Cambodia was a bit more confusing than our other destinations when it came to traveling on a budget. A year or two ago, I’m not certain of the exact date, the Khmer people suffered a massive inflation due to rising gas prices. Unfortunately for them (and the tourists) the cost of living didn’t fall back down with the gas prices. Now what looks like, feels like, and should be a very budget friendly country is surprisingly not as friendly as it once was. This doesn’t mean that Cambodia is charging European prices, but it was actually more expensive than it’s more developed neighbor Thailand.
Our 30 day daily average :: $38.93 USD (for two people: one couple) :: 1 USD = 4,000 KHR (Riel)
Strangely enough, Cambodia prefers to use USD paper bills as their main currency and then they use their Khmer Riel as change. If you do see prices in Riel, the standard 4000 to 1 exchange rate is used instead of keeping up with current rates. With all that said, the budget you see here was achieved by staying in the nicest budget range guest houses we could find, eating reasonably, and keeping our tourism expenses to a minimum. For more details on how we made out budget wise, keep reading.
Battambang $42.62 (5 day average) :: Siem Reap $41.48 (7 d.a.) :: Phnom Penh $37.78 (11 d.a.) :: Sihanoukville $36.15 (5 d.a.) :: Kampot $34.00 (2 d.a.)
:: Budget Breakdown ::
Sleeping :: Avg $10 USD/Double Room :: In Southeast Asia the cost of a room is roughly based on the amenities included. Rooms with A/C, and hot water are the most expensive, and rooms with a fan only are the cheapest. Our rooms ranged from $6 and up to $10, with ten being the most common price. This afforded us the occasional air conditioner, mini fridge, and TV, but just as often we were comforted only by our good friend, the rotating fan. As always we hoped for free WIFI wherever we went, and we were able to find it a few times, though to our disappointment the internet in Cambodia is quite slow and relatively unreliable. Our rooms were generally livable but, in true Asia fashion, the bathrooms are typically a bit, uhm.. neglected.
Eating :: Avg $3-4 USD/Meal, $4-6 USD/NGO Meal :: Meals in Cambodia were not quite as we expected. The prices were quite shocking, most restaurants serve more western food than Khmer, and we didn’t have nearly as many eatery options as we had in Thailand. Nevertheless, the Khmer food is well worth a try and surprisingly, the western food is very good as well. We avoided the riskier food stall eateries (use your best judgment) and during our trip we ate at more and more Non Governmental Organizations who train street kids and land mine victims in hospitality and food services by helping them run restaurants, bakeries, and cafes. The food was always top notch and it tasted even better knowing that the little extra expense helps people in need learn to earn a sustainable living.
Drinking :: Avg 2,500 KHR/1.5L Bottled Water, 5,000 KHR/Fruit Shakes, 5,000 KHR/Beer :: If you drink a lot of water in Cambodia, which we did, I would recommend supplementing these with at least two servings of Oral Rehydration Salts per week. A western doctor practicing in Cambodia informed us that most Cambodian bottled water doesn’t have any minerals left in it which leads to dehydration. Luckily, the ORSs are only about 25 cents each at your nearest Cambodian pharmacy. The fruit shakes in Cambodia are amazing. Crazy different fruits that we can’t get in the U.S. make these a more meaningful splurge in my opinion than beer. What? Yeah, I said it. I’m sorry, the beer selection in Cambodia just isn’t that special (though Beer Lao and Panther were the most drinkable). If you want to get drunk, it’ll do the trick, if not, get a fruit shake. The beers usually cost about the same at a restaurant as they do at the market, though you may be able to save a quarter per beer by cutting out the middle man. We heard about a couple places that serve Belgian beers, but circumstances beyond our control kept us from sampling them and figuring out the price. Sorry.
Seeing the Sites :: The main sites in Cambodia seem to be the Ancient Temples of Angkor and the Khmer Rouge atrocities near Phnom Penh (i.e. The Killing Fields). Originally we didn’t plan on going to either because of the expense and because of desire to avoid major tourist traps. Because of Thailand’s airport protests, we decided to head to Siem Reap to visit Angkor while the tourism flow was pinched. We don’t regret this decision one bit because the temples are truly amazing. However, they can be very expensive and you could easily spend a whole week exploring them. The tickets for the main temple groups (read most visited and easily accessible) cost $20/$40/$60 USD for one day, three days, and one week passes. You can hire a tuk tuk for $15 per day to drive you around the temples (recommended). You can find drivers anywhere and your hotel would be happy to help. A tour guide costs extra. Some bigger temples cost extra as well and more remote temples are not included in your pass. A remote jungle temple called Beng Malea (our favorite temple which literally made the experience) cost $5 to get into and $20 for a Tuk Tuk driver because it was a two hour drive away from town. A taxi would cost more but save time. You can find the more information at canbypublications.com.
We skipped the tourist traps around Phnom Penh because we heard they were just that, traps. If you’d like check them out, any tuk tuk, moto, or hotel would be happy to help you. For more tourism options in most cities throughout Cambodia check out stayanotherday.org
Extras :: Cell Phone SIM cards are more difficult to come by than usual. The country has an old law that was meant to help combat kidnappings which requires registering each SIM card to a person on record. This means that only a Khmer citizen or someone with a business license can get one. However, it’s all about who you know and our guest house owner was able to get us a card using his wife’s identification. The Mobitel card cost us $10 USD and $5 for credit that was supposed to last us the entire thirty days but for some reason expired in two weeks (maybe sold us a used card). Our refill cost us $5 for more credit than we could use and was valid for longer than we could stay in the country. I would recommend having someone aquire the SIM card for you and then buying your own credit, just in case.
:: Transportation prices were reasonable. Some examples are as follows: boat from Battambang to Siem Reap cost $17 USD, bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penhcost $9, bus to Sihanoukville from PP cost $6, and a speedy taxi back to PP for medical services was $40.
:: Handicrafts from underprivelaged and handicapped Khmer artisans are very nice and VERY affordable. Do some shopping for friends and family if you have any extra room in your bag (unfortunately we didn’t have room sorry family ).
:: Internet usually cost about 3-4,000 KHR/hour at cafes and guest houses, and they normally round it to the next 15 min.
:: Laundry is typically about $1 USD/kilo, but just as often as not the clothes end up dirtier than before they washed it.
:: Cooking Classes were a great deal in Cambodia at usuall only $8-10/person for a half day class, and you get to eat what you cook. Plus you can usually sign up the day before, so no pre-planning needed.