Cambodia is a paradise for Indian backpackers seeking a week-long sojourn. Searching for an off-season destination in September, 2017 led me to Cambodia. Catch my insights into the place, including pre-booking information and detailed itinerary of my travel.
This trip has been very special to me. As a personality trait, I like to plan in advance; it gives me comfort. I plan details to its minutest levels to be assured of not being stranded on a trip. However, I had always wondered what it would be like to push my boundaries a little. I find working out of character quite empowering. For me, planning Cambodia in little time and with little money was a small step towards pushing those boundaries.
So I planned this trip with just five days’ notice. I had one week to backpack towards the end of September, 2017 so some cuts in the itinerary were inevitable.
Mapping a trail for Indian backpackers:
Tip: Usually, the best beginning is from New Delhi to Siam Riep, where the famous Angkor Wat temple is situated. Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a Vishnu temple. Later, it was converted into a Buddhist temple by the Khmer regime. Situated in the midst of a Cambodian jungle, it is one of the most pristine temples to see. However, the entry fee is a little steep and costs around 40$ per person to visit. We only eliminated it due to shortage of time and lack of interest in temples. For those who love architecture and history, don’t give it a miss!
Best time to go and weather:
The best time to visit is from November to March, as the temperature is relatively cooler after the rains. However, the place can get very crowded with backpackers, (especially from Australia). Inevitability, prices of accommodation and food can be higher during those months.
We went in September, which is considered to be the monsoon season in Cambodia. We hardly faced any rains, and the cloudy weather. There were lesser tourists and subsidised prices for food and accommodation. I would recommend end of September and October as the months to visit Cambodia, subject to the weather conditions. Hence, before heading there during monsoons, please check the weather apps for updates on storms, etc.
Cambodia’s official currency is Riel, but payments are usually accepted in dollars. The calculation is a little complicated: round figures from 1$ are accepted in dollars, and change is returned in Riels as Cambodians do not accept coin transactions. I recommend taking the cash (in dollars) from your home country, as ATM withdrawals can be relatively unsafe. There may also be transaction costs for withdrawals / swipes on international credit/debit cards. Moreover, most places in Cambodia do not accept cards for payment, so carrying cash beforehand is recommended.
Cambodia has visa on arrival for Indian passport holders. It is a single entry visa issued for one month for a fee of 30$ payable only by cash. So make sure you have the money before you land there. I recommend purchasing the currency from India, especially if you’re converting from INR, as the rate offered in Cambodia for INR to dollar currency exchange is not good.
Another note of caution on visas on arrival generally. I had a terrible experience of the same at Bangkok, so please read this before you opt for visa on arrival in any country.
There are several ways to access Cambodia from India. There are no direct flights from India to Phnom Penh, or Siam Riep. However, flights are relatively cheaper if you travel from Kolkata. Check out Skyscanner and Kayak for some great deals on flights.
Tip: While checking aggregator websites, make sure you calculate costs based on the offer provided. For example: Air Asia flights are relatively cheaper on these websites because they don’t include the check-in luggage amount within the price quoted. So when you go to the booking page, the hidden costs pop up. This can throw your financial planning into disarray.
Also check the veracity of the sites that these aggregators lead you to.
With one stop / layover, there are two options to book flights from India to Phnom Penh (I am not including Siam Riep because I did not go there):
1. Booking tickets on the same airline;
2. Booking tickets on two different airlines.
1. Booking tickets on the same airline:
You can stopover at any of the Southeast Asian countries like Bangkok or Singapore by booking tickets on the same airline. The advantage of this is direct check-in of your bags till the final destination.
However, while booking, I found the prices for this option to be more expensive. Hence, I opted for the option below. I candidly admit that given the circumstance, choosing the second option might have been a mistake
2. Booking tickets on two different airlines:
You can stopover at any of the Southeast Asian countries and take an onward flight from the stopover port to Phnom Penh. For instance, I took a Spice Jet flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, had a 10-hour layover, and then took an Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. The advantage of doing this is that the prices of tickets significantly reduce. The downside that I didn’t foresee was this:
a. I landed in Bangkok at 03:00 and had another flight at 14:45, which is almost a 10-hour layover. I had to think of innovative ways to spend my time during the layover;
b. My bags were not checked in till the final destination. So I had to pick them up and re-check them in with Air Asia;
c. My flight from New Delhi to Bangkok landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport and my flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh took off from Don Mueang (DMK) Airport. Both airports are at two different ends of the city;
d. Since I had to change airports, I was forced to take a visa on arrival in Bangkok;
e. Visa on Arrival at Bangkok is only a single entry visa, so I had to take the visa twice: once on my way to Phnom Penh and once on my way back to New Delhi. The cost for the visa therefore, was double.
Tuktuks are the best way to travel within a city/town. They typically cost between 3$-9$ depending on the distance. As an indicator, these are the prices we paid:
1. Airport→ Phnom Penh (Long distance) - $ 6
2. Within Phnom Penh (Short distance) - $ 3-5
3. Kampot bus station→ Greenhouse (Long distance) - $ 4-5
Most towns I went to had a time period of 2-6 hours between them. For longer travels, there are two ways to get around. The first is by bus, which is usually cheaper. The second way is by a mini van, which is 1-2$ more expensive than a bus. The key is to pick the right company for the bus / minivan. Best to ask the concierge at the accommodation you’re staying at for good travel agencies. As an indicator, these are the prices we booked our transport for:
1. Phnom Penh → Kampot (4-5 hours) - $10-12. It was a minivan and very comfortable.
2. Kampot → Sihanoukville (2 hours) - $5. It was a minivan but not so comfortable.
3. Sihanoukville → Phnom Penh (6 hours) - $7. It was a bus and very comfortable.
I’ve included this section particularly, as Cambodia was an aberration from my usual way of travelling. While I am a strong advocate of Airbnb and homestays, Cambodia is popular for its hotels and resorts. I’ll detail our accommodation in the next section (“Detailed Itinerary”).
Tip: The best way to scope out hotels and resorts is on aggregator websites like Booking.com or Hotels.com. The benefit of these sites is the reward points. The points you collect can reward you with free stays. I personally re-check their recommendations on trip advisor too. The reviews there are recent in time and very helpful.