1 week in Cambodia is not a long time, but we made the most of our time here and enjoyed some of Cambodia’s highlights. We limited our visit to 1 week mostly to extend our budget. This is due to Cambodia’s tourist economy operates in USD and the exchange rate with New Zealand was not in our favour at the time of our visit.
Getting to Cambodia from Ho Chi Minh
We arrived into Cambodia in May 2016, we took the Mekong Express bus which was easy enough from Ho Chi Minh city to Phnom Phen. The bus came with a little snack box, water and a lady who helped with visa’s and boarder crossings. Unfortunately for us we thought the Cambodian visa was $20 USD per person, turns out the price has gone up to $30 USD plus the bus company wanted an additional $5 USD each for processing. Great… we only had $65 USD on us! Luckily for us, the bus lady lent us the additional $5 we needed and we were able to pay her back after walking through what seemed like a casino grave yard and going to an ATM just on the other side of the boarder.
Money in Cambodia
Cambodia is another confusing country in regards to money, they accept both USD and their local Riel, the exchange is about $1 USD to R4,000, however, you cannot get anything less than $1 USD so all your change will be a mix of local currency and USD. The shops, tourist attractions and restaurants are mostly quoted in USD and everything is of course $0.50 so you are always getting back a mix of currency.
Tip: The local currency is very volatile so it is best to keep perfect USD on you to use.
Tip: No one will accept any damaged USD so make sure they are perfect. If they aren’t try and get them exchanged at a bank as soon as possible.
Summary of costs (in USD)
- Beer: $0.50-$1.25
- Water: $1
- Mid range meal: $3-$7
- Private room in a hostel: $16
- 6 hour bus ride: $10-16
- Ankor entrance: $20
Eating in Cambodia
The food in Cambodia was very good. The famous local dish is Amok Curry! A must try dish when in Cambodia! Beer was also pretty cheap, sometimes cheaper than water so it was a no brainer on how to stay hydrated!
We visited the central market in Phnom Phen and brought the mandatory elephant pants that every second traveller wears… unfortunately within an hour the crotch ripped out of both our pants… Sadly for Ali this happened at Angkor Wat and he had to walk the whole morning like this… Therefore, don’t pay more than $2-3 USD for these pants. At least the sewing kit I have been carrying came in handy.
Cambodia has a very sad past which was evident from our visit to the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields in Phnom Phen and hired a Tuktuk for a few hours for USD$16 to take us to these sites. We took the audio guide at the Killing Feilds which was a must. The stories we heard broke our hearts and informed us of the struggle people went through during the terrible 3 years in which Pol Pot (1925-1998) and his communist Khmer Rouge movement led Cambodia. During this time nearly a quarter of the population (over $1.8million people) were executed, worked to death or starved to death.
We spent 3 nights in Phnom Phen which was enough, we then got a $10 USD bus to Siem Reap which is where you can find the famous Angkor Wat temple.
Getting to and exploring Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
The bus ride was horrible, the air-conditioning was minimal and we learnt the lesson you get what you pay for… In total it took about 6 hours to get to our HI hostel in Siem Reap. We also stayed right by one of the night markets and had really easy access into the main township. There was the famous Pub Street where we enjoyed a few $0.50 cent beers. Ali also go his first foot massage, which was a fun experience. The ladies keep laughing at him as he reacted to the massage.
We spent 4 nights in Siem Reap which was a good amount of time to be able to relax and see the temples. We hired a private Tuk Tuk for the day when we went to Angkor Wat, this was organised though our hostel and cost $13 USD for the small circuit plus we added on sunrise and an additional temple Preha Khan for a additional $7 USD.
This was a great way to see the temples, the driver waited for us after each stop and as it is super hot at this time of year (up to 40 degrees Celsius) so it made the experience a lot easier. Overall, we spent between 5am and 12pm at the temples and found that this was more than enough. There are so many temples to see but it was too hot to see it all. Ankor was a truly magical place even with the hundreds of other tourists.
Tip: Hire a private Tuk Tuk
Tip: Leave the sunrise early and get the temples to yourself
We won’t be rushing back to Cambodia but we are glad we visited. A week was more than enough to see the main sites but left us no time to see the southern beaches which are apparently very nice.
It is was a shame for us when the USD is the main currency it put us off staying any longer as the NZ exchange rate is not great and there were many other places we wanted to visit in South East Asia. It did mean at the end of our travels we had a little bit of extra spending money for some nice resorts in Thailand.