I recommend you spend more time in Koh Rong especially if you want to do some boat trips.
Must-see places in Sihanoukville and Koh Rong
- Queenco Hotel and Casino – if you want to play some games
- Independence Beach
- Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem – they are 2 different islands but right next to each other
- Bioluminescent Plankton snorkel tour (Koh Rong Samloem)
Hanoi for 2 days
Hanoi is the capital city of Vietnam, you can directly fly here from either Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville, Cambodia. the airport is about an hour away, it’s easier to book an airport transfer in advance than discussing meter with a taxi or booking through a ride-hailing app. Not only it’s filled with history but also a great location if you want to explore the northern part of the country. Many people who have travelled here would say that Hanoi is more traditional than Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), it may be true since there’s a light curfew or the life and businesses kind dies at midnight.
In just 2 days, you can easily explore the city itself and have extra time in planning your trips around the area. You can get a hop-on hop-off bus ticket for an easy way to get around the city.
Must-see places in Hanoi
- Ho Chi Minh’s body at the Mausoleum
- Traditional Puppet Show at Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
- Ngoc Son Temple/Turtle Tower
- Hoa Lo Prison
- Hanoi Opera House
- Enjoy a morning bike tour
- Temple Of Literature
- Hanoi Old Quarter – especially at night
- Learn how to do pottery at the ancient village
- Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Square – right by the Old Quarter
- Join a street food tour on a cycle or street food by foot
Halong Bay for 2 days
Halong Bay sits a 2-hour drive from Hanoi to the east. Normally, you will be picked up from your hotel in Hanoi as early as 6 in the morning, it is usually reached by bus or van. Once in the town, tourists get on a boat (either to head to another island or boat where they will sleep or spend the entire day). 3 weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam should definitely include Halong Bay in your travel plan. Here’s a list of different options for a boat trip to Halong Bay, visitors often book a day trip or spends a night or two:
- Day tour of Halong Bay from Hanoi – visiting caves, islands, and enjoying kayak
- Spend 2 days in Halong Bay
- Book 3 days in Halong Bay
Sa Pa for 2 days
Sa Pa is a small town up in the north near the Chinese border. It’s about a 6-7-hour drive by bus, minivan, or train. It is the location of the famous rice fields of Vietnam is home to Hmong Tribe. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can book a tour that leaves at midnight from Hanoi, get to Sa Pa and spend the entire day, then head back to Hanoi at night.
Some travellers would plan to stay a night or two in Sa Pa to enjoy hiking, learning about the Hmong Tribe, and the history of these beautiful rice fields. I recommend you not to plan a trip here for December to January as it can be very cold, the fields are muddy, and the visibility is quite poor.
- Book a 2-day trip to Sapa with trekking and bus ride
- Spend 3 nights in Sapa with trek and overnight train ride
- Fansipan – the highest point in Indochina, you can reach it by multiple-day hiking or cable car
Day trips from Hanoi
If you have some time to kill before you leave Vietnam, you can book these popular day trips from Hanoi. day trips mean you will be picked up early in the morning and spend the entire day exploring then will be back in Hanoi sometime in the evening.
Vietnam and Cambodia are such a great combination to spend your holiday. Both places offer an insight into the 70s war, both places have stunning UNESCO Heritage Sites that are must-see, and both places are so near each other. Hopping between these two countries will save you time.
I hope that you found this itinerary of 3 weeks in Cambodia and Vietnam helpful. If you prefer to start in Vietnam and end in Cambodia, that shouldn’t be a problem, you can also skip Sihanoukville and Kh Rong to free up 3 days in your itinerary.