If time is limited you are best off doing fewer things well than tearing around Cambodia doing everything badly. On a first visit, Cambodia can be a bit overwhelming, so the best way to ease into it is to fly to Siem Reap and start your trip with the Angkor Wat complex. Angkor is an overwhelmingly spectacular experience, but Siem Reap is a small town with good facilities where most things are walkable. Once you have arrived and checked into your hotel, head over to the Psar Chas area. Here you have the market, the antiques shops, souvenir stalls, and restaurants and cafes of every type. It's a very compact area and a wander, a meal, and maybe a glass of wine or a cup of coffee is a gentle way to kick off your explorations.
Day 1: Angkor Wat
Get up before dawn and see the sun rise over Angkor Wat itself. As the sky glows red, this spectacular structure will reveal itself first in silhouette and then in all its immense glory. As the first major site you see in Cambodia, you're off to a pretty good start. After this curtain opener, a close-up tour of the temple itself is best undertaken in the afternoon, when its facade is no longer backlit and the afternoon sun begins to wash the carvings, towers, and reliefs in a softer direct light. After your bleary-eyed but dramatic sunrise experience it is time for you to charge over to one of the world's most enigmatic structures while the light is still soft: the Bayon. Clambering over this astonishing structure will continue the high-impact start to your journey. There are four gates to Angkor Thom where the Bayon is situated, but the south gate is most impressive. Some 200m (656 ft.) to the northwest of the Bayon is the Baphuon, the central structure of Angkor before the rest of Angkor Thom was built. Afterward, take in the Terrace of the Leper King.
By now you will be very tired, very hot, and in need of something cold and refreshing with lunch. Get your driver to take you the short distance back to town to recharge your batteries.
Early afternoon is a good time to see Ta Phrom. This temple, wonderfully overgrown by roots, is a favorite for most visitors. By now it should be about 2pm and the perfect time to head back to Angkor Wat itself and see the spectacular bas-reliefs and the soaring towers, and to test just how practical your shoes are when negotiating the steep and uneven steps.
In the evening you could take in some classical dancing or simply enjoy the lively restaurants, cafes, and nightlife of Siem Reap.
Day 2: Temple Hopping
In the morning, take in some more temples. Preah Khan is a large and important complex full of intriguing passages lined with carvings. The temple mountain of Pre Rup rises out of the flatlands, and if you climb it you not only get to see detailed and richly preserved carvings, you also get good views of the surrounding countryside. After that, you have the option of returning to the temple you liked most for further exploration, whether that's Angkor Wat itself, the Bayon, or Ta Phrom.
The markets and boutiques of Siem Reap are stuffed with all kinds of goodies, so now's a good time to head back for some shopping. Hand-woven Cambodian silks, stone carvings (including replicas of those mesmerizing Bayon heads and the shapely serene apsaras that you have just spent so many hours viewing), woodcarvings, contemporary Cambodian art, handicrafts and traditional musical instruments, temple rubbings, silver betel containers, colored gems, and wickerwork -- you will find all these around town.
Day 3: Phnom Penh
In the morning, fly to Phnom Penh. If you arrive in time for lunch, head to the riverfront around Sisowath Quay where you can eat while adjusting to the frantic bustle of the city.
After you have finished your food wander the few yards to Street 178, have a peek at the art galleries and boutiques, and take a look around the stunning collection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian sculpture in the National Museum. The Royal Palace just next door is your next port of call. Then take a moto up to Wat Phnom, the namesake heart of Phnom Penh. Since you are already near the river, head back to Sisowath Quay for some well-deserved refreshment. Look out for Phnom Penh's only elephant, the much-loved and delightful Sambo.
Phnom Penh is replete with restaurants, bars, and nightlife of all sorts. Plan your evening according to your tastes.
Day 4: History & a Mekong Cruise
Cambodia is a country of incredible history, but some of it is simply horrific. If you are to have any understanding of this place, you will need to visit Tuol Sleng or S21. You may leave the building weeping at the thought of the fate of all those faces staring out of the fading black-and-white photographs, but you will come away with a greater understanding of Cambodia. Equally you can follow that with a trip to Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields where the terrified victims of S21 met an undeserved oblivion. If you are with younger children, then of course these places should be skipped. With older children, it's a tough call and should be handled carefully, because it is all very real.
After lunch, take a cruise down the Mekong. You can find boats near the Royal Palace. You can see how different the city looks from the water and you will also pass traditional fishing villages.
In the evening, cross the Japanese Bridge to Prek Leap and have dinner at one of the popular traditional Khmer restaurants. Some of these have music and even stand-up comedy, which is slapstick enough that you will probably laugh, even if you don't understand a word.
Day 5: Haggling at the Market
If you aren't all shopped out from Siem Reap, take a swing around Psar Toul Tom Poung, often referred to as the Russian Market. You will be amazed at what you find. Bargaining here is a tough and time-consuming game. If you want a reasonable price it is necessary, but do it with a joke and a smile.
After lunch take the bus to Sihanoukville, arriving in the late afternoon in time for an aperitif while watching the sun sink over the Gulf of Thailand.
Day 6: Sihanoukville
Today your only goal is to relax on the beach. You can eat crab or lobster cooked right in front of you by passing vendors.
Day 7: More Relaxing or Optional Kampot
Either continue to relax on the beaches of Sihanoukville, or head the short distance over to Kampot to enjoy the languid atmosphere of this small riverside town before taking the bus back to Phnom Penh for your flight out.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.