Cambodia

Travel Guide: Cambodia

This article is a collection of our experiences and research, vegetarian food we ate, what worked for us, tips and recommendations for budget accommodation and transport while traveling across Cambodia over 2 weeks in December, 2016.

Bokor National Park

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Our Itinerary

Popokvil Waterfalls

We flew in from Krabi, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia on December 17th, 2016 and spent a total of 15 nights and 16 days in Cambodia in three different places within the country. Here is the itinerary and quick highlights:

Dec 17 – 23: Siem Reap – Angkor Wat temples
Dec 23 – 28: Phnom Penh – Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum and Killing Fields
Dec 28 – Jan 1: Kampot – Relaxed at Green House bungalows; Country side tour.

On January 1, 2017 we took a bus from Kampot to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Budget Accommodation

Green House Bungalows

Siem Reap: Hotel 84 (Cost: $; Rating: ****)

We stayed at Hotel 84 which is a 5 minute walk from pub street. We reserved it on Airbnb and were happy with our choice. Overall good value for money, close enough to all the restaurants and action.The owners are awesome and the staff very friendly and helpful. The only neg is that the lights are really dim and the entry is a little dark and dingy. If you decide to stay here, make sure you book the rooms with large windows and at either ends of the building. The inner rooms can get dark, stuffy and claustrophobic.

Phnom Penh: SLA Hostel (Cost: $; Rating:*****)

SLA Hostel is one of our favorite hostels we’ve stayed at till date. The dorm beds are comfy, the bathrooms are clean and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. They provide all the services you would possibly need while traveling. The common area is a great place to meet other travelers and possibly make new friends. They make fresh breakfast for you for $2. We had muesli with fresh fruit and homemade yogurt everyday. Delish!

Kampot: Green House Bungalows (Cost: $$; Rating:*****)

If in Kampot, you have to stay at this riverside bungalow located upstream right on Kampot river. This means you can jump off the deck and swim in the cleaner part of the river and laze on the hammock and sip on coconut water as you please. The traditional khmer styled bungalows are made with simple and natural materials with river and garden views. This place was one of the many reasons we loved our stay in Kampot. To read more, you can refer to our blog post on why we fell in love with Kampot in Cambodia.

Visa (on Arrival) with an Indian Passport

Step 1 for us after landing in Siem Reap was to get our visas. It’s a fairly straightforward process. Cambodia issues a 30 day visa for Indian citizens. (Note: Technically, the visa is valid for one month and not 30 days. So if you land on the 17th, your visa will be valid till the 17th of next month, no matter the number of days in between.)

Tip: keep your forms filled out from before; it will save you time at the airport. They also give out an arrival/departure form and a customs form on the plane if you don’t get a chance to fill it out ahead of time. You need to pay $30 and submit one passport photograph (make sure to carry exact change and a photograph with you, otherwise you will have to pay $2 there). After submitting your paperwork, you have to wait for about 15 mins before you are handed back your passport with your visa stamped in it. After this you can proceed to immigration.

Budget Transportation

Tuk-Tuk driver

This section details the different types of transport we took while we were in Cambodia, with tips and cost.

Getting from the airport to the hotel

Most hotels can arrange for an airport pickup. Ours cost $7. You can also walk out at the arrivals gate and get a tuk-tuk outside. It’s easy, not chaotic and you will not get ripped off. It took us about 30 minutes to get from the airport to our hotel. It’s a dusty route so wearing a mask can be helpful.

Visiting the temples

When visiting the temples you have various options. You can rent a chauffeur driven car, take a tuk-tuk, rent a scooter or bicycle there.

We first hired a tuk-tuk for the day. They either do the small circuit or the grand circuit. We opted for the short circuit and it cost us $15 (we booked it through our hotel). The better and cheaper option, in our opinion, is to rent a scooter and drive around yourself. It may not as relaxing as sitting at the back of a tuk-tuk, but it’s cheaper and it gives you the freedom and independence to go check out what you want. You might hear or read that foreigners are not allowed to drive within the temple complex, however, that is not enforced. We weren’t asked any questions as we drove around. The cost for renting a scooter is about $7/day. You can get it for cheaper if you haggle.

Bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

We opted to take the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. You can also fly if you wish, however, as budget and long term travelers we prefer to travel like the locals. It cost us $6.50 per person with a little bit of haggling.

Visiting S21 and Killing Fields

The “easy” option is to take a shared minivan. We found it interesting that most places have the exact same rate for the minivan, or what they call the hop on hop off ($15 per person and $25 for two people). We opted for the much cheaper tuk-tuk option. After haggling we agreed on $12 for the tuk-tuk. Buddying up with someone is a great way to save money and we had one other person with us. So it actually worked out to be $4 per person in the tuk-tuk. (A tuk-tuk can accommodate a maximum of 4 people at a time.)

Bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot

We booked our bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot through our hostel and it cost us $7 per person. It took us about 3.5 hours to get there. Our bus first stopped in Kep and then in Kampot. There are direct buses to Kampot as well.

Getting around in Kampot

Since the Green House Bungalows is a little further from center of Kampot we opted to hire a scooter while we were there. The scooter cost us $4 / day, and allowed us to go to the national park, get in to the city, do the countryside tour and much more. Definitely a great decision!

Bus out of Kampot to HCMC

Our last transportation in Cambodia was the bus we took from Kampot to Ho Chi Minh City. You can read more about it on our blog posting – “Traveling from Kampot to Ho Chi Minh City by bus“.

Yoga

Simple Things Yoga or Banteay Srea Women’s Spa (Cost: $; Rating: ****)

Both Simple Things and Banteay Srey Women’s Spa have morning and evening yoga classes for around $5-$6. Banteay Srey is a social enterprise to empower young women who are coming from difficult circumstances. We did not make it to Banteay Srey but heard great things from other travelers.The morning class at Banteay is for men and women, however, the evening class is only for women. We did make it to Simple Things for yoga. The studio had yoga mats but I preferred to take my own travel mat and lay it on top of the studios mat to get more cushion. Yoga at Simple Things was pretty good. The studio is nice but a little dirty and dusty. Both these locations have an awesome restaurant serving healthy and nutritious food with several vegan, vegetarian and raw options. (Check out our Guide to eating vegetarian in Cambodia to learn more.)

Vegetarian Food

We were thrilled with all the vegan, raw and vegetarian food we ate while traveling in Cambodia. It was surprisingly easily available including my green juice fix for the day. To read a detailed account of where we ate and what we ate, refer to our blog posting on – “Guide to eating vegetarian in Cambodia“.

SIM card for Internet and Phone

We bought a 30 day, 6 GB SIM card for $6 from the Smart Shop. Service was good and having internet access while on the go was particularly helpful. You can buy a SIM card from many places on Pub Street, however, we went with a place recommended by our bike rental company. It is located within the Platinum Cineplex on the main street by the roundabout.

Currency

Although the Riel is the official currency of Cambodia, the USD is used everywhere. Even when you go to an ATM it spits out USD. The Riel is still used for small change so you will have to handle that as well. Although the exchange rate is 1 USD = 4200 KHR, the “street value” for purposes of calculation is 4000 KHR. So you end up losing 200 KHR on every $1. If you want to be particular, you could try to convert all your USD to KHR and pay only using that. The Riel is accepted everywhere.

General Tips

  1. Cambodia, and especially Siem Reap, is VERY touristy. VERY is an understatement! Accept it and know that you are going to be asked if you want a tuk-tuk or want to buy fruits, clothes or souvenirs at every step. Don’t let this get under your nerves and ruin your trip. Smile and simply say, “No. Thank You.” Tourism is the only way a lot of people make a living and they are understandably persistent about trying to win your business.
  2. Wear a mask if you are sensitive to dust. We wore a mask for most of our travels as we are are pretty sensitive to dust and pollution. It also protects us from picking up viruses while traveling in buses and tuk-tuks.
  3. Sharpen your haggling skills. Cambodia is more expensive than you would think. Given that dollars are used pretty much everywhere, it is also the base price for things that probably cost 10-15 cents. Coming from India, what pinched us most is that each coconut cost us a buck when in reality it shouldn’t have cost us not more than 20 cents each. We managed to haggle our way down to 50 cents though.
  4. Support local businesses by booking travel and tours while in the country. Service is generally very good at hotels and hostels and with the local knowledge you can score some good deals and off the beat recommendations for tours and sights.
  5. Brush up on some of the key phrases and words in Khmer. It will come especially handy when ordering vegetarian food.
  6. In general, traveling by bus in Cambodia has been pretty uneventful. The buses are fairly comfortable. It helps to find out from before exactly where the bus is going to drop you off, so you can plan getting to a restaurant or lodging ahead of time.

 

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2 comments

  1. my god this is soooo wonderful. you should really think of writing a travel book. i feel i am travelling with you. and also am going to use this information in my trip to combodia and vietnam and chiang mai… thanks kids.
    vibha bua

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