Visitors to Cambodia are often pleasantly surprised by how far a few dollars can go. While prices are on the rise across the Kingdom – especially in tourist traps – it’s still easy to stick to a tight budget, especially if don’t mind giving foreign food a miss and eat and drink like a local.
Where to sleep
If you’re tight on cash, don’t worry; Cambodia is packed full of options.
Visitors on a truly shoestring budget can grab a bed for the night through Couchsurfing. Cambodia has its own Couchsurfing group, which meets weekly in Phnom Penh and organizes a series of activities and meet-ups. They welcome newbies with open arms.
Many decent guesthouses offer dorms starting at about $2. These often include shared bathrooms, lockers, air-conditioning and Wi-Fi, with female-only dorms also offered at several. More often than not, guesthouses offer private rooms at reasonable prices for those who really don’t want to share. Opting for a room with a shared bathroom drives down the cost considerably.
For those with a slightly higher budget, or travelling as a couple and willing to share a room, Cambodia has an abundance of affordable accommodations in the form of boutique hotels and guesthouses. It’s still possible to pick up a decent room with private bathroom for $15 a night.
For travellers spending a longer spell of time in Cambodia, it’s worth booking your first couple of nights online and leaving the rest open. This gives you time to check out the area and the options available before settling on a long-term resting place.
It’s also worth noting that booking in person is often cheaper than reserving through the internet, especially when trying to negotiate deals for longer stays.
Where to eat and drink
Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep all leave foodies drooling, because they are spilling over with restaurants serving food from across the globe. Of course, this food comes at a price and, while still often considerably cheaper than back home, will mainly be off bounds for those on a budget.
A hearty feast of Khmer food at a local restaurant will set you back a few bucks, but eating from the street stalls that dot the country is less expensive. If you suffer from the fear of food-poisoning, then a good tip is to look for the stalls and diners that are packed with people.
When it comes to drinking, there is plenty to choose from. A glass of local beer – commonly Angkor or Cambodia – at a guesthouse will usually set you back about $1. Mhe many daily happy hours, which stretch for much longer than an hour, cut the price down to 50 cents.
The Cambodian beer gardens that litter the country also offer cheap beers in the form of cans, bottles, jugs and towers. Some also serve food and provide live music and singing – often at a high volume and charismatically out of tune.
Many of the bars and restaurants along Phnom Penh’s riverside, formally known as Sisowath Quay – and in and around Pub Street in Siem Reap run attractive happy hour deals. While the capital’s ShowBox – popular with backpackers and the expat crew – offers free beer from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily for customers who buy one.
Travelling around Cambodia is cheap, with too many bus companies to count transporting people to all corners of the country throughout the day. For example, getting from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh can cost as little as $8 – although it’s worth checking out the reliability and safety of the bus company first – with taxis costing at about $80.
Shared taxis are another budget option, but this probably means a long journey crammed in a car with another seven locals and a few chickens.
Once in a destination, the most popular mode of transport is the tuk-tuk. However, a motodop is about half the price and, thanks to being able to weave in and out of traffic, can get you there quicker. Bicycles are also available to hire, from $2 a day and are a cheap and environmentally friendly way to explore.
Hiring a motorbike is an option for travellers stopping in the country for longer periods of time. Many guesthouses rent them out, and there is no shortage of shops with them for hire. Passports will be needed in exchange, with an increasing number of stores asking for a deposit.
What to do
The Cambodian countryside is where the real Cambodia lies and getting to it is easy no matter where you are. If you’ve hired a bike – moto or bicycle – then hit the road and escape the city.
Go like a local and pack a picnic before heading to one of the many spots that dot the rivers that weave through the country. It won’t be long before you spot the many wooden huts equipped with hammocks that overlook the water.
If you’re in the capital, then the riverside is the place to be at dusk. As a prime spot for people-watching, the promenade fills up with locals taking an evening stroll, playing games, hanging out, and taking part in aerobics classes.
Shopaholics should head to the market, armed with their best bartering skills, to bag bargains in the form of souvenirs, clothes, and food. In Phnom Penh, Russian and Central markets are geared towards tourists. For a more local experience, head to Orussey Market. In Siem Reap, Old Market is a hive of activity, with the town home to several night markets.
And while in Siem Reap, take a free tour of Artisan Angkor’s workshops and see artisans at work while learning more about Cambodia’s artistic heritage. The organisation also offers free daily tours to its silk farm on the outskirts of the city.
The capital’s Wat Langka offers free meditation sessions four times a week, led by monks. Sessions last about an hour and involve sitting cross-legged on the floor in silence. It’s vital visitors remember the code of conduct when visiting temples, so keep knees and shoulders covered and remove your shoes before stepping inside.
Film buffs can get their fix for free at Meta House in Phnom Penh, which screens free documentaries, independent films and international hits daily. For those with a budget, The Flicks and Empire Movie House offer day tickets for $3.50, meaning you can spend all day sat in the air-con watching a string of films for a few bucks.