Cambodia Itinerary: An Ideal Guide for Temple & Island Hoppers

by | Cambodia, Itinerary

Love history? Have always fantasized about becoming the next Indiana Jones? But need some white sandy beaches along with all the culture stuff? Then Cambodia is the one place you must put on your bucket list. Here is a definitive Cambodia itinerary guide for you to use to plan your trip when this pandemic is in our past. It is what I followed when I visited the country.

This itinerary is ideal for those who want to explore the history, heritage, and culture of Cambodia deeply. It includes a heavy dose of historical attractions and cultural activities like food tours, architectural tours, and cooking classes.

But you’ll also find moments of relaxation on a white sandy beach on a tropical island or a comfy hammock by a lazy river.

After not having traveled overseas by myself for several years (I was busy moving twice and going through graduate school), I was pretty nervous about going alone to a foreign country. So  I planned thoroughly for my 3-week trip to Cambodia. The preparation paid off because everything went smoothly—perfect accommodations and perfect timing.

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PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I’ve used for short-term travel. When  I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They’re very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.

Why visit Cambodia

I completely fell in love with Cambodia when I was there for 3 weeks. History. Archaeological ruins. Unforgettable museums. Friendly people. Good Food. Beautiful tropical scenery. Old colonial buildings. Traditional Khmer dance and drama performances. Undeveloped tropical islands with crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. The historic Mekong River.

Amazing Archaeological Ruins: Cambodia has had both a glorious and tragic past. The Angkor Kingdom (802-1431) was one of the greatest empires in Southeast Asia covering parts of present-day Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. During this time, the Khmers built some of the most magnificent religious structures in the world. Today they are archaeological wonders that would make any Indian Jones’ wannabe salivate at the mere thought of exploring them.

Genocide Museums: In the twentieth century, Cambodia experienced one of the greatest tragedies in the world perhaps on par with the holocaust in Europe. Twenty percent of its population died from starvation, torture, execution, and disease due to the cruel and incompetent policies of the Khmer Rouge government.

You can learn about this tragic past by visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek in Phnom Penh. These two museums are heartbreaking as heck to visit, but they’re necessary for everyone to see what happens when a country is run by a brutal inept leader.

Water: One of Cambodia’s most important resources is its rivers, lakes, and seacoast. They make for interesting stops on any itinerary. First, there’s the Tonle Sap lake with its floating villages, the historic Mekong River, the tropical islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem, and the waterways in Kampot.

map of Cambodia

How to get around Cambodia

By Bus

You can travel around the country easily by bus. When I was in Cambodia, roads were pretty abysmal—they were under construction and going anywhere consisted of long, bumpy, uncomfortable rides. They have improved in recent years.

  • Phnom Penh – Siem Reap: Buses take about 6.5 hours and cost around US$12 – $13. Check out schedules and prices on 12go.asia.
  • Siem Reap – Sihanoukville: Buses take around 11 hours and cost US$22.

By Mini-van

Another option is to travel in a minivan. They tend to be quicker, a bit cheaper, but more cramped than buses.

By Train

Cambodia has two train routes.

By Boat

You can travel by boat between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and between Sihanoukville and the islands of Koh Rong and Kohn Rong Samloem.

By Shared or Private Taxi

You can also do a share or private taxi. Shared taxis are just cars that are shared by strangers that ply a specific route. I’ve taken shared taxis in Myanmar and they were perfectly fine.

Private taxis are going to be more expensive.

Often your hotel or hostel can arrange a shared or private taxi for you.

By Air

You can travel by air between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville.

Bayon face tower on the South Gate of Angkor Thom during Angkor Wat itinerary

Itinerary Stop #1: Phnom Penh

  • Cambodia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 0 – 3
  • Cambodia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 0 – 3

Start your Cambodia itinerary in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Phnom Penh is a big, polluted, and overcrowded city.

I also found it to be a difficult place to walk around in. There are few sidewalks and traffic signs or lights to guide pedestrians across busy streets. Sometimes it felt like I was gambling with my life.

That being said, for history lovers and culture seekers, it’s a necessary stop on your Cambodia itinerary.

Because it has been the capital of Cambodia since 1866, it has several important attractions. These include the royal palace, national museum, and a few important Buddhist temples.

Phnom Penh was also the administrative center of the French colonial government from 1866 to 1953. You can find some beautiful French colonial buildings in the town. Also, after 1953, the head of the Cambodian government, Prince Sihanouk went on a building spree. Young Cambodian architects who’d been trained in France began designing buildings that combined European post-modernism with a traditional Angkor style.

Most importantly, you should include Phnom Penh on your Cambodia travels because it is the sight of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

Phnom Penh is also the best place to experience Cambodian culture. It’s a great city for sampling the best of Cambodian food, especially Khmer BBQ. It also has an excellent performing art center where you can see traditional Cambodian dance, puppetry, and drama.

I have a very detailed itinerary guide for Phnom Penh here that can give you even more information than what’s here.

Silver Pavilion of Royal Palace in Phnom Pehn

Getting to Phnom Penh

From outside of Asia to Phnom Penh:

From outside of Asia, you’ll most likely fly into Phnom Penh via another Asian city. There are few (if any) direct flights from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Australia.

Check out this list of passenger flights between Phnom Penh and other countries.

Vietnam to Phnom Penh

From Vietnam, you can also get to Phnom Penh by bus. It takes around 7 hours and costs approximately US$12 – $18.

Check out schedules and prices with go12.asia.

Bangkok to Phnom Penh by Bus

You can take a bus or train from Bangkok. Cross the border and then take a bus from Poipet to Phnom Penh.

However, if you’re coming from Thailand, you’re probably better off starting your Cambodia travels in Siem Reap instead of Phnom Penh since Riem Reap is closer to Thailand than Phnom Penh is.

skulls stacked on to of each other at the Killing Fields Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh on Cambodia itinerary

Attractions: What to see in Phnom Penh

  • Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum  – The former prison of the Khmer Rouge where they tortured and murdered between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
  • Killing Fields of Choeung Ek – This is where the Khmer Rouge took their prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be executed. A great audio-self-guide to take you through the grounds and teach you about the Khmer Rouge.
  • Royal Palace – Built by the French, the royal palace is the official residence of the king of Cambodia.
  • National Museum of Cambodia – Built by the French, this is a great museum for seeing some of the sculpture from the Angkor Kingdom
  • Wat Phnom – the oldest and most important temple in Phnom Penh; it’s also the site of the origin of Phnom Penh.
  • Wat Ounalom Monastery – an important Buddhist monastery
  • Central Market – a great art deco indoor and outdoor market built by the French. It’s a great place for buying souvenirs and trying some delicious Cambodian fruit
  • Russian Market – another great market that is more touristy than the Central Market
a fishing boat on the Mekong River at sunset with Phnom Penh in the background

Activities & Tours: What to do in Phnom Penh

  • Learn how to make Cambodian food by taking a cooking class at La Table Khmere
  • Go on a food tour with Lost Plate Food Tours or Evening Urban Food Tour (US$60)
  • Watch a traditional dance or drama performed by Cambodian Living Arts (US$15)
  • Take a sunset cruise on the Mekong River – US$20 for private ones and US$5 for public tours
  • Join a tour with Khmer Architecture Tours (US$15 – $65)
  • Join a bike tour of an island in the Mekong River on Mekong Island Bicycle Tour
Sweet grilled banana skewers at Cambodian street market

Where to eat in Phnom Penh

  • Malis –Serves traditional Khmer food; a bit pricey but worth it
  • Friends –Western food
  • Romdeng – Cambodian and western food
  • Khmer BBQ – Do-it-yourself style barbecue found all over Phnom Penh in the evenings
  • Street food at Central Market and Russian Market (US$1 – $2)

Where to stay in Phnom Penh

Budget Accommodations

  • Onederz Hostel (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – Great hostel right on the river (US8/dorm bed | US$32/private room).

Midrange Accommodations

  • Blue Lime – (BOOKING.COM | AGODA)A reasonably priced gorgeous boutique hotel. This is where I stayed (US$38 – $65)
  • Teahouse – (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – Another great boutique hotel that I stayed at (US$60 – $100)

Upper Rang Accommodations

  • Pavilion – (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – Gorgeous hotel in a great neighborhood (US$100 – $170).

RELATED POST: Phnom Penh Itinerary: Exploring Its History and Culture

Itinerary Stop #2: Siem Reap & Angkor Wat

  • 2-Week Itinerary: Days 3 – 7
  • 3-Week Itinerary: Days 3 – 9

The next stop on this Cambodian itinerary is Siem Reap, the location of the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat. For history lovers, archaeology buffs, and Indiana fans, Angkor Wat is a dream come true. Ancient ruins, ancient temples, ancient reliefs and sculpture, and art.

I created an Angkor Wat itinerary for real history lovers that you can use for your own travels. The 3-week Cambodia itinerary includes the following:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Siem Reap from Phnom Penh
  • Day 2 – 4: Visit the most famous temples around Siem Reap
  • Day 5: Visit the Floating Villages of Tonle Sap Lake
  • Day 6: Travel to the Thai border to see the ancient ruins of Prasat Preah Vihear
  • Day 7: Do some shopping, get a massage, swim in your hotel pool, visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum and the Angkor National Museum

If you’re following my 2-week itinerary for Cambodia, then you can just do Days 1 – 5.

Angkor Wat with reflection of temple in water under a blue sky
Angkor Wat temple – Cambodia iconic landmark with reflection in water

How to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh

By Bus

I recommend getting a bus to Siem Reap.

Buses leave multiple times throughout the day and take around 6.5 hours to get to Siem Reap. They cost around US$13 – $15 one way.

Most bus companies will pick you up by van from your hotel and take you to the bus station or wherever they depart from. I think service is dependent on whether you buy the ticket through your hotel, though. You can also buy your ticket online through 12go.asia.

By Minivan

Minivans are a bit faster than buses but less comfortable. I took a minivan and it was so cramped that my chin and knees were almost touching. However, it was a great opportunity to meet locals. Prices are comparable to buses as well.

By Boat

Another interesting option is to take a speedboat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap river and lake. Boats leave at 7:30 am from Sisowath Quay and arrive at 14:00. Cost is US$35.

You can buy the ticket through your hotel. The boat company will most likely pick you up from your hotel and take you to the pier.

If you’re sitting outside, the views look interesting, but sitting inside looks pretty miserable. You can see a video of the ride on Seat61’s website.

Bring food and drink as none are sold on the boat.

By Shared or Private Taxi

You can also do a shared or private taxi. Shared taxis are just cars that are shared by strangers that ply a specific route. I’ve taken shared taxis in Myanmar and they were perfectly fine.

You can also arrange for a private taxi through your hotel. You can also order your ticket online through Cambo Ticket. I’ve never used them before. Rates are around US$75 – $120.

By Air

Flights between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap take around 50 minutes.

roots of a tree wrapped around the temple of Ta Prohm
Ta Prom

What to do and see in Siem Reap

I have a detailed itinerary for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat that tells you exactly what to see on each day.

  • Angkor Wat and the other ancient ruins – You can spend three days seeing the major ruins and some minor ones. In my Angkor Wat post, I list which temples to see and on what day to see them. Just book a tuk-tuk driver for those days and for a reasonable amount they can take you around.
  • Floating Villages of Tonle Sap Lake – Join a group or private tour of the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake. Some people complain of the tours being overly touristy and being bombarded with scams.
  • Phare Circus – No animals in this circus. More like Cirque de Soleil rather than Ringling Brothers Circus.
  • Food Tour – Sample the cuisine of Cambodia with a food tour
  • Apsara Theater – Attend a buffet dinner and traditional Khmer dance show
  • Angkor Dynasty Show – learn about the history of the Angkor Kingdom through this performance
floating village of Kamong Phluk on Tonle Sap in Cambodia

Where to eat in Siem Reap

Here are some popular restaurants in Siem Reap:

  • Malis Restaurant – high-end Cambodian food
  • SPOONS – Cambodian food in a nice setting
  • Marum Restaurant – Cambodian food in a beautiful old wooden house
  • Cuisine Wat Damnak – French chef who combines Cambodian flavors with French technique
  • Chanrey Tree – authentic home-style Khmer cuisine

Where to stay in Siem Reap

Budget Accommodations

  • Unity Hostel – (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – US$/dorm bed US$13/private room
  • Lub d Cambodia Siem Reap (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – I stayed in one of their hostels in Manila and loved it. US$16/dorm bed; US$48/private room)
  • Chheng Resident (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – US$20 for private room – near Pub Street and night markets

Midrange Hotels

Upper Range Hotels

Itinerary Stop #3: Koh Rong Samloem

  • Cambodia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 8 – 10
  • Cambodia Itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 10 – 15

You’ll next be heading to the island of Koh Rong Samloem for some much-needed R&R.

There are two main islands that are popular with tourists: Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem. Koh Rong is the party island—ideal for backpackers and budget tourists.

Koh Rong Samloem is much quieter than Koh Rong and has a combination of backpacker digs, some midrange hotels with bungalows on the beach, and some resorts.

wooden swing standing in the water at Saracen Beach on Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia itinerary

Koh Rong Samloem has its fare share of stunning white sandy beaches. Here are some of the main areas:

  • Saracen Beach is a long white sandy beach; it’s the liveliest of all the beaches but compared to an island in Thailand, it would be considered quiet. There are two piers on this beach.
  • Lazy Beach is a secluded beach with one resort, Lazy Beach Resort, and a gorgeous beach. To get there from Saracen, just walk along a path through the jungle.
  • Sunset Beach is another secluded beach
  • M’Pai Bay is the location of the main village on the island; it’s got a nice beach as well

Electricity is run by generator.

WiFi is spotty, so don’t count on it.

There are no ATMs on the island.

How to get to Koh Rong Samloem from Siem Reap

Bus + Ferry

Here are the two steps to getting to Koh Rong Samloem.

  • First, take an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville.
  • Then take a ferry from the Ochheuteal Pier (Serendipity) in Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem.

There are five ferry services that do the route. It takes 40 minutes to get to the island and costs US$25.

You can arrange with your hotel or hostel beforehand to pick you up on the island when you get off the boat. There are 2 piers, so ask your accommodations which pier you should be dropped off at.

Plane + Ferry

Alternatively, you can fly from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville (40 minutes). Then make your way to Ochheuteal Pier (Serendipity) to take a ferry to Koh Rong Samloem (40 minutes, US$25).

Arrange with your hotel or hostel to pick you up at the ferry in Koh Rong Samloem

crystal clear water and beach lined with bungalows on Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

What to see and do on Koh Rong Samloem

  • Absolutely nothing – grab a good book, a good drink, slather yourself with suntan lotion, and just lie on the beach
  • Diving – there are dive shops on the island
  • Snorkeling – you can rent snorkel gear from hotels and snorkel off the beach or hire a boat to take you to a reef offshore.
  • Kayaking – you can rent kayaks
  • Paddleboarding – you can rent paddleboards

Where to stay on Koh Rong Samloem

Here are some of the main hotels and hostels on the island. I couldn’t find many accommodations listed on the booking sites anymore probably due to COVID shutting them down.

Saracen Beach

This is the main area with lots of accommodations at a variety of price ranges.

Lazy Beach

This is a secluded beach with one resort, Lazy Beach Resort, and a gorgeous beach.

  • Lazy Beach Resort– Basic Bungalows.You can’t book online. Visit their Lazy Beach Resort’s website where they will tell you how to book your accommodations next to a dive shop on Serendipity Beach Road in Sihanoukville. It’s not far from the pier in Sihanoukville.

Sunset Beach

This is another secluded beach

  • Robinson Bungalows (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – They have tents and bungalows for between US$90 and $200.

M’Pai Bay

This is the location of the main village on the island; there are some family-run guesthouses and hostels; it’s got a nice beach as well

  • Easy Tiger Bungalows ((BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – They have basic dorm rooms
  • Sunset Bungalows (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – Basic bungalows in front of a rocky beach US$90 – $200

Itinerary Stop #4: Kampot

  • Cambodia Itinerary 2 Weeks: 11 – 12
  • Cambodia Itinerary 3 Weeks: 16 – 19

After doing pretty much nothing on Koh Rong Samloen, head back to the mainland and then down the coast to Kampot, a former resort destination for the French during colonial times.

Kampot is one of those sleepy provincial riverside cities that are ideal for taking it easy. It has a population of 49,000 people, yet since I didn’t venture much further than the old part of town or my hotel along the river, it felt much smaller.

tourist restaurant boats at riverside in central kampot town

Kampot has an interesting history. For a short time starting in 1841, it was Cambodia’s first international seaport. It attracted Chinese merchants who eventually settled and started businesses. Then the French came and took over much of the land. Trade was transferred to the Saigon Port. To add to the Cambodian’s humiliation, the King put a Vietnamese in charge of the area. Kampot, thus, began its economic decline.

Fed up with how they were being exploited, the people of Kampot insurrected. They took over a French opium warehouse, the post office, and other administrative buildings until the French army came in and put down the insurrection.

Eventually, the area was turned into a resort area, attracting colonialists looking to escape from the heat and humidity of Phnom Penh.

The city does have a few French colonial buildings although when I visited it felt like most were falling down due to neglect. The highlight of the town (it feels like a town and not a city) has a nice river promenade. It also has my favorite round-about in the form of a giant durian.

The highlight of my trip to Kampot was staying at a guesthouse, Les Maguire’s, along the river.  There are many other hotels and guesthouses and even hostels located along the river and its canals/estuaries to choose one.

Getting to Kampot from Koh Rong Samloem

Ferry + Minibus

This is how I got to Kampot. Take the ferry to Sihanoukville, walk to CTT Transports, and take a minibus to Kampot. It should take 2 – 3 hours. It’ll cost around US$8.

Ferry + Train

You can take a train from Sihanoukville, but trains leave at around 7:00 am on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and 16:00 on Sundays. You’ll also have to take a tuk-tuk to the train station from the port. The price is around US$5. The trip takes around 2 hours.

Ferry + Shared or Private Taxi

It’ll cost around US$45 – $60 for a private taxi from Sihanoukville to Kampot and take 1.5 hour, and US$3 – $5 for a shared taxi.

narrow river surrounded by lush vegetation and people in boats in Kampot Cambodia

What to see and do in Kampot and its surroundings

  • Take a boat cruise along the different canals/estuaries
  • Go paddle boarding along the river
  • Go kayaking down the river
  • Visit and take in the views at Bokor Hill Station – the French came here to escape from the heat
  • Take a day trip to Kep to eat pepper crab and visit Rabbit Island
  • Visit a pepper plantation – the area is famous for its pepper
  • Eat some durian – the area is famous for its durian
  • Visit the Phnom Chhnork and/or Phnom Sorsia caves
in the evening colonial buildings on the street of Kampot Old Town. Cambodia

Where to eat in Kampot

Kampot is a city that has attracted an expat community and they’ve opened up lots of restaurants..

  • Rikitikitavi – This is a good restaurant with good food, great views overlooking the river, and a great atmosphere.

Where to stay in Kampot

  • Les Manguiers (http://www.mangokampot.com/)– French-owned Les Maguires was one of my favorite places to stay. It had such a friendly and fun atmosphere. There is a social space for people to hang out and there are lots of places to sit near the river and just relax. The rooms were quite rundown. (US$14 – $100)
  • Sabay Beach (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – This small nine-room resort located 20 minutes away from Kampot is an ideal place to stay. It’s got mid-range and budget rooms. (US$29 – $49)
  • Rikitikitavi (BOOKING.COM | AGODA) – US$65 – Great location on the river but in the old part of town.

Itinerary Stop #6: Phnom Penh

  • Cambodia Itinerary 2 Weeks: Days 13 – 14
  • Cambodia itinerary 3 Weeks: Days 20 – 21

The final stop on this Cambodia Itinerary is a return to Phnom Penh. Make sure you are not traveling back to Phnom Penh on the day your flight leaves.

For the 2-week itinerary, Day 13 is spent traveling back to Phnom Penh and for the 3-week itinerary, day 20 is going back to the capital.

Spend the final day doing some souvenir shopping at the Central or Russian Markets and visiting any of the sights that you missed when you first arrived.

Other Places to Visit in Cambodia

Battambang – A midrange city in the northwest part of Cambodia. You’ll find lots of nicely-preserved French colonial buildings, café, and art galleries.

Mondulkiri – Located in the eastern part of the country next to Vietnam, this mountainous region is home to lots of wildlife and nature. You’ll get an opportunity to get up close with elephants in the jungle including feeding and washing them. Lots of opportunities for trekking  and spotting waterfalls.

an elephant

Visas for Cambodia

Visit the Cambodian government’s website for the most up-to-date information on visas.

Before COVID, you could get an evisa within 3 business days. Once your visa is approved, print out your visa confirmation form and bring it with you to Cambodia. The price is US$36 for one month.

People from other Southeast Asian countries do not need to get a visa ahead of time.

When to Visit Cambodia

End of November to March – This is the best time to go as this is the driest time of the year; temperatures are hot of course, but not as unbearable as the rest of the year.

April to Beginning of November – This is the low season as it’s hotter and rainier. April is the hottest. September and October are the wettest.

Average Budget for Cambodia

Here is an average daily budget based on 2020 prices. These averages are conservative estimates.

a chart of daily budget for a trip to Cambodia

Here’s a conservative estimate of how much you might spend for the total 2 or 3 weeks:

Budget:

  • 2 weeks: $600 – $700
  • 3 weeks: $750 – $1050

Midrange:

  • 2 weeks – $1400
  • 3 weeks – $2100

Upper range:

  • 2 weeks – $2100-$2800
  • 3 weeks – $3150-$4200

Cambodia for Solo Travelers

I felt safe as a female solo traveler in Cambodia. I never experienced any harassment.

Cambodia attracts a lot of solo travelers, so I found it pretty easy to meet people.

Theft is a problem, especially bag snatchers, so always hold onto your bag. This is especially true when riding on a tuk-tuk.

Currency and ATM

Cambodia uses two currencies: the riel and the U.S. dollar. I only used U.S. dollars while in Cambodia.

You can find ATMs at almost every stop on this itinerary except for Koh Rong Samloem.

WiFi in Cambodia

I always buy a local SIM card at the airport when I arrive in a country. Make sure that before leaving your home country that you’re phone is unlocked.

Two popular SIM card companies are Smart and Cellcard.

Most hotels have free WiFi. However, WiFi on Koh Rong Samloem can be pretty bad.

Conclusion

If you have any questions about this itinerary, I’d love to hear from you. Leave your question in the comment section below. Or if you’ve been to Cambodia and have any suggestions, leave a comment below as well.

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the side view of face sculpture from Bayon temple in Cambodia
Angkor Wat on top photo and boats on Tonle Sap Lake in bottom photo

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history and culture. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make more informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand a place more deeply.

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