Climbing in Cambodia: A Journey through South East Asia

Cambodia is not the place that usually springs to mind for climbers in South East Asia and it is often thought of as a totally flat country. It is true that Cambodia has the one of lowest elevations in the region, at an average of 126 meters above sea level, which is significantly less than in neighbouring countries. However it would be false to represent Cambodia as mountainless. Its highest peak, Phnom Aural, is actually 1,813 meters and Phnom means mountain or hill in Khmer. That being said, mountains and crags are more scarce in Cambodia than other parts of the region. It is true that the climbing in Cambodia is lower in both quality and quantity than in bordering countries. We knew we wanted to include Cambodia as part of our trip, and it fit well with our route, entering from the Laos border and crossing into southern Vietnam to begin the long journey northwards up the coast. There are a handful of climbing areas to choose from in Cambodia and there are less climbers here than anywhere else we visited on our trip. We were glad we visited, Cambodia was a really nice country with a distinctive culture and a long captivating history.

Limestone cliffs with vegetation on top of them rising out from the green rice fields with blue but cloudy skies

Guidebooks for Climbing in Cambodia

Cambodia has one of the least developed climbing scenes in South East Asia, but despite this there are still several sources of topos and information about the various crags on offer. There are two online guidebooks ‘Rock Climbing in Cambodia’ by Benjamin Tipon ($13.98) and ‘Cambodia Climbing Route Guide‘ by Angkor Climbers ($15). We purchased ‘Rock Climbing in Cambodia’, mostly on a whim as there isn’t much to split the two guidebooks.

The Angkor Climbers book is slightly smaller and a bit more expensive but equally looks a bit more professional. It also appears more modern, but we aren’t sure when it was actually published.

Wooden fishing boats on the Gulf of Thailand with the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc in the background on a cloudy day.
Wooden fishing boatings with the Vietnamese island of Phú Quốc in the background

The ‘Rock Climbing in Cambodia’ guide felt quite out of date (it is copyrighted 2007) with some of the information seemingly irrelevant now. That being said, the guide does have a thorough coverage of Cambodia and includes several areas with potential for development, even if there aren’t any routes there currently. It states on the website that a proportion of the proceeds goes towards supporting ‘the education of the sport to young Cambodians.’ However it’s unclear which organisation receives this or how much this is.

It would’ve been nice to compare both, but it seemed rather unnecessary for us to buy two guides for the same areas. We can’t make a totally solid recommendation of which to buy, but would suggest either will do the job and neither will be perfect.

Ornate and large Devata carvings which are Hindu heavenly women with head dresses and elaborate necklaces and body jewellery. They're carved into a light coloured stone on the wall in Angkor Wat
Beautiful sandstone Devata carvings at Angkor Wat

Topos for Climbodia (located in the Kampot region) can be found on and also on the noticeboard at the crag, these are straightforward and easy to use. The crag is easily spotted from the road and matching the bolts to the topos only takes a few minutes. There is also quite a bit of information available on theCrag. It is more reliable for some areas than others, but it is a great resource to use in the whole of South East Asia and it’s full of great information about climbing in Cambodia.

Weather and Climbing season in Cambodia

Cambodia has a tropical climate, with two distinct seasons, similar to many other countries in South East Asia. The weather is always hot and humid, the only difference is how much it rains. The dry season runs from late October until late April and the rainy season from May to September. We visited Cambodia in January and were surprised that we got around 5 fully rainy days during our few weeks in the country. This isn’t to be unexpected in the tropics, where the weather can sometimes be erratic and can flip from one extreme to another. Although we had been in South East Asia for around 3 months when we entered Cambodia, we were still caught slightly off guard by the heat in the south. The contrast in conditions for climbing between Thakhek, Laos and Kampot, Cambodia was stark.

Long worm like insect with s brown harden shell and hundreds of small thin legs along grave and leaves on the floor
A friendly millipede

The typical rules apply for coping with the heat and trying to work with the conditions rather than fight against them. As many of the crags face south, getting an early start is essential, unless you want to climb after the sun has dipped below the horizon. Unlike Thailand and Malaysia, we felt the conditions here effected our skin much more, although that is potentially more to do with the rock than the weather itself.

Climbing Recommendations

Kampot Area

The sleepy Kampot province lies in the south west of Cambodia on the Gulf of Thailand coast. Kampot is famous for salt and pepper production and is claimed to be the durian capital of the country! We didn’t expect much from Kampot itself but ended up really enjoying it. Once you leave the city the rural areas are unspoilt and not touristic at all, the people were some of the friendliest we met in all of Cambodia.


Climbodia lies 5km outside of Kampot town, the crag is on government owned land which is rented by the guiding company called Climbodia. Because of this there is a one time fee of $10 per person to climb, once you have paid you can return as many times as you like. The crag is quite small, there are 21 bolted routes from 4c – 7a+, with around half of the routes under 6a+. If you are a climber on a trip in South East Asia it is more than possible to have some fun here, but it is important to manage expectations. There isn’t a single area in Cambodia like Krabi or Thakhek. The primary reason to go is because you want to visit Cambodia, learn about their culture and history, and why not enjoy a few days cragging while you’re there.

Climber on smooth but featured limestone
Climbing the short but tricky ‘Snakeskin’, 6c

The coolest bit of the crag is that there are routes both outside and inside. The cave on the inside has 5 routes and only just enough daylight to see, so bring a head torch if you’ve got one! The routes outside are on better rock, but it can get awfully hot on a sunny day and it remains lovely and cool inside the cave. The quality of the rock on the routes is variable, some can be very nice and others can be a bit cheesy feeling, but perhaps this is because they hadn’t been climbed on for a long time.

Purple and blue ropes up on two routes inside the large tube feature on the limestone cliff
The nice and cruxy route ‘She’s Chemistry’ 7a climbs the light coloured rock on the left

We were slightly unlucky that it had rained quite heavily in the days before we arrived so a few of the routes we had most wanted to climb were wet. It is worth mentioning that although the crag gets a fair bit of sun it does seem relatively slow to dry. Most people that climb at Climbodia are total beginners, who are being guided on their first climbing experience. Normally this gives us alarm bells, it is common for areas like that to feel unpleasant and a bit awkward towards independent climbers. However, we were very pleasantly surprised. The guides were super friendly and chatty, happy to offer any help or advice we could want and told us we were more than welcome to use any of their ropes when they weren’t occupied. This made us feel a lot more relaxed, and we were additionally happy that any routes 6b or above saw no attention whatsoever from groups, you really have those all to yourself.

Top ropes up on some routes inside the Climbodia cave. There's a hole in the top with daylight streaming through as well as a exit to the outside of the crag. The rock is heavily featured limestone with horizontal breaks and large pockets.
Ropes up on routes inside the cave at Climbodia

Kampong Trach

40km east from Kampot town is Kampong Trach, home to one of the biggest climbing areas in the country. Kampong Trach consists of several small sectors spread around a mountain that rises out of the rice paddies, seemingly from nowhere. We knew before we visited that many of the routes here are trad, which would be an issue as we only had sport gear with us on this trip. Otherwise we were looking forward to seeing what the climbing was like, but unfortunately it was not a successful time. The Sharks Fin and Ryans Pinnacle looked to be the best sectors and we decided to head straight for them. However, that side of the mountain was severely flooded. We rode our motorbikes through water up to around 30cm deep before giving up when we realised the depth was about to double! We drove all the way around the other side of the mountain to try a different route but happened upon the same problem. After all the hassle we frankly couldn’t find the psyche to wade through all that to try and find the sectors on foot.

Limestone cliffs rising out of the lush flat rice paddies with some more small mountains in the background.
Stunning views near Kampong Trach

There are also a few short sport climbs dotted around the outside of the mountain, which as well as being a little uninspiring had been claimed by food vendors who had even clipped their power cables into the first bolts. It was clear nobody had climbed these for a long time. It was also quite a surprise to us that these had been bolted, there were several bigger and nicer crags around the mountain without any routes that wouldn’t have been much harder to access. This probably wouldn’t have been an issue if we’d made it to the sharks fin, which genuinely looks good. After giving up on these routes we headed to The Fish Bowl which is a beautiful karst sink hole inside the mountain. The Fish Bowl is a buddhist shrine where many local people come to pray and give offerings. It is clearly a very spiritual place and it would have felt really insensitive to climb here in our opinion.

Small grey limestone crag with a food stall, benches and tables set up at the base. They have wires to support the stall and lights hanging from the first bolts of what would be the sport climbs.
A crag reclaimed by a food vendor

The general area was really beautiful and Kampong Trach itself was a lovely authentic feeling town. Around the mountain area there are several caves that can be explored and some nice short passages that lead to scenic viewpoints. The area is also known for water caves that fill with crystal clear spring water. It would have been a great place to climb if our luck had been a bit better. Our time in Cambodia was slightly plagued by unseasonably wet weather, which is what we believe caused the flooding near the sharks fin. The road there was clearly well used in normal times so if you have a good dry spell it is surely worth the effort to go and find. While the climbing aspect of our journey was a total flop we did enjoy the place anyway, and could recommend it to anyone in the Kampot area as the extra distance is negligible.

Clear spring in a small and narrow limestone cave
A beautiful cave spring near Kampong Trach

Notable Areas We Missed

Kampong Cham

As there isn’t much developed climbing in Cambodia, it makes sense for us to mention Kampong Cham, as it is the only other proper climbing area in the country. There are a few reasons we didn’t visit Kampong Cham, including the unseasonably wet weather, compatibility with our route and the limited success we had at Kampong Trach. It is a shame to miss out, but on a trip across so many places it really would be impossible to stop at every crag. Kampong Cham is around 120km north east of Phnom Penh. The climbing area has around 21 routes, some of which are bolted, although some are trad or only have anchors. The grades range from 3 to 7a+ with most of the routes around the 5c range. We can’t comment on the quality of the rock here, but looking at the guidebook and going on the other climbing areas in Cambodia we would guess it is a middle of the road venue best suited for lower grade climbers. Probably the biggest selling point is that Kampong Cham is well off the tourist route and should offer an authentic Cambodian experience and a nice way to meet local people.

Rest Day Activities

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is one of the most famous historical sites in the world, renowned for its extensive ruins and incredibly detailed rock carvings. Angkor Wat is the name of the largest and most impressive temple in the ancient city of Angkor, although many people refer to the whole site as Angkor Wat, which can make things a bit confusing. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire, and the city was founded as early as 802, although the majority of temples you see today where built during the 12th century. The Khmer empire followed Hinduism before later converting to Buddhism, although there is confusion as to exactly when this occurred, it is estimated to be in the late 12th or early 13th century. Angkor Wat itself was built and dedicated to Vishnu, the god of preservation, which was a break from tradition. Before Angkor Wat, Khmer temples were typically dedicated to Shiva, the god of destruction. The Khmers then initially adopted Mahayana Buddhism, and the Bayon temple was constructed in this style. However, the empire then reverted to Hinduism and the Bayon temple was repurposed as a temple for Shiva. Ultimately the Khmers adopted Theravada Buddhism, which is still the dominant religion in 21st century Cambodia.

The central tower of the five iconic towers of Angkor Wat. The prasat (tower) is made from a dark sandstone and is a cone shape which has been ornately carved to resemble a lotus bud
The central tower of Angkor Wat

It is very notable that pretty much all you see when you are visiting Angkor is temples, there are no houses or other similar structures. This is because only monuments built for the gods were made from stone, everything else was made of wood. Angkor is estimated to have had a population of around 700,000 people in the 13th century. No doubt these people occupied lots of different buildings, all of which have been lost to history due to the decomposition of the wood they were built from. In part this adds to Angkors mystique as a lost city, furthered by the fact the city was completely abandoned in 1431 after being invaded by the Ayutthaya Kingdom from modern day Thailand. Other factors are thought to have contributed to the collapse of Angkor, particularly the failure of the water storage and irrigation systems the population depended on to grow rice in the dry season. It is then widely said Angkor was ‘rediscovered’ by French explorer Henri Mouhot in the 1840s, although several other European and Japanese people had visited the site before him, some as early as the 16th century. Additionally, Angkor was visited and cared for by buddhist monks right through from the 15th-19th centuries.

Ancient temple with five towers arranged like a five on a dice. They're made from dark laterite stone with a staircase leading up to them
A panorama of East Mebon, a 10th century temple that has a different appearance to other temples as the towers are constructed from Laterite instead of Sandstone

The history of Angkor is incredibly complex and there are still several elements of this ancient civilisation that are not fully understood. Impressively, Angkor is the largest religious site in the world by area, covering around 402 acres. Visiting Angkor is pricey, with a single day ticket costing $37 and a 3 day ticket costing $62. In a complex of this size, you are never going to see it all, but there are many debates about how long you should visit. We opted for a 1 day ticket and rented bicycles to get around. We got up very early and in total we cycled around 40km and walked a further 10km. We had a great time and never felt rushed or that it was in any way hard work (we did have the great advantage of an overcast day). For most climbers this would definitely be the best bang for your buck way to see Angkor. However, we saw many people getting driven around in tuk-tuks that were clearly struggling with the walking. If you aren’t used to long days on your feet then you would probably enjoy a 3 day visit more. To make things smooth, get your ticket, bike and route sorted the day before and waste no time faffing the day of.

Cyclist cycling through an ancient archway in Angkor Wat complex with a backpack on
Cycling through the beautiful north gate of Angkor Thom

Tourism in Angkor Wat is still vastly reduced following the crash in visitor numbers resulting from the pandemic. Although it was hardly dead, it was notably quiet for such a famous and significant site, which almost certainly made the day more enjoyable. If you are visiting in the future, when numbers have bounced back, we would recommend visiting temples at the far reaches of the site. They were exceptionally quiet considering we visited in peak season. It would be fair to say the best known temples like Angkor Wat, Bayon and Preah Khan are among the most impressive, and subsequently they draw the most visitors. Definitely still visit these sites, but get further out afterwards and everything suddenly becomes more tranquil.

Ornate carving on stone inside the Angkor temple depicting a scene of men with spears and elephants.
An amazing bas relief at Angkor Wat

Phnom Penh

Chaotic city cross road gridlocked with motorbikes, tuk-tuks, cars and pick up trucks.
Phnom Penh at night

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum & Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

Cambodia went through an incredibly tough period during the 1970s, culminating in one of the worst genocides in the 20th century. This dreadful period left lasting effects on Cambodia, around 1 in 4 Cambodians were murdered in the genocide. From 1965 to 1973 the USA dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia as part of their war campaign in Vietnam. This is more than they dropped in the entire of the Second World War. The bombing was often indiscriminate and it is estimated up to 150,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed as a result. This quite rightly made the US very unpopular in Cambodia and many people in rural areas were forced to flee their homes to other parts of the country. This heavily contributed to the Cambodian civil war, leading to the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Initially, the US backed General Lon Nol lead a successful coup to topple King Sihanouk in 1970. However, many Cambodians were dissatisfied with Lon Nol’s corrupt regime and supported the Khmer Rouge, who overthrew him and brought an end to the Cambodian civil war. In general this was seen as a positive outcome, people hoped the suffering was going to end and stability would return to Cambodia. Unfortunately, the opposite happened and things got much worse, with the Khmer Rouge embarking on almost 4 years of mass murder.

The Khmer Rouge was led by Pol Pot, whose real name was Saloth Sâr. Pot was a truly despicable man, directly responsible for the murder of millions of innocent people. Pot was born into a wealthy family and received an elite education, but despite his privileged position he barely managed to scrape through his education. Through sheer nepotism he received a university place in Paris, where he also struggled to achieve a pass. In Paris he read the works of Marx, which he couldn’t fully understand and it is often believed he couldn’t properly comprehend communism.

The background of Pol Pot is what makes his future crimes even worse. Pot wanted Cambodia to be an agrarian society, with people spread around the country in rural areas living a basic existence. He relentlessly pursued ethnic minorities, educated people, those who spoke foreign languages and even people who wore glasses. Despite Pot himself being middle class and educated, these were the people he chose to target in his murderous campaign. Money and private property were banned and cities were evacuated, with people transported to forced labour camps. In the labour camps they would be given unachievable targets for crop production, forced to work for over 12 hours without a break and fed very little food. Cambodia was driven to breaking point.

Throughout the country there were ‘killing fields’ and security centres, where prisoners were ruthlessly tortured into confessing to crimes they never committed, and then being transported to a killing field to be executed. Even babies were murdered, under the pretence that they could seek revenge when they grew up. The Khmer Rouge are believed to have killed somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million people from 1975 to 1979. There are hundreds of detention centres and killing fields throughout the country, sombre places that are important for not only remembrance, but also education. Humanity has already failed to learn these lessons many times before, education is extremely important to try and prevent such evil things happening again. In Phnom Penh the security centre S-21 is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the nearby killing fields site is the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. These are the most informative places to learn about the Cambodian genocide and they are an important part of a visit to Phnom Penh.

Visiting the genocide museums is something that should be taken very seriously, it is not a snapping photos fun day out. We were shocked to see people taking selfies and showing general irreverence for what happened. It is very disturbing that someone can be strolling around a genocide site taking pictures of themselves and discussing what they want for lunch and what they did yesterday. When you are there, it is important to take in the atrocities that occurred and understand how much suffering was endured by these people. Some reviews quite unbelievably complained it was too sad or upsetting, which quite frankly is the whole point. If you don’t find genocide upsetting, something is very wrong. The very least respect you can show to the victims is to understand what they really went through and appreciate how unbelievably lucky most of us are to only have to learn about it.

Silk Island

Silk Island is just upstream of Phnom Penh on the Mekong river, offering an impressively peaceful atmosphere given its proximity to the chaos of the city. The island is accessed by a short ferry ride, then it is best to hire some bicycles and enjoy a day riding around. There is a silk centre on the island, where you can learn about the process of raising the silk worms and processing the silk into beautiful fabrics. The centre is really worthwhile, but it is also well worth going to some local independent silk producers on the island. We found the people here to be very friendly, they were happy to show you their family’s loom and will usually sell their own garments, as well as other things like food if silk scarves aren’t your thing. It was wonderful to see traditional craftwork being kept alive, the entire process is quite complex and very time consuming. Even though the basic principles are well known, to see it from start to finish is very interesting, and for us it was quite magic, to see how a raw material can be processed into something so beautiful. The silk centre has a few visitors, but the wider island was very quiet and authentic, a totally relaxing place to spend a day.

Cambodian woman weaving a traditional pink and yellow silk skirt on a traditional old wooden loom


Lok Lak is one of the most well known dishes of Cambodia and understandably so. Lok Lak usually consists of stir fried beef, which has a pepper sauce. The beef is served on top of raw onion and tomato on a bed of lettuce. The fresh veg slightly soften under the heat of the beef, but maintain their crunchiness. Lok Lak is accompanied by white rice and a fried egg, which makes for a delicious filling meal.

Amok is a traditional curry made from fish with coconut, herbs and spices. The curry is steamed inside a banana leaf container and has a unique texture, almost like a mousse. As well as this traditional style Amok, you will also see the dish made with chicken or beef and cooked more in the style of a Thai curry, less authentic but also tasty.

Khmer curry (Somlar Kari Saek Mouan) is a traditional red chicken curry, not dissimilar to Thai red curry, but with some subtle differences of its own. Khmer curry isn’t spicy at all and instead has a more aromatic flavour. You will most typically find Khmer curry made with chicken, but you will also find it with beef or vegetables.

Pork and rice (bai sach chrouk) is a simple and traditional breakfast dish, a staple right across Cambodia. The pork is marinated and grilled and served with white rice. It might not sound overly exciting, but its basic no frills nature makes it a great dish for first thing in the morning when all you need is something quick and reliable.


We had a great time visiting Cambodia, and really enjoyed seeing the country and learning about its history and culture. Climbing wise it was the quietest spell of our trip, which was quite nice after a few months of climbing at least 5 days a week. We enjoyed visiting Angkor Wat but thought Siem Reap was our least favourite place in Cambodia, suffering from the negatives of mass tourism. By contrast, we thought Kampot and the surrounding areas were delightful and had a totally different atmosphere. We enjoyed a few days of climbing during our time in Cambodia, but the crags were obviously not as high quality as others we visited elsewhere on the trip. This was something we already knew before we visited, so is not a complaint, just an observation. The flip side was that Kampot was an infinitely nicer and more authentic place to stay than anywhere in Krabi. This trade off was something we were happy to accept and we felt it was more than worth it to enjoy a few weeks in Cambodia, somewhere that most climbers omit from a trip to South East Asia.

You can read more about the climbing in South East Asia here.

Relevant links and resources

Guidebook for Climbing in Cambodia

3 thoughts on “Climbing in Cambodia: A Journey through South East Asia

  1. Christian 1st Apr 2023 / 9:20 AM

    Looks amazing…Compton…Long Beach…Angkor Waaaaat!!Hope you’re both keeping well!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheCragJournal 1st Apr 2023 / 10:02 AM

      hahaha, glad to see you haven’t lost your wit! We’re both doing good thanks, I hope the three of you are all well?


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