An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia 

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia  1/1 by Sharmistha Chaudhuri
Angkor Wat just before daybreak. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

The first time I saw a photograph of Angkor Wat, more specifically a sunrise at the temple, I was captivated. I simply just had to go. So, when the opportunity arose to visit Cambodia, I did my research before planning a quick trip. And I discovered that Cambodia had a lot more to offer than the South East Asian country just appealing to history buffs.

With a Cambodia travel guide, visiting the country should be a high on the travel list. Not only is it beautiful with an eclectic mix of history, beaches and waterways, the people are very friendly, the food outstanding and very pocket-friendly. Here's my Cambodia itinerary for you when you decide to visit the country:

Where is Cambodia?

For your Cambodia travel guide, it's important to know a brief history of the country. Cambodia is located in South East Asia, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, with Laos on its north. Influenced greatly by Indian culture, trade and Brahmanism; the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer empire was vast and covered a big part of South East Asia until its fall in the 15th century. Apart from it's ancient heritage, a genocide was forced upon Cambodia under Pol Pot's regime in the 1970s. Cut away from the world, it was only in the 1990s that the country opened up to tourism. Today, though the streets are vibrant and abuzz with life, the genocide has left a deep impact on its population and Cambodia is still building upon its lost years.

How to reach Cambodia?

The Siem Reap airport. Credit: David Jones, Flickr, Creative Commons

Photo of Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

It's easiest to fly into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap via Bangkok from one of the major Indian cities. A multi-city ticket: Delhi-Bangkok-Siem Reap and then Phnom Penh-Bangkok-Delhi will be approx Rs 28000-31000. There are other more expensive options so choose your tickets carefully.

Are visas required in Cambodia?

Yes, visas are required to enter the country. One can either get them on arrival at the airports (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) or at one of the various border checkposts if arriving by land. One can also get the visas beforehand from the embassy. The visa costs about $35 or Rs 3000.

Currency used in Cambodia

The local Cambodian currency is Riel but US dollars are widely used. $1 (Rs 66) is about 4000 Riel. It's easiest to carry dollars as its used in restaurants, hotels, transport facilities and shopping places. There are plenty of ATMs all around while credit cards are used.

Getting around Cambodia

Hire a tuk tuk to go around Cambodian cities! Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

When you plan your Cambodia itinerary, deciding on which places to go to, you'll find the best way to travel is on road. You will see the beautiful countryside and smiling faces of the locals. Also, it's less expensive than flying and the buses are very comfortable, tickets starting from about $6 (Rs 400). One can also hire a car because if there are people to split costs, it can work cheap, maybe just a little more than a bus fare. (For example, I hired a car from Siem Reap to Cambodia and found three others to share the cost. It worked out about $10 more than the bus fare but a more comfortable journey). To travel around the city, either walk, bicycle or hire a tuk tuk.

Where to stay in Cambodia?

When you're figuring out your Cambodia travel guide, it is possible to book your accommodation when you're in the country. However, during the tourist season prices can get a little high and places completely booked so it's advisable to book before going. Cheap hostel rooms or guesthouses range from $10-20 (Rs 650-1300) while mid-range ones would start from $50 (Rs 3500). Try recommended websites like Airbnb, and Hostelworld.

What to eat in Cambodia

Are you brave enough to try spiders and insects? Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Your Cambodia itinerary should be adventurous when it comes to food. The local stuff is absolutely delicious. Do not miss the Fish Amok, which is a like a souffle, with steaming hot rice. The beef Lok Lak is mouthwatering and the pork spring rolls are crispy and juicy. Cambodians consume a lot of rice, meat and vegetables on a daily basis. The flavours are bold and while there are fried insects on offer in some places, be brave and take a bite! Eating street food or even at a budget cafe doesn't hurt the pocket much as much, a meal costing between $2-$7. Beer ranges from $0.50-$2.

Chilled beer in Cambodia. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Places to see in Cambodia

A Cambodia itinerary should include a mix of history, adventure and fun. Instead of going back and forth, it's easier to follow a route. So, here's my Cambodia travel guide for the first-timers:

Start your Cambodia itinerary with Siem Reap. It's located in the northwest part of the country.

Explore the Angkor Complex

The majestic Angkor Wat. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of Angkor Wat, Krong Siem Reap, Siem Reap Province, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

The majestic Angkor Wat is located there which is the biggest tourist attraction. Definitely allot 3-4 days to see the magnificent temple complex. Passes are sold in one-day ($37, Rs 2500), three-day ($62, Rs 4000) and seven-day ($72, Rs 4800) blocks and carrying them in the complex is mandatory. Start your Cambodia itinerary watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It's a beautiful photo-op so make sure to get a good spot near the lotus pond. Once you marvel at the reliefs and climb up the tower to get majestic views, explore the vast temple complex. Every temple in the Angkor complex, built from the 9th-15th century, is unique starting with Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom, Prasat Preah Khan, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei, Neak Poan and a host of others. Either hire a car/tuk tuk to go around or use bicycles. Covering almost 400 sq km will take some time!

Bayon Temple at the Angkor Complex. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Floating Village of Kompong Khleang

There are various floating villages around Siem Reap. If you want an authentic experience, head to Kompong Khleang because of less crowd and very very beautiful. Made up of about 700 people on the Tonle Sap, the villagers own the boats and take you around the floating village. With authentic food on offer, it will be a day well spent.

Enjoy nightlife at Pub Street

Time for a beer! Credit: Shankar S, Flickr, Creative Commons

Photo of Pub Street, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Pub Street is Siem Reap's most popular night hangout. There are a host of pubs and restaurants along the street and tourists enjoying their cocktails and beers with a vast range of Khmer food. The restaurants are decently priced so you can enjoy a night about town without a major pocket pinch.

Continue your Cambodia travel guide from Siem Reap as you head to Battambang, also situated in the northwest. It's a sleepy town with a relaxed attitude and the region is Cambodia's major rice producer. If you want a break from bus journeys, why not take a boat? It will be slow but crowded but will give you a feel of rural Cambodia.

Sunset at Ek Phnom

This temple is Battambang's most popular temple and dates back to the 11th century. While Angkor is far more impressive, Ek Phnom has its own charm and very picturesque at sunset.

Watch a daredevil act

Fun at the circus. Credit: Chiara Abbate, Flickr, Creative Commons

Photo of Ek Phnom Temple, Ek Phnom, Battambang Province, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

With the genocide wiping out most of Cambodia's art and culture, efforts have been made to revive its history. Young Cambodians dance, juggle, do stunts to music and shows are lively and fun at the Phare circus (Phare Ponleu Selpak) which is a multi-arts centre for children.

Take a bamboo train ride

The bamboo train ride. Credit: Shankar S, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo of Bamboo Train Battambang, Krong Battambang, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

How do you see the green countryside? Ride on a bamboo train of course! A bamboo platform is set on two sets of bogies with a small motor at the back. One sits on the platform and the train rolls down the tracks. There was an apprehension whether the bamboo trains would be demolished by the government, but authorities have decided to continue with the tourist attraction and will rebuild the track elsewhere once the old track is demolished to make way for a proper railway track that connects to Phnom Penh.

From Battambang, continue your Cambodia itinerary with a beach relaxation at Sihanoukville in the south. Remember that the buses will first go to Phnom Penh and then you'll have to change to get to Sihanoukville. It's a long journey but totally worth the effort. The other option, if you want to reach directly, you will need to hire a cab but that will work out a lot more expensive.

Sand, sun and fun at the beach(es)

Enjoy the beach life at Sihanoukville! Credit: Zubina Ahmed

Photo of Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Sihanoukville is famous for its various beaches. Some are very popular while others still relatively less crowded. Sip on coconut water, get a tan, build a sandcastle or actually wade into the water! It has a large tourist population but there's always room for one more. There are a host of brilliant eateries all around so getting a finger-licking meal at the end of the day won't be a problem.

Spend a day at Koh Rong Island

Tranquility at Kon Rong. Credit: Zubina Ahmed

Photo of Koh Rong, Krong Preah Sihanouk, Sihanoukville, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Till some years ago tourists didn't know about Koh Rong, Cambodia's second largest island. It's white beaches, turquoise waters and laidback atmosphere has visitors craving for more. After dark, the night life begins and goes on till late. If you are a night bird, this is definitely a place that will out to you!

A lazy beach mini-vacation and gorgeous tan later, make your way to the capital of Cambodia. You can't plan your Cambodia travel guide without stopping at Phnom Penh. From history to royalty, food to shopping, Phnom Penh has it all!

Enjoy the Royal Palace and National Museum

Inside the Royal Palace complex. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of Silver Pagoda, Oknha Chhun St. (240), Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

The Royal Palace complex is one of the biggest attractions. Though parts of the walled complex are closed to tourists, visitors can still access the different pavilions, throne room and the much-appreciated Silver Pagoda. The complex has beautiful gardens and its structures with golden pointed roofs make for beautiful photographs. Then head to the National Museum to get a taste of Cambodian history.

Watch a cultural show to understand Khmer history

Watching an Apsara dance. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of National Museum, Preah Ang Eng St. (13), Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

For tourists to understand what the country had gone through during the Pol Pot regime and what Cambodia was like during the ancient times, various shows are held across the city through the medium of song and dance. It's a sort of reviving their traditional stories and songs for the younger generation. It's a show well worth the watch and proceeds go back to the organisations that work in the arts.

Climb 502 steps at Oudong

A very very long climb! Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of Oudong Mountain, Phsar Daek Commune, Kandal, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Located around 45 minutes away from the city, Oudong was Cambodia's old capital. It's a UNESCO world heritage site and atop a hill from which one can get a view of the paddy fields. One has to climb 502 steps to reach the top but the views are well worth the effort.

The Killing Fields will make you cry

At the Killing Fields. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

During the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s, almost 1/3 of the population was wiped out. The Killing Fields are a mass grave site during the Khmer Rouge. There is a pagoda where skulls and bones of many killed are displayed in memory. Take an audio tour and you won't be able to hold back your tears as you hear survivors explain their plight during those terrible years.

Enjoy the sunset over the Mekong

Cruising along the Mekong. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of Mekong River, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

The Mekong river spreads across five countries and is Asia's seventh longest. There are various boat companies that arrange for a Mekong cruise in the evening where you can enjoy the sunset from across the main city with drinks and food.

Learn authentic Khmer recipes in a cooking class

Fish Amok with steaming rice. Credit: Sharmistha Chaudhuri

Photo of An Indian Girl's Guide For First-Time Travellers To Cambodia by Sharmistha Chaudhuri

There are cooking classes found all over the country and your Cambodia travel guide should definitely include this experience. Learn the secret of spices and the ways to cook traditional Khmer food from experts. That way you can enjoy Cambodia even when you go back home!

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