TRAVEL GUIDE TO CAMBODIA

Last updated 13-Oct-2019


CONTENT -  Formalities / Travel Itineraries / Basics / Places To See / Accommodation / Getting Around / Food / Cultural Sense & Safety / Shopping / Budget Tips



Cambodia is home to the largest religious monument in the world - Angkor Wat. It is therefore, undoubtedly, one of the most popular destinations in South East Asia. Most tourists visit Cambodia to view the ruins of Angkor Thom. Of course, it is worth it. But, it is only when you step out of the extremely touristic places that you get a feel for the culture of the country. It is then that you meet the friendly locals and find yourself in real situations. Here is your comprehensive guide to the country, which could in some ways, challenge the way you think; the way your society functions.




Formalities 

Cambodian Government offers visa on arrival service for many countries including India. Check this link to know if your country is in that list.

For an electronic visa, visit the official Government website. A single entry tourist visa is offered for $36 and is valid for a stay of 30 days. Alternatively, you can directly get a visa on arrival. It might be a few dollars cheaper. But ensure to carry passport size pictures and copy of a return ticket.

The entry points could be the airports at Siem Reap and Phnom Penh if you are flying. There are other land/ Sea ports, if you are crossing the border from Laos, Vietnam or Thailand.


Travel Itineraries 

Your travel itinerary obviously depends on how much time you want to spend in the country. Though it is easy to travel from one place to other using private buses, it is highly advisable to consider two different ports for entry and exit. I flew into Siem Reap and flew out of Phnom Penh. I would suggest the same if you want to explore the country. Returning back to the same city is not difficult but is time consuming. Here are a few route options you can consider -

5 Days (Rapid) – Do the highlights - Siem Riep -> Kampot -> Phnom Penh

8-10 Days  (Moderate) – Siem Rriep -> Battambang -> Koh Rong Sanloem ->Kampot -> Phnom Penh

14-15 Days (Relaxed) – Siem Reap -> Battambang -> Sihanoukville -> Koh Rong Sanloem -> Koh Rong -> Koh Kong -> Osoam (Cardamom Mountains) -> Kampot -> Kep -> Phnom Penh


Places To See And Things To Do


Siem Reap – The temples of Angkor Thom are the most popular tourist attractions in the whole of Cambodia. So, it is highly likely that you will stop here during your travel in the Country. The impressively humungous Angkor Wat temple is situated about 7kms from Siem Reap. Take a sunrise tour and enjoy the display of colours behind the temple. Spend a day to explore the other magnificent temples around. The impressive Bayan temple and the ornate cardinal gates are other attractions in the region.

Apart from the ruins at Angkor Thom, Siem Reap is also popular for its Pub Street and array of restaurants selling local cuisine. Cheap beer and tasty Amoks make this place a perfect location to relax. The night market of Siem Reap, according to me is the best market in the country. Artisan d’Angkor that houses art workshops and trains several local artists is an interesting stop at the town to explore local art forms.

Beng Mealea And Koh Ker – Beng Mealea is about 65km from Siem Reap and Koh Ker 125km. Both these ruins are in such remote location that being there feels like you have discovered it on your own. The restored library of Beng Mealea is a major attraction. The pyramid like structure of Thom temple at Koh Ker is one of my personal favourites.

Battambang – One of my favourite towns in Cambodia, Battambang is a perfect place for those who enjoy a calm locality with nice family run restaurants. Hiring a bike or tuk-tuk is the best way to explore the surroundings. Visit Wat Ek Phnom temples, Banan temples and Killing fields, visit one of the village homes to learn how rice papers are made, try some local rice wine, taste bamboo sticky rice, take a Bamboo train ride and end your day at the Phnom Sampov temple and caves watching a never ending flight of bats exiting the cave doors at dusk.

Sihanoukville  - Sihanoukville is a beach town often skipped by most travellers. It is a gateway to the islands and therefore cannot be avoided. The casinos attract a lot of Chinese tourists. It does have some beach side seafood restaurants.

Koh Rong And Koh Rong Sanloem – Are you looking for stunning beaches with crystal clear water and isolated islands? Then, Koh Rong Sanloem is where you need to be. Koh Rong is the bigger and more crowded neighbor of Koh Rong Sanloem. Koh Rong Sanloem has some great hostels and hotels with private beaches that are popular among backpackers.

Osoam (Cardamom Mountains) – If you enjoy trekking, then Cardamom Mountains is where you need to be. There are several community centers in the region that offer an authentic rural experience and arrange treks. I have stayed in Osoam Cardamom Community Center. They offer one-day, two-day or three-day treks in the tropical rain forests.  Even if you do not want to trek, this would really be a great experience to observe rural life and live like the locals in remote parts of the country.

Kampot – Kampot is a laidback small town in southern Cambodia. The restaurants by the Kampot River are an amazing place to relax and enjoy this sleepy town. Rent a bike to explore Bokor mountain. Lok Yeah Mao Temple and statue, an old French church, several view points and Popokvil Waterfall hide atop this mountain. A few casinos are also coming up to attract a lot of Chinese tourists.

Other attractions around Kampot include Kbal Romeas historic caves and Phnom Chhngok caves.

Kep – Kep is a small beach town located 30km away from Kampot. The main attraction at Kep is its beach. Apart from that, you could explore the pepper plantations, crab market and Rabbit Island,

Phnom Penh – The capital city of Cambodia may not be the favourite destination among travellers but it does have its own charm with its markets and riverside restaurants. Some of the attractions that are worth a visit are Killing fields, National Museum, Palace, Central Market and Night Market.


The Basics 

It is highly recommended that you carry enough US dollars with you when you travel to Cambodia. Almost everywhere, the transactions happen in the US dollars. Which is kind of surprising but true. You might end up paying in Dollars and get a change back in both, Riel and Dollars. Make sure to carry small change ($1). However, it is helpful to carry Riel. You do not necessarily have to get it exchanged at the airport. The exchange is available almost everywhere and the rate is fixed. You can walk into any shop on the street and get your money exchanged.  In 2019, the exchange rate has been 4000 Riel for $1.

As for the SIM card option, try Smart network. I found it to have excellent connectivity across the country. The SIM card can be bought at the hostel or hotel you are staying in. I paid $4 for a SIM card. You can get a recharge at any shop in town for a nominal price of $1-2, as needed.


Accommodation 

The economy of Cambodia relies heavily on tourism. Therefore, almost every town or city that you would possibly visit will have several options to stay. Hostels and guesthouses are very common. On an average, a hostel dorm may cost you around $5-10.  Hostel world app can provide you plenty of options around a given area. Additionally, Agoda is a good site to find cheap accommodation.

Almost all hostels are neat and most of them have a swimming pool. The toilets in Cambodia are wet toilets so they would have faucets (Which the travellers refer to as Bum gun) so Western travellers should carry toilet papers.

Here are my recommendations in some of the towns around the country –

Siem Reap – The Hideout Hostel

Phnom Penh – Hostel Onedrerz

Sihanoukville – Hostel Onedrez

Battambang – Lucky Hostel

Koh Rong Sanloem – Mad Monkey Hostel (Party vibe), There are many other hostels and hotels on the other side of the island that are not as crowded as Mad Monkey.

Kampot – Mad Monkey Hostel

Cardamom Mountains – Osoam Community Center (Homestay)


Getting Around 

There is no Government run public transport in Cambodia. Many towns don’t even have buses. People rely on tuk-tuk and motorbike taxi referred to as Remork. To travel around a town, you could walk or rent a bicycle at your hostel. If you plan to explore attractions around a city, you could choose to rent a tuk-tuk. Many drivers approach you with a tour plan. I personally prefer doing the tour on my own. To do that, you can rent a scooter for around $8-10 per day. You could ask around for a good deal.

For long distance travel, you could choose among several private bus services that are available in almost every town. I have tried a couple of them and found Capitol bus service to be reasonably professional. Bus stations are always outside the town but have their booking offices in the city. They will arrange a transport from their city office to the station. Avoid booking tickets directly at the hostel. The tickets are around $3 cheaper if booked directly at the booking office. Another option for long distance travel is shared taxi. This might be slightly more expensive than the buses.


Food

Cambodian cuisine is simply delicious. Amok is my favourite dish. You can get a Vegetarian Amok or one with meat. This traditional dish of Cambodia is made of coconut milk gravy steamed in a cup made of plantain leaf. Spring rolls, Fried noodles and Fried rice are commonly found in almost every restaurant.

Try the Bamboo sticky rice, a traditional rice variety cooked with coconut milk and some beans in a bamboo cup. Also, a lot of Rice or Banana based snacks are sold in the local markets.

As desserts, try the delicious Mango sticky rice. I bet that this shall join your list of favourite desserts. At any local market, you can also find delicious rice cakes.

Fresh fruit juices and refrigerated coconut water are excellent drinks along with the food. Rice wine is something you should taste if you are into alcohol.

I would highly recommend the restaurant Monorom Garden in Battambang. This vegetarian restaurant is a heaven for food lovers.

Also, you will find continental cuisine in all major tourist destinations. Almost every town would have at least one Indian restaurant as well. In most cities, you will find pizza, pasta or burgers in almost every restaurant.


Cultural Sense And Safety

I have found Cambodians to be exceptionally nice. They are never short of a warm smile. I have been invited over for a drink or food, couple of times. The country heavily depends on tourism, therefore, almost every place is tourist friendly. People are extremely nice to tourists. Moreover, it is one of the safest countries I have travelled in.

However, that does not mean that as travellers we could be arrogant. We have to follow some of the customs to ensure not to offend their sentiments. While visiting a monastery, ensure to wear something that covers your shoulders and the legs, up to knee.

While sharing a drink with the locals, they have a habit of saying “cheers” every time they take a sip. So, be polite and go along with the custom.

It is also interesting to note that in Cambodia, the men shift to the wife's house after marriage. The women get to stay with their parents. If you tell them that it is the opposite in India or many other countries, they will look at you in surprise. Therefore, it is interesting to learn through travel that our beliefs, the way we have constructed our society are all  an illusion; that which can be easily challenged.


What To Buy And Where?

Cambodia is popular for silver jewellery. You can find a good collection at Siem Reap night market or Phnom Penh Central Market.

At the local markets, you could buy Palm sugar and Cashew nuts. Clothes are cheap as well. I would highly recommend purchasing at local and Night markets of Siem Reap. Night market at Phnom Penh is also good but not as vast as the former.

Do buy the tropical fruits such as Mangoes, Mangosteen, Longans and Rambutan while you travel.


Budget  And Travel Tips 

An approximate daily expense is listed below. All costs are in US $ (₹).

Book bus tickets at the right place – As already mentioned above, I have often found that the hostels charge about $3-5 extra for a bus ticket. It is extremely easy to walk to the nearest Transport office and book a ticket directly from them. You will find several agencies in a given town.

Ask Around – If you are renting a scooter, ask around. Do not rent it directly from the hostel. There are many shops hiring scooter for a few dollars cheaper than the hostel price.

Carry a water bottle – I always give this advise and for two reasons. One, it saves money and second, it prevents usage of plastic. I have often noticed that we spend a lot on water. It may seem like a small amount, but the cost accumulates.

Negotiate – Negotiation is a must in Cambodia, if you are shopping. You would be surprised how low the price is slashed to.


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