Cultural Cambodia – Top tips & things to do in Siem Reap & Phnom Penh

We decided to spend a few days in Cambodia on route to Vietnam. We flew from Surat Thani airport to Siem Reap via Bangkok with Air Asia. Originally we were planning on getting an evening bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap but unfortunately all the buses only leave in the morning so we decided to fly instead. There are literally no night buses to Cambodia from Thailand so bare that in mind when planning your travels!

When we arrived in Siem Reap, as Irish citizens we were required to get a visa on arrival which cost $30 and an extra $2 as we didn’t have a printed passport photo. There is only one taxi company that operates all the taxis and tuk tuks from the airport and they have fixed prices so you have to go with them. It cost us $9 to get a tuk tuk from the airport to our hostel – Funky Flashpacker hostel. The hostel is really nice, has a pool and is full of backpackers, so very social.

Some points to note:

  • Cambodia is a lot more expensive than Thailand.
  • Cambodia use the USD and their own local currency but the USD is more frequently used. They also only accept new USD bills. I had some older USD bills which I got from my bank at home and they wouldn’t accept them so make sure you have the new bills. It’s easiest just to get them from the ATM when you arrive.
  • Dont panic you can get a visa for Vietnam easily in Cambodia. Our visas took 8 working hours to be processed. Definitely get them in Siem Reap if you can they are more readily available and cheaper then getting them in Phnom Penh.

The only downside to the Funky Flashpacker hostel was everything in it was quite expensive. The rooms itself were $6 a night but the food and water were a lot more overpriced then nearby restaurants. If you walk outside the hostel there are lots of nice restaurants where you can get food for half the price. We ate in The Dragon House one night where we got a delicious chicken cashew nut stir-fry for $3.

At the front of the Dragon House on the main road they also have a bike rental shop and tourist office. We managed to get our visas for Vietnam here for $40 and they were processed within 8 working hours. The hostel was charging between $50-60 for the same visa so it is definitely worth shopping around.

Tours are also a lot more overpriced if you book through the hostel.We booked a tour package through a nearby tourist office and for $27 each we got a tour of the floating villages, a tuk tuk tour of Angkor Wat (not including admission) and a tuk tuk journey and ticket for the War museum. The floating villages were interesting and different from the floating markets of Bangkok as people actually live there. It was quite eye opening to see the amount of poverty in Cambodia but I wouldn’t highly rate the tour. The war museum is also not great and you could definitely give it a miss. We were told we would get a tour of it but we didn’t and it just talks about everything that happened in Phnom Penh so I would recommend just doing a museum/ tour in Phnom Penh itself.

However Angkor Wat was AMAZING. We decided to do the sunrise tour so we were picked up at 4:30am and brought straight to the ticket office where there was already a massive queue! You can buy a 1 day, 3 day or 7 day pass. We opted for the 1 day pass which cost us $37. We queued for just over half an hour to get our tickets and by the time we were leaving it was after 5am and the queue was even bigger. (definitely be there for 4:30am if you can!) We just about made it to catch the end of sunrise over Angkor Wat and it was amazing, definitely worth the early start! Our tuk tuk driver did the small route tour with us where we saw Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom which included the Bayon temple (the one with all the faces) and Ta Phrom temple which has lots of trees growing through it and around it, it’s really beautiful. We were actually finished seeing all the temples by 8:30am. We didn’t have a tour guide taking us around the temples themselves so we flew around pretty quickly but still got to see everything.

Nightlife: Pub Street is about a 10 minute walk from the Funky Flashpacker hostel and is definitely worth hitting for a night. The two main clubs are Temple and Angkor What?.

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We got a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh which cost us $7 each and we booked it through the same tourist office where we got our visa. The bus was supposed to be a ‘hotel bus’ with beds but the beds were tiny and it was 2 people to each bed! It was a very sweaty journey which was supposed to take 7 hours but only took 5 so we ended up arriving in Phnom Penh in the middle of the night which wasn’t ideal. Luckily we were able to sleep in the lobby of our hostel Lovely Jubbly Villa.

Note: Be aware of bus timings when travelling especially at night as a couple of times we arrived a lot earlier then expected and were roaming the streets looking for somewhere to go in the very early hours of the morning!!

Phnom Penh:

I will be honest I didn’t really like Phnom Penh itself. The city is very dirty and its very hard to find any convenience shops or restaurants! It is also so expensive and notorious for bag snatching! However the historical sites such as the Killing Fields and S21 museum make this city worth visiting. We didnt book any of the tours through our hostel as they were charging rip off prices. There are also very few tourist offices in Phnom Penh so we mainly just approached tuk tuk drivers negotiated a good price and bought our tickets at each site.

The Killing Fields are definitely worth doing. We got a tuk tuk there and back for $3 each and admission to the killing fields was $6. You get an audio tour guide which is really good and informative. I couldn’t believe how recent the genocide was and the place is very chilling and eery. The experience is very sad and upsetting but such an eye opener and a really good tour to do when in Phnom Penh.

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The S21 museum is another must do. It is a school that was converted into a prison and where people were tortued before they were brought to the killing fields. This tour costs $8 and also includes and audio guide. I find the audio guides really good as you can go at your own pace and is often easier to understand than the locals. You should allow 2 hours to do this tour and it is quite graphic so I would not recommend it for the faint hearted.

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is another popular attraction. You can’t see the palace from outside the grounds so you need to pay in if you want to see it. Admission is $10 and a guided tour is extra. Ensure to have your knees and shoulders covered otherwise you won’t get in!

 

Hope you enjoyed this post.

S

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