Cambodia is a country in the heart of South East Asia with a rich history, beautiful beaches, lovely people and a pretty funky nightlife. Situated beside Thailand, many travellers make their way across the border from Bangkok to visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat, with the 800 year old UNESCO World Heritage site appearing on many peoples bucket lists.
Delving further into the country to the capital, Phnom Penh gives a chance to see some of the Khmer peoples more recent history, while visiting some of the many beaches is not to be missed.
Continue reading for our first timers guide to Cambodia.
Things to know before you go
Currency: Cambodian Riel/Dollar Conversion Rate $1=4000KHR. They use both dollar and riel all over the country here, there’s not much in the conversion rate so you’re generally better off sticking to dollar for simplicity sake.
Costs: Dorm beds usually come in at about $5-$10 per night for a good standard while good quality private rooms should be about $20-$30 per night although you can find more expensive places if you want. All of these rooms should have air con although some places don’t so make sure to find this out.
Food: Food here is generally traditional Cambodian food although there are lots of western restaurants available, particularly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Food is quite cheap too (as is the whole country) so it’s possible to feed yourself easily for $10-15 per day.
Visa: A one month travel visa can be bought at the border when you arrive for $35 although they accept KHR and Thai baht too if you don’t have enough dollars. Make sure to have cash with you as I crossed through the border coming from both Thailand and Vietnam and there were no ATM’s.
Internet Connection: Phnom Penh – good standard WiFi in most hostels/hotels and restaurants. Siem Reap also has a good standard WiFi in most public places. Koh Rong has wifi in a few of the bars and hostels although connection can be limited (or non existant sometimes) as it is an island.
Nearby Countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Laos
Things to see and do
Angkor Wat is the main attraction to Siem Reap (and probably the whole of Cambodia), and with so many people coming here to see the temples, it’s easy to organise tuk tuks to visit them. Most tuk tuks can be hired for a day for about $20, and that covers visits to three different temples and you can wander around for as long as you like. Altogether there’s about ten temples – Angkor Wat is the main one, with Angkor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm (of Tomb Raider fame) being the next most popular ones. The temples are ranked as a UNESCO world heritage sites and from visiting them, it’s easy to see why. As for the cost of visiting the temple, its $20 for one day or $40 for three days, which goes towards restoring the temples as many have been damaged over the years.
As for the nightlife in Siem Reap, there’s one main street called Pub Street where all the bars are, it’s very touristy and not exactly traditional Cambodian culture but it’s good fun and it’s good for bumping into other travellers as most of the tourists end up here. Other things to see in Siem Reap are the different markets that are on during the day and night, while Flight of the Gibbon is also very popular. Food here is quite varied – due to the volume of tourism you can get anything from traditional Khmer food to generic western food. Accommodation here is easily gotten although its worthwhile booking ahead as many of the better places get booked up early. Also in Siem Reap, if you arrive by plane, many hotels/hostels organise tuk tuks to collect you so it’s worth contacting them to see.
Phnom Penh is the capital city, and like Siem Reap has a number of tourist attractions with the Killing Fields of Choeung Ex and the Genocide Museum proving popular. Both of these are a must see for those interested in history and want to get a feel for what happened during Pol Pot’s regime in the late 1970’s where he killed between 1 and 3 million of the 8 million population The city itself is bustling with life, and boasts a mix of both Cambodian and western influence. Accommodation ranges from $5 upwards for hostel dorms with air con and a pool so overall, if you want to go more upmarket you still won’t have to fork out a whole lot. The nightlife is good here too, the local bars generally have drinks for $1 a beer although nightclubs can be expensive with drinks at $4+ which can add up! Getting to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap takes about six hours by bus and costs $8.
Koh Rong is a small island off Sihanoukville, its about 6 hours bus from Phnom Penh and 45 mins by boat then. Few things about the island – there’s no aircon here as they have problems getting electricity to the island and more importantly, there’s no ATM!! So bring cash with you. There’s lots of locally run accommodation, although a few of us stayed at a place called Bongs which was run by westerners and had a really good atmosphere and was great for meeting other backpackers. The beach here was unbelievable too. The town itself tiny, it’s basically just one stretch by the beach and you can walk from end to end in 10 minutes. There are no roads either so there’s no tuk tuks or cars which is nice after most other places in Asia. You can see plankton here too, you can go to the beach at night and wave your hands underwater and the plankton light up, another thing to tick off the bucket list.
Getting over and back to the island on the boat is quite simple, with minimum 4 boat trips over and back each day, with this figure increasing in high season. Getting back to Siem Reap from here is usually by bus through Phnom Penh, so it’s not hard to get to Phnom Penh although getting to Siem Reap is a bit more long winded. You can get a direct night bus where you share a cabin with someone (pictured below). The bus itself is ok, it takes about 8-9 hours – admittedly not the best nights sleep but it does save a days travelling.
You can do a boat trip while here too, $12 for a bbq, a boat to another beach on a different part of the island, a trip to a waterfall and some snorkelling. Definitely recommended! As for cost, it was very cheap. Accommodation was a few dollars a night, beer was anywhere from $0.50 to $1 and food was a few dollars for a meal too with fish being quite popular due to it being an island.