Having completed my backpacking trip in Cambodia, I felt that it’s only apt by giving back to the travelling community by creating a backpacking travel guide for backpackers looking to travel to Cambodia.
To travellers from Europe or Americas, Cambodia is one of the exotic countries in Asia that’s just so different in terms of culture and landscape. To travellers from Asia, the country is seen as a cheap getaway to travel to.
Way of life in Cambodia
Coming from a busy metropolitan city like Singapore, I find my pace slowing down the moment I landed in Cambodia. Sure the slightly more developed cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have more people but you won’t get knocked by people on the street.
In fact, the culture in Cambodia is that everyone owns a motorcycle or bicycle (and the wealthy people drive cars, of course) and there is hardly anyone walking on the street. If you love walking on the street just like me, you will love Cambodia.
The local currency in Cambodia is Riels (1 USD is 4000 Riels) but locals are happy to accept US currency for purchases above 1 USD and give you change in Riels. So if you are travelling through multiple countries, there’s no need to go to the money changer for Riels. In fact, if you are crossing the Thailand-Cambodia border, the locals there also accept Thai Baht.
Travellers usually visit Cambodia for two reasons:
- To see the famous Angkor Wat and temples around the area
- To learn about the cold dark history of Cambodia that we never learn
If you are going to Cambodia for the second reason, I would highly recommend that you read the book, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.), which is written by a survivor of the Pol Pot regime. It is a personal account of her experiences during the Khmer Rouge years. Reading the book will allow you to learn about the history of Cambodia and when you see the actual sites in Cambodia, you have a better understanding of what you see.
Singaporeans travelling to Cambodia will not need to apply for visa and can stay for up to 30 days in the country.
Getting to Cambodia
There are 3 major airports with commercial flights in Cambodia:
- Phnom Penh International Airport
- Siem Reap International Airport
- Sihanoukville International Airport
Travellers usually fly to Phnom Penh International Airport and Siem Reap International Airport as that’s where most tourist attractions are at. You can also opt to travel to Cambodia overland, crossing its borders from neighboring countries. It costs 20 USD to get a Cambodian tourist visa but beware of Cambodian officials who try to collect more money from you while you are on the way to the customs.
I heard stories about Cambodian officials asking tourists to pay 1000 Thai Baht to get their visas ‘faster’. Just walk straight to the custom counter to get your visa and avoid any ‘shortcuts’. After getting your passport stamped and entering Cambodia, try to share a taxi with other travellers to cities like Siem Reap.
Hostels in Cambodia
Cambodia is very backpacker-friendly and it is easy to find hostels and guesthouses on the Internet through websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com. Prices vary based on the 2-10 USD depending on the location and type of hostel.
Most hostels do not have kitchens for travellers to use because it is cheaper to eat (street food) out than buy all the ingredients. Many hostels do sell food and drinks to wary travellers who want to have a good meal without going out.
In more luxurious hostels, you may even get to have a dip in a private swimming pool. When I was in The Siem Reap Hostel in Siem Reap, it was pretty awesome to be able to have a dip in the cool water on the last day of my trip before checking out of the hostel. In less touristy cities like Battambang, you will find hostel that offer adequate facilities for cheap rates. I had an awesome stay at a relatively new hostel called Here Be Dragons that offered a dorm bed with a personal fan for 2 USD per night.
Food to try in Cambodia
Unlike its neighboring country like Thailand, Cambodian food is traditionally non-spicy. Instead, the food culture is known its harmonious arrangement of contrasting flavors and textures within the meal rather than a single dish. You can read about the food that I have tried in Cambodia here:
- Chicken Lok Lak
- Fish Amok
- Khmer Borbor Sach Mouan (Chicken Rice Porridge)
- Nom Pang (Khmer Baguette Sandwich)
- Num Ban Chok (Khmer Noodles)
- Charcoal-grilled Bananas
Places to visit in Cambodia
The capital and the largest city in Cambodia, Phnom Penh is the country’s pulse for economic and industrial activities. Tourists flock to Phnom Penh to see the Khmer cityscape and architecture of structures built during the French colonial era in the late 19th century, and also learn about the history of Cambodia, mostly about the Khmer Rouge regime which resulted in deaths of many Cambodians. My stay in Phnom Penh included visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Russian Market, Central Market, Royal Palace and Wat Phnom.
Many travellers choose to do a day trip, I decided to have a full day stay in this city. Although Battambang is city with the second largest population in Cambodia, you can’t really feel the crowd when walking through the town. Maybe it’s because that many locals travel to Phnom Penh for work.
I took a bus from Phnom Penh to Battambang for 8 USD (I booked it through my hostel so it could be cheaper elsewhere) and took the journey took 7 hours (instead of 4-5 hours promised by brochures). I shared a tuk tuk (10 USD for half-day) with a backpacker staying in the same hostel to take a ride on the bamboo train and visit the killing caves and see the bat caves in the evening where thousands of bats leave the caves in swarms in search for food.
If you do not visited Siem Reap in your Cambodia trip, you have never visited Cambodia. I did a 1-day visit to Angkor Wat but there’s so many things to see that I had to write a 3-part blog post about Angkor Wat. As this was the final stop of my Cambodia trip, I visited the Old Market and New Market which offer many cheap bargains for souvenirs (bargain being the operative word here).
My blog posts about Cambodia
You can read more about my travel adventures in Cambodia to help plan your trip.