Cambodia Travel Guide
Travelling through Cambodia has been a thought provoking and emotional trip for us. With such an incredibly fascinating history it was amazing to walk through some of the places where these historic events happened. We have really enjoyed our travels through Cambodia, and have put together a ‘Cambodia Travel Guide’ detailing what worked for us. Our corresponding blog links have a more emotional tale of our journey and more specific details on what we did, where we ate and what we thought of it.
Straying from our initial plan, we opted to fly into Siem Reap to enjoy the Christmas festivities. This meant skipping four thousand islands in Laos and a lengthy bus we would have caught to Siem Reap, instead allowing a strong start in Siem Reap. Consequently we travelled the following route:
- Siem Reap to Battambang,
- Battambang to Phnom Penh,
- Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville,
- Sihanoukville to Koh Rong,
- Koh Rong to Koh Rong Sanloem for a day before returning to Sihanoukville,
- Sihanoukville to Ha Tien, Vietnam.
ENTERING THE COUNTRY
This was quite simple and easy. We landed in the tiny, brand new International Airport at Siem Reap and applied for a visa on arrival ($30 USD each for 30 days). It took less than five minutes to process and we passed through customs without concern. Interestingly, they took a full set of my fingerprints. I had been carefully observing the people before me, all of whom passed through without giving their fingerprints. I’m unsure what prompted this, however, I travelled through the country without any problems and have since left Cambodia and entered Vietnam without concern.
There seems to be a trend of blowing the budget as we travel through Southeast Asia, and Cambodia has been no exception. I initially outlined the following budget:
- $20 USD for food,
- $20 USD for activities,
- $10 USD for accommodation,
- $5 USD for transport.
We struggled mostly with the accommodation, we rarely found somewhere to stay for less than $20 USD per night. Quite a few places were quick to give a discount, but it was dependant on how I engaged those in charge. While I don’t feel comfortable openly bargaining for a room, when I mentioned our budget was $20 USD and we would keep looking, most places were quick to drop their price to $20 USD. With some restraint, we managed ok with the other aspects of the budget. Most importantly, US dollars is the primary currency used here, with Cambodian Riel given as change instead of coins. I had calculated our budget when the AUD was stronger against the USD, which automatically made our travel through Cambodia more expensive than I had initially anticipated.
We largely stayed in guesthouses or budget hotels that allowed us a private bathroom. The main thing for us was the location. The benefits of a convenient location outweigh saving a few dollars in my opinion. We stayed at the following places; mainly in private rooms with a bathroom unless stated otherwise:
- Siem Reap: We stayed at Downtown Siem Reap ($20 USD per night), a great social atmosphere and located close to central Siem Reap. The pool is a definite bonus. The downside was the lingering mouldy smell in the room and the tab system they run.
- Battambang: We stayed at Battambang My Homestay ($16 USD per night, includes breakfast), a nice place but well out of town and unsafe to walk back at night. We also found the owner a bit overbearing.
- Phnom Penh: We stayed in Aura Thematic Hostel ($15 USD per night in a double dorm) and Hometown Hotel ($20 USD per night). Both were in a great location. I would recommend staying somewhere around street 172, it is easy to get around central Phnom Penh from here and a good place to travel to the various sights around the city.
- Sihanoukville: Here it is important to choose if you want the party atmosphere in Sihanoukville or if you prefer a quieter, more relaxing atmosphere that you’ll find at Otres. Prices sit at around $15-20 USD for a private room. Check out the Sihanoukville blog (link) for a bit more information about our accommodation choices.
- Koh Rong: As with Sihanoukville, this is definitely a party island. You can stay in quieter guesthouses but they will be a bit more expensive. We stayed at Island Boys ($17 USD per night, shared bathroom, includes 4 free drinks at the bar) for a sleepless night before moving to Green Ocean Guesthouse ($20 USD per night), which was slightly better. Koh Rong Sanloem may be a better option for a quiet stay, we only spent a day here but from what I have heard there are good budget accommodation options at M’Pai bay.
Patience is vital when travelling through Cambodia. Buses often run late and stop frequently to pick up people in the more rural parts of the country. Most interesting was our boat ride from Siem Reap to Battambang, it is well worth reading the Battambang blog if you are considering this trip, especially if it is the dry season, which is when we embarked on our epic journey. While I wouldn’t travel by boat again, it was well worth the experience.
- Siem Reap to Battambang by boat, $25 USD each (a bus was 3hours and $10 USD from memory), it took 14 hours from pick up at our hostel until we arrived in Battambang.
- Battambang to Phnom Penh by bus, $6 USD each. The bus was an hour late leaving and the trip took nearly 7hours. We stopped for lunch along the way.
- Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by bus, $7 USD each (this bus had WiFi). The trip was just under 5 hours. We stopped for a snack not far from Sihanoukville. Some bus companies offer a free shuttle from the Sihanoukville bus station to a second station in town. The second station is walking distance (about 1km) from the main beach and tourist area in Sihanoukville.
- Tuk tuk from Sihanoukville to Otres 1 $2.50 USD. This dropped us at the southern end of the beach, closest to Sihanoukville. It took a fair amount of bartering to get it for this price, we walked away from several tuk tuk drivers before we found one willing to take us for what we considered a reasonable price.
- Ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong, $18 USD each for a return ticket, including transfer to the ferry terminal. You can buy tickets for $15 from the office in town. The $18 USD included the transfer from Otres to the Sihanoukville wharf.
- Ferry from Koh Rong to Koh Rong Sanloem, $5 USD each as we opted to travel to the main beach part where the resorts are. The ferry to M’Pai bay is free from Koh Rong.
- Bus from Sihanoukville to Ha Tien, $12 USD each.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
Majority of the activities we did in Cambodia were history related. Some of these tours were extremely emotional and difficult to complete. I would recommend reading a bit of information about the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum (either the Phnom Penh or Cambodia History blogs will give you some insight) before you visiting these places in particular. Atrocious things happened at both these places, some background knowledge helps prepare you for what you will see and hear during the audio tours. We enjoyed the following activities and attractions:
- A 3-day Angkor Pass $40 USD each. We organised a large tuk tuk tour (8hours) through our hostel for $21 USD. We went with a friend, which cut the cost to $7 USD each. In hindsight, we could have organised one for a better cost with a driver from the street.
- Tuk Tuk to Banteay Srei and Beng Mealea $30 USD. Again, this was split between three of us and it was a lot of driving and well worth $30 USD. We were able to use our Angkor pass for Banteay Srei but entry to Beng Mealea was an additional $5 USD each.
- Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus in Battambang, $14 USD each. This was incredible, I love the circus and really enjoyed the show.
- We organised a $15 USD tuk tuk to take us to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields ($6 USD each including audio tour) and Tuol Sleng Museum ($6 USD each including audio tour).
- Entry to the Royal Palace $6.50 USD each.
- Entry to the National Museum $5 USD each.
Arriving in Cambodia, I was slightly disappointed to find the Khmer food was very similar to the Thai and Lao food. In saying that, we both found the food to be extremely enjoyable, especially the Khmer Amok. The other signature Khmer dish seemed to be a Lok Lak beef, which is thinly sliced beef steak with a gravy-like sauce, a fried egg and steamed rice. It wasn’t quite for me but was still enjoyable.
I was also fascinated by the number of restaurants offering western meals. In other parts of Southeast Asia it was difficult to find anything remotely western, in Cambodia we found it difficult to find authentic Khmer food. This may have been because we were on a well-travelled tourist route, but it was still surprising. The cost of western meals were also often the same or less than the local cuisine too (on average $2-5 USD for a main meal).
What is quite addictive (and extremely enjoyable) is the Khmer coffee. The chocolaty undertones are beautiful and we grew very fond of the flavour. One thing to be wary of; if you drink milk in your coffee they will serve sweet milk unless you specifically ask for fresh milk.
OTHER IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS
There are a few things to be wary of as you travel through Cambodia. These are largely the various things you may encounter on the street, including:
- Scams: One that is quite prevalent at the moment is young children approaching tourists asking for milk powder and pointing to their mother with a small child. Once the mother has the milk powder, she returns it to the mini-mart in exchange for cash.
- Children selling bracelets: There are many children that wander around restaurants trying to sell bracelets, books, and other bits and pieces. Sometimes they can be quite aggressive; a few pinched and punched Jimmy when he refused to by from them. As hard as it is to refuse these children, giving them money feeds into the negative cycle, encouraging them to continue selling on the street. There are various organisations throughout Cambodia trying to get the children on the street. Any money donated to these companies is well utilised and helps break the cycle.
- People selling books: There are adults selling books in the evenings, either walking through restaurants or set up on the side of the road. Be wary, these are often photocopies of the originals. The Lonely Planet guides are a give-away; the different sections (which can be seen like tabs on the edge of the pages) should be blue. If they are black it is a photocopied version.
- Bag snatchers: Crime against tourists is quite rampant at the moment. It was common to hear stories of people being mugged, pick-pocketed or having their bag stolen. Often, the thieves are on motorbikes and grab your bag, wallet or phone, as the drive past. It’s advised to use a backpack or bum bag and only take what you need out with you. The thieves are known to be quite violent, often carrying knives or guns. Consequently, it is advised not to put up a fight if they take your belongings. We didn’t experience anything first hand, however, on a couple of occasions we noticed people sizing us up and I felt quite uncomfortable in some places.
- Koh Rong food: On Koh Rong (and some of the other islands in the area) people frequently report getting food poisoning. We easily avoided this by eating vegetarian for the few days we were there.
- Koh Rong bugs: There are also multiple reports of bed bugs being a huge problem on Koh Rong. We solved this by using our sleeping bag liners at both places we stayed. The other thing to watch out for is sand flies. These are all over the beaches and you see some people covered in bites. It seems if you keep moving they can’t bite you, however, if you sit still on the beach for a while they attack. Coconut oil is the only thing (so I’ve heard) that stops them from biting. You can buy it from most shops on the island for $3 USD.
- Shopping: As soon as the locals see a foreign face the price at least doubles. Make sure you barter and start with a number much less than what you want to pay. If you start to walk away the venders will often drop the price considerably. If you can’t get the item for the price you want, chances are someone down the road will have the same thing and they may be willing to accept what you are willing to pay. The venders usually know that too.
- Pick your accommodation wisely: This is mainly for Koh Rong and Sihanoukville. Both are party towns and we had a couple of sleepless nights due to our poor choices (and inconsiderate neighbours).
- Don’t pat the dogs: While many of the dogs look friendly, majority of them are wild and some can be vicious. Most commonly the dogs bite people when they see them as a threat to themselves or their puppies. As some of the dogs have rabies we left the dogs to themselves, it’s not worth the risk of getting bitten.
While it can be a bit of information overload, I have tried to keep our ‘Cambodia Travel Guide’ as condensed as possible (which I struggle with sometimes, sorry!). If you have any specific questions, leave a comment below (or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will do my best to answer. Feel free to check out our guides to Malaysia, Thailand and Laos too!