During our sabbatical, my boyfriend and I spent nine days together in Cambodia, divided split between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Before visiting, I must confess that I didn’t know much about the country at all. I am glad to say that now I have a much better understanding of the country’s history and incredible, ongoing recovery from the barbaric Khmer Rouge regime. I also have a better understanding of how much it costs to visit Cambodia. I assumed it would be as affordable as Vietnam and Thailand (simply because the countries are located so close to each other). As it turns out, Cambodia is very budget-friendly in some ways… but pricey in others. In this post, I’ll share some specific examples of what we bought and spent so you can budget accordingly.
I’m going to write the expenses in US dollars. Cambodia operates with two currencies; the Cambodian Riel and US dollars. You can withdraw either from cash machines, can use either for payments and may get change in either currency (or a complicated mix of both). We used dollars as much as possible because Riel is a ‘closed currency’; it cannot be used or converted outside of Cambodia.
Food & Drink
Food in Cambodia is very affordable, especially if you eat street food or at informal restaurants where the locals go. Lunches ranged from $2.50 to $6 for two (bargain!). We had breakfast at our accommodation each morning but there are plenty of cafes and convenience stores to grab a budget-friendly breakfast. In case you’re wondering, Cambodian food is similar to Thai, but milder. Specialities include Amok curry (coconut & lemongrass curry with chicken or fish), Bai Sach Chrouk (pork and rice) and Lok Lak (sautéed beef with salad vegetables). Most of the dishes we saw featured meat or fish.
Some of our dinners were as cheap as our lunches (a couple of dollars per person) but we also ate at some fancier places, spending between $6 – $25 for two people. More specifically, we spent $7 at Blue Sea Oyster, $11 at Khmer Kitchen and $24.50 at Eleven One.
The weather was gorgeous when we visited so we drank a lot of cold beverages. Iced tea and bubble tea range from $1.90 – $3.20. Shakes and juices cost $1. We needed our daily coffee fix and spent around $1 – $2.50 per cup.
In terms of alcohol, a lot of places near the tourist attractions sell reeeeally cheap beer ($0.75 per glass!). It’s not award-winning but it is certainly refreshing. A couple of rounds of beer in a brewery might cost $10, and we enjoyed four cocktails for $12 at a swanky cocktail bar.
Our main expense was visiting Angkor Wat while we were in Siem Reap, but it had to be done! If you go to Cambodia and don’t go to Angkor Wat, does it even count?! However you may be surprised by the price. Cambodians can enter the Angkor Archaeological complex for free but foreigners have to buy visitor passes. A one-day pass costs $37, a three-day pass costs $62 and a seven-day pass costs $72. We opted for the three day pass. You don’t have to visit three consecutive days; instead you can use the pass to visit three times over a week-long period. The seven-day passes means seven individual visits within a month-long period.
The Angkor Archaeological complex is enormous; you can’t get around on foot so most people drive. If you’re hardcore and aren’t put off by hot weather and humidity, you can rent a bike. We… are not hardcore and hired a driver through our hotel. He took us around the Grand Circuit on the first day ($22), and the Sunrise & Small Circuit route on the second ($25). We could have paid more for a guide but found it sufficient to read blog posts, articles and information boards. We could have visited a third time but two days was fine for us. It’s quite easy to get templed-out, especially when it’s 30ºC and you are clambouring up and down steep steps. On the first day, we bought lunch at a restaurant inside the complex ($11.50 for two meals) and on the second day ate a packed lunch our hotel kindly prepared for us.
Other tourist attractions are much more affordable. It costs $10 per person to visit the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. I could have paid extra for a guide but was feeling stingy that day. Turns out I should have gone for the guide because the Palace didn’t have any information boards or posters to explain what you’re looking at. Architecturally, it’s very impressive but it would have been better with a guide to explain the context and history.
We paid $12 for two tickets to the Killing Fields, which are outside of Phnom Penh centre and are absolutely worth a visit. The ticket price included an audio guide, which was fascinating and incredibly sad. It included first-hand accounts from people affected by the Khmer Rouge, including survivors and army guards who were later charged with war crimes. Heavy stuff but very important to learn about. We hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to the Killing Fields, wait for us then take us back to Phnom Penh ($20)
We booked very nice hotels, which came equipped with swimming pools and complimentary breakfasts. You can certainly find cheaper places but we were happy with our choices.
- Phnom Penh – €137.84 for 4 nights (paid on card – equivalent to $153.95)
- Siem Reap – €142.44 for 5 nights (paid on card – equivalent to $159.08)
We usually explore cities on foot but did take some tuk tuks in Phnom Penh, as we were staying quite far south from some of the main temples and markets. We paid for these journeys on card using the Grab app. I definitely prefer it to having to negotiate with tuk tuk drivers in person because I’m rubbish at haggling! Instead, you can select the route and see the price on Grab before booking. The journeys were very affordable – between $1.50 – $2 each way.
My boyfriend and I got hour-long massages at a streetside massage parlor ($3 each), then I treated myself to a more luxurious one which took place in my hotel room ($14). It was aaaaaamazing and worth every cent.
One final expense was laundry service, organised by our hotel ($2 per kg). Not a very exciting note to end on but as fellow backpackers will know, you’ve always got to think about when you’ll next be able to wash your very limited supply of clothes.
As you can see, food & drink in Cambodia is very reasonable, especially if you go to more casual restaurants where locals eat. Restaurants geared towards tourists certainly cost more but are still budget-friendly. Your main expense will be sightseeing, especially if you want to visit the Angkor Archaeological complex and need to hire a driver and/or guide. However, I would definitely recommend prioritizing a visit to the Archaeological park. It is really spectacular – an absolute ‘must-see’ – and can be balanced out by the lower food, drink or transportation costs.
Ciao for now
The Curious Sparrow