I won’t lie, we were nervous about going to Cambodia.
Having spent 4 months travelling slowly through Thailand and Malaysia the thought of going to a third world country with such a recent brutal history and where a third of the population live on less than one dollar a day was a little terrifying.
To make matters worse our research returned some alarming warnings of gun crime, drug abuse and violent muggings with even pro blogger Adventurous Kate writing about how Cambodia has changed for the worst.
Because of this and several other articles we dragged up online we opted to skip Phnom Penh and instead stick to our main reason for visiting the country, to see Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
With a load of work lined up to complete during our visit due to some horrifically awful wifi in Malaysia, we planned to stay for 14 nights and make the most of the cheap living and 50 cent beer.
The glorious Angkor beer really is only 50 cents and it’s delicious!
We ended up staying for just 4 days before dropping a ton of cash on expensive flights back to Thailand.
But not for the reason you think.
We travelled to Siem Reap on a direct flight with Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur and it was one of the best flights we’ve ever had.
We took off early in the morning and just reached cruising altitude as the sun started to rise and were treated to some surprisingly epic views.
Flight cost: £41 each.
UK citizens require a visa to enter Cambodia and though you can apply online for an e-visa it’s actually much easier to take advantage of their visa on arrival scheme.
It’s important that you bring a passport photo with you and though occasionally you can get by without this, we’d heard of people being denied entry for not having a photo and so don’t risk it. The officials weren’t even remotely friendly and demanded photo’s from us without pleasantries.
You will then just need to complete a visa application when you arrive. It’s a very simple form which only takes a couple of minutes to fill in.
IMPORTANT: Cambodians really hate aggressive altercations and will not put up with you arguing with them. If things don’t go your way it’s imperative that you talk politely to the official and don’t lose your temper.
We watched a particularly rude woman get upset because she was turned away for not filling out the form (stupid much?) and instead of accepting her mistake and moving on to fill out the form, the threw a tantrum any 2 year old would be proud of, throwing her suitcase in the process, which got her in a lot of trouble. Don’t be that woman.
Price: USD 30 each. Make sure you have cash (though there is an ATM in the airport).
We had arranged to be picked up in a tuk tuk as the service was offered as a complimentary add on by our guest house.
The airport is relatively far away from town and there weren’t a load of tuk tuks hanging around so it would be wise to arrange pick up in advance. Your hotel / guest house / hostel should be able to help.
Price: Expect to pay between $3- $5
The driving leaves a hell of a lot to be desired and it appears there are absolutely no road rules but it is kinda fun! Beware of bag snatchers though – if you have a bag that is easily grabbed make sure you hold on to it tightly as this type of theft is extremely common in Cambodia.
Our rucksacks are so heavy I’m pretty sure a motorcyclist would more likely be pulled off their bike whilst attempting a theft but we still kept a tight hold!
Tuk Tuks are pretty in Cambodia. But hold on to your bag!
We usually stay in apartments as we like to have plenty of space to work and we really love getting to live like locals.
We did find some really amazing places to stay in Siem Reap where we could have a private apartment complete with full kitchen, modern bathroom and outdoor space for round $20 per night which we would be happy to pay, however we also found some gorgeous guesthouses right on top of the main tourist areas of Pub Street and the Night Market for between $9-$15 per night and so we opted to try out a different style of accommodation.
We stayed at the Schein Guesthouse and couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Not only were we collected from the airport at no cost, we also arrived 6 hours before check-in but were welcomed anyway, given a yummy breakfast and then shown to our room. Absolutely fabulous service.
The room was large, came with aircon, free bottled water daily and a reasonable bathroom though the water pressure in the shower is very low. The owner is well aware and has tried to fix it but to no avail. It’s liveable though and shouldn’t put you off staying here. We loved it.
One thing that did remind us where we were was this notice in our room:
“Schein Guesthouse is absolutely against child sex tourism!”
Facing unpleasant realities is a huge part of travelling and helps us to learn about the unfair world that we live in, however it broke our hearts to read this. It almost had me running to an orphanage to adopt as many children as I could carry.
Like in Thailand there is a disturbing number of creepy old white men in Siem Reap who aren’t there to see the temples. It’s hard to stomach.
Third World Problems
We’d been in Siem Reap for only a matter of hours when a huge storm hit.
Almost instantly the power went out.
Not wanting to venture out in the monsoon style rains and without any power we decided to catch up on the sleep we missed out the day before in our overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur and take a nap.
We woke up a couple of hours later in a pitch black room and covered in sweat. Crap. Power’s still out.
There is a large communal outdoor balcony area at the guesthouse and we made a beeline for that to try to get some air and cool down. It was so hot in our room that it was difficult to breathe.
But it was something we’d have to get used to.
We soon learned a new fact about Cambodia. Cambodia has no power stations of its own and instead is completely powered by Thailand and Vietnam. Consequently when things go wrong it can take a long time to fix and there’s not much Cambodians can do to speed things up.
Without power our guesthouse was unable to pump water into the tank and so we had to accept that we’d be moving into another day without showering.
By this point we’d already been wearing the same clothes for two days, stayed overnight in an airport, taken an international flight and sweat out our entire body weight. We were dirtier than two people ever ought to be.
But with the whole town suffering there was little to be done and so instead we did the only thing we could think of, got out our torch, played cards with new friends and drank cold beer whilst the fridge still held its temperature!
I knew playing cards would come in handy eventually!
On the second night we had a brief burst of power and rushed to take cold showers and check our e-mails but otherwise we were stuffed.
The Show Must Go On
Fearing that we might have to leave early and having had to abandon all notions of work, we got in full sight seeing mode.
First stop was the National Museum which, thanks to a rather monstrous generator, was blissfully air-conditioned.
The museum is massively overpriced at $12 per person but it is definitely worth a visit (before you go to the temples) and for a couple of hours of air-con was worth every penny!!
We then spent two days gazing in awe at the temples in Angkor, beginning with a sunrise wander of the stunning Angkor Wat.
Stunning ruins at Angkor
Power or no power, as soon as we saw those temples we fell in love with Cambodia and knew that it would be a country we visit time and time again.
They are spectacular and no expensive camera or instagram filter will ever do them justice. Go see them, they are absolutely worth the trip.
Price: A one day pass to Angkor will cost you $20, a three day pass is $40 and a seven day pass is $60. You could do everything in a day if you had to but two – three days is much nicer.
We completed our tourist trail by spending a day exploring Siem Reap town, eating at the night market and drinking in Pub Street.
You only need a few days to see Siem Reap but a little extra time opens up activities that are a little further away; such as the landmine museum and the silk worm experience which we sadly missed out on. We’ll get them next time!
As uncomfortable as it was not being able to get clean or cool, we were actually having a great time in Cambodia. Bonding with fellow travellers over card games and beer, spending days exploring the absolutely breathtaking temples at Angkor and chatting with the locals made for a great few days and we fell hard for Cambodia.
But not being able to access the internet would threaten our love-in.
We fund our travels with our web design business and with a new site due to launch imminently, we were in trouble.
We couldn’t even contact our client and not being able to check on the rest of the business was giving us mega anxiety.
On day three when we were told that it would be at least another 5 days before power was restored we realised we had to take action. We decided to head back to the one place we know that we can be productive, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
We had to shell out $260 for the last minute flights but we didn’t have time to take the long bus ride and when we arrived a day later in Chiang Mai and still managed to get our client site launched on time two days later, we realised it was a price worth paying.
Is Cambodia Safe to Travel?
It’s difficult to say as we were there for such a short amount of time but I will say that we didn’t feel in danger once and the people were the friendliest we have encountered since arriving in Asia.
Just be sensible, take your normal safety precautions and the chances are you’ll have an amazing trip like we did. Don’t let fear hold you back, if we did, we would have missed out on seeing the most incredible sights we’ve ever seen.