Visiting Cambodia, a short guide to visiting this amazing country
Are you visiting Cambodia and not sure what to do and see? Let me share my short itinerary with you and give you some tips for when you visit! I spent a full month in Cambodia and I was mostly on Koh Rong to recharge my batteries. Cambodia is a lovely place to travel to and has some nice options for travellers who want to go off the beaten path. Whether you like to see ancient temples, beautiful jungles or tropical beaches, Cambodia has many things to offer!
How to get there
There are several ways to enter Cambodia. As my airfare to Bangkok was cheap, I decided to travel to Siem Reap directly by bus from Bangkok. In Bangkok, I asked several travel agents for prices and I picked the cheapest option. It is always a good idea to shop around a bit and see what the prices are! The bus leaves in the morning around 8 am and will drive you straight to the border at Poi Pet. Here you will get your exit stamp for Thailand and proceed through the immigration process.
The Cambodian Visa
A 30-day tourist Visa is $30 for most nationalities (Visa on Arrival or VOA) but the government officials charged us $40 per person. They claim this was a “stamping fee”. Don’t forget to bring one passport-sized photo. Of course, you should always make sure what the Visa requirements are for your nationality. The 30-day tourist visa can be extended once if needed and costs between $30 and $50.
Be careful of free SIM Card “services”
As in many countries, you always have to be careful and a little vigilant. The first and only scam I saw in Cambodia, happened just after the border crossing. We stopped at a “restaurant” for a toilet and refreshment break where a lady was adamant we would purchase something to eat or drink. Only one couple bought something to drink and after a few minutes, a younger girl appeared. She said “thanks for buying a drink from my mother’s shop. As you have purchased something you will receive a free SIM Card”.
My travel buddy stayed quiet for a bit but then decided to step in. He recognised the girl from 2 years before. What they do is, they put a Cambodian SIM card in your phone but keep your current SIM card. It may not have much data on the SIM but if your phone numbers are saved, they can pretend to text on your behalf and ask your family and friends for money. We mentioned this on arrival to the bus company where the man behind the desk mentioned a polite F*** you… Looks like the whole team is benefiting from this one! Be warned! On a positive note, nothing happened and this was the only time in the country I saw something like this.
Top 3 must-see places in Cambodia!
Angkor Wat and Siem Reap
Cambodia is probably most known for Angkor Wat, the ginormous Buddhist temple complex close to Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a lovely little town where you could spend a few nights. The busy bars and restaurants are all around Pub Street. A little too busy for me so I booked this lovely hostel just next to the river. They also have private rooms and a swimming pool! In the hostel, you can also book your tour to Angkor Wat. The transport for a half-day tour was $13 and a tuk-tuk driver will drive you to the ticket office and the main temples of Angkor Wat. You can rent a bicycle as well and visit the temples but please bear in mind the temples are spread over 400 km2! With the heat, I was pretty happy to be in a tuk-tuk! Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm are some of the most famous temples and show the beautiful Khmer architecture.
Tickets for Angkor Wat
There are several different tickets you can purchase. A 1-day pass will set you back $37, a 30day pass will cost you $62 and a 7-day pass is priced $72. You can pay the entrance fee in US Dollars, Cambodian Riel, Thai Bath or Euro. The ticket office is about 4 kilometres away from the town of Siem Reap and it’s open from 4.30 am to 5.30 pm daily. It’s an amazing experience to see the sunrise or sunset over the temples! Bring plenty of drinking water as it can be boiling! The prices for drinks and food are way more expensive around the temples and you might want to bring some snacks instead.
In Siem Reap, you can enjoy wonderful street food from the vendors along the riverside. A vegetarian meal will cost you around $1-$1,25. If you like to add some meat a meal will cost around $1,50-$2. Try one of the wonderful fresh juices as well which only cost $1! If you like to venture out into the nightlife of Siem Reap, Pub Street seems to be the place! Instead, I ventured over the night markets to check what handicrafts were on offer. I also really liked the old market where you can buy fresh fruits, vegetables, clothes and the most random things. Personally, 2 nights in Siem Reap was enough for me to visit the town and to explore the beauty of Angkor Wat.
A visit to Cambodia is not complete without a visit to the islands. From Sihanoukville, you can take a ferry to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Sanloem. Again a personal opinion, but Sihanoukville isn’t a pretty place anymore. I took a night bus from Siem Reap to this city and I was happy to be on the ferry. Some travellers decide to stay in Sihanoukville for a night but I’d like to see as little as possible of the place. The prices at the bar/restaurant at the ferry port are ridiculously high. 4$ for a coffee and $1 to use the toilet. And there isn’t much around to eat or drink so maybe stock up on a snack or two beforehand when you’re waiting for the ferry.
Koh Rong Sankoem is the quieter of the two islands and you’ll arrive there in about 45 minutes by speed ferry. On Koh Rong, which can be reached in about 1 hour, there are some more bars and beaches to enjoy a party but has lovely quiet beaches as well. I paid $22 for a return ticket on the ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong. There are plenty of accommodations in the village as well as the village beach that stretches until White Beach. Being the nature lover that I am, I preferred the quiet area towards 4K Beach. You can sleep here in tents, hostels, bungalows and resorts. So for every budget, there are some options on the island. It takes around 20-30 minutes to walk to the village from 4K Beach. And don’t worry about your luggage! From the Community Pier where you arrive, you can take a boat taxi to your accommodation.
Swimming with plankton
And did you ever swim with plankton? When there is a new moon there is a big change you can see the plankton shine in the shallow water. I went swimming close to 4K Beach and after moving my hands and feet I could see the plankton! A beautiful moment under a starry night! Make day trips to Long Beach, Coconut Beach or visit Pineapple Island! Or go ziplining in the Cambodian jungle! There are plenty of hammocks on the island to assure you have a relaxing holiday. Bring a book and enjoy the sunset!
There is no ATM on the island at the moment but you can exchange money in some hotels.
A dark history
One of the most famous sites in Phnom Pehn is the Killing Fields which are located about 15 kilometres outside of the city. Many tour operations offer tours to both the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison, also known as Prison S21. If you want to travel by yourself you can also take a tuk-tuk or taxi. Here, you will learn a lot about the Khmer Rouge regime in a time where collectively more than a million people were killed.
Boat tours on the Mekong river
If you want to do something lighter, it is nice to take a boat tour on the Mekong river. Every evening, many ferry companies offer a 1-1,5 hour tour on the river. I opted in for a booze-free, 1-hour tour and paid $6. Instead, I bought a couple of beers in the supermarket which you are allowed to bring on board. You can also opt for the option to take an all-you-can-drink tour which would take 1,5 hours and is priced at $15. After the boat trip, you can enjoy some nice street food at the night market where they also sell a lot of clothes and jewellery.
Shopping in Phnom Penh
I was surprised when my friend told me about some Japanese secondhand vintage shops in Phnom Penh! I found a couple located around the Russian Market and they had some lovely clothes there for absolute bargain prices! Always good to recycle some unwanted clothing! The Central Market is another great place where you will find anything from clothes, household products, fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables and jewellery.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh
I stayed in a lovely boutique hostel, just 5 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets. I found the accommodation on Booking.com but there is also a wide selection of Airbnb properties in the city. Phnom Penh is like any big city and you have to look after your belongings a bit more. Because phones do get stolen off tables when you eat or get stolen out of your hands when you’re on a call. Be careful taking out large sums of money at ATMs and just be vigilant as you would be in any major city.
A quick survival guide for Cambodia
You can use a taxi booking app named Pass App in Cambodia which is cheap and hasslefree! That means there is no longer the need to discuss a price with a driver or try to explain where you are going to, which is not always easy when you don’t speak the language! You can simply add the destination in the app and the driver will pick you up at your current location. The drivers arrive quickly and the fares are fixed! After the ride, you pay the driver in cash. Pass App doesn’t link to your credit card or PayPal at the moment. The app is all in English and all you need is a working phone number to sign up. The drivers pay 15% of their earnings to Pass App, so I tried to tip them accordingly so they can cover their fees. At the moment of writing Pass App is working in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot, Battambang and Kampong Cham.
Getting a SIM Card
Of course, it’s wonderful to go offline and not be reachable during your holiday! Unfortunately, some work had to be done and I had to buy a SIM Card. Because of this, I got myself a Cambodian SIM card with Cellcard. The SIM card costs 50 cents and I paid $8 for 80GB for 30 days. Even on the islands, I had a pretty good reception, which was my biggest concern. Almost all hotels, cafes and restaurants offer free WiFi, but the connection can be spotty or not work at all.
Everywhere in Cambodia, you can pay with US Dollars or the local Cambodian Riel. At the time I travelled to Cambodia, 1$ USD was 4000 Riel. But you can check the current rates of course on Xe.com.
Disclaimer: To be fully transparent, please note that this blog post contains affiliate links and some purchases made through such links might result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). Not all links are affiliate links as I just want to share knowledge and tips with my readers and this blog is not aimed to make a ton of money! However, every little helps of course to fund future travels.