Home to Angkor Wat, Cambodia is a country that you must visit, even if it’s just for a few days. Everything is very cheap and you can easily spend a lot of time here on a small budget. I only had a few days in Siem Reap but it was plenty of time to see the city. If you are short on time, it is possible to skip Phnom Penh but if you are interested in history, it is a great city to visit, even for a day to see the Killing Fields, Palace and museums. Sihanoukville is also supposed to a great beach town to visit if you have extra time to spend in the country.
When to Go
It is best to head over during the dry season, November to April. The weather at this time will still be very hot and humid but it would not be fun exploring all the temples in the rain. The best months to go are December and January as they are cooler, but to avoid peak season, head over in November or February.
There are international flights to Siem Reap Phnom Penh from Paris, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, Bangkok, Vientiane, Ho Chi Minh City, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Coming from North America, you will likely have to connect through China or South Korea to get there. You can also cross into the country by land through Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Taking buses around Cambodia are very unsafe and it is advised to take other forms of transportation if traveling within the country.
For all tourists visiting the country (except from Southeast Asian countries), a visa on arrival is required. It will cost $30US cash for a tourist visa which is valid for 30 days. They will ask for a headshot so make sure to print one before you arrive. If you don’t have one though, it shouldn’t be a problem as they will just charge you an extra $2US. However, it has been said that the officers may deny your visa if you don’t have a headshot depending on the official you get at the border/airport. You can apply for the visa ahead of time online but it costs $5US more and the visa on arrival doesn’t take long to get.
Before You Go
- Make sure you wear pants or bring a tie-up cover up (not a scarf) when visiting temples. Most of the temples will require you to cover up but if you don’t have any, you can always buy cheap elephant pants there for $2-$3US.
- SIM cards and phone plans in Cambodia are cheap. So if you are planning to stay for a while, it is worth getting one. There should be at least one or two booths where you can buy one at the airport, but make sure you purchase one directly from one of the mobile companies as phone shops tend to be a lot more expensive. You will need your passport with a valid visa to purchase a SIM card. They are $2US but you will need to purchase at least $1US worth of credit to activate it. It costs around 5-8 cents per minute for local calls and about 20 cents for international calls. You can also get a data plan of 3.5GB for only $5US. Have the attendant from the mobile company help you set up your data plan.
- You will see young kids everywhere trying to sell you everything from souvenirs to books to food. Do not buy things from them though because it will just keep them on the streets selling and out of school. Some kids will ask you to buy their baby sister milk powder from a particular mini mart but don’t be fooled – the milk powder is $11US and none of it goes to the baby, they just put it back on the shelf.
Currency & Payment
In Cambodia, the main form of currency is USD. They also have a local currency, Cambodian Riel, but they only really use it instead of cents. 4,000KHR is equal to $1US so 1,000KHR is 25 cents. Sometime vendors and restaurants can be picky about how crisp your USD bills are and may tell you that they cannot accept bills with marks or rips but sometimes this is the change you get back from other vendors so you just have to be a bit firm and tell them that’s all you have. They don’t really use credit cards around the city, even for most of the hostel you have to pay cash. Don’t worry if you don’t have any USD on you though because here the ATM gives you money in USD. Try to get small bills as it will be easier to pay for items in the market and for food.
The cheapest way to get around the city is by tuk tuk (also called remork here). They shouldn’t cost more than one or two dollars to get around the city. If renting one to tour around, the going rate is $15USD for a tour of Angkor Wat and the temples around it (3-4 people should be able to fit in one). Transportation from the airport to the city center is regulated. Purchase a ticket for your mode of transportation before you exit the baggage claim. A tuk tuk will cost you $6 and can usually fit two people with large luggage. A taxi will cost you $7 and can fit 4 people comfortably with large luggage. Getting to the airport is a bit cheaper. You can find a tuk tuk to take you for $4US.
If you want to see the sites in a more comfortable way, hire a car. Four of us hired one car for two days to take us to Koh Ker Temple, Boeng Maelea and Angkor Wat for sunset on Day 1 (9am to 6:30pm) and Angkor Wat for sunrise and the surrounding temples (5am to 1pm) on Day 2. We paid $30 each for both days. If you wanted to go see the floating markets he could also have taken you there, but the tour is about $18 once you get there so we didn’t want to do it. Our driver, Mr. Soeng, was great and could speak English well. He has a big car with good AC. Here is his contact info:
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: +85592275475
Where to Stay
Stay in the heart of the city near the night market and pub street. If you stay outside this area, you will likely be needing to take tuk tuks to get around which can add up.
- Onederz Hostel – great place to stay with really good Wi-Fi. They have a rooftop pool and a great lobby. Rooms are very clean and comfortable and although it doesn’t have the party atmosphere it is still easy to meet people. It is two steps away from the night market and a five minute walk from Pub Street. A 4-person dorm costs $9US per night. They also have private rooms.
- Mad Monkey Hostel – if you want a party atmosphere this is where you should stay. It is easy to meet people here and they have pool parties during the day. It is located a block away from Pub Street. It costs $8US per night to stay in a 12 person mixed dorm.
- Blossoming Romduol Lodge – if you are looking for a private room, this place is very reasonable. They have a free fish spa (when the fish eat the skin off your feet) and they give you cold towels as you enter. A private room with two double beds costs $18US per night. This is about a 10 minute walk from Pub Street and the Night Market though.
- Park Hyatt – if budget isn’t an issue this is a great hotel two blocks away from the night market, but rooms cost upwards of $300US per night.
What to Do
- Visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. You can purchase a one- day entrance ticket for $20US or a three-day entrance ticket for $40. Children under 12 years are free. Although if you go after January 2017, it has been said that the government will hike the prices to $37US for the one-day pass and $62US for the three-day pass. The one-day ticket is usually enough unless you want to split up the days and temples to spread things out a little. The three-day pass can be used on non-consecutive days over the period of a week but make sure to request this in advance when you are purchasing it. If only purchasing the one-day ticket, buy it at 5pm (right before sunset) the day before you are planning to spend there to save some time in the morning. Buying your ticket then also allows you to enter Angkor Wat for sunset that evening. Make sure you get there before it closes at 5:30pm though. The next morning, wake up early to see sunrise at Angkor Wat – something you cannot miss. It opens at 5:30am so plan to leave the city at 4:45am if you are in a tuk tuk or 5am if you are in a car. Make sure you wear pants or a tie-up cover up because they won’t let you enter the top of the temple if you have a tie up scarf around your legs. The top of the temple is also closed on holy days (new moon, full moon and quarter moon days every month). Line up to enter the top of the temple right after sunrise in order to avoid a long line. The other sites you should visit around Angkor Wat are:
- South Gate of Angkor Thom
- Bayon Temple
- Ta Prohm Temple (where they filmed Tomb Raider)
- Banteay Srei
- Preah Kahn
- Banteau Samre
If you don’t have time to see all the temples or don’t want to see that many temples, prioritize Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple.
- Take a day trip to Koh Ker Temple and Beng Mealea. This will cost you $80US for a car (can fit 4 people). So split between four, it is only $20US per person. Koh Ker Temple has a $10US entrance fee and Beng Mealea has a $5 entrance fee. These sites were beautiful and were enjoyable to explore because there were very few tourists there. When we went to Koh Ker, we were the only ones! Don’t get a tuk tuk to take you to these places as they are far and it won’t be a comfortable ride in the heat. Take a car because you will have AC and can travel faster.
- Explore the Night Market. Here you will find many shops where you can buy everything from clothes to carvings to speakers. Make sure you negotiate down the price before buying items though because they will start with a high price. Havaianas flip flops should cost only $3US, elephant pants should only be $2-$3US, and shirts should only be $1.50-$2US.
- Visit the Old Market. This is where they sell all the local produce. You can also find souvenir shops and street food stalls here.
- Get massages! They are so cheap here, cheaper than Thailand. There is a great food massage place, called Temple Massage that is only $1.50US per hour! Make sure you go to the one located around the corner from Pub Street, on Hospital street to get this price though. Because there is also one located on Pub Street.
- Get a fish massage – ever wanted to try having the little fish eat the dead skin off your feet? Well if so, here is the place to do it because it will only cost you $2US to stay there for as long as you like. You will find many places that offer this around the night market and Pub Street.
Where to Eat
- Steven’s Corner Restaurant – a few steps away from Onederz Hostel and at the start of the night market, this restaurant was my favorite. I ate here every day. The food is delicious and cheap and beer on draft is only $0.50US! The rice noodles and fish are great and their most popular and highly recommended items are their chicken legs for $1.50US and their pork ribs for $2US.
- Right outside Steven’s Corner Restaurant, there is papaya salad stand that is amazing, It only costs $1. Make sure to start with only one chili if you like spicy food because it is a different level there.
- Banelle Vegetarian Restaurant – located across the canal (about a 10 minute walk from the night market) and has delicious food.
- My Little Café – located a 5 minute walk north from Onederz Hostel, this small café serves delicious amok for a reasonable price. They also have free Wi-Fi here.
- There are fresh juice stands everywhere around the city center for only $1 that are very refreshing and healthy. Ask them make it without sugar as it doesn’t need it because the fruit is so sweet.
Where to Grab a Drink
- Pub Street is the place to go out here. For a fun time, go to Angkor What? bar and Temple Club. They are across the street from each other. There are also small pop up bars that are set up along the sides of the streets where you can play your own music which are quite fun as well.
- The Lane (behind Pub Street) is also a good place for drinks but a little tamer. Miss Wong is a great place with a lounge feel and great cocktails for $5US.