Cambodia- The land of the majestic Angkor Wat

Cambodia- The land of the majestic Angkor Wat

I have always been fascinated by the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and hence Cambodia was always one of the countries that I wanted to visit. I was a little apprehensive about visiting the country due to it’s turbulent past, not so long ago. I am glad that I went ahead anyway, because not only did I get to see the majestic Angkor Wat temples but I got to learn an important history lesson from the genocide conducted by the Pol Pot regime. I saw some untouched countryside sights, enjoyed mouth-watering Khmer food, went swimming with fluorescent planktons and enjoyed the hospitality of ever smiling, friendly Cambodian people. This blog post covers the practical aspects of travel and for individual places you can click on the links given.
Map of Cambodia:
Visa information: You can get a visa on arrival or you can apply online and get an online visa online. You need to carry the printout with you. You can get all the information for e-visa and the valid ports of entry with e-visa through this link:
Currency: Cambodia uses both United States Dollar(USD) and Cambodian riel as currency.
                                     1 USD= 4000 riel
You will always receive change in riel.
Useful tip: Be careful of not accepting damaged dollars. The local businesses may refuse to take a damaged dollar or may charge you upto 10% extra. The reason for this is that Cambodia doesn’t print dollars and hence has to send the damaged dollars to US for exchange. ATM is available everywhere but you need to take enough cash with you when going to islands because there is no ATM.

Sim card: I got my sim card from the airport for a very reasonable price, I think for $5. It includes a considerable amount of data.I got a cellcard sim card. The recharge for data is also very reasonable. You can also make a couple of international calls.

Time of I got my sim card visit/Weather: I visited Cambodia towards past mid January until beginning of February. The weather was really nice however I had to make some changes to my plan because of thunder storm in the islands. It rained in the morning the day I was supposed to visit Angkor Wat and so we couldn’t really see the sunset. The weather was otherwise perfect for visiting Cambodia. The mornings and evenings were cool. The afternoons may be a bit uncomfortable for some due to the heat but overall I recommend this time of the year for a trip to Cambodia.
1) Siem Reap: I took an Air Asia flight from New Delhi to Siem Reap with a stop over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My experience on arrival at the airport was not the best. The immigration official was quite rude.               
Transportation: To get to Siem Reap town from airport you can take a tuktuk or cab from the airport. The tuktuk cost me $9 and the tuktuk driver tried to convince me to book his auto for Angkor Wat at a preposterous price, almost three times the price. Do not commit at the airport. You can actually get a much better price. Your can ask at the help desk of your hotel for the ongoing rate. I shared the tuktuk with three other girls and we paid $17 each for a tour from sunrise until sunset. It gets really hot in the afternoon and it is better to go early in the morning and go again after lunch. You could be charged around $15 for a tuktuk for 4 hours for such an arrangement.
Accommodation: I stayed at the Onederz hostel which I highly recommend. They have their branches in all major cities in Cambodia. It has a rooftop pool and food and drinks are also quite reasonable. It is very clean and sociable.
Angkor Wat: I took a 1 day pass for Angkor Wat. The pass can be purchased after 1600 hours and it allows you admission until sunset so you can see at least one temple the same day.
Pass price:
1 day pass: $37
3 day pass: $62
7 day pass: $72
Prasat Bayon

Scam Alert: Get your own pass because the pass has your picture printed on it. Do not be fooled if someone tries to sell their unused pass which is still valid at a cheaper price. You can be heavily fined if you are found without a valid pass with your photo printed on it.

To read more about my account of Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, follow the link below:

Other temples: Apart from Angkor Wat, there are other temples from the same era but the ones that lie outside the temple complex and have fewer tourists such as Preah Vihar and Beng Malea.

If temples interest you, these alternatives might just fascinate you.
Other attractions are Cambodian circus (a must-watch), Apsara dance, Tonle Sap floating village, museums and pub street and shopping at the night market. The circus was amazing, history of Cambodia told through ages in a highly entertaining theatrical act. It cost $18 in Siem Reap while the circus in Battambang costs $14. 

Tonle Sap lake

Shopping: The night market on pub street has many things that you will be tempted to take back with you. There are a lot of artifacts, paintings, clothes, accessories and other amazing things for shopaholics.

Pub street at night

Food: Siem Reap offers a lot of choices to choose from. The night market offers a lot of snacks and desserts to choose from and they are the a lot cheaper than restaurants. A dish in the night market will cost a minimum of $2 and this is true for ice cream rolls and fruit shakes as well. It is quite an experience to see the ice cream roll being made. A meal in a restaurant will easily cost between $5 and $6. You can get fruits for less than a dollar(peeled and cut). I loved the raw mangoes and pineapples. You can get coconut water for $1.

Raspberry and chocolate ice cream rolls topped with pineapple and oreos
They are very particular about what they serve

2) Battambang: The next destination was Battambang and I spent a day and a half  in Battambang and that was quite enough. This is another major city in Cambodia and is well known for its French style architecture.

Just around the corner
Battambang city
Children diving into the pond below
View from the Sampeou mountain

Transportation: A friend from the hostel and I walked around looking for the cheapest bus tickets from Siem Reap to Battambang. We booked Capitol for $5. You can book Mekong express for $7. I would recommend buying Mekong express or Giant Ibis for a slightly higher price rather than going for a bus ticket that is cheaper because not only would the journey be more tiring but you will reach your destination comparatively late and then you might just end up having overpriced lunch/dinner. The time taken is usually more than what you would expect so take it into account. I rented a bicycle for $1.5 each for half a day and went to see a temple.

Landmine alert: Be aware that there are several unexploded landmines in the area, specifically Battambang district so do not wander off on dirt paths that look they have not been used.
Bicycle rental
Now that’s the kind of tuktuk you should be looking for

Accommodation: I stayed in a hostel called The Place. The location was quite convenient but the dorm itself, not so much. I had an upper bunk bed which was way too high up. There were also some kind of bed bugs that caused itching. The food was overpriced and awful. The trip that we booked through the hostel was good though. It was $8 if the minimum number of people were 4 or so. If there aren’t as many people, you would be charged more.

To read more about the trip, click the link below:

Coming up shortly

Most hostels will cost you $5/night.
Food: Battambang has some amazing restaurants which serve delicious food at very reasonable prices. If you want to explore Khmer food, Battambang is the place. You can also eat for $1.5 or $2 at the local market. The city shuts down quite early unlike Siem Reap.
3) Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and I stayed here for 2 days and a half. Phnom Penh is an expensive city but I really liked the water front area.
Transportation: I took the Virak-Buntham Express Travel and tour and the ticket cost me $9. The tuktuk that we booked from Onederz hostel to the killing fields cost us $12 both ways including about an hour and half of wait time. You may be charged $15 because not everyone has my bargaining skills.

Accommodation: I actually stayed at three different hostels in Phnom Penh: Onederz, Sla Boutique and Feliz Hotel Cafe and Bar.
All three hostels were really clean and comfortable but I liked Onederz the best because of its location. It is right next to the night market and on the river front. You can’t go wrong with it.
Places to visit: Tuol Sleng prison and the killing fields are must visit places. You can learn about the senseless torture that was inflicted on innocent people by their own government. It raises an important question. Should we as communities, civilizations or nations sacrifice the present and future of innumerable people in order to achieve the imaginary glory of a lost past and in strict adherence of any ideology and should we as citizens allow our governments to act so recklessly? To read more about the Cambodian genocide under the Pol Pot regime, follow the link below:

on its way

I highly recommend the book ‘First they killed my father’ by Loung Ung for the harrowing account of the Cambodian genocide.
Entrance fee:Tuol Sleng prison with the audio guide: $8
Choeung Ek Killing fields with audio guide: $6
Memorial at Tuol Sleng prison commemorating the victims of genocide under the Pol Pot regime  
Memorial at Choeung Ek killing fields commemorating the victims of genocide under the Pol Pot regime  

Other attractions: The Royal Palace, several museums, water front, the Cambodian Circus, Apsara dance and Pagodas and don’t miss the cyclos, an eco-friendly tuktuk version in which the cyclist pushes a comfortable chair from the back allowing the rider an unobstructed view.

People enjoying time with families outside the palace
The bustling city
Well just because
Sisowath Quay at night
View from the rooftop
A procession of monks in Phnom Penh
Food: The food at night market is very reasonable and there are some wonderful deserts. You can find some very unconventional ice cream flavors in a coconut. The flavors include durian, coconut and many others apart from the usual flavors. You also get some coconut water to drink with it. Phnom Penh offers a number of restaurants with amazing Khmer dishes. I did not have enough time to try Amok (a dish made of fish cooked in coconut milk) but you must not miss it.
4)Kampot: Kampot is the perfect laid back place you need to chill out.
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
Bokor National Park on a misty day
A monk at the monastery in Bokor National park


One of the adorable furry residents at the hostel
Sunset in Kampot
View from the hostel
A local fishing village
Transportation: I booked a bus by Phnom Penhsorya Transport company  to go to Kampot from Phnom Penh for $8. It was a big bus and took way longer than Giant Ibis but it was fully booked by the time I decided to book it. The ticket for Giant Ibis was $9. I reached my hostel way after lunch time and ended up having overpriced bread and cheese and I bought some awful cookies for $1 on the way and these too were overpriced. Those dollars really add up There is a reason why some companies have better reviews than others and you would do yourself a favor by opting for them.
Accommodation: I stayed at Karma Kampot Hostel. They have dorms as well as private rooms. They have a pool and a wonderful terrace and the staff is really friendly and they have cats and dogs who are really cute. They offer some amazing tours to the Bokor National Park, the pepper plantation and the sunset firefly cruise in the evening. If you can ride a scooter or a motorbike, you can  rent one and go on your own. 
Attractions: I booked a tour to the Bokor National Park, that included a  guide for $13. It also included the evening sunset firefly cruise on the Praek Tuek Chhu river. For a detailed account of Kampot and Kep, follow the link below:

on its way

5)Kep: I have heard that this place has the best crab so do try it out if you are a crab lover.
Picture says it all
 Umm I think they made her wear the top for propriety sake
View of the sea

Transportation: You can take a bus directly to Kep from Phnom Penh or you can take a half an hour bus from Kampot. I booked a bus from my hostel to go to Kep. The bus costs $3 one way. I rented a cycle for $3 for half a day I think though I returned it within 2 hours.

The rented bike in Kep

Accommodation: I did a half day tour from Kampot to Kep and so I did not stay there but there are plenty of guest houses in Kep. I absolutely loved this place and I wish I had spent a few days here.

Attractions: Kep is along the sea shore with the foot path lined with benches. You can stroll on the beach, eating fruits and other snacks at the roadside or you can choose to go to Kep National Park. You can also go to the Rabbit island on a day trip or you stay there after the hordes of tourists leave and have the island to yourself.
6) Koh Rong Samloem: It is no longer the hidden jewel that was until a couple of years ago. The better alternatives to Koh Rong Samloem would be Koh ta kiev or Monkey Maya, with fewer tourists, if you are looking for a quiet beach.
Somewhere behind those clouds was the rising sun
The jungle trek took us to some amazing view points
Jungle trek
Jungle trek
The jungle trek guide
Just another sunset
Sihouette of a boat against the rays of the setting sun

Transportation: I booked the bus from Kampot to Sihanoukville and a two way ferry from Sihanoukville to Koh Rong Samloem M’Pay Bay and back to Sihanoukville for $25. This was a speed boat and I think you can choose a local slow boat for lesser. You have to decide which part of the island you want to go to otherwise you will have to pay extra to reach the other end.

Accommodation:  M’Pay beach is not the cleanest of beaches at the first glance and also subsequent glances but it is cheap and it offers many options to eat and drink. It is not a white sand beach but you can trek to the Long beach which is a really beautiful white sand beach and take a boat back.
Saracen beach and Lazy beach are white sand beaches but they are also a lot more expensive. I stayed at Picnic Gardens hostel on M’Pay Bay.
What to do: Chilling by the beach is good enough, isn’t it but if you are looking for some action, you can go for a jungle trek for two hours with a local guide. You can trek to other beaches such as the Long beach where you wade through waist deep sea water and trek through the jungle to reach your destination. I couldn’t go there because we got stuck in the mangroves. You have to go towards the sea and walk a good 20 minutes through the water. But we did go for a jungle trek, $6/person for 2 hours. We went in the water at night to see the bioluminiscent planktons. Movement in the water makes your legs light up like some divine creature. it was an amazing experience.
Budget: I spent around $600 in 20 days and I think I overspent. I ate way too much at restaurants and all those dollars add up really fast. It is not the cheapest country to visit. The accomodation is quite reasonable though. This did not include the air ticket to Cambodia or the bus ticket to Vietnam. Check my blog post on Vietnam to learn more about it(coming up no time soon).
Overall, it was an amazing experience and I loved it. 
I could have easily have spent a lot less had I been less gluttony and had stuck to more of street food. Walking saves you quite a bit on transportation so walk where you can. Rent a bicycle where you can because bicycle rentals are cheap and you can actually cover quite a lot with bicycles. 

Safety: It is always a good idea to look up the political and social situation in any country before visiting so that you can plan your trip accordingly. I realized after finalizing my plans that an election is due in July 2018 and it might be better to visit Cambodia after that. I went ahead anyway. I felt safe at all times however, I did hear of bags and phones being snatched away from travelers in Phnom Penh, so be careful of your belongings there. You have to follow basic safety instructions at all times in all places in all countries and a little mindfulness goes all the way. The people are really friendly and helpful and the children flash brightest of smiles and you are bound to have a great time there.
An open mind and an open heart are must for having an amazing travel experience.

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  1. Shruts

    Wow…This sounds so cool.
    Thanks for all the suggestions and guidance. Will surely come in handy.

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