a budget travellers guide to cambodia
Cambodia is a beautiful country full of natural world wonders, history, and beaches, that you probably never even knew were there. Its popular amongst the backpacker & budget traveler communities, as it has some of the cheapest accommodation I've ever come across whilst travelling. That said it is also home to a completely diverse age group of people, as well as budget, due to the boutique style hotels, accompanied with swimming pools, to cool off in the sweltering heat of the Cambodian sun.
Whether you choose to stay in style, on a sweeping visit of a SouthEast Asian tour to see one of the most spectacular sites, that is Angkor Wat, or whether you choose to grab your backpack and wonder into the wilderness of the "real" Cambodia – both experiences will have you lapping up what this country has to offer. After Burma, it is by far the most undeveloped country in South East Asia, having said that their tourism has completely opened up in the last 20 years – and you can now even fly into their main airports of Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) or Phnom Pen.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Cambodia is a country that requires a "quick" visit to see its famous natural world wonder, or its infamous history through "The killing fields of Phnom Pen". This country is full of nature, culture, wonderful people who are more than willing to welcome you into their lives, and not to mention the beautiful islands of Koh Rong & Koh Totang, which hang off the south coast of Cambodia.
Siem Reap is home to the famous ruins of Angkor Wat (5 kilometers down the road). It’s a bustling city of Asia, and represents its wonderful welcome, with the lovely Cambodian people, in their up market tuk tuks, willing to bow down to your every command – for a fee of course. Siem Reap is all about Angkor Wat & the surrounding ruins. It's not surprising that this is the case, as visiting at the preferred times of sunrise or sunset will blow your mind – and definitely let you tick off an item on your "bucket list". The night markets of Siem Reap are also (but not equally) fantastic and well worth a visit. As always expect trinkets of every kind & smells, that will have you reaching for your US dollars to buy up whatever you can that smells SO good. The infamous "Pub Street" is home to Siem Reaps banging nightlife, and is a really good vibe for backpackers, budget travelers and all types of ages and faces. The music pumps, along with dancing in the street – people spill out of the bars/restaurants, drink in hand and dance, smile, laugh, enjoy each other – it’s a great experience and one not to be missed under the dark warm sky of this Asian beauty.
Phnom Penh is infamous for the killing fields, relating back in history to the times of Khmer. It's also home to its security prison – which as far as sights go, go hand in hand. My advice would be to do these on the same day – as they are difficult experiences to have, but one that must be realised to know and be immersed in the recent painful history of Cambodia. It's not all doom and gloom, however, so pick yourself up with a mouth watering fruit shake and experience the temples, markets and bustling back streets of Phnom Penh, with its many cultures and smiling faces of the Cambodian children running in the street to catch up with you.
Sihanoukville lies on the south coast of Cambodia and is where you will encounter some of the countries great beaches. White-ish sand, beautiful blue foamy salt water lapping onto the shore – this place is a traveler haven, where you can relax on the beach, have all sorts of pampering sessions (even whilst you sunbathe), and immerse yourself in the nightlife of the great bars with their live music & hostel vibes of familiar faces that you’ve seen & met whilst travelling down this amazing country. Sihanoukville is surrounded by the most incredibly attractive islands, and is the start of what's to come – but believe me, it only gets better from here on in.
Koh Rong is a boat ride away from the south coast of Cambodia & is the most popular out of all of the islands, that said, it is not on the same scale as a Thai island in terms of number of travelers/tourists. It's paradise, and most definitely rivals even the most beautiful of islands, in Thailand. This beach paradise is more authentic, rustic and undeveloped and doesn’t even have an ATM on the island. Nor electricity for that matter after a certain time in the evening. That said you have everything you need, beach bbq's, great traveler atmosphere and hippy-esque style beach life running all around this island. Stars light up the night sky, even more so when the electricity is off, and the dazzling display of the brightest diamonds in the sky, will leave you wanting more and more. That’s not even the best of it, the water here during certain times of the year, is as still (& warm) as bath water, and under the surface lies a site that will blow you away. Plankton, at night, that lights up when you move! Grab some friends and a snorkel under the night sky and be inspired & completely astonished by what you see above and below in this wonderful paradise – heaven on earth.
Koh Totang is another island off the south coast, completely unspoiled and undeveloped, nature bursting from every part of this island – with no roads, technology, or in some cases footprints in the sand. Make this your own private paradise. Koh Rong Samloen another island, which is enriched with different beaches, that each house a different kind of atmosphere, so there is always more to explore and something for everybody – lap it up ! Finally Ko Ta Tieve is an island that not many people stay overnight on – but one that many people visit by boat from the other islands to snorkel. Its becoming more traveler friendly in terms of accessibility to its beaches, so in the future I predict it will become like the other Cambodian islands – get there first.