Cambodia Or Malaysia? Which Southeast Asia Destination?

Cambodian lady in traditional clothing welcoming
Photo by Rawpixel from Envato Elements
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It’s no secret as to why both Malaysia and Cambodia are two of the most visited countries in Southeast Asia. Millions of tourists and backpackers travel to each of these destinations each year, some even combining the two for one epic tour across Asia. Both have stunning sites, rich cultures, and jaw-dropping landscapes. From turquoise waters on golden sands to mysterious jungles, how do you possibly choose between Cambodia or Malaysia?

Malaysia has it all. From bustling cities to deep and mysterious jungles filled with Malayasian animals, you can find a whole range of landscapes across the country. The people are friendly and the low costs are inviting. You can explore world-class landmarks or take to the waters for a more relaxed vibe.

But equally, Cambodia also has plenty of reasons to visit! The tourist scene is slightly more established with the country being firmly on the hippy trail tour route for decades. Cambodian locals are warm and inviting, many are dependent on tourism for income.

Determining which South East Asian country to visit can be a challenge. We’ve done the research and put these two incredible destinations up against each other. From the ease of getting there to activities and things to do, you’ll be able to compare the two and make an informed decision! So, Cambodia or Malaysia? Let’s go!

Table of Contents

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Cambodia or Malaysia: Getting there

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia park and skyline at dusk.
Photo by SeanPavone from Envato Elements

Accessibility means everything when looking at your next vacation destination. Both Cambodia and Malaysia have excellent international airport access, making them popular places for backpackers and holidaymakers alike. Cambodia’s national airline, Angkor Air, operates regular flights from Thailand and China. There are several international long-haul airlines that fly to Cambodia as well, most stopping for a layover in Bangkok, Hong Kong, or Singapore first.

Siem Reap International Airport is in the north of the country, while Phnom Penh International Airport is located in the south. A flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh takes about 1 hour. Getting around Cambodia is just like any Southeast Asia country: the buses are unreliable so taxis and private drivers are a preferred choice for many. Within cities, you can get by using tuk-tuks or even Grab taxis. Always make sure you always negotiate a price before any journey.

On the other side, we have Malaysia’s main airport, Kuala Lumpur. This is a common stopover for long-haul flights between Australasia and Europe. Yet there are more airports in this Asian country: Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, and Penang are regional airports that also connect to other Asian countries.

Getting around Malaysia is super easy. Public transport is reliable and inexpensive, much better than Cambodia. You can take budget flights within the country to reduce travel time, or take the scenic routes by road to soak up more of the country.

Winner: Malaysia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Price

Local Cambodian seller in floating market.
Photo by Rawpixel from Envato Elements

Southeast Asia is known for its cheap prices – the dollar goes a long way in both Cambodia and Malaysia. However, there is a notable difference between the two. On average, a week in Malaysia will cost around $500 per person, whereas Cambodia is significantly cheaper with the average cost of a week under $350 per person. This difference is down to the fact that Cambodia is more rural than Malaysia.

Hotel/hostel (per night for 1 person)$40$18
Food (per day)$15$12
Local transport (per day)$11$6
Entertainment (per day)$19$12
Alcohol (per day)$10$5
Water (per day)$0.86$1.15

Of course, prices can fluctuate. Some travelers enjoy the challenge of traveling through Asia on a shoestring budget, while others take it as an opportunity to live like royalty for a week. These two styles of vacation are available and accessible in both Cambodia and Malaysia. However, overall Cambodia comes out on top for low prices, suiting those on a smaller budget better.

Winner: Cambodia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Things to do

Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Photo by imagexphoto from Envato Elements

Southeast Asia is always full of surprises, and both Cambodia and Malaysia deliver on this! In fact, it’s a tough call to say which has the better attractions for tourists as both countries are iconic and fabulous in their own right.

Cambodia’s iconic Angkor Wat is a real crowd pleaser and a must-see for anyone visiting the country. This magical temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site guaranteed to cast you under a spell. There are many more Buddhist temples across the country open for visitors and displaying the rich culture of Cambodia. Other popular things to do in Cambodia include:

  • Sampling street food in Siem Reap
  • Visiting the Battambang Bat Caves
  • Riding the bamboo train (outskirts of Battambang City)
  • Relaxing on Koh Rong Island beaches (– great for snorkeling!)

Make sure you get to explore the temples, the history, and the wilderness of Cambodia. Chances are when you arrive at your hotel or hostel, you will meet up with other tourists who will be happy to shares tours, cars, and travel plans.

So what about Malaysia? Even though Malaysia is quieter (tourist-wise) than Cambodia, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of things to do here. Without a doubt, the most iconic and visited site is in Kuala Lumpur. The Petronas Towers are 88-floors high set on a sprawling 50-acre green park space. Along with historical market streets and beautiful temples and mosques, KL city is fantastic to explore for a day or two.

Get further afield into the depths of Malaysia to experience some of the following:

  • Redang Island, great for diving and beach lovers
  • Sky Bridge near Pantai Kok, walk through the heights of Mount Mat Cincang
  • Penang Hill in Georgetown, epic views across a colonial historical town
  • Sunway Lagoon Theme Park, one of the largest attractions in the region

Trail hiking and exploring the deep rainforests is also a fantastic Malaysian experience. Again, similar to Cambodia, you’ll be able to meet up with like-minded people to share travel costs and get extra inspiration.

Winner: Cambodia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Beaches

Travel and vacations concept - exotic paradise. Long jetty at Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.
Photo by Chalabala from Envato Elements

Sure, these destinations aren’t up with the likes of Bali or Thailand, but both Cambodia and Malaysia have stunning beaches that are generally quiet and untouched!

Cambodia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world along the waters of the Gulf of Thailand. There are 300 miles of coastline and 60 offshore islands – in fact, Cambodia’s best resorts can be found on these islands! Beaches can be found across these regions: Sihanoukville, Kampot, Koh Kong, and Kep. They range from remote and wild to beachfront resort destinations.

So if you’re after a tropical beach fix, don’t rule out Cambodia! You’ll find white sands and palm tree-fringed beaches with aquamarine waters gently lapping at the shores. Cambodia’s best beaches include:

  • Saracen Bay, Koh Rong Samloem
  • M’Pai Bai, Koh Rong Samloem
  • Otres Beach
  • Ream Beach
  • Sner Beach

But don’t go forgetting about Malaysia! There’s more to Malaysia than orangutans and jungles, the beaches are quite something as well. Whether you want a quiet escape or a more lively sandy spot, you’ll be able to find it in Malaysia. Unlike the more commercialized neighboring Thailand, Malaysia’s beaches are raw and untouched.

Daydreaming about soft golden sands and turquoise waters? Then check out these beautiful beaches in Malaysia:

  • Perhentian Islands
  • Kota Kinabalu
  • Batu Ferringhi
  • Mersing
  • Langkawi

Winner: Cambodia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Nature

Two gibbons on a tree in the Malaysian jungle.
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Ok sure, beaches are great, but let’s take a step into the wild side of Cambodia and Malaysia. The rainforests in both countries are next level.

Cambodia has hidden waterfalls in the Phnom Kulen National Park and Kirirom National Park. If you want a truly off-the-grid adventure, then this is definitely something you should check out. Just be cautious that these National Parks are not particularly well maintained, like the majority of Cambodia! Part of this country’s charm is the rustic vibe. When hiking these trails, just be aware of dangerous snakes and other animals in the jungle. You definitely don’t want to visit the local hospitals!

In Malaysia, you’ll find Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak (4,095m above sea level) in the Borneo Crocker Range. This is an epic hiking challenge and will reward you with breathtaking views from above the clouds. Again, Malaysia’s mysterious rainforests are also filled with endemic Malaysian animals, including the incredible orangutans and bat caves.

There are a lot of similarities between these two countries and the landscapes. Think green, wild, and exotic, and you’ll be halfway there.

Winner: Malaysia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Nightlife

Group of friends saying cheers at a beach bar
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

It’s no secret that Southeast Asia is loose when it comes to nightlife. Alcohol is generally cheap and the good times roll across the region, especially in Cambodia. Be sure to head over to Pub Street in Siem Reap or the Riverside area of Phnom Penh. Here you’ll find plenty of lively bars and clubs serving cheap drinks and playing party tunes so you can dance the night away.

Cambodia really comes alive after dark. Be sure to visit the new upmarket Jet Container Night Market in Phnom Penh. This is classic trendy Southeast Asia with quirky pop-up restaurants, bars, and stores.

Malaysia is slightly more low-key due to it being a predominantly Muslim country. Sure, you’ll be able to find a bar or club in the main cities. Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi Island, and Penang are the best place to enjoy Malaysian nightlife, however, be prepared for more expensive bills.

Winner: Cambodia

Cambodia or Malaysia: Food

Traditonal Malaysia Asian food Nasi Lemak on a banana leaf in a wooden bamboo plate. Top view.
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Food, glorious food – cuisine can make or break a destination for most people. Both Malaysia and Cambodia use rice as a foundation and build the dishes from there.

Cambodian cuisine isn’t as well known as some of the other Southeast Asia cuisines, like Thai or Vietnamese. However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less! Get prepared to have your tastebuds rocked in Cambodia. Some of the most popular dishes include:

  • Fish amok – creamy fish curry filled with turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and shallots
  • Kuy teav – noodle soup with pork or fish balls
  • Beef loc lac – stir-fried beef on a fresh salad
  • Nom banh chok – popular street food, green fish curry with rice noodles

Traditional Cambodian dishes are full of fresh and fragrant flavor, typical of Asian food. Make sure you try some of the street food or night markets for an authentic taste of this beautiful nation.

But now is the time for Malaysia to truly shine. Malaysians are passionate about food. The cuisine is a fusion of many influences, bringing flavors and ingredients together from all around the world. There are a lot of crossovers with neighboring Indonesia, as well as China and Vietnam.

Similar to New York, some of the dishes found in Malaysia may not have originally come from here, however, they are a firm favorite and are here to stay. Make sure you try some of the following meals while you’re in Malaysia:

  • Nasi Lemak – coconut steamed rice served with chicken rendang, peanuts, and anchovies
  • Nasi kerabu – blue rice with fried chicken and egg
  • Beef rendang – slow-cooked curry, fragrant and full of flavor
  • Assam laksa – rice noodles in a tamarind broth
  • Bak kut teh – pork rib stew

Winner: Malaysia

Which Is Best, Cambodia or Malaysia?

Cambodia Old City Angkor Wat, Buddhist temple statue
Photo by twenty20photos from Envato Elements

Choosing between Cambodia and Malaysia is hard. Both are incredible and fascinating countries, representing the true exotic spirit of Southeast Asia. The nature and landscapes are insane, and the culture and people are warm and welcoming. Neither one of these destinations will disappoint.

Overall, we have to say Cambodia is the winner in our eyes. It was a close call, however, Cambodia just has more to offer. You’ll be able to fill a week’s vacation with interesting places to visit and things to experience, only to want to stay longer to keep on exploring. The low prices and easy-going vibe make this country truly a wonder to travel.

Malaysia is special in its own way. Kuala Lumpur is a popular place to pass through. So why not extend your stay for the weekend, enjoy some of the best food in the world, and tick off some iconic site-seeing while you’re there.

One thing is for sure, whichever place you choose, you will fall in love with Southeast Asia and want to come back for more.

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Hi! I'm Abigail, a surfer, traveller, and nature lover. I'm from the UK but have been able to call Bali home for several years. I've backpacked across Australia on a shoestring budget, explored European coastlines, and taken in the sights across the pond and down into South America. My travel wishlist keeps growing the more I explore our perfect planet!