WHERE IS Cambodia?
The Kingdom of Cambodia is sandwiched between the fellow South East Asian countries of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Its current population sits around 16 million. 90% of which are Khmer and the final 10% are made up from Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese settlers.
WHEN to visit Cambodia?
The dry season in Cambodia is November to May – most travellers choose to go between the start of dry season and February where the temperature is cooler or at least the humidity is lower. A quick internet search shows temperatures of 38-40 degrees are not uncommon in April/May. We were there in February and it was in the mid thirties.
HOW TO GET TO CAMBODIA?
Cambodia has 2 international airports – typically Phnom Penh Airport is used to get to the Capital and Siem Reap International Airport is favoured for trips to view the fantastic Temples of Angkor.
We chose to fly into Siem Reap Airport from Phuket in Thailand using Air Asia. You will need to present a Cambodian Visa upon arrival depending what country you are from.
TOP TIP: Secure your visa online before you leave and print your copy. This will save you plenty of time on arrival and avoid the long queues of unprepared travellers at the airport who want a visa on arrival.
Getting to Cambodia by bus?
There are also overland travel options from neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam which are popular with backpackers and locals. The bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap will take you approximately 9 hours ($32) with the most popular and reliable company Giant Ibis.
They also operate a route to and from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Phnom Penh with a duration of 7 hours ($18). We took this option when we travelled to Vietnam from the capital.
The Giant Ibis bus service was a great, stress free way to travel – recommended by Phil’s sister, it is easy and simple to book online prior to leaving and even lets you choose your seat. A pastry and bottle of water is provided as well as comfy seats, WiFi (in town areas) and more leg room than a National Express Bus.
Domestic Travel -Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by Bus
We took the Giant Ibis bus service from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh – $16 each for the 6 hour journey. There are plenty of Tuk Tuk drivers waiting for you in Phnom Penh so getting from the Giant Ibis terminal to your accommodation will be easy.
Our Tuk Tuk driver in Siem Reap who took us to the bus station had a ‘cousin’ in Phnom Penh who also drives Tuk Tuks – he took our pic to send to him and sure enough the Phnom Penh Cousin waded through the other drivers on our arrival and took us to our accommodation. They were reasonably priced and we used them for the remainder of our time in Phnom Penh.
WHY VISIT CAMBODIA?
Beautiful countryside, jungles, beaches and not to mention the stunning and vast temples of Angkor – Cambodia should be on any travellers list. It is a fantastic budget friendly country and Khmer people of Cambodia were among the most friendly and proud people we met on our travels in Asia. With a rich history and hugely tasty cuisine (hello Amok Curry) it was one of our favourite countries.
Cambodia’s troubled history involving a horrific genocide between 1975 and 1979, carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime where 1.8-2.5 million Cambodian people were killed has left deep scars on the population. If you are interested in cultural history then visiting Cambodia is an educational awakening.
HOW MUCH MONEY DO I NEED PER DAY IN CAMBODIA?
We were travelling Asia for 2 months on a very small budget, Cambodia is one of the cheapest of the countries that we travelled to ( Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Philippines). We budgeted the following:
Accommodation costs in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh: £16 per day for two of us for a private room in a local hotel
Food and drink costs in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh: £8 per day for two of us. You can find 50c beers in many bars and restaurants and food is mainly from local restaurants. We did find that it’s not as common to find street food vendors in Cambodia compared with Thailand where it is very common place.
WHAT IS THE CURRENCY IN CAMBODIA?
The best currency to have in Cambodia is USD. The official currency of Cambodia is Riel (KHR) but the only time that you really need to use it is when anything costs less than $1 USD. This would be when you purchase anything from the local corner shops, if you pay in USD they will often give the small change back in Riel. We wouldn’t worry about getting Riel before you arrive in Cambodia . Tuk Tuk drivers, Angkor Wat tickets and all transport is paid in USD.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IN CAMBODIA FOR 7 DAYS?
Angkor Archeological Park – Siem Reap
The temple complex at Angkor was the centre of the Khmer Empire that once ruled most of South East Asia. The Temples are 5.5 km north of Siem Reap – originally built as Hindu temples, they were later transformed into places for Buddhists to worship. The UNESCO World Heritage Temples of Angkor are one of the busiest tourist sites in all of Asia so forward planning is highly recommended.
The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom, Angkor Thom and Bayon. There are two main routes that you can take to see the temples – the small loop and the big loop. These temples are all on the small loop and this route is perfect for first timers and if you only have one day to visit.
The most popular temple of all and a hot spot for sunrise photo sessions. We visited this temple last on our day trip (we are not morning people so didn’t come for sunrise) and it wasn’t busy at all. This may be because we were there during midday when most tourists are stopping for lunch.
As you leave the temple there are plenty of stalls offering big bottles of water at reasonable prices. Given the heat it is a great idea to stay hydrated, especially as you need to make sure your shoulders are covered at all times which can mean you get pretty darn hot.
Ta Phnom is where you can live out your inner Lara Croft or Indiana Jones dreams and explore the ruins that are slowly being reclaimed by nature. Whilst we visited they were undergoing renovations to bring the crumbling temples back to their former glory. This is also one of the most popular temples after Angkor Wat. If you don’t go on a guided tour with the crowds of other tourists you can easily skip past the crowds and have many parts of the temple to yourself. It is truly magical and seeing the tree roots take hold of the temples is unlike anything we have seen before.
The “Great City” and the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. From here you can visit Bayon Temple with the many sculptural decorations. It is simply beautiful and a must on the temple circuit.
The first temple that we visited on our trip – this is normally the last on the small loop route but we asked our driver to go the opposite way round that most tourists do. This meant that when we arrived we were almost the only people there. Having a temple to yourself is so incredible, its like you are walking through time.
Other must see Temples are the Elephant Terrace on the outside of Angkor Thom and Banteay Srei for its detailed stone artwork.
The Best Way to Visit the Angkor Temples
By Tuk Tuk– The best way to visit the Angkor temples are to hire your Tuk Tuk driver for the day from Siem Reap. Prices for this are generally settled at around $25 and your accommodation should be able to help you organise this as they have reliable drivers contacts. The driver will take you on whichever route you choose (even if you want to go off the tourist map routes) and will be waiting outside each temple to collect you. They are super friendly and patient but one tip we do have is if you come across a great Tuk Tuk driver, try and use them for the rest of your trip. When we arrived in Siem Reap our first hotel organised a driver to pick us up from the airport and he was fantastic. We didn’t get their details and when we moved to another hotel the next driver we used for the temples was a great driver but wasn’t as easy to communicate with. You can also hire a guide to come in the Tuk Tuk with you to show you around the temples for the day.
By Bicycle- You can visit the Angkor Wat Temples by bicycles that you hire for the day or on guided tours. The temples are located quite a distance from one another, so if you plan to do this make sure you give yourself enough days to see all the sights you want. Be prepared for very hot weather where cycling might not be the most comfortable mode of transport.
Walking – You walk around the temples but you cannot walk from one temple to the next, unless they are located in the same area.
Guided Tour– Many people opt to travel on guided tours to see the temples which does mean that you will be walking in large groups and won’t have much time to explore off the beaten path. The upside is that they are informative and a great value option if you want air con inbetween the temples.
How much does an Angkor Wat ticket cost?
As of 2019 -The Temples of Angkor require entry tickets: $37 for 1 day, $62 for 3 days and $72 for 7 days. You can pay in USD cash and pay by credit card.
Can I buy Angkor Wat Tickets online?
No – you can only purchase your tickets in person.
Where to buy Angkor Wat Tickets?
At the Official Angkor Park Pass ticketing centre located several km from both the entrance to the temples and Siem Reap. You have to have your photo taken to appear on the ticket so all of your party need to be present to purchase these tickets. If your hotel or travel provider sells you tickets – these are not valid. The Official Angkor Park Pass ticketing centre is the only place to you can get these tickets. They are open from 5am (sometimes earlier) until 5.30pm. It is located on Street 60. See map below, the temples are to the North of this map.
Official Angkor Park Website: https://www.angkorenterprise.gov.kh/
TOP TIPS FOR VISITING ANGKOR WAT
Where to watch Angkor Wat at Sunset?
This is the best tip! If you can pick up your Angkor Wat tickets after 5pm the day before you plan to visit, you can enter the Temples FREE for sunset without using your next days ticket (The sunset trip cost $15 in a Tuk Tuk from Siem Reap). As the ticket office is also located separately to the entrances, picking them up the day before will save time when you want to visit the next day, especially if you plan to visit for sunrise.
We asked our driver to take us to watch sunset at Angkor – we didn’t specify where and trusted them to take us to the best spot. He drove us to pick up our tickets and then took us to Ta Keo temple, a wonderful temple that you can visit on the small loop but does get extremely busy at sunset. You can watch the sunset from the top of the temple as the sun goes down behind the trees. They limit the number of people coming into the Temple so make sure you get there early to secure a spot.
Best time to visit Angkor Wat?
We recommend starting your day early – if you arrive at 7.30-8am then the crowds from the sunrise sessions will be having breakfast so it’s less busy and a lot cooler. Visiting the temples can get extremely hot! Take plenty of water and comfortable shoes (flip flops will ensure your feet get covered in orange dust) along with loose fitting clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. We heard this advice prior to going and it isn’t an exaggeration. If Siem Reap is hot, the Angkor Temple site will be even hotter!
Pub Street Siem Reap
The heart of Siem Reaps tourist centre, Pub Street comes alive as evening sets in. Close to the Old Market the area is filled with neon lights, street food, restaurants and bars.
Many travellers will end their Angkor Wat tours here with a cold beer or ice cream. There are happy hours to be had along the various alleyways and main streets, we found a few bars offering 50c beers which we were happy to partake in. Food will be most expensive here though so if you want cheap eats head to the side streets. ( Head down the page to our where to eat in Siem Reap section for some inspiration)
You will find plenty of massage vendors here offering foot massages which are the perfect way to end a long day of walking around the temples. For only a couple of dollars you can get a 30 minute foot and lower leg massage.
It is more family friendly than the similar streets in Thailand but the party will go late in some of the clubs and live music venues.
Other sights in Siem Reap
You can visit the Artisan Angkor Silk Farm for free in Siem Reap – there is a bus that transports you to the farm where you are guided around the factory and watch first hand the silk products being made. It is a very interesting process and a fantastic opportunity to understand the tradition. The farm is located 20 minutes from Siem Reap in the countryside and is in a beautiful setting. They do have a large gift shop where you can purchase items if you wish, however it is not forced on you.
The Killing Fields – Phnom Penh
The Choeung Ek fields are located 16km from the countries capital and are one of the most harrowing and memorable experiences we have ever encountered.
Cambodia’s past troubles are well documented but visiting one of the actual sights involved in the Khmer Rouge’s genocide is an important educational stop.
The audio tour provided is very detailed and provides a deep insight into the areas past. The Memorial Stupa located here is very hard hitting and filled with the remains of some of the victims that tragically lost their lives here.
The entrance fee is $5 per person and a tuk tuk ride from Phnom Penh is approximately $15. The local Tuk Tuk drivers will advertise this excursion the first time you meet them and we recommend organising a day to visit.
We also visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum also known as S-21. This was a school turned torture and execution centre for the Khmer Rouge and where many of the victims were housed before being taken to Choeung Ek where they were executed. When you travel to Phnom Penh be sure to add this educational stop to your tour as it’s well worth visiting to ensure we all learn from past mistakes and make sure that future generations are never in this position.
Other Phnom Penh Sights and things to do
There are many other sites in Phnom Penh that you can visit and many of them charge an entrance fee. The most popular ones are:
The Royal Palace – the royal residence of the King of Cambodia. Entrance: $10.
The National Museum – Cambodias largest museum of cultural history. Entrance $10
Wat Phnom – Buddhist temple built in 1373. Costs $1 entrance fee and is on many lists of places to see in Phnom Penh. It isn’t the most interesting temple to visit but will entertain you if you need something to do.
HOT TIP– Hotel Swimming Pools, In many hotels in Phnom Penh you can visit their swimming pools for a small fee. This includes 5* hotels right down to the budget ones. We found Blue Lime Hotel and they let you use their pool for only $5 per person. It was a tropical oasis and the perfect way to spend an afternoon relaxing and cooling down on a budget if your hotel does not have a pool.
WHERE TO EAT IN CAMBODIA
Where to eat in Siem Reap
On a Budget and feeling hungry in Siem Reap? A short stroll from Pub Street is Pot and Pan. We visited this small restaurant more than a few times during our stay in Siem Reap and it was very popular. The prices were cheap and the food was great – the 50c beers were certainly among the cheapest and super close to Pub Street. They also do fantastic pizza and $1 Margarita cocktails.
Close to the river was Christa Bar and Restaurant. We also ended up here more than once and the traditional Amok and Khmer Curries were among our favourites.
Occasionally a cocktail is needed and the best place we found was the hidden tranquil garden setting at WILD – instagram pictures galore! This new garden cocktail bar is worth seeking out. They also serve creative homemade spring rolls with various flavours – we recommend the Taco Loco! They are located next door to Christa Bar and Restaurant.
Where to eat in Phnom Penh
Our favourite cheap eat in Phnom Penh was at David’s Homemade Noodle – the noodles are made fresh by hand as you watch, then served to you in a variety of different combinations. They are also known for their tasty fresh handmade dumplings available boiled or fried.
These guys get busy so an early dinner or lunch is a good way to go (Before 7pm), popular with families and backpacker tour groups.
We also enjoyed Pka Chan – they served delicious Amok and this place is also home to the famous 50c beer which is perfect for the thirsty traveller.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAMBODIA?
We were visiting Asia on a backpackers budget ( a very lean one) and luckily Cambodia is as cheap to stay as its neighbouring countries, if not cheaper:
Where to stay in Siem Reap:
In Siem Reap we opted for the well reviewed The Tiney Fork Guesthouse.
At just £19 for 2 nights for a private en suite double with air con it was a bargain AND breakfast was included each morning.
As is common in Asia there was no lift and we were on the top floor. It seemed like everywhere we stayed we were on the top floor.
Martin from Germany was one of the owners and was an awesome host – we enjoyed a drink on arrival and he went and arranged a local sim card for us while we waited. We felt that he went above and beyond for us during our stay.
Downstairs has a small bar where breakfast is served and they have local tuk tuk drivers who they can arrange your Angkor Wat trip or airport/bus transfers with. We preferred using their recommendations because you know that they can be trusted.
Another option in Siem Reap is the Aster Villa – we spent the night here in between hotels and wished we could’ve stayed forever (unfortunately they were fully booked). The family run hotel is only 15 mins from pub street.
They organised us to be picked up from the Airport for free which was another bonus (and is common in Siem Reap), it makes arriving in a new country a much more relaxed experience. At just £15 for the night including breakfast, our huge room was a pleasant surprise.
The pool was perfect to cool down when we arrived and the free bikes made getting around to explore a breeze.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh:
During our stay in Phnom Penh we stayed at the centrally located Fancy Guesthouse – close to the waterfront and markets this was an ideal base to explore the capital.
We did move to another accommodation after here but it was terrible and we don’t recommend it.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN CAMBODIA FOR?
We spent 7 days in Cambodia split between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The Temples of Angkor are possible to explore in a busy day as we did, however lots of travellers like to get the 2 or 3 day tickets so they can take their time exploring.
Other popular sights in Cambodia include the towns of Kampot, Sihanoukville, Tonle Sap and Battambang. These would add approximately 2 days each to your trip itinerary.
We had 10 days available before heading to the Philippines and so we opted to spend 7 days in Cambodia and the final 3 in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The bus route from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City was direct and so it meant we got to see a little of Vietnam before flying to the Philippines.
We hope you enjoyed reading our Ultimate 7 Day Budget Guide to Cambodia and hopefully it helps make the planning easier for your own trip. We tried to include the important information we wish we had known before we visited. Cambodia is a beautiful country and there is more that we would love to explore one day, but for now we have visited the main tourist sights and have memories that will last a lifetime. We would like to point out that we enjoyed Siem Reap far more than Phnom Penh and in hindsight would have spent a few more days there.
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