I am advocating traveling even on a budget. I believe that you do not have to be ridiculously rich to be able to experience a different culture, see a new landscape or meet new people in a strange land. My recent trip to Cambodia with three of my closest girlfriends was unforgettable and what it did was just whet my appetite for more that I am planning to go back there. Cambodia on a budget is indeed possible!
I am not a rich person and I do not earn six figures in a month, far from it. Although I am single I spend my money on other equally important things but I am a firm believer that travel is a must. It opens your eyes, educates you, and allows you to shed your incorrect preconceived notions. It is one of the best teachers you could ever have in life.
So, it was with a delightful heart that I discovered that airplane tickets to Phnom Penh were being sold on low prices and I remember I and my friends were so happy that we literally shrieked with delight while we were booking our tickets. It was still February and we could not wait for June to come, the day when we would finally be able to step on the land of King Suryavarman II.
We originally wanted to go directly to Siem Reap because Angkor Wat was there but as it turned out later on in our trip, it was a blessing and a curse that we could not go directly to Siem Reap. A little research told us that Siem Reap was located 5 hours away from the country’s capital. We had to brace ourselves for a long bus ride but it did not dampen our excitement to finally see Angkor Wat.
We were only in Cambodia for 2 days and let me just say this loud and clear; this is not the way to explore the country and the city. We were pressed for time, one of our friends could not take more than a day’s leave from work (the perks of a 9 to 5 job), so we had to do with what we got and just took the chance. If you ever plan to experience the real Cambodia, plan at least 5 days for your trip.
Tip: Although Cambodia has its own currency, it is best to go to the money changer in your country of origin to get US dollars. US dollars are accepted everywhere. There are also only a few ATMs so make sure you have enough cash for your trip.
Day 1 – Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace contains the Silver Pagoda and it is the residence of the Cambodian Royals. Entrance is USD $6. Restoration was ongoing when we went there in June 2013 and we were told by our guide that admission tickets are only sold until 9.30am. We were not able to get in because we arrived at the Royal Palace past 10am so we had to take pictures from the outside.
Tip: Go to the Royal Palace early and get your admission ticket
The Russian Market in Pnhom Penh is like Petaling Street in Kuala Lumpur. This is where you can buy an array of souvenirs to take home. Cambodia is popular for their textile exports. You can get silk scarves, bags and other tapestries. Of course, you can also get the ubiquitous refrigerator magnets, which I happen to collect, and keychains.
We ended up buying a lot of things in the Russian market, a decision which I regretted. whenever possible, buy souvenirs on the very last day of your trip. You do not want to blow your whole budget away on souvenirs.
Tip: As much as I hate to say this we got ripped off at the Russian market. So, my tip is not to buy there! You can get the same products at a much better price in Siem Reap.
Temples and pagodas, you can never have enough of them when you go on a trip to Cambodia and Southeast Asia.
We were only in Phnom Penh until 2 o’ clock so basically we had limited time. We wanted to go to the Killing Fields and the war museum but there was just no more time for that.
Tip: If you are planning a trip to Phnom Penh or are planning to stop by on your way to Siem Reap, you should stay for at least 2 days.
At exactly 2.30 we were already at the station waiting for the bus which was going to take us to Siem Reap. The 5-hour bus ride went on to become an 8-hours bus ride, thanks to the bus which constantly had to stop at every corner because there was one lady who had to go to the toilet all the time. We got to Siem Reap at around 10pm.
Day 2 – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)
We spent the entire day 2 in Angkor Wat. We had spoken with a tuktuk driver the night before and he agreed take us around Siem Reap the following day. We woke up early as we agreed that he would be waiting outside our hostel at 5am to take us to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat Admission Rates
One day Angkor Pass – USD $20
Three day Angkor Pass – USD $40
One week Angkor Pass – USD $60
Tip: If you have time on your hands, by all means get the one week Angkor Pass. One day IS NOT enough to enjoy Angkor Wat. It is far too big and there are a lot of things to do. One of the things which you should enjoy is the elephant ride for USD $15. You can ride with a friend or by yourself.
As mentioned above, Angkor Wat is very big, so walking is pretty much out of the question. There are various means of transporation available which you can choose from.
Bicycles – can be rented for just $3 a day
Motorbike taxi – if you do not mind riding on the back of a motorbike, you can go around Angkor Wat for just $10 to $15 a day
Tuk-tuk – this is the most popular means of transportation in Cambodia and this is the best option for groups. You can rent an entire tuk-tuk for the whole day for just $15 a day. You just have to negotiate with the driver.
There are many temples to explore and watching the sunrise and sunset from one of many locations in Angkor Wat is a must-do for any traveler.
Tip: Be careful of the guy in one of the temples who asks you to light incense and pray to a Buddha. He will ask you for $5 after! We got ripped off by this guy. When we realized what he was doing, we were in too deep to back out. I just consoled myself with the thought that it will buy his family a decent meal. Lesson learned!
My Cambodia Expenses
Pocket money for Cambodia trip – USD $185
Roundtrip airfare (Singapore-Cambodia-Singapore via Tiger Airways) – USD $142
Total money spent – USD $327
Things I Spent My Pocket Money On
Hostel (Mad Monkey Siem Reap) – USD 9 (for 2 nights)
Bus ride (from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap) – USD $8
Car ride (from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh) – USD S10 ($10 for each of the 4 girls in the car)
Tuk-tuk around Phnom Penh – USD $10
Tuk-tuk around Siem Reap – USD $5
Angkor Pass (1 day) – USD $20
Elephant ride – USD $15
Khmer massage – USD 10
Tip for masseuse – USD $1
Temple guy – USD $5
Food, souvenirs and other miscellaneous expenses – USD $92
We stayed at the Mad Monkey Hostel while in Siem Reap. I loved it there. The vibe was so cool and it is a backpacker’s haven. Every guest who stays there gets a free bottle of water or a glass of beer. For the hostel’s rating and for booking, check here.