A Canadian budget for Cambodia

The overwhelming obstacle in most people’s travel dreams seem to come from funds, or lack thereof. Travel can seem expensive. Having to spend money on flights, accommodation, food, transportation and everything in between. It surely does add up. But it seems that people have built this – cost of travel – into a boogie monster(cue dance) that it is not.

All prices mentioned will be in USD for Cambodia

Cambodia is an incredibly unique country with the friendliest of faces and an even friendlier attitude. It helps if you’re Canadian as well. Considering the history of this country and what it’s been through, the atmosphere, welcoming environment of the country and its’ people was remarkable. If Malaysia is the beach capital of South East Asia and Thailand is the crown jewel, then Cambodia is the feels.

The cost to travel in Cambodia is as cheap as it is anywhere else in SEA. In fact, it’s probably a better bang for your buck than most other places. And much easier to fall in love with. Even with all the population here and the attraction of Angkor Wat, it has a more peaceful feeling than you’d expect. A budget of $25USD/day is a possibility if you’re making your way through Cambodia, but you can expect to run into some costs that can throw your budget off. Plan for them and don’t shy away from spending a little. Keep in mind that the more you move around, the faster your costs will increase. The point however, is to travel and have invaluable experiences. I have never regretted spending a few days eating just padthais or a cheap Khmer dish to save up to do a more costly excursion.

I purchased this baby for $7 after much bargaining. Just kidding! I paid $9 ;)
I purchased this baby for $7 after much bargaining. Just kidding! I paid $9 😉

Before you visit

The Cambodian currency is the Riel. It’s about 4000 Riel for $1 USD. Oh, and Cambodians prefer the USD to their own currency. When you land as a Canadian, you should have $20 USD cash on you to get your visa on arrival. You do not need to get a visa beforehand if you are coming into the country via plane. You just stand in line once you arrive by plane, pay the grouchy looking officers the money and you’re off. AirAsia is your best bet if you’re flying domestic. You can get away with paying as little as $25 for flights from Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc. Carry plenty of USD on you for food, shopping and accommodation. USD prevails here.

You can also get to Siem Reap by bus or train, depending where you are coming from. In this case, make sure you have your visa before hand and be prepared for rides up to 22+ hours. I don’t care what ETA they tell you, tack on at least 3 hours on that and get in that mind frame. These buses and trains will cost you around $18-25. So you’re better off traveling by air if you plan ahead and want to save plenty of time!

As you’re leaving the airport, you will see shops selling sim cards. For $6 you can get 4GB of data, some calling minutes and some texts. This will vary on the provider. Point is, it will be incredibly cheap and will make you hate the oligopoly of the telecommunications industry in Canada.

Download the Hostel World app on your phone and book hostel stays before arriving. This will free you of a considerable amount of hassle, especially if you are just getting into the country. If you are moving city to city and have gotten the hang of finding decent hostels on foot and by asking around, you don’t need to book in advance (because Hostel World will also charge a $1-2 non-refundable fee to book). However, with more popular hostels, which tend to be safer and have great social environments, can get booked up fast. So you’re usually better off to use the app if you don’t mind the fee.

Siem Reap

This city will show you the countryside, it will show you the monster attraction that is Angkor Wat, it will show you a fantastic night life, shopping bazaars and some quality food. But its the hospitality of the people in this city that you will make you swoon. And quite frankly, the moment you mention that you’re Canadian, expect to walk the red carpet.

Renting a bike will give you access to much of the city that you’d want to see. You will be able to bike towards north for about 40min which will bring you to Angkor Wat. East will take you towards the bazaar and shopping centers of the city. On the west side, you’ll go through the countryside bike riding; way into the farmlands where you will ride by groups of children that will chase you yelling out “hello hello!” because that’s all they know how to say. You will see families in the fields picking crops, gathering food for their survival, watch kids no older than 12 years old killing snakes, with sticks, that get in the way of them fishing or their work in the field. You will see a lifestyle that you may not be accustomed to and realize how for granted you take your own. I did. The sound of the bell on my bike made these kids erupt in cheers and gave them the sort of happiness that cost me $3,200 of traveling to attain. Unreal, what you come across when you step out and see the world. So be ready for it. Like I said, this is the country of feels.

Accommodation

I only recommend hostels that I have stayed in and have thoroughly enjoyed. All prices are from Oct-Nov of 2013 (I wouldn’t expect them to have changed much).

My first stay was in Siem Reap Hostel. I had booked a room using Hostel World while I was in Krabi, Thailand for about $5/night. This place had  airport to hostel service, a pool, indoor lounge area around the pool, a bar with decent breakfast/lunch/dinner options, 3 floors (maybe 4 actually) which included a lopsided pool table, movie room and a hotel like structure that was open air. They had free bike rentals and luggage storage included in the price of your stay. Bang for buck, it was probably the most inclusive hostel I stayed at in all of South East Asia. Because of the amount of rooms, there were plenty of people, and the place was always buzzing. Oh and you could also book massages (which were a couple dollars more expensive than the usual pricing) right in the hostel. Basically it rocked and I didn’t want to leave (which is something you want to sometimes try and avoid).

I’m still Facebook friends with the tuktuk driver that works with the hostel here. He wishes me happy birthday and reminds me of our time together. It’s ridiculously amazing.

I also booked a night at Mad Monkey which was another superb social hub. The vibe there was a lot more laid back. It was like being at the coolest party on a street FULL of cool parties. Does that make sense? It would if you were at the cool party.

To be honest, with how laid back a few of the other hostels were in the surrounding area, you could book at one place and then go hang out at the other for the day. This was a running theme during my time in Siem Reap.

Hongda (Honda) told me he was
Hongda (Honda) told me he was “the best tuktuk driver in the world” and I believe him.

Food/Drinks

To be frank, Cambodia does not rival the neighbouring cuisine juggernaut that is Thailand. Cambodian (Khmer) dishes lack certain variety and tend to be more expensive than they should be, if I’m going to be all out judgmental. That is not to be mistaken for lack of quality and abundance of restaurants, street stalls and food you can find all over the city. A steak dinner will cost you between $8-$15. A traditional Khmer dish will be between $4-8 at a restaurant. Your street food will cost you $2-$4.  Always try shopping around for restaurants and look for places that the locals are eating at rather than the foreigners. You will almost always find cheaper, quality and a better environment that way. Don’t be afraid to ask around for places to eat. The people here would absolutely love to help you!

If you want to get adventurous, you’ll have your chance at trying tarantulas that street vendors will be more than happy to sell you. I chose to go with the banana nutella ice cream pancakes instead..for dinner. But what do I know?

Entertainment

To the north of Siem Reap is grounds to an ancient civilization that is twice the size of Manhattan (yeah, forreal). This isn’t entertainment as much as it is the only real big trip you will take around the city. Angkor Wat is a wonder of the world that is so vast and has so much cultural significance that you will need several several days to uncover it. If you’re into that scene.

Hippie pants. You feelin' me?
Hippie pants. You feelin’ me?

Before I visited Angkor, I was constantly told I would need to buy the week pass for the temples since there is so much there, its so big, so much to do, etc. So naturally, I nodded, agreed with everyone and then bought the day pass for $20. I had bunked with a couple Australian gentlemen and a dude from Germany (I think) the night before so we decided at the end of the night that we would head out for the temples early in the morning to see the sunrise. That did not happen. And so we grabbed Hongda, the best tuktuk driver in the world, at about 1pm and were on our way. The drive there was pleasant and we chatted and joked and listened to Hongda’s stories about his life growing up in Cambodia; how he was going to school in the mornings and driving a tuktuk during the day and then went to classes again later. We listened to songs that he used to learn English. The most prominent one? It’s too late to apologize. You know it. You’re singing it in your head right now. Now you will YouTube it. See, that’s why he used that song to learn the language.

Plenty of photo opportunities in a place this huge!
Plenty of photo opportunities in a place this huge!

For me, about 4-5 hours in that heat, looking at temples, and writings and statues that I did not know the cultural significance to did not provide the most enlightening of times. Angkor is a monster. It is so fascinating and there is so much to learn there. But it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t in South East Asia for its temples. My most memorable time around the temples was when we stopped inside the main gates and sat near the shopping stalls. A young charming girl, of about 8 years, came up to me and my supposedly German friend. She tried to sell us drinks and some other items. She told us that talking to us helped her English and that she needed to sell an X amount of dollars to save up for school and such. She humbled the living daylights out of me. I’m minimizing how heartbreaking and beautiful the stories of the people in the city can be, especially coming from young children. But once you’ve been around the area and constantly see it, hear it, it doesn’t hit you as hard. But I will never forget this little girls words and how it helped changed the way I think, little by little. Nevertheless we had a nice time chatting, wished her luck, bargained for drinks (you have to, I’m telling you, you have to) with her and waited for the Australian gentlemen to come back so we could start heading back.

And here I am, having had enough. More than enough. Where's my ice cream?
And here I am, having had enough. More than enough. Where’s my ice cream?

Sihanoukville

Commonly called snooky by the masses, is southern Cambodia. You know how I said if Malaysia is the beach capital of SEA? Well around snooky can give it a run for its money in stretches. You’ll get your mix however, from the peaceful to the seedy.

Otres beach

When you’re in search for serenity, when you want the clouds of your mind to drift away and the breeze of clarity to pass through your soul – you have to settle in Otres. Gorgeous. I mean, you’re talking white sandy beaches, privacy (although its no longer as off-the-beaten-path as it used to be) and views that you’d only come across on Google images. It is a more relaxed stay than the other beaches such as Serendipity beach, which is where you want to be if its pure beach partying that you seek. But if you want to ponder upon the life you live, sip drinks from coconuts, pull up some work and really enjoy a beach? Settle right in Otres.

Your stay will range from $5-$9 and food will cost you up to $10 a day. I don’t remember where I stayed, but there are plenty of places that you can find using the Hotel World app before arriving. You can fly in from Siem Reap to avoid time constraints (which I found myself doing often enough), but there are buses that run about $22 which can take up to 14 hours to get to snooky. All buses from SR to snooky will stop at Phnom Penh. They will also not run on the times that are advertised, so arrive earlier and prepare to leave much later than anticipated. From the bus drop-off, you can hail a cab or a tuktuk to get to your destinations.

ATV cruisin' to catch a sunset in the fields!
ATV cruisin’ to catch a sunset in the fields!

Cost Summary

If we look at the essentials:

Accommodation – $8 x 30 nights = $240

Food/Drinks – $14 x 30 days = $420

Shopping – $60

Transportation – $80 (various)

Entertainment/trips – $250

Exchange rate to USD – $320

You’re looking at a total of $1,370. I have inflated some of the costs to buffer you getting used to the prices and adapt to the bargaining learning curve. The horrible exchange rate will cost you quite a bit as well, so you want to prepare for that. These estimates are still very close to what you can expect to spend for about a month in Cambodia. However, this does not include doing things like getting your PADI license, renewing your visa, dropping excessive cash on drinks and shopping because you didn’t watch your budget since everything looked too cheap. Throw in some spa days and you’re looking at something closer to $39/day.

I wanted to cover the essentials for you and provide the information that I found useful – which I believe will enrich your experience. But I also believe in people finding their own path and nurturing their own taste for adventure. So there are plenty of things that I would rather not mention and have you explore, wonder and go off-the-beaten-path to find the things that you will fondly remember for the rest of your life.

Ultimately, you can budget hard and get away with under $1,000 for the month, but realistically you will have your moods and urges for adventure, comfort and splurging. And you want to experience those as well. So build a reasonable buffer for yourself and allow yourself to fall in love with one of the most charming countries you will ever have the opportunity to visit!

Ain't anything, like what you'll find in Cambodia!
Ain’t anything, like what you’ll find in Cambodia!
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7 thoughts on “A Canadian budget for Cambodia

  1. Pingback: What to pack for a backpacking trip | NaughtWithoutFreedom

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