Cambodia is wild, unorganised and raw. But there’s something about the country that draws you in. Even though it is widely recovering from a long ripping past, its people can always be found sharing smiles. From the moment you step into the country your life will slow down, and the pace will continue throughout your trip. Travelling in Cambodia is cheap and one can survive a day in under US $10. The country’s tourism – across its three major tourist towns, namely Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihoukville – revolve around a rich history, delicious food, beautiful coastline, and a rocking nightlife.
TOP PLACES TO SEE AND EXPERIENCES TO TRY
Temples of Angkor Archaeological Park: This is the highlight of tourism in Cambodia, and the reason why most of the tourists visit the country at first place. Spread over 400sq. kilometres, the temples ruins in Angkor Archaeological Park breathe history, spiritual beliefs and harmony. Though it contains a total of 45 different temples, the temples of Angkor Wat are historically most significant. This is moreover where Hollywood legends like Tomb Raider and Indian Jones were originally filmed.
Siem Reap: Though the town offers nothing much of an attraction, it is popular as a base for tourists to make their day tours to Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. Other than the ruins of Angkor, the only other activity close to Siem Reap, where most tourists tend to frequent, is sailing down the Tonle Sap River. Located at 20kms south of the main town, this is where you can explore a different kind of life running around the country’s major waterway.
Sihoukville: A coastal city on the far south of the country, Sihoukville was my personal favourite in Cambodia. Everything here is reasonably priced, since it is a backpackers’ mecca. The town has a coastline of a number of amazing white-sand beaches, and the options will have you confused about where to stay. Still if you’re looking for crazy night parties, choose the Victory Hill; to experience a solid backpackers’ activity, however, come straight to Serendipity Beach. For quiet and laidback evenings, and a beach comparatively cleaner, look no further than Otres Beach.
Island Hopping: Islands in Cambodia may not have roads, or cashpoints, or a rocking wifi, but this is a small price to pay for squeaky white beaches, and an escapist, easy-going vibe. They are cheap to stay and can offer a bunglow experience in less than US $7 a night. They are like Thai islands of yesteryear that are unspoilt in nature, peaceful, and are meant more for bird-watching rather than partying or diving. Koh Rang, Koh Rang Sanleom, Koh Ta Kiev and Koh Thmei are the four most popular islands in the country.
Battambang: Visit Battambang to see a beautiful countryside, get more local experiences, and explore an unspoilt French colonial architecture. The town’s few ancient temples and a bamboo train are the only couple of tourist attractions. Though at the moment, Battambang falls right outside the popular tourist trail of the country, it won’t be long when the town’s rapid growing popularity will have its fate following that of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh: As the capital city, Phnom Penh is where you will find the Wild West atmosphere and the solution to most of your problems in the country. Many tourists find Phnom Penh similar to Bangkok, except for that the traffic here does not drive you mental, and the city is comparatively raw and much unorganised. Other than a few historic sights and museums, come here for an alluring café culture, bustling bars and world-class food scene.
The Killing Fields & Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: Located about 8 and 4 kilometres respectively, from the city centre, in Phnom Penh, they are the two dark sites, where the hell broke loose in the country a few decades ago. Although a visit to both the places may not be the most cheerful way to spend a day in the city, it makes for a learning experience, and a testament to the dangers of uncontrolled power.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
Since Cambodia is a hot country, it is advised to come here between October and March. July, August and September also make a fairly good time to travel, thanks to the monsoons, but high humidity might make things tough to travel, particularly while going around the ruins of Angkor, where you’re required to walk and sweat all the time.
COST OF TRAVELLING
Transportation: Bike taxis take about 4000 Riel for a 2,3 kilometer ride. Tuktuks can charge double. Other than bike taxis, tuktuks and just a handful of metered taxis there is no other local transport in the cities. For long journeys, minivans and Buses are the two options, as the country has no railway system. Buses generally cost 24,000 to 32,000 Riel for a 6-7 hour ride (Siem Reap to Phnom Penh; Phnom Penh to Sihoukville). Nigh buses and Minivans, both cost about 60% more than the fare of a normal day bus.
Accommodation: Accommodation in Phnom Penh can be super cheap. Cheaper than most of the countries in the world. Here you can get a dorm (even in the popular coastal towns) for less than 8000 Riel a night. In Phnom Penh a non A/C dorm is available for 12,000 Riel, pay another dollar and get an A/C too. Privates (shared between a minimum of two people) can be rented in under 8000 Riel per night per person. For 40,000 Riel, you can get comfortable hotels, with all the basic luxuries you can imagine. Islands can be a little expensive, but expect to pay no more than 28,000 Riel per night.
Food: Basic street food is available for 6000 Riel, restaurant meals start at 16,000 Riel. Western meals at nice restaurants can cost 24,000 to 40,000 Riel. Beers are cheap in the country, and in most of the cities, you can get a pint, during happy hours for 1000 Riel. Expect a daily budget of 16,000 to 24,000 Riel on packaged water.
FEW OTHER TIPS
- Bag snatching and looting is rampant in Cambodia, particularly around Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, while riding on a tuktuk or a Bike Taxi, make sure you place your bag at a safe place. Never wear them at your back.
- Avoid night buses in the country. While I was travelling in the country, many tourists shared their story about how thy lost their valuable items in the night buses, soon after they dozed off. They all warned me to take whatever means of transportation, but a night bus.
- Do not forget to bargain with tuktuk and bike taxi drivers before you take a ride. The first price you’re quoted should come down by at least a third – same thing applies while shopping at local and open markets.
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