So, I had started my Southeast Asia trip in Myanmar followed by Laos. Now, I was ready for the next leg of the adventure, Cambodia. This is the ‘big one’ for many backpackers, myself included. Here is how I planned my trip and all my Cambodia travel advice:
My Itinerary: I spent just under two weeks in Cambodia, including travel days. I flew into Phnom Penh and left the same city by bus for Vietnam. I zig-zagged around from Phnom Penh, visiting Siem Reap, Kampot and Sihanoukville. However, if you have more time, then there is definitely plenty to see and do. (See ‘Things I May Have Missed’)
Disclaimers: I have quoted prices in US dollars because locals use this currency more commonly than Cambodian riel. When I visited in November 2016, the exchange rate was 4,000r to US$1 and prices can often be bartered and haggled.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Before you go
Visa: Most passport holders need a visa to enter Cambodia and you can get it on arrival at the airport. If you’re coming over land, then check first with the bus company if you need to prepare anything. You should have a couple of passport-sized photos with you and you will pay in US dollars. For my UK Passport, I paid US$35.
Vaccinations: I was vaccinated against diphtheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A and typhoid, all of which were recommended for Cambodia as well as other places in Southeast Asia. Check the NHS recommendations website for their Cambodia travel advice and more details.
There are some high-risk malarial zones in the north of Cambodia, but don’t bother with malaria tablets unless you are spending time in these places.
Insurance: I had the Explorer plan (worldwide) with World Nomads because they are the only insurers I know that will cover me if I’m already overseas. This plan cost £176.23 (US$215) for two months. There is also a cheaper basic version, but obviously it doesn’t cover as much.
Money: As stated above, US dollars are used more commonly than riel, especially for tourists and are preferred by locals. However, if you pay in US dollars then change will usually be given in riel. A good bit of Cambodia travel advice is to have smaller notes handy.
I budgeted for around US$10-15 per day, not including hostels, but it was tight. Cambodia is more commercialised than I realised. I guess it’s changed since a few years ago when my family and friends of mine visited. Also, Angkor tickets are expensive (from US$37 for one day), so you will need to have some money set aside for that.
Awareness and Safety: I felt very safe on the streets of Cambodia, even at night, but as a lone female traveler I am always careful. I make sure to hold my bag close and I use a backpack with a lock. Bag-snatching and pick-pocketing is known to happen, so be careful of your belongings.
The only time I felt unsafe was when I was walking or cycling along the roads, especially in the busy cities. Not many streets have pavements, plus scooters weave in and out of the traffic very close to cyclists and pedestrians.
Long Bus Journeys: Giant Ibis are an absolute godsend! I booked all my buses in advance with them and their website is super-easy to use.
The buses are comfortable, have free WIFI (though it doesn’t really work if there are more than five passengers) as well as snacks and bottled water. The price also includes pick up from your hostel to the Giant Ibis bus stations, though not hostel drop offs at your destination.
- Phnom Penh – Siem Reap (US$16) with Giant Ibis.
- Siem Reap – Phnom Penh (US$16) with Giant Ibis.
- Phnom Penh – Kampot (US$10) with Giant Ibis.
- Kampot – Sihanoukville (US$5) booked from my hostel.
- Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh (US$12) with Giant Ibis.
- Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh City (US$19) with Giant Ibis.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Phnom Penh
Accommodation: US$7 per night at Billabong Hotel & Hostel. This is honestly the best hostel I have ever stayed in and they have non-dorm-room hotel facilities too. Their WIFI is amazing, their facilities are amazing and their pool is amazing! Plus, they were really friendly and helpful. A transfer booked through them from Phnom Penh airport costs US$15.
Cheap eats: I had a tasty fish amok at Mama Restaurant for US$3; it looks like a hole in the wall, but it’s good food and a nice family-run place. There’re plenty of cheap grub at the Night Market. I feasted on US$1 noodles and US$1.5 spring rolls, plus the atmosphere is really cool. The Central Market also has cheap options and I had some tasty noodles for a couple of dollars there too.
Transport: I walked most places in Phnom Penh, but wouldn’t really recommend it. The pavement is dodgy at best and traffic can be hectic. I loved cycling, but never felt quite safe.
The sights: The markets, mentioned above, are great for souvenir shopping, haggling and soaking up the city’s hectic atmosphere. The National Museum (US$5) and the Royal Palace (US$5) are must-sees. The buildings themselves are absolutely stunning and the exhibitions inside are really interesting.
Wat Prohm temple is nice enough, but may be a bit underwhelming and repetitive if you’ve seen a lot of Buddhist temples on your Southeast Asian trip.
Best snack: Sugar cane juice, churned fresh from the machine in front of you. You can grab a glass for 2,500riel at the Night Market.
An education in history: Even though they are tough to visit, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields are also significant and moving. You’ll be lucky to make it through the day without shedding a few tears, but a visit is a testament to those who lost their lives to the Khmer Rouge regime.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Siem Reap
Accommodation: US$6.30 per night at Oasis Capsules. It was literally a stone’s throw from Pub Street and the staff were really helpful and friendly. However, I think I should have parted with an extra few bucks for a slightly nicer room at a nicer place. The dorm rooms were cramped and dingy without natural light and you couldn’t stay there during the day.
Meals: You are definitely not stuck for choice when it comes to food in Siem Reap, though meals start around US$6. Pub Street is lined with loads of amazing restaurants, serving everything from Western to traditional Cambodian food. I had a hearty Khmer curry at Khmer Kitchen around the Pub Street area on my first night that was delicious.
For coffee, brunch and a place to relax, I loved the Blue Pumpkin Café and The Hive Café. Both were great places away from the mayhem of Siem Reap. However, my favourite meal was a thali at Curry Walla (US$7), which was exactly what I needed after cycling around Angkor all day.
Transport: If you’re staying around the Pub Street/downtown area then everything is walkable other than Angkor. Tuk-tuks are a-plenty and can be hired for tours of Angkor. Tuk-tuk drivers are eager to be booked in advance for the following day for a full-day tour.
Angkor: Of course, the main draw of Siem Reap is the ancient city of Angkor, home to the iconic Angkor Wat. Tickets for Angkor must be bought in advance, though the ticket offices are open from around 5am to 5pm. The ticket office is somewhat on the way to Angkor from town, but it’s a bit of a detour.
You can buy a ticket for one day (US$37), three days (US$62) or seven days (US$72), depending on your schedule. More information can be found on the Tourism Cambodia website, but it’s always a good idea to talk to hostel staff on arrival in case anything has changed (like a hike in prices).
I bought a one day ticket and squeezed all my Angkor sightseeing into twelve hours. My trusty Lonely Planet recommended visits to three of the temples in one day, but I managed to thoroughly explore ten.
I also opted to cycle rather than take a tuk-tuk and hired a bike from my hostel for US$3. This was both a brilliant but insane decision. I had to cycle to, from and around Angkor, leaving at 4am to get my ticket when the office opened. I estimated that I cycled in excess of 50 kilometres that day.
Angkor sunrise: Yes, a sunrise at Angkor Wat may be on your bucket list, but be warned that you will be sharing the moment with literally thousands of other people. If you prefer your dawns less crowded, then walk around Wat to find your own serene sunrise spot or pick another temple entirely.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Kampot
Accommodation: Around US$6 per night at The Magic Sponge. Older British expats with tattoos who have somehow retained their thick regional accents run this place and add to its character! The owners were lovely and the ‘penthouse’ room with its mosquito nets and ceiling fans was really nice and perfectly fine without air con.
Meals: The restaurants along the river have very reasonably priced food and there are lots of Western as well as Asian options. I spent about US$5 on meals, though I was also relaxing and having a few drinks with them as well. Don’t forget to try some Kampot pepper!
Transport: I walked everywhere in town, though it was very dark and creepy at night walking alone down unlit streets. Then again, tuk-tuks are everywhere if you’d rather pay a few bucks for a ride.
Things to see and do: Nothing. Kampot is a place where you come to just be. Relax by the river. Read a book. Catch up with your rest time and have a beer.
Best cafe: The Eco-café is really cool. It’s a nice place to sit and read (or write!) and the staff are friendly too. I had brunch there twice for around US$5.
Don’t miss: a sunset river cruise! The weather was stormy while I was in Kampot, so I nearly bypassed this altogether. I’m really glad that I didn’t. The US$5 sunset cruise was incredible and the price even includes a beer!
The colours and the landscape are stunning, and after dark the driver turned off the lights so that we could watch the fireflies in the riverbanks. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Sihanoukville
Accommodation: Around US$8 per night at One Stop Hostel. This was a really organised hostel that catered well to the backpacking crowd. The rooms are nice, the showers are great, there are nice common areas to hang out in, plus there’s a pool.
Meals: Food options in Sihanoukville were underwhelming to say the least. Most restaurants seemed to be catering to a party-tourist crowd, so good, cheap food was hard to come by. However, I was only in Sihanoukville for a few days, so perhaps if I’d had more of a chance to explore I would have found something better.
Transport: Again, I walked everywhere, including down and along the beach. But, if you want to swim and visit a much nicer (cleaner) beach, then a tuk-tuk will know where to take you.
Things to see and do: Kampot is where people come to relax by the river, but Sihanoukville is where people come to relax by the sea. To be honest, Sihanoukville did not impress me; it was dirty and there wasn’t much to do there. It’s mostly just a gateway to other places.
Go instead to: Kep. Friends advised that I should go on to Kep from Sihanoukville, which is a peaceful town with beautiful beaches.
Cambodia Travel Advice: Things I might have missed
Of course, I couldn’t fit the whole of Cambodia into my two weeks. If I could have, I would have also visited the following places, plus a few others.
Tonle Sap: The Great Lake. A beautiful place where you can also see floating villages.
Cardomom Mountains: Mountains, rainforest, waterfalls.
Battambang: lots to see and do, with a relaxed riverside setting.
Two weeks were barely enough to get to know Cambodia, especially with so much bus travel in the mix! If you have more time to play with, there is so much more on offer. I plan to return (perhaps when I have a little more time and money!) to see all the things I missed the first time around.
Hostels and food are so cheap that it’s possible to see Cambodia even on the strictest of budgets, but be sure to factor in entry to sights such as Angkor Wat, the museums, and the Killing Fields.
For something a little more ‘Off the Beaten Track’, Can Travel Will Travel has been living in Cambodia and has some amazing posts about Kulen Mountain, the riverside towns of Kampong Cham and Kratie, as well as Mondulkiri and Sen Monorom, known for Asian elephants.
Really, the best Cambodia travel advice I can give is to just enjoy it and make the most of your time in the country. For more info on my trip and personal stories, read Two Weeks in Cambodia Travel Diary, Two Months in Southeast Asia and the Tough History of Phnom Penh and Cambodia.
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