Cambodia is one of my all-time favorite destinations. It may be a flawed and corrupt country, but it’s filled with some of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered, rich history, delicious food, beautiful coastlines, and a lively nightlife. Cambodia is a country still trying to find its way after the horrifying genocide that was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime (led by Pol Pot) between 1975 and 1979, when about 1.5-3 million Cambodian people were killed. Know that since this only happened 35-40 years ago, the aftermath is still raw and most people you meet are still effected by this on a daily basis. Development hasn’t been great since, as corrupt officials have hindered growth by selling off most of the country to investors. But in all my visits here, I always fall more madly in love with the place and can’t recommend it enough to everyone I meet. It always surprises you.
Note: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you paying for really small things on the street, but for the most part, use USD.
Accommodation – Dorm rooms in hostels start at around $3.50 USD per night. Private rooms in hostels and guesthouses generally go for $5-10 USD per night, depending on where you are in the country. Free WiFi is the norm for hostels these days, and a few will also include free breakfast. You can get comfortable guesthouse rooms for $15-20 USD with air con, TV, and other amenities. Beyond that, the sky is the limit but I’ve never needed to spend more than $25 USD per night for luxury in this country! Airbnb is available in the major cities, with prices starting around $10 USD per night for shared accommodation. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay closer to $27 USD per night.
Food – Food is very cheap in Cambodia. Local street vendors will cost you about $1-2 USD per meal, and basic restaurant meals will cost between $3-5 USD. Western meals at nice restaurants go between $5-15 USD per person. If you want to splurge, you can get some really world-class food in Phnom Phen these days for around $8-10 USD. If you plan on buying your own groceries and cooking your own meals expect to pay between $20-25 USD per week, depending on your diet. Stick to local markets for the cheapest produce.
Transportation – Local city transportation is cheap, costing only a few dollars. Tuk-tuks can be found on every corner in the big cities, though be sure to negotiate a price in advance (usually not more than $5 USD depending on the distance). Renting a driver for the day will set you back between $15-20 USD, and most hostels can help you arrange finding one. Generally speaking, you can get a bus anywhere in the country for under $18 USD. For example, buses depart regularly from Siem Reap into Thailand for as little as $13 USD each way. Both buses and mini-buses also make the journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh daily for $10 USD per person.
Activities – Those planning on visiting Angkor Wat (and you should be!) should factor in the cost of the entrance fee, which is around $20 USD per day. Also, be sure to factor in the cost to travel there. (Be warned, the price will almost double as of February 2017.) Other tours, hikes, and entrance fees are between $10-20 USD depending on the length and popularity of the activity.
Suggested daily budget – $25 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
Cambodia is one of the cheapest countries in Southeast Asia. There really aren’t any big money saving tips here because just by being here, you are saving money. Food, accommodation, and transportation are all dirt cheap so you don’t need to do much to save money but here are a few tips:
- Minimize your drinks – Every drink is a dollar and before you know it, you’ve spent more money on beer than on food and accommodation. There’s no reason this country should cost you more than $20 USD per day but if you drink a lot, you’ll need a slightly higher budget.
- Stay put – You can usually negotiate a discount at a hostel if you stay for a week or longer.
- Book tours and day trips as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple things. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you.
Top Things to See and Do in Cambodia
- Angkor Wat – This huge temple complex is the reason most people visit Cambodia. The temple ruins are massive, and you’ll need a few days to explore all of them. While there’s a lot more to the country than this UNESCO site (too many people only come to visit Angkor), no trip is complete without satisfying your inner Tomb Raider and exploring these ruins. If you’re not a history buff then just purchase a single-day ticket. Everyone else may want to consider the 3-day ticket, which offers a bit of a discount. Consider hiring a tuk-tuk for the day, otherwise, rent a bicycle and explore the ruins at your own pace.
- Tonle Sap – Sailing down this river allows you to get a look at how closely Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. You can take a boat all the way down one end to the other or just cruise around on a day trip. Tours start around $2.50 USD per person.
- Sihanoukville – White sand beaches, nearby deserted islands, great diving, amazing seafood, and a heavy nightlife filled with cheap booze make this spot a favorite among travelers. This was once a very seedy town but has become a mecca for backpackers (although it’s still quite seedy). It’s not a quiet place to hang out, but it’s a good place to drink or use as a base to visit the nearby islands, which are quiet and serene. Check out Vagabond Temple while you’re there!
- Phnom Penh – As the capital of Cambodia, this place has a wild west ambiance with dusty streets and a “devil may care” atmosphere. There are a few good attractions to see and an up-and-coming foodie vibe to the city. Since the destruction of the lake and the nearby backpacker area due to development, most of the action and hostels have moved towards the river.
- The Killing Fields – You can’t mention Cambodia without people drawing a connection to the country’s bloody genocidal past. Although a visit to the Killing Fields, located 10 miles from Phnom Penh, may not be the most cheerful way to spend an afternoon, it makes for a hallowing and memorable experience, a testament to the dangers of uncontested power. Admission is only $3 USD, though you’ll need to arrange a ride to the area. Expect to pay at least $15 USD for a return trip tuk-tuk.
- Kep – This beautiful beach town is the quiet version of Sihanoukville. a nice place to relax near the ocean without the party atmosphere that is Sihanoukville. This city is famous for its pepper crab and empty beaches. There’s not a lot to do here, so it also makes for a good day trip if you don’t like the idea of chilling out for a few days.
- Bokor National Park – Wander among the atmospheric French ruins while hiking a great rainforest. Bokor was a big destination for the French aristocracy back in the day, and you can see the ruins of their homes. It is a day trip from Sihanoukville or nearby Kampot. Admission is $10 USD per person.
- Battambang – Known as a farming area and famous for its fading French colonial architecture, this is the place to get a real taste of Cambodian life. Here you’ll find great temples, a bamboo train, and stunning architecture. This destination sees few tourists except for those who like to get off the beaten path and off the Siem Reap-Phnom Phen trail. It’s Cambodia without the tourism — for now! Try taking a river boat back to Phnom Phen or Siem Reap for a unique experience (tickets are usually around $20 USD per person).
- Prasat Preah Vihear – This breathtaking mountain temple is the source of conflict with its neighbor Thailand, who also claims this place as its own. The trip here is not easy but nothing worth going to is ever is. Expect a $5 USD entrance fee for foreigners.
- Visit a river village – There are 3 floating villages to choose from in the country. The houses are built on bamboo stilts, and there are always boats filled with people selling trinkets, food, and hanging out. The Chong Khneas is the most visited in the country but popularity has made it a bit of a tourist trap recently. Most tours cost at least $12.50 USD per person.
- Visit the pepper farms of Kampot – Outside the city of Kampot (go there!) and on the way to Kep are vast pepper fields. This southern region of Cambodia is filled with pepper farms where you can learn about the history of the spice, see how it is grown, and pick up what is considered some of the finest pepper in the world. Tours are usually free, though you need to arrange transportation.
- Koh Kong – A city near the Thai border in the Cardamom Mountain district, Koh Kong offers great opportunities for jungle trekking, as well as a chance to relax on the white sand beaches. Koh Kong island is known as one of the best beach spots in Southeast Asia. It’s illegal to spend the night there, but there are plenty of operators offering day trips to the island from the shore.
- Kampong Cham – Though it’s the third-largest city in Cambodia, most travelers overlook Kampong Cham. The city has retained a lot of its old French colonial feel and a great place to really get to know Cambodia. While the city in itself is something to explore, you should also check out the ruins at Nokor Wat. One of the highlights here is a detailed series of murals which depict religious torture scenes.
- Visit Kampot – Most people come here to enjoy the scenic riverside views, as well as the rolling hills that surround the city. Since you can explore easily enough on foot or by bicycle, Kampot is a great place to slow down and relax. Don’t miss the pepper farms, the mangroves, and the national park.