Hi guys! We have been absolute disasters at updating the blog as, to be honest, we’ve been having the time of our lives. Since leaving Laos we have travelled through Cambodia, Vietnam and most recently Indonesia. It has been a whirlwind 3 months but we finally have some downtime before we leave for our next adventure; a three month road trip in New Zealand, so we will get back on track and update you all on our travels to date.
First stop, Cambodia. From Temples to Beaches, Cambodia has a lot to offer and is accommodating for any type of traveller. We’ve outlined below our route and experiences from our two weeks itinerary.
We travelled from Don Det (4000 islands) in Laos to Siem Reap in Cambodia through the ‘Trapaing Kreal’ border point via bus with Stray Asia. We had heard from numerous travellers we had met throughout South-east Asia that the crossing was difficult for foreigners and quite corrupt. Travelling Stray Asia minimised this worry and reassured us, but in truth there were no issues that we could see with solo travellers crossing the border.
To enter the country, a ‘Visa on arrival’ form must be completed at the border. The cost is $30 USD for a 30-day tourist visa which can be extended. You will need to provide one passport size photo, but can otherwise pay an additional $2 to have your photo taken. Our guide also recommended paying an extra $2 each for the immigration officers processing our visa. Similar to Laos, you need to ensure the USD notes are in pristine condition. If there are any tears or marks on the notes, they will not accept them. More information on obtaining a Cambodian Visa can be found here
Skip to :
Cambodia uses two currencies; Cambodian Riel and US Dollers. To make things even more confusing, you can pay and receive change in both currencies. As a standard, 4000 Riel is equivalent to $1. Cambodian merchants are extremely strict when accepting USD. Notes must be in pristine condition, so no marked, torn, or crumpled notes will be accepted. If this does happen, as we found out, you will need to go to a money exchange and pay $1 to exchange your ‘dirty’ note for a new one. So make sure you check your notes any time you receive change as some establishments will try to pawn off their less desirable notes.
We arrived to our first city in Cambodia after a five hour bus journey from the border. Siem Reap is home to the famous Ankor Wat temple, the largest religious monument in the world. In addition, there are 72 major temples, and over 1000 religious structures in Siem Reap. Based on this we were expecting a religiously orientated city. What we found was a very modern, westernised city with many tourists, beautiful restaurants and cafes, and whole streets dedicated to a booming night culture. If you’re looking for your Coffee fix, we would highly recommend ‘Sister Srey‘. There are still many local attractions and food available however to those wanting to experience the Cambodian culture.
Length of Stay
We stayed for three nights with the sole purpose of seeing Ankor Wat (see below). This was more than enough time to see both the Ankor Wat complex and experience the nightlife .
Prices for accommodation in Siem Reap starts as low at $4 per night per person. We stayed in the ‘Naga Angkor Hotel’ which was central and walking distance to everywhere, but away from the noise of pub street. We payed €22 for our three night stay which included breakfast. We used booking.com for the majority of our accommodation throughout South-east Asia, and usually the night before we move to a new place. We have found that booking a twin/double room more often than not is cheaper than two single beds in a dormitory.
Things to do
1. Angkor Wat
Number one on the list of things to do and see in Siem Reap has to be Ankor Wat. Whilst Ankor Wat is the most popular and famous and a must see, the complex around it contains 72 different temples of various sizes, including ‘Ta Prohm’, famous for being the filming location of ‘Tomb Raider’. There are three ticket options, a 1 day pass ( $37), a 3 day pass ($62), and a 7 day pass ($72). The ticket office is located twenty minutes tuk-tuk ride from the complex itself. We opted for the one day pass as we had seen quite the amount of temples on our travels so far. If you arrive to the ticket office between 17:00 and 17:30 the evening before you intend to visit the temples, your one day ticket will be valid for that evening and the following day. This meant we could get both sunset and sunrise at Ankor Wat for the price of one day. It is possible, but not recommended, to walk from temple to temple in the Ankor complex, because it is likely you will hate every minute of it as it gets boiling hot from early morning and the distances between are long. We instead opted for a tuk-tuk tour which we negotiated with a local tuk-tuk man in Siem Reap. If you’re unsure on the best temples to see, the tuk-tuk drivers will know where to bring you. We agreed a deal for $20 for 4 people ($5 per head) to bring us to the ticket office, sunset at Ankor Wat, and the aforementioned day tour. on the following day. We got picked up at 04:30am from our hostel and twenty minutes later were at the gates of Ankor Wat. By this time, the crowds were already forming, gates open at 05:10. Expect a mad dash into the temple and to the front of the lake where the majority of people will go for the ‘Instagram shot’ of Ankor Wat reflecting in the water. It is well worth it though as the views from Ankor Wat were spectacular. After sunrise we hopped back on the tuk-tuk around visited four other temples with Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider Temple) and Angkor Thom being the highlights. Top Tip: Bring plenty of water and a packed breakfast/ snacks as not all the temples have access to food/water around them and keep them in a zipped bag so the Monkeys don’t steal them. By 13:00 we were templed out and headed back to the city for a chilled afternoon. Although the majority of visitors are foreigners, Buddhist traditional values must be followed so make sure to dress appropriately (shoulders and knees covered).
2. Floating Village (Kampong Phluk)
Not something we opted for personally, but was highly recommended by our tour guide, the hostel, and Tuk-Tuk driver. Kampong Phluk is about 30Km from Siem Reap and is a local village that constructed on stilts. It is located on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Cambodia. The village is away from the touristy areas and is a unique experience of local Khmer life. This is one of many floating villages in the region, with prices ranging between $15-$20pp. Follow this link for more info.
3. Phare: The Cambodian Circus
Phare circus is an open-air theatre that tells stories of Cambodian history, folklore, and modern society through comedy, dance, and acrobatics. It is the Cirque d’Soleil of Cambodia. The show is in local Khmer language but there are screens that translate the dialogue to English. The show lasts for one hour with ticket prices ranging from $18 to $38. To buy tickets, click here.
4. Siem Reap Pub Street
Pub Street (Street 8) is located between the night market and food markets and is reminiscent of Bangkok’s ‘Koh San Road’ with endless amount of pubs, street performers, and multi-cultural cuisines. The roads surrounding is closed off from 5pm and shortly followed by an influx of tourists. Closing time in most bars, we were told, is when the last person leaves. It is definitely something you should experience if you are in Siem Reap.
Our second stop on our adventure through Cambodia was Battambang, a small town south-west of Siem Reap. It is a three and a half hour bus journey from Siem Reap and although the town itself does not have much to offer, there are a couple of Cambodian experiences that are unique to Battambang.
Length of Stay
We stayed for one night and this in truth was enough to see the main attractions of the area.
Where to Stay
Accommodation is extremely cheap in Battambang. We payed €5 for 1 night to stay at ‘Lucky Hostel’ which is located in central Battambang. The option did not include breakfast, but did boast a swimming pool, pool table, and restaurant. The hostel was spotless. There are a number of local and western restaurants within walking distance of the hostel.
Things to do
1. Bamboo Train
A short 15 minute bus ride outside the town brings you to a set of railway tracks with an accompanying shed. We had arrived at the ‘local’ train station. Again, we didn’t quite know what to expect but were treated to a simple but unique experience that was great craic. We sat on a raft of tied bamboo sticks, losely placed on top of two axels. Within minutes we shot off down the tracks on our ‘train’ in the pissing rain at 40MPH. It was absolutely class! We got to see the real Cambodian country side and experience how locals transport produce and themselves daily. The real fun started when we met other trains along the track. The train with the lightest load would have to dismantle their train and let the other pass. The other train driver would then help re-assemble the train before continuing on their journey. We met over 15 ‘trains’ on our 1 hour journey so god only knows how the locals have the patience for it daily. The cost of the experience was included within our ‘Stray pass’, but can be purchased online for $5pp. It is a once off opportunity we would highly recommend you do. For more info, photos, and reviews, click here!
2. Battambang Bat Caves
The historic ‘Phnom Sampeou’, also known as the ‘Killing caves’ as a result of The Khmer Rouge undertaking executions and throwing the bodies of their victims into the cave, is the location of where you will see a spectacle of bats. From 17:30 each day hundreds of bats fly out from the cave, which can last up to 45 minutes. The cave is 12km from Battambang, so a tuk-tuk will be necessary to get you there.
The Southern Islands of Cambodia
After our one night stay over in Battambang, we headed south to the ‘Sihanoukville’, a gate-way city to the Cambodian islands. Travel time took us just shy of 8 hours by bus. We had heard many awful stories about Sihanoukville, but these stories were tame compared to what we experienced. The city is home to 68 casinos, with more under construction. There has been a huge influx of Chinese investors in recent years which has meant locals moving out of Sihanoukville and it becoming a rubbish filled 10km construction site. As we arrived late, we stayed near Otres Beach, once recognised as one of the most beautiful in the world. Sadly, whilst the beach is still there, it has not escaped the influx of rubbish and destruction from recent years. We stayed at ‘Mangroves & More’ which was surprisingly nice considering the surroundings. It cost €7 for the night, excluding breakfast. If you intend to go to the islands and need to stay in Sihanoukville for a night this is the best rated accommodation in the area. The hostel is a twenty minute tuk-tuk journey to the pier in central Sihanoukville.
We booked our tickets for the boat to Koh Rong through a previous tour guide, but tickets can be booked on the day at the pier. The cost per ticket for a tourist, fast ferry is $22 return pp. After 40 minutes we arrived at the island and could not believe the contrast with the city we had just left. Koh Rong is home to beautiful white sand beaches, live coral, and simple living. If you are looking for a chilled beach vibe during the day, with a lively nightlife, then Koh Rong is the place to experience this. There is a good selection of local and western food at relatively cheap prices along the main strip adjacent to the pier. As the island is still developing, all payments are in cash as there is no ATM on the island. Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a ‘Beach party’ held at Police beach, a short 10 minute walk from the main strip. Full Moon parties are held once to twice per month depending on the season. Tickets can be purchased from anywhere along the main strip for $10 pp.
Length of Stay
Koh Rong is the most popular of the surrounding southern islands so we opted to stay for three nights.
Where to Stay
We stayed at ‘Sunflower Guesthouse’, a hostel less than five minutes walk form the pier. We payed €16 for a double room for three nights. Unless you are paying for a resort, accommodation on the island is basic everywhere. Expect to have poor wifi, cold showers, and basic sleeping arrangements. But really none of that matters when you explore the island and its beautiful scenery.
Things to Do
There are many beaches on Koh Rong to explore. Our personal favourite was ‘Long Set Beach’ (4k Beach), but really all of the beaches on the island are beautifully untouched. We expected the beach to be packed due to it being the summer months and the most popular tourist island. This was thankfully not the case and we found ourselves at times having the beach all to ourselves. With white, sandy beaches beautifully clear water, and peaceful surroundings, we were in our element.
2. Water sports/ Activities
If chilling at the beach all day is not your thing, there are many options to spend an enjoyable day on the island. Hostels will offer a number of activities including; Snorkelling, Kayaking, Jet-Skiing, and boat tours around the island. These can be booked when you are on the island, just remember to have enough cash as there is no ATM.
Koh Rong Samloem
Koh Rong’s sister island is a 30 minute ferry journey from the main pier. Tickets cost $5 one way. There are a few places you can opt to stay on Koh Rong Samloem depending on your taste. ‘Saracen bay’ is the main port on the island and the most touristy part of the island. It has a beautiful beach all the same with similar outlets and activities to Koh Rong. We opted to stay at ‘Mpey bay’ (M-Pai Bay), which again is a chilled area with quiet white sand beaches within walking distance.
Length of Stay
We opted for two nights which was plenty. Similar to Koh Rong, if you are expecting super-fast wifi and loads of adrenaline filled activities you are in the wrong spot.
Where to Stay
We stayed at ‘The Lookout Cambodia’ which was hosted by Rich. We stayed in a double room with fan for €12 for 2 nights. Rich was brilliant and offered free snorkelling gear and top tips for the island (plus a few beers whilst enjoying the views). He also has a cafe attached with a gorgeous view overlooking the coast. The hostel is minutes away from cafes and restaurants and of course, the beach.
Things To Do
There are four main beaches on Koh Rong Samloem, each with their own stunning views. ‘Saracen Bay’ is the most popular and most touristy of these. Mpey bay, is significantly less touristy and offers trekking and a direct walking route to ‘Sunset beach,’ and ‘Lazy Beach’ (Recognised as being one of the top 21 Beaches in the world). Whilst snorkelling and water sports are not as popular on Koh Rong Samloem, it’s a great place for a couple of days downtime.
Koh Rong Samloem has a great selection of cafes and restaurants with many expats settling on the island. We absolutely love coffee and are always on the search for that perfect cup. A great place for breakfast and coffee is ‘Seapony Cafe‘. The owners are brilliant and all food is cooked fresh, including their homemade bread which is class.
After five days in the beautiful Southern islands, it was time to head back inland with Kampot the next stop on our itinerary. Located 1.5 hours from Sihanoukville by bus, Kampot is known as the ‘sleepy town’. That description is changing rapidly though as many expats are settling in the area. Despite the influx of tourists, the town luckily still maintains its untouched French architecture and chilled persona. Kampot was once the central fishing port for Cambodia. Nowadays it is the perfect base for travellers to explore Bokor National park or catch the fireflies on the Praek Tuek Chhu river.
Length of Stay
We stayed for one night as we prioritised spending more time in our next stop, Phnom Penh, and was looking ahead to optimising our time in Vietnam. In truth, we wish we had spend at least another 1-2 nights to explore the area further.
Where to Stay
We payed $8 for a double en-suite room with air-con at ‘Monkey Republic Kampot’. This was one of the best hostels we stayed in South-East Asia with the hostel having its own cafe/ restaurant with cheap western food, pool tables, and drink deals. The hostel was a ten minute walk to the town centre.
What to Do
1.Sunset River Cruise
Take a stroll along the river banks and you will see a collection of boats lining up to bring tourists to see the ‘fireflies’. We were a bit dubious but it was recommended by our Stray guide as a must-see in Kampot. At $5pp for a ticket, which included two free drinks of your choice, you can’t go wrong. The boat journey is 30 minutes each way and parks up along the riverbank prior to sunset. Once dark, hundreds of fireflies become clear in the trees surrounding the river. It was a cool experience and a nice way to spend an evening in Kampot.
2. Preah Monivong Bokor National Park
Bokor National park is home to the ‘Popokvil Waterfalls’, Buddist temples, and historical buildings including ‘the Catholic Church’ which has seen gunfire between the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces in the past. The entrance to Bokor National park is 8km from Kampot and can be reached by either taxi or motorbike. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time so see Bokor National Park, but it is a highly recommended attraction.
3. La Plantation
As well as being known for its fishing ports, Kampot is also famous for its production of Pepper. La Plantation is the most famous farm in Cambodia for its production and is steadily increasing its tourist base. Again, because of time constraints we couldn’t visit it personally. If you do plan to visit, be aware that the price is steep. It will cost an estimated $20 return trip in a taxi to get there with a $20 pp entrance fee for a day tour when you get there.
After a busy but quick two weeks we were off to our final stop in Cambodia, the capital, Phnom Penh. We normally tend to veer towards adventurous, countryside experiences over city adventures, but this was one of the cities we were most excited about visiting. When exploring a country, it’s important to us to learn and understand the culture. Phnom Penh offers an insight into the darkest moments of Cambodia’s past, a harrowing but important experience to have if you are to truly understand Cambodia’s history and present day.
Length of Stay
We stayed for five nights as we were waiting to get our visa for Vietnam. Ideally we would have stayed three nights as this would have been plenty of time to see all the main attractions of the city.
Where to Stay
We stayed at ‘The Big Easy’ in the centre of Phnom Penh. Accommodation was a bit pricey so we opted for two beds in a dorm of sixteen people at €32 for the five nights. The beds were queen sized and built into the wall, and were actually really clean and blocked out a lot of sound you would expect from sixteen people staying in one room. The hostel itself has a bar with an excellent selection of food for backpacker prices. Each night is happy hour and has something going on whether its movie or quiz nights.
What to Do
1.The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
The ‘Killing Fields’ is the most visited area in Phnom Penh by tourists as it provides a raw, truthful insight of what was experienced by the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rough regime. Between 1975 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot killed at estimated 2.5 million Cambodian people, around 1/4 of the population, in over 150 killing fields across Cambodia. He wanted to create a perfect communist agricultural society, and kill anyone ‘educated’ and with links to foreign countries. 17000 people were detained and the majority killed at Choeung Ek which today is an eery, peaceful place. We spent two hours at the site with our own individual audio guides. Prices cost $6 which includes an excellent audio tour. Phnom Penh is 7.5km north of Choeung Ek and there are shuttle buses running regularly from hostels within the city. We would highly recommend you visit Choeung Ek.
2. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21)
After we visited the Killing Fields, we headed back to the centre of Phnom Penh to the Genocide Museum. Also known as S21, the former school was turned into a prison under the Khmer Regime. The prison detained 17000 people which were then transported to Choeung Ek Killing Field. Today, the Prison has been transformed into a Museum and maintains the condition of the jail that was experienced by the prisoners. Tickets cost $6 with an additional $3 for an audio tour. We spent about two hours here and had the opportunity to meet and talk with two survivors. It is quite an intense day visiting both the Killing Field and Genocide Museum but something we would recommend as both complement each other in giving a true understanding of the Khmer regime.
3. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Home to Cambodia’s official royal residence, you will see old Khmer architecture, Pagodas, temples, and murals. Only a few sections of the Royal palace are open to visitors, with admission set at $10 pp. If you are in Phnom Penh on a Sunday, although it gets crazy busy, this would be the best time to go experience the Royal Palace as Khmers from outside the city come to pay their respects. Like most Religious areas in South-East Asia, make sure to dress appropriately.
And that’s two weeks over in no time. Cambodia offers an array of experiences and has something to suit everyone, whether its learning the culture or simply chilling on beautiful white sand beaches. Next stop…Vietnam!
Róisín & Bernard