Cambodia is probably the cheapest country in South East Asia. This is a magical land where you can a beer for 25 cents, a bed for a dollar and a tasty restaurant meal for just a couple of bucks. It may have a tragic past but Cambodia is now bouncing back and it is filled with wonderful people who are desperate to show backpackers their country. I have only spent a couple of months in Cambodia but I am determined to return soon! Cambodia boasts world famous temples, white sand beaches, a lively night life and cheap food, drink and accommodation, it is no surprise that the country becomes more and more popular each year with backpackers! Many people come to Cambodia just to visit the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat, whilst you definitely should not miss Angkor Wat I implore you to spend a little more time in this wonderful country; there is more to Cambodia than just temples!
- Accommodation: Many guesthouses have dorm beds available for just a couple of dollars a night. A double room in a guesthouse will cost around $10. Hotel rooms with TV, air con and an attached bathroom can be had for as little as $15 if you shop around.
- Food: Like most of Asia, food in Cambodia is dirt cheap. You can get food from a street vendor for around $1 and a meal in a basic restaurant rarely costs more than $5. If you are on a really tight budget then just buy fruit from a local market.
- Transport: Local city transport is cheap with tuk tuks only costing a couple of dollars presuming that you haggle properly. Hiring a taxi for the day normally costs around $20 and you can take a bus to pretty much anywhere for under $10.
- Visas: Available on arrival for $20.
Top Things to See and Do
Phnom Penh: The capital of Cambodia is wonderfully cheap. The cheapest accommodation is found in the southern and central parts of the city. There is a huge amount to do in Phnom Penh and the city has a great nightlife, if you have the time I recommend spending at least a week. If you don’t it is possible to rush through the main sights in just a couple of days. You should certainly head to the poignant Choeung Ek Killing fields and the horrifying S-21 prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed over 14,000 people. It is important to visit these to properly understand the country you are travelling through; for those of you who glimpse the evidence of genocide and mutter “this would never happen back home” it is important to note that both the US and UK governments supported the Khmer Rouge with weapons and supplies in an effort to destabilize neighboring Vietnam. Both of these important historical sites now aim to teach visitors about the past horrors of the totalitarian regime so that something similar can never happen again. Try to be respectful don’t laugh, smile or take pictures. A tuk tuk to the killing fields and back to the city should cost around $7. It is also worth visiting the National Museum, Independence monument and the Silver Pagoda. For shopping head to the Central Market to browse (but not to buy, prices here are inflated!) and the Russian Market for pirated DVDs, CD’s and fake designer clothes. Whilst in Phnom Penh you can also visit one of the many firing ranges to shoot an AK47, M16, RPG or anything else that takes your fancy. You can shoot heavy machine guns, throw a grenade or blow a target away with a desert eagle; all for a price. Cambodia… One of the world’s best adventure playgrounds for dodging death!
Siem Riep and Angkor Wat: Siem Riep is the access town for the ruins of Angkor Wat. The ruins here are really impressive however I personally prefer the temples and atmosphere in Bagan, Myanmar and Hampi, India. You should spend your first day exploring the main temples such as Bayon Temple Complex, The Terrace of Elephants and Ta Prohm before simply cycling off to see what you can find. Make sure you take a lot of water when you head out to explore. It is comparatively expensive to hire a tuk tuk so if possible try to cycle everywhere. The entrance fee is very expensive itself and as you pay depending on how many days you want to spend on the site I recommend two (rather busy) days. Just outside of Siem Riep there is another firing range where you can shoot guns. I highly recommend visiting the Landmine Museum which makes for a really interesting and rather poignant side trip. Siem Riep has a truly crazy nightlife and is packed with backpackers looking for a good time, be sure to check out some of the best bars in Siem Riep whilst you’re there.
Sihanoukville: White beaches, deserted islands, amazing diving and seafood plus a crazy nightlife make this spot a mecca for backpackers. This is not a great place to relax, the nightlife is pretty loud, but the nearby beaches are easily reached by boat or canoe and these are much more chilled out. Personally, I do not like Sihanoukville; I found that besides the nightlife there is very little to actually do here. The Big Easy Guesthouse is cheap and has a good lounge area for meeting other backpackers however the staff are not particularly friendly.
Kep: A quieter version of Sihanoukville, Kep still has the amazing beaches but it certainly lacks a nightlife, there is not a lot to do here so you should bring a decent book or make this a day trip.
Bokor National Park: An easy day trip from Sihanoukville, Bokor boasts atmospheric French ruins set in a lush rainforest with multiple hiking trails.
Battambang: This is a fantastic place to get a taste of genuine Cambodian life, there are crumbling temples, a bamboo train and quaint little villages. This is a great ‘off the beaten path’ destination and it makes sense to head here, hire a motorbike and then just explore.
Kampot: Probably my favorite place in all of Cambodia, Kampot is a fantastic little town surrounded by lush rice paddies and tiny hamlets. Hire a motorbike and head off down the crazy dirt roads surrounding the town. I recommend staying in the excellent Magic Sponge guesthouse; the food (and portions!) here are absolutely fantastic and there are cheap dorms available. To hire motorbikes or to arrange bus tickets, head to Captain Chim’s restaurant – this is the cheapest and friendliest place to organize activities and transport, make sure to try the captain’s passionfruit shakes! The ruins of Bokor Hotel, set atop an imposing mountain, are sadly being refurnished but budding urban explorers should still brave the crazy mountain roads on a scooter and head up here to visit a crumbling church and an impressive set of waterfalls. I highly recommend getting hold of the expat produced ‘Kampot Survival Guide’ – this tongue in cheek, informative publication is free and can be found in most guesthouses.
Prasat Preah Vihear: This awesome mountain temple is a constant source of conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, very recently military forces have clashed around the temple leaving dozens of soldiers and civilians dead. Make no mistake, visiting here can be dangerous. Saying that, this temple is in a breath-taking location and for those seeking a bit of adventure and without the time (or balls) to visit Myanmar is well worth checking out.
River villages: There are three floating villages to visit within Cambodia and although none of them are as impressive or unspoiled as Inle Lake in Myanmar they are still well worth visiting. Be warned that the touts here are pushy.
Backpack Cambodia for free
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Cambodia long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching english abroad.
Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Cambodia backpacking adventure but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on a backpacking adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.