Taking a trip around South East Asia would not be complete, without a visit to the Kingdom of Cambodia. A place that is beginning to attract more and more global visitors each year, Cambodia is somewhere you won’t regret adding to your bucket list.
For me, Cambodia was my respite after a challenging journey through Vietnam. I loved every minute in this country, from the breath-taking moment of seeing Angkor Wat (a UNESCO World Heritage Centre) for the first time, to the traditional food – I can’t recommend visiting this country enough.
Before setting off, here are some simple tips and recommendations to help plan and make your trip a little easier.
Arriving into Cambodia, the first thing you have to do is pick up your 30-day tourist visa. This doesn’t need to be done in advance.
As with most customs officials, the reception you receive is stern and militant. Be sure to have everything ready before you reach the desk if you want to avoid being barked at.
You will need to fill out a visa form, which is available there, submit your passport (which must be at least 6 months away from expiring) and pay the fee. The cost for a one-month visa is $35 (US dollars). They will only accept dollars for this and they also won’t give you change, so if you give them $40 or $50 dollars, that’s how much your visa will cost.
You will also be required to supply a passport size photo, this is the same at lots of boarders around Asia so make sure you have a few of those with you for your trip.
Cambodia has its own currency called Riel, however I would go as far as to say you can go your entire stay in Cambodia without using a single note of it. Almost all transitions are done in US dollars.
We were in Cambodia for four days and brought $250 each – this was way more than we needed. It more than covered our transport, visas, food, accommodation and activities.
We lived like royalty during our time there, which was bitter sweet. While I loved the comfort and experience, it also made me feel a little guilty. A salary for some, is less than $250 a year in Cambodia! It was also a real eye opener to how lucky we are in Ireland.
Siem Reap is the starting point for most travellers in Cambodia. It is easy to get to, close to Angkor Wat and has a very lively party scene (if that’s your thing, check out Pub Street).
Visiting Siem Reap is a nice way to ease yourself into Cambodian culture and the town is full of places to eat, drink and relax. For us, Siem Reap was a place to catch our breath around the midway point of our trip in South East Asia.
While we were there I had a lovely facial in the La Da Kiri Boutique Hotel. I also got my nails done in another salon (I can’t recommend that place though, as they chipped within a day). There are lots of spas and salons around the city, and packages are so reasonable. I would highly recommend taking some time out and having a little pampering session while you are there.
The quickest and easiest way to get from the airport to Siem Reap is by taxi for about $10. Most hotels offer a (paid for) taxi service which can be arranged beforehand. I would always opt for this rather than jumping in a random taxi outside the airport.
Tuk-tuks are a great way to get around any Asian city. They are quick, cheap and adventurous. If you are taking one, be sure to agree a price ahead of time. Ask your hotel how much your planned journey should cost so you have an idea how much to haggle for.
One thing I noticed about some of the tuk-tuk drivers in Cambodia is that a lot of them offered much more than their transport services.
“Ok, you want weed? Cocaine?”
This happened openly and regularly in Siem Reap, so just be wary.
In Cambodia, a tourist is not allowed to drive a moped or scooter. You will of course find places that are willing to rent to you and may even say that it is legal, but that isn’t the case. If you are caught you will face a hefty fine by police, so it’s best to steer clear (pun intended).
A great alternative is renting a bicycle. There are lots of place who rent them by the day for as little as $1. It is a fantastic way to see the city and surrounding areas, while enjoying the beautiful Cambodian weather. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!
We stayed in two hotels during our visit to Cambodia. The first was called Secondfold Residence, it has a 9.6 rating on Booking.com. The cost was €24 each for the night. I quite liked it, but B wasn’t as impressed. We did end up sharing our room with a couple of geckos, which was.. fun! They don’t come near you so don’t worry – it’s the mosquitos who cause all the problems! Lol
Or second hotel was called The Night Hotel, this was €23 each per night. Out of everywhere we stayed in South East Asia, I think that this was our favourite place. It was so grand – and not in the Irish sense of the word! It has beautifully carved wooden features throughout the building, a gorgeous pool area and a fantastic restaurant on site. The bedroom was huge, with a cosy queen-sized bed as well as a lovely standalone bath. It was like a honeymoon hotel and yet so cheap.
I loved the food in Cambodia, it is very close to what you will find in Thailand and far easier on a sensitive tummy, compared to Vietnamese cuisine. Khmer curry is a traditional dish that is a must try, it’s sweet and creamy and extremely delicious. The best one I tried was in the restaurant of our hotel, The Night Restaurant. I went back for it twice, it was that good.
There are also lots of modern restaurants around the city, and there are plenty of options for vegans. Some of my favourite places were Sister Srey Café (try their homemade vegan snickers), VIBE (great for lunch/brunch) and Green-Go Vegan Garden.
Another place you have to try is The Missing Sock Laundry Café, not only do they do amazing breakfasts (waffle goals!) they also have a brilliant laundry service – a great find when you have been on the go for a few weeks!
As one of the most stunning places in the world, visiting the ancient city of Angkor is the Crème de la crème of travel experiences. What you may not realise before going, is the actual scale of the place. It spans over 400 acres, which is roughly twice the size of Manhattan – not exactly something you can walk the entirety of in a single day.
The temples are spread out quite a distance from each other, so if you want to see them all I would strongly advise you to either book a tuk-tuk for the day (very easy to arrange with the help of your hotel) or take a bus tour that will do scheduled stops and pickups.
We didn’t read much about Angkor before we arrived, so we decided to cycle. We ended up doing over 20Km that day (in 30+ degree heat), got to see the two main temples and exhausted ourselves in the process. We were so tired by the end of the day, we hired a tuk-tuk to take us and our two bikes back to the city.
Although some areas of Angkor were grossly over-crowded (namely the main temple of Angkor Wat), others were blissfully peaceful and almost abandoned. We even got to enjoy some of it as just the two of us and it was magical.
Tickets cost $37 for one day or $62 for three days. If I was doing it all again I would book the three-day ticket, hire a tuk tuk, stay for sun set at least once and see the entire place in the three days.
Ps. Don’t forget to cover up – no shoulders or knees allowed.
There are many other parts of Cambodia that seem fascinating to me and I would love to go back and explore the country deeper. There is a river route you can take from Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, to Phnom Penh that looks amazing. You take a boat up the river Mekong and it’s definitely an experience I would like to have some day.
The country has a very violent past, which is something we didn’t really delve into while there. Many travellers who visit Cambodia, visit the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. It is an experience that I imagine would break even a heart of stone. Although we didn’t visit this time, it is something I would like to explore in the future. I think it would help me to understand where this sweet country came from and how it’s tragic past has shaped where it is going.
Thank you so much for reading, I hope this has been helpful if you are planning a trip there soon. If you have any question please feel free to get in touch or follow me over on Instagram (@lovelytomeetme).
Next time, I’ll be taking you to the beautiful island of Koh Tao, where I had one of the best experiences of my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Until then..
Written with love,