A lot of people, before I travelled Cambodia by myself, proposed that Cambodia is meant for budget backpackers. They would ostentatiously boast about how easy it was for them to survive a day in under USD 20. “But USD 20 a day is not cheap,” I’d say to myself. Sure it’s not too bad, but when back home you’re dealing with a currency which is 70 against a dollar (1 USD ≈ 70 Indian Rupees), it’s inevitable for you to moan a little on a daily 20 dollar bill – especially when you’re addicted to the idea of budget travelling! 10 dollars a day would have sounded better. I mean Cambodia is not a kind of place you would want to go for a luxury holiday. You must be able to travel inside Cambodia on almost no money at all!
But managing your accounts can be tricky in Cambodia – for the country has everything seemingly available for a minimum bill of “JUST ONE DOLLAAAAAR” – as Cambodians often quote. A shared ride in Tuktuk – 1 dollar; a drink – 1 dollar; a pack of crisps, bad quality food, half a dozen bananas – everything for 1 dollar, and you lose most of your money before you even realise it.
A Golden Tip: In Cambodia, Never Pay A Dollar
In Cambodia, no one is ever willing to sell anything for less than one dollar. No cents accepted or exchanged. But since its official currency – Riel – is 4000 against USD 1, it can be used as a balance to buy something that is of value for less than one dollar. But that can be tricky, thanks to a few rich Americans, who don’t care about sparing extra dollars here and there and have the locals spoiled.
For example, a coconut costs 2,000 KHR ($0.50) for locals, but since you’re a foreigner carrying dollars, its price for you is 1 dollar. I remember every time I purchased a 1.5 ltr water bottle, I was demanded a dollar. It was only when a couple of days later when I bought one from a supermarket and was given 1000 Riel back, I found that a 1.5 ltr packaged water costs no more than 75 cents (some supermarkets even sell one for 50 cents). From that moment on, I started negotiating those, and every other one dollar product, for a maximum of 3000 Riel.
How Much Did I Spend While Travelling In Cambodia
Starting in Siem Reap, before heading to Phnom Penh and finally to the coast – I covered most of the spots backpackers tend to frequent and completed a 20-day trip in just a little over 350 dollars. This, however, included two big expenses: one was the visa-on-arrival fee, which required me to pay USD 30 straight up at the airport; and second, a 40 dollar 3-day pass for visiting the temples of Angkor Wat.
Other than that, I happened to squander a little money during an initial couple of days, while I was still studying the country and learning the way it worked. Sure Cambodia was a tough one to crack, unlike Thailand, but once I learned how things worked in the country, it turned out to be a pretty easy deal.
During the days I didn’t do much, it was fairly easier to survive a day in under 10 dollars. This included food, accommodation, as well as a couple of evening happy hour beers.
Accommodation: A clean non-air con dorm charges 2 to 3 dollars a night. For a private room (shared by two people) expect to pay 2 dollars per person. For an air-con dorm bed, 4 dollars are certainly enough. On islands, you can get a bungalow in under 7 dollars.
Food: Basic street food is available for a dollar and a half – and that’s what I had for most of my meals when I was in Cambodia. Restaurant meals start at 4 dollars, which is certainly not too tough to afford either.
Water and drinks: Beers are cheap in the country, and in most of the cities, you can get a pint, during happy hours for 25 cents. The only thing that can spoil your budget a little is water. A 1.5ltr packaged water, in most of the small shops, costs 1 dollar. Even if you buy 4 of those, in a day, you lose 4 dollars straight away. To save a little, you can use a supermarket, some of them sell 1.5ltr bottles for half a dollar. So check a few places to find the right price and save 50% straight on daily water consumption.
Transportation: A ride in tuk-tuk costs somewhere between 2 to 6 dollars depending upon the distance. Bike taxis charge nearly half the price of a Tuktuk. Expect a 5-7 hour journey in a big bus for 6 dollars, including pickup from your hotel.
Here’s how it might turn out for you, in a day: Around 3.50 dollars for three meals. 2 dollars on water. 1-2 dollars on other drinks. 3 dollars for accommodation. This can give you a fairly nice, relaxing day, in under 10 dollars (Islands can cost 2-4 dollars extra). If you’re travelling long distances and/or paying money as an admission fee to museums and other tourist attractions, then it might cost a little more.