Most of people, with whom I have talked, associate Cambodia with Angkor Wat temple complex. And I can understand why. Because this place is really beautiful and it’s amazingly popular. Everyone talks only about it. Making you feel like there is nothing else to see in the whole country. So for many people Cambodia is just a part of their Southeast Asia trip. And they skip everything else just to see Angkor Wat.
To be honest, I didn’t know much more about Cambodia either. I knew I want to visit Angkor Wat and I also wanted to get away from cities and see more of rural part of Cambodia. But that was it. As a result we went to Cambodia almost without any expectations and knowing just a little bit about the country.
Beginning of our trip to Cambodia was hard. Our hotel was in the part of the city, which we didn’t like at all. So automatically Phnom Penh seemed to be more ugly than it actually is. On the third day we bought a motorbike and got into traffic accident. Then we sold motorbike. What followed, though, were three beautiful weeks in Cambodia, country, which as it turned out, has much more to offer than most of visitors see.
Traveling to Cambodia
If you are already traveling in Southeast Asia, particularly – Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, then you can get to biggest cities in Cambodia either by bus or by plane. You can travel to Cambodia with your motorbike or, as some do, tuktuk, too. Traveling by bus will be cheaper, but it will take you much more time than flight.
With AirAsia and other low cost airlines operating in the region it’s always wise to check flights. Because sometimes difference in price is really insignificant, or it even costs the same.
Traveling to Cambodia from Europe, USA or Australia you will most probably be going to Phnom Penh first. But there are two more international airports in Cambodia, one in Sihanoukville, known as a gateway to paradise islands of Cambodia, another – in Siem Reap, gateway to Angkor temple complex.
Obtaining Cambodia visa
It is possible to get visa on arrival in Cambodia at all border crossing points. But you can also apply for Cambodia visa online (e-visa), on the website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation. Note that e-visa isn’t accepted at all land border crossing points, and you can’t use it, when arriving to Cambodia by plane at Preah Sihanouk International Airport. You also can’t use it, when traveling by land from Laos to Cambodia.
Double check it prior your trip, especially if you plan to arrive by land. You can check it on the same website mentioned above.
If you will be obtaining visa on arrival, prior to the trip check out how much does it cost. Now, in the spring of 2016, it cost 30 USD. Price was even written on the poster just behind immigration officer’s counter at Phnom Penh International airport. But I noticed it too late. I gave 100 USD, and officer gave me back only 60 USD. Una went after me and paid 30 USD.
Cambodia is budget friendly country
Like the rest of Southeast Asian countries Cambodia is not expensive country for traveling.
Food in Cambodia on average is a bit more expensive than in Thailand and Malaysia. More often than not dishes cost around 2,5 – 3 USD and more. While in Thailand and Malaysia we often pay less than 2 USD. But all food we had was good quality and portions were big.
At the same time accommodation in Cambodia is cheaper than in neighboring countries. Cheapest rooms, in particular, in Cambodia always cost less than we had seen in Thailand and, for example, Malaysia. For 5-6 USD in Cambodia we had decent double room with attached bathroom, fan and WiFi. In Siem Reap for the same money we also had breakfast and free drinking water and tea. If you are curious – in Siem Reap we stayed at Advisor Angkor Villa (Booking.com, Agoda).
See also our 2 weeks in Cambodia itinerary + costs!
Check out also Airbnb, if you want to stay in an apartment or private house! Register using my Airbnb link and you will get a 18 euro discount for your first booking of 75 euro or more.
Getting SIM card in Cambodia is easy
And it’s cheap as well. In Phnom Penh one of the places, where you can buy a SIM card, is at the airport. Once you go out of the airport it’s impossible to miss all these shops of mobile operators. They are all in one line. And there are always some other people buying SIM cards.
What surprised us most was that mobile internet in Cambodia is that cheap. For 5 USD we could buy 5 GB of mobile internet. You know, in the Netherlands the same amount of data costs more like 50 USD or more. We chose qb (Cadcomms). We used it throughout the country and weren’t disappointed. There were times, when we were traveling by bus and internet was very slow, which I think is a normal thing, but we didn’t have any problems in cities.
Other mobile operators are – Cellcard, Smart Axiata, Metfone, Excell, Cootel, Telecom Cambodia, Camintel. Check out their websites, if you want to find the very best option. But it’s not necessary if you are in Cambodia only for few weeks and/or plan to be most of the time in cities. Tariffs are similar for all of them.
WiFi is widely available in Cambodia.
English language is widely used
During this one month, that we spent in Cambodia, not even once we had a problem because of language. Of course, I’m not saying that everyone speaks perfect English, but it’s not necessary either. Do all bus drivers, for example, in France speak English? No. But in all the places, where tourists usually go – hotels, hostels, bars, restaurants, tourist offices, ticket booking offices – there always will be someone speaking English. Don’t worry about that!
I guess it’s also at least party related to the fact that about 70% of Khmer are under the age of 34.
Food in Cambodia
First thing I noticed about food in Cambodia was that they like to eat soups. Phnom Penh was our first stop in the country, and there we saw many specialized restaurants, where you come, choose the ingredients you want and then soup is brought to your table. There you have small stove. You put the pot on it, to keep the soup warm. And then you (often group of people) just serve it yourself, in small portions.
Few local dishes I recommend you to try – Fish amok, Pho (soup), Coconut curry; anything with crab and green pepper, when you are going to Kep or Kompot.
Food in Cambodia isn’t too spicy. Not in our experience. Fun fact – in restaurant beer can be cheaper than water. Glass of craft beer costs starting from 0,5 USD. During the happy hours also alcoholic cocktails can be similar as cheap.
Public buses in Cambodia are the best for getting around
All the biggest cities in Cambodia can be reached by bus. Traveling by bus can take quite a lot of time, especially when traveling to or from Phnom Penh. Because traffic in Phnom Penh can be really heavy at times and super slow.
There are several companies, who provide public bus service in the country. Thus buses are running frequently and they are relatively cheap. We traveled by bus 5 times: Phnom Penh – Sihanoukville, Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh – Siem Reap, Siem Reap – Phnom Penh – Kep and back. And all the time we used Phnom Penh Sorya Transport.
You can buy bus tickets at bus ticket booking offices, tourism offices or directly at the hotel, where you are staying. We used the latter option and all these times we also had free pickup (tuktuk brought us from hotel to bus station).
When booking our hotel in Phnom Penh, we looked on the map and saw, that it’s close to train station. That made us think, that there should be trains running in Cambodia. Turned out, that not really. A week prior to our arrival train service was restarted, but at least now train is running only on weekends and only between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. And it’s also very slow.
Where to go and what to see in Cambodia
1-2 days are enough for Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. Few of the most interesting places in the city are – Wat Phnom, Central Market, Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium, Russian Market and Royal Palace.
If you know something about history of Cambodia you will most probably have heard about horrors of Khmer Rouge regime. More than million of people were killed in a short time. To learn more about these times head to Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, close to Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap is the town, where you should go, if you want to visit Angkor Temple Complex. It’s only few kilometers away from the complex. At first we were a little bit skeptical about arranging a tuktuk for full day, but then we learned that it costs starting from 10 USD per person for a day. Another option would be to rent a bicycle, motorbike or car and go there on your own.
The biggest lake in Cambodia is called Tonlé Sap, and it’s close to Siem Reap, too.
Do you like spending a time on beautiful beach? Head to Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem. We recommend Koh Rong Samloem. It’s smaller and more peaceful, while Koh Rong is better if you like partying. Both of these islands are accessible by boat going from Sihanoukville, seaside town known for its nightlife.
Kep and Kampot are two nice towns, approximately 1,5 – 2 hour bus ride away from Sihanoukville. They aren’t touristy, but locals and local expats like them. We used Kep as a starting point from where to see more of a rural Cambodia. We rented a scooter there and went on few day trips. Go to Kep and try local crab in green pepper sauce. It’s delicious!
If you still have some questions about traveling in Cambodia, contact us!
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they are traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On WeAreFromLatvia.com they share their experience and things learned along the way.