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We spent 24 days in Cambodia. Here is a collection of our impressions, travel tips, and the cost break down.
Cambodia was the last country we visited in Asia and is unique for us in that we spent less time there before we had a plane to catch out of Bangkok instead of staying longer as our visa allowed and we intended. Given the amount of time our itinerary worked our fairly well. We definitely lingered a bit in a few places instead of getting more off the beaten path but that’s how it goes sometimes. Certainly you could spend less time in Sihanoukville (aka at the beach) and even less time at Siem Reap (but we had a few friends there so it was good for us to stay).
Our expectations were very low for Cambodia. To be honest we had heard terrible things of thieving, nasty people, countless scams, violence – the works. But all that didn’t deter us and it’s a good thing because we had a really nice time. Cambodia has an extremely tragic history and it was great to be able to go there and experience it first hand by talking with locals from tuk tuk drivers to NGO workers about the problems facing Cambodia.
Needless to say the temples in Siem Reap are really special and the beaches in Sihanoukville quite nice and perhaps less touristy than say Thailand’s. Sure, we didn’t love everything. The tuk tuk drivers in Cambodia have to be some of the worst we’ve encountered – they’re relentless. There is also a lot of child begging, which we had been warned about. That said, after 9 months in Asia we were pretty hardened to that sort of thing and were able to look past it and see the true beauty the country has to offer.
Overall we enjoyed the food in Cambodia. In terms of a favorite dish there is a tie between the crab we had in the seaside town of kep and the amok dishes we had throughout our stay in the country. The crab was the best I’ve ever had; it was tender and juicy and with a perfectly complementary sauce – the only problem’ there wasn’t enough of it. I would have happily ordered a second and third helping.
The amok is a traditional Cambodia curry made with the standard set of Asian ingredients; coconut milk, kaffir limes, ginger, etc and served either in a bowl made of banana leaves or a coconut shell. We had both fish and vegetarian amok and loved both. The sauce is creamy but without an overwhelmingly strong taste. Even if you are not into curry based dishes this is a must try. You simply cannot leave Cambodia without sampling this dish at least a handful of times.
Our best experience was meeting up with a local through couchsurfing in Phnom Penh. We didn’t have a chance to stay with anyone overnight but our own night out with Borey simply made our trip. He picked us up on his motorbike and took us a to a local restaurant where we first had dinner. He shared with us his life story – he was from Sihanoukville but had moved up to Phnom Penh to work for a local NGO, helping locals who had been evicted from their land recieve help and support. He dreams of opening his own business on one of the islands and hopes to do so in a few years. Over the course of dinner our conversation progressed to more cultural topics and he shared with us his thoughts on the future of Cambodia. After visiting the killing fields and S21 museum we knew about Cambodia’s troubled past but through Borey we received a lesson in Cambodia’s upsetting present and volatile future. Cadres from the Khmer Rouge are still in power and therefore justice has not been had, even 35 years later. Corruption is rampant. As Borey said, government is not working, school is not working, court is not working. After dinner as he drove us around the city he pointed out all the new construction sites that have been started once the local citizens were forcibly evicted from the land. He shared personal accounts of being on site when police and military would kick the citizens out without fair compensation or alternatives. Sadly there are many such sites in Phnom Penh. Through our one evening with Borey we feel like we got a glimpse into the Cambodia of today, the Cambodia that many people have to live with daily.
Within the city you can pretty much walk everyone as they are pretty small so buses are not needed, or just rent a motorbike or a bike.
No trains in Cambodia! OK, maybe there are but we didn’t take any.
No cabs either, but the tuk tuk drivers are extremely aggressive and will want to haggle.
Getting from place to place is largely done via bus or minivan. What can I say, not that comfortable, especially if it’s a minivan. In most cases the distances were not too bad (under 4 hours) and the roads were not too windy (compared to Laos).
Fairly useless in most cases.
We never really had an issue with a lack of public facilities, most restaurants seem to have them available.
We found Cambodia to be incredibly safe.
Cambodia food is pretty good, we particularly like Fish Amok. Of course they have the usual dishes that all of SEA seems to have. I really recommend checking out some of the NGO eateries especially in Phnom Penh and Battambang – they are pricier but the quality and choice makes it worth your while.
This is a cash country. In fact, Cambodia uses two currencies, their local one and the US dollar. Dollars are accepted virtually everywhere and the rate is pretty good so there is no need to change money if you do not want to – just make sure to have small bills available because $20 goes a long way in Cambodia and can be difficult to break.
Internet is generally available in Cambodia and cafes can be wifi spots.
We didn’t do any Couchsurfing in Cambodia but we did meet with a guy Vicky messaged on the platform, which resulted in dinner and motorbiking around Phnom Penh – don’t be shy there are a lot of nice people to meet in this country.
We kept track of every cost we had down to the purchase level and categorized it into 5 groupings:
So where did we end up?
$34 per person, per day.
Like most places in South East Asia Cambodia is inexpensive. In fact we definitely could have gotten by on less but we decided to splurge a bit and go to some nice NGO restaurants, which cost probably double the price of an average meal but are much better quality and also support a good cause.
Would we go back to Cambodia? YES!