Overall score (Dan) = B-
Overall score (Jocelyn) = B-
Total days = 8 nights, 9 days
Total cost = $889
Cost per day = $98.78/day
Flight costs = None, took the bus from Bangkok
Cambodia Spending Summary
We didn’t know what to expect from Cambodia, but from the beginning it was always one of the countries we were the most worried about. We didn’t have any real reasons for worrying, but it’s one of those places you never hear much good about and “ending up in a Cambodian prison” just had a certain ring to it!
Cambodia is a country coming back from the brink of destruction after decades under a cruel dictator and a non-supportive world. Much of our time was spent learning about the atrocities that happened under their Dictator, Pol Pot, along with the destruction they received from the Vietnam War and the decades of abandonment by the world after.
Pol Pot was the worst though. In his attempt to create a Socialist Agrarian Society, he celebrated poor rural farmers and used the kids as soldiers against the “urban” people because he saw them as evil. He evacuated the cities and either killed its inhabitants – including anyone with an education or even glasses – or sent them into the fields. Their people have been through hell.
However, you wouldn’t ever suspect that when you talk to Cambodians. The people were genuinely nice and had a gentleness about them that was almost incomprehensible after we visited the Killing Fields and torture centers where Pol Pot carried out his atrocities. They were inquisitive with Westerners and were more likely to respond with a smile than any other reaction. We loved Cambodia mostly because of its people.
How far does your money go in Cambodia?
As Cambodia is still developing as a country, their currency (Cambodian Riel) isn’t used as much as their “primary currency” which is the US Dollar. It was really strange to go to the ATM and pull out US dollars. However, they don’t have any US change, so instead of quarter and dimes, they would use the Riel!
Cambodia is pretty cheap which I’ll highlight below. One US Dollar equals roughly 4,000 Riel, but as I mentioned most things were priced in US dollar.
I’ll include the full spending details on the bottom of the post; here are our per day spending highlights:
Lodging = $36 / day
Food = $25 / day
Excursion = $18 / day
Total hotel points used = None!
The Good –
We didn’t have high expectations for hotels when going into Cambodia because we figured the cities weren’t real developed for tourists. However, after we looked online for hotels and read reviews, our expectations quickly changed. For only $30 per night, we were able to stay in some high-quality places with good internet and cooked-to-order breakfast included in our rate! In fact, we found them to be such good deals that we even skipped staying at a Starwood hotel in Siem Reap on points!
Siem Reap is the jumping off point for the Angkor temples. In fact, the temples are only around 5km from the city and we were able to ride our bikes to them. Because of this, the town has grown around tourism and there was a vast array of lodging options – from five star hotels for $1,000 per night to home stays or hostels at $5 per night. Siem Reap’s “Old Market” area is full of restaurants, bars, markets, and spas all catering to the tourists. Many people would see this as a turn off because it’s not “authentic”, but we loved the city and the people within it.
Besides cheap accommodation, we also enjoyed some incredible dishes for less than $4 per plate. It was a little more expensive than Thailand and places in Malaysia, but we were also going to top-rated places on TripAdvisor. One of our favorite things to do was take a bike from our hotel and ride the few kilometers to the Old Market and enjoy the people and sites along the way.
Because of the overall cheapness of Cambodia’s food and lodging, we probably spent a little more than we would have if we were on a strict backpacker budget. Living super cheap was a sacrifice we were willing to make in Australia and New Zealand where it was really expensive, but since we were in a cheaper area, we decided to splurge at the nicer restaurants – which was probably better anyway so we didn’t get sick! Even though I say “splurge”, we rarely spent over $15 total on dinner for both of us.
The excursions were also a little more than we expected. We got a three day pass to the Angkor temples for $40 each and the first day we hired a driver for $35 total. The second day we took the bikes and figured out the driver really wasn’t worth it. A good “middle” compromise was to take the tuk-tuks for a day ($15-$20) but we were happy on our bikes.
After two days exploring the incredible temple complex and and its many ruins, we definitely didn’t feel ripped off by the tickets costs. I always thought Angkor Wat was the only temple there, when in fact there are over 8 temples within a few kilometers of each other! It was one of the places I looked forward to the most on the trip and it didn’t disappoint.
The temples weren’t only for tourists, they were also filled with people selling things and kids begging for money. It was really sad, but NGO’s (non-government organizations) in the town ask you not to give money to the kids because it promotes their begging instead of striving for education and a job. In fact, one couple told us about a young girl (8-10 years old) in Phnom Penh who drugs a baby (presumably her younger sibling) and walks around begging – in hopes the “sleeping” baby would get more money.
Another problem in Cambodia is “voluntourism” where a bus full of people will visit an orphanage for the day. NGOs’ say that orphanages have become a business and many families will give up their young kids in hopes of making more money at an orphanage or because they think that’s their best chance to receive an education. The mostly innocent visitors flock in, take some pictures of cute orphans and hang out while creating attachment issues, donate money, and perpetuate the cycle. We didn’t know about the problem until we talked to some locals, but after we heard about it we definitely didn’t go to one.
Kids weren’t the only ones involved in corruption – the supposed good guys were involved as well. We first experienced the corruption when we entered the Cambodia border from Thailand and the customs agent tried to skim some money off the top. The $25 visa fee was clearly posted on the wall, but what wasn’t posted was the additional 200 Thai Bhat he tried to get us to pay! Luckily, we read this might be coming and even though the bribe was only around $7 US, we still held our ground and after a few awkward minutes the frustrated officer passed us along and we made it in.
Our other run in with corruption was with a Cambodian police officer who said he would get our Vietnam visas for us. He called our taxi driver over to him where he was standing outside of the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh and tried to get us to turn our passports over to him! He reassured us he’d take care of the visas for us, but luckily this was our return trip to pick up our already submitted visas and passports so we told him we were only picking up.
In Conclusion, our expectations weren’t the highest for Cambodia, but our experiences surpassed any expectations we could’ve imagined. You have to take the good with the bad, but the spirit of the people and the attractions of the country made us want to stay longer than the 9 days we had. But alas, the journey must continue!
For more of our Cambodia adventures, check out Jocelyn’s blog!