Cambodia and Vietnam were the next names on my South-Asia travel list and I had a trip outline ready for the month of June. There was no particular reason for choosing these two countries to post my amazing Thailand trip (you can read about it here!) I picked these two countries based on their popularity in the given region. Cambodia and Vietnam both have very interesting histories and happen to be extremely popular destinations for backpackers. They uphold a unique beauty of their own and display a great combination of nature and the true essence of life.
While I was preparing for the 28-day long trip, I realised that I had been travelling non-stop at every possible chance, ever since last year. A thing which suddenly struck me was how the majority of all the fellow travellers I had met on my journeys and exchanged stories with, seemed to have one thing in common; and that was they all had friends eagerly waiting to receive them back home and listen to their experiences. This thought had been bothering me for quite a while now and I realised that amongst all the hush bush of travelling solo and living independently, I had almost abandoned my friends back home and most of them seemed to have moved on with their lives. I had slowly dragged myself away from my loved ones without even realising my mistake. A week before I was all set to fly to Cambodia, I gave into my inner voice and realised that Vietnam could wait but I couldn’t let my friends keep waiting any longer. I decided to cancel the Vietnam leg of my trip and go back to India for a two-week hiatus and visit my friends and family. I had to let them know that I was still there in their lives and that no matter whichever part of the world I would be in, they would always be my top priority. The final plan was to spend 8 days in Cambodia and then have a 16-day rest in India.
I landed in Cambodia as planned and my first stop was the Siem Reap. The Cambodia trip was a largely unplanned one. All I knew was that I would be starting at Siem Reap and spending 8 days in the country. I hadn’t decided on the where or how part. I decided to take up the road less travelled and trust in my adventure instincts to make it through the next 8 days. This turned out to be one of the best and most unique trips I have ever had. In this post, I am going to cover the basics about travelling in Cambodia.
Although the national currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel, for some reason, most of the country prefers using the US Dollar. Except for the street and roadside shops, everyone deals in the US Dollar with even the official government work being done in Dollar. I asked a shopkeeper why Cambodian people don’t deal in their own currency and he said that it’s the government’s fault for allowing the usage of the US dollar in all major transactions. If you are planning to visit Cambodia, my advice would be to carry a majority of dollar currency and get lesser Cambodian Riel. At the time of writing this article, the conversion rate of the pound to Riel is 1 pound = 5385 KHR.
As an Indian Passport holder, this was probably the easiest visa I have ever gotten. Whenever I plan to travel, one of the most painful things I have to do is sort out the visa papers and the different experiences related to it, has given every stamp on my passport a unique story. Cambodia offers free entry to most of the western countries and an e-visa is allowed to most of the Asian countries. Only a few countries have to get an advance visa to visit the country.Luckily, my country was in the e-visa list and all I had to do was fill a simple online application form and pay the 34$ fees. I was emailed the visa within two working days.
Tip: Take two printouts of the visa because you will need one while entering the country and one for when you leave the country.
Here is the link to the information about the kind of visa needed according to your country.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL CAMBODIA:
Most travellers like to visit Cambodia between the months of November and March as the rainy season has passed by then and the temperature is back to normal with the sun shining brightly The fact not known by many, is that after it rains, the risk of catching a disease increases and the temperature stays low making the rainy season not an ideal time for a visit. The best time to visit Cambodia is between the months of early May to October because the sun stays up most of the time and it is low on tourists because travellers prefer visiting during the early slot as mentioned above.
Probably the best thing in Cambodia is the variety of transportation options. Trust me when I say this, within my 8 days day in Cambodia, I had the opportunity to try out all of them. I will try breaking it down further to make it easy.
The two major airports in the country are the Siem Reap and the Phnom Pheh (the capital) airports. The only major connecting airport within the region is in Bangkok and so most of the international flights connect from there. Reaching Bangkok from almost any corner of South-East Asia is pretty easy and so if you get cheap tickets to or from Bangkok, feel free to book it.
The best way and cheapest way to explore Cambodia and the neighbouring country is by bus or minivans. A lot of travel agents around the major cities offer bus/minivan tickets to not only different cities in Cambodia but also to the major cities in Vietnam and Thailand.
There are many on-land border checkpoints which make the cross-border transport easy (Find more info here) . All you have to do is to make sure to have the right visas and paperwork in place if your trip includes the on-land border crossing. It’s important to know which border you are going to cross and every checkpoint has different facilities available so you should be aware of the requirements before booking the bus tickets. For example, not all checkpoints have the ‘visa on arrival’ facility so if you do need that; make sure that you take a bus which crosses the checkpoint where such a facility would be available. Minivans are another option. They are faster than buses but less comfortable. It is totally up to you as to what trade-off you are ready to make. I had taken the minivan for a more than 15-hour journey and I can assure you that I would prefer a minivan over a bus every time unless it’s a night journey.
A major attraction of the country and the easiest way to get around in Cambodia is the famous Cambodian tuk-tuk. It’s an automatic three-wheeler which can be found in all the major cities in vast numbers. The most fun thing about tuk-tuks is that
you won’t need to find one. The moment that they see someone with a backpack on, they will come to you. One major tip here would be to bargain. They always start off with an extreme price. Bargain by reducing one or two dollars from the price they quote and they will agree. This system doesn’t go just with the tuk-tuks. It’s the same story all over Cambodia.
Tip: Whatever you buy or do, always remember to bargain first.
There are organised trips in tuk-tuks for the Angkor Wat temple which I will talk about in detail when I write about my experience at the Angkor Wat temple. More about my journeys using the different modes of transport in Cambodia will be covered in my upcoming posts.