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The Ultimate Backpacker's Guide To Cambodia

Picture of Marissa
Updated: 14 November 2017
Cambodia is popular on the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit, meaning its vastly increasing facilities cater to this crowd. Despite its rough-around-the-edges reputation, the country is a paradise for travellers and relatively easy to get around. Here are some tips to make it even easier.
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Getting into Cambodia

While the government is currently cracking down on business visas and work permits, securing a tourist visa remains simple, with one-month visas on arrival available. These can then be renewed once for one- or three-month, single-entry visas without the effort of a border run. Simply drop off your passport with two photos at one of the many tour operators that dot the country and collect it three working days later.

Getting around Cambodia

Ongoing road improvements have seen the country’s major routes vastly improve during the last few years, making land travel much quicker, easier and more comfortable. There are numerous bus companies that operate across the country, all varying in price, reliability and safety. This is the most common mode of transport and tickets can easily be bought, again, from any of the small travel agents found across Cambodia. Taxis are a quicker and cheaper option – about $80 from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, $50 from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and $40 from the capital to Kampot. There are also shared taxis available but expect to be crammed into a cab with at least five other people.

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Finding somewhere to sleep

Finding a bed for the night isn’t hard, thanks to the rapidly rising number of hotels, guesthouses and other accommodation throughout the country. Phnom Penh is home to a cute collection of affordable boutique hotels, for those with a bit more cash to splash, while cheap and cheerful guesthouses stud tourist hubs, such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Many offer a mix of dorms and private rooms, depending on your budget.

Solo Travellers

Cambodia is a great place for solo travellers, thanks to the volume of backpackers that hit the country. By staying in well-established guesthouses, such as The Mad Monkey, which has accommodation in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Kampot and Koh Rong Samloem, you’re bound to bump into fellow travellers to share tips with, join in parties and potentially find a new travel buddy to explore the country alongside.

Female travellers

Again, female travellers can feel safe in the Kingdom, with many guesthouses offering female-only dorms, and Cambodians’ kind nature ensuring you’re taken care of. Just remember to take the same precautions you would anywhere else, such as avoiding quiet, dark streets alone at night, keeping valuables locked in a safe and having your wits about you.

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Finding things to do

Cambodia really does have it all. As well as being soaked in history and culture, it is home to pristine beaches, untouched islands, UNESCO sites, thick jungle, rivers, ancient monuments and some of the nicest people around. This means you’ll never be short of things to do in Cambodia and as a backpacker, you have time on your side meaning you don’t have to cram the country into a few short days.

Where to go in Cambodia

Siem Reap is most people’s first stop-off. Home to Angkor Wat, in high season Temple Town is spilling over with tourists desperate to catch a glimpse of the world’s largest religious structure. The capital of Phnom Penh is another destination, with many staying there for a few days to indulge in the thriving restaurant and bar scene. Sihanoukville on the coast is also popular, with most travellers skipping the town itself and heading straight for the quieter shores of Otres, about 15 minutes away in a tuk tuk. The laidback river town of Kampot is becoming more popular, as is nearby Kep. And, thanks to the improvements to infrastructure, more outlying areas are planting themselves on travellers’ maps. These include the mountainous region of Mondulkiri, the jungles of the Cardamom Mountains and the cool pine forests of Kirirom.

Keeping it riel

It’s worth noting that while the local currency is riel (4,000 riel to $1), US dollars are the preferred notes. Cambodia is a money-centric country where cash rules, with cards accepted in just a handful of larger outlets. Keep your dollar bills crisp because if they are torn or shabby, they will often be refused. And note that breaking large bills can be tricky – don’t even expect the corner stall to be able to change a $20 on many occasions – so it’s worth keeping a handful of $1 notes close at all times.

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