The South-East Asian Kingdom of Cambodia is bordered by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam by land on three sides and the Gulf of Thailand on the other. The capital and the largest city of Kampuchea is Phnom Penh which is its political, economic and cultural centre. Other cities like Siem Reap is popular for being the land of the mighty Angkor Wat - the oldest and largest temple in the world, while Sihanoukville is knows for its pristine beaches and virgin islands.
By Air: There are several international flights arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport like - Thai Airways, Air Asia, Cathay Dragon and many more
(From India only)
Direct Flights: There are no non stop flights from India to Cambodia. Alternatively, one can fly directly to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap by Air Asia (with a layover at Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok's Don Mueang). You wont need a Malay or Thai visa if you take a direct flight.
Connecting Flights: You can fly Indigo, Air Asia or Spice Jet to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport. After immigration, you will need to transfer to Don Mueang by a private taxi (takes 30-45 mins) or bus (1hr - 2 hrs). You would need a Thai visa if you travel by this route.
By Bus: From Bangkok
You can take a direct bus from Bangkok to the Aranyaprathet - Poipet border (Thailand - Cambodia border), cross over and complete Immigration formalities and then again board the same bus to Siem Reap. Travelling time from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet is 4-5 hours (depending on the Bangkok traffic), while the formalities would take about 1-2 hours at the border and the onward journey would take another 2-2.5 hours. The most comfortable transport carriers are Giant Ibis and Nattakan Transport. These buses are air conditioned with comfortable seats and they would also provide refreshments. There are other local buses as well which would be much cheaper but might not be very comfortable. The tickets for Giant Ibis or Nattakan would come for around $30-$35.
Visa: Avail the Visa-on-Arrival for a fee of $30. It is hassle-free and fast (took us about 10 mins). Don't forget to carry the exact change in USD and spare photographs.
Phnom Penh: The largest and the capital city of Cambodia. It is the socio-economic hub of the country and is situated on the banks of Mekong River and Tonle Sap. It is noted for its grand boulevards.
What to See:
1) Killing Fields & S-21 Genocidal Museum:
Choeung Ek is one of the many killing fields in Cambodia where innocent men, women and children were brutally murdered during the Khmer regime. One can still see the few of the many mass graves of men, women and children at Choeung Ek.
Under Pol Pot's reign, the political prisoners were kept at the high security S-21 prison. They were imprisoned there in tiny prison cells and underwent torture at the torture chambers. The Choeung Ek entry fee is $6, including audio tour (available in various languages) and it would take about 1.5 hours to complete the trip. From Choeung Ek to S-21 is another 30 mins ride. The entry fee at S-21 is 5$ and 3$ more for the audio tour.
2) Royal Palace: The royal residence of the king of Cambodia. It is a beautiful structure situated on the Riverside and you can tour the inner court and Throne Room here. Do not forget to wear clothes that covers your shoulders and knees.
3) National Museum: Cruise through the history of Cambodia at the National Museum. The museum is located right next to the Royal Palace. Entry fees are $10 for foreigners (above 18 years of age) and $5 for foreigners (below 18 years). The museum houses a variety of Khmer art and sculptures. One can see statues of Garuda, King Sisowath, Jayavarman VII, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganesha and many others related to Khmer history. There is a huge bust of the reclining Vishnu, while a statue of the Lepper King stands in the middle of the inner courtyard.
4) Sisowath Quay/ Riverside: Stroll, relax or just enjoy the view - Sisowath Quay is a 3-km long stretch located where the Tonle Sap intersects the Mekong River. This stretch is dotted with numerous hotels, pubs and bars, where beer is available at dirt cheap prices (for the beer lovers!). Try the local meat delicacies from the street food vendors. This is a very lively neighbourhood and is one of the most known locality of Phnom Penh.
Where to stay:
Phnom penh has multiple options of accommodation ranging from dorms in hostels to mid-range boutique hotels to luxury resorts. You wont face any problems to find a room that suits your budget. There are plenty hostels (the most famous of them being, Mad Monkey - it offers shared dorms as well as private rooms), mid-range hotels like One Up, G Mekong, H Hotel and many more (we chose One Up Hotel and had a great stay) and luxury hotels and resorts like Sofitel, iRoha Garden, Raffles and more.
Mode of transport:
The main mode of transport in Cambodia are the tuktuks. Travelling anywhere within the city will cost you $3-4. Tuktuks reserved for the day trip to Choeung Ek and S-21 will cost you approx. $18-20 (Contact your hotel front desk for a better rate).
For long distances, avail the local/ luxury buses. Mekong Express and Giant Ibis are the two biggest operators on the long distance. Both these operators run luxury buses with comfortable seats (and wi-fi) to popular destinations like Siem Reap, Sihanoukville. There are mini-vans also plying on this route. They are smaller and faster but not the safest option around. Private cars and taxis can also be hired, but they are more expensive.
What to eat:
Do try the local Khmer delicacies like Beef (or chicken) loklak, which is a stir-fried beef dish dipped in sauce (of kaffir lime, salt and Kampot pepper) and with rice and fried eggs as accompaniment. Another must try is Fish Amok, a Khmer delicacy which is a fish curry made with coconut milk and tastes heavenly. For dessert, do not miss the Sticky Rice with mango which is an absolute favourite with me.
Beef loklak was modified to chicken loklak to suit out preference (and was very tasty!)
Where to eat:
Mok Mony is very famous among the tourists. The prices are affordable and the quantity sufficient. The host is a very nice and helpful man. Arrive early since this place can be quite full around dinner/lunch time. Do try their Pandan drinks and fried noodles with chicken.
Other popular joints are Friends and Romdeng. There are a couple of Indian restaurants also like New Delhi Indian Restaurant and Phnom Penh India. Che Culo is a good option for American cuisine. There are a number of good cafes also, including Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
Where to drink:
Liquor is quite cheap in Cambodia. Draft beer is available at as low as $0.50. The riverside area is dotted with bars and pubs. Many of these places offer great prices during happy hours.
Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) is a popular joint. As the name suggests, this place is thronged by foreigners and expats enjoying drinks while watching the setting sun along the horizon. The rooftop bar provides a great view of the riverside on a breezy evening. Beer is available for $0.75 while wine are priced at $5-6 (managed to grab a glass for $3 during their happy hours) and whiskey are priced at $3-5. FCC charges taxes extra on the bill amount.
Eclipse Sky Bar is a fine open-air bar located at the posh embassy locality of Monivong boulevard. Situated at the 23rd floor of the Phnom Penh Tower, it offers a splendid view of the Phnom Penh skyline. Sip on a $2.5 beer, $5 Jack Daniels or $6 cocktails and click amazing sunset pics from here. Food is a little expensive at Eclipse ($20 for full course and $10 for fried chicken wings), but the view is worth the price.
Water is expensive in Cambodia. Try and buy the larger 1/1.5l bottles from the supermarkets or minimarts for a good deal. A Dasani (Coca-Cola) bottle of 1l would cost 1500Riel (2000 Riel = $0.50)
Where to shop:
Scout the Russian market and the Central Market for good deals. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, coconut bowls, scented oils are quite cheap at these places. Jewelries are aplenty at the central market. Bargain!! You can visit the local night market also, but the prices are steep (good stock of women's shoes, clothes and trinkets)
Staying safe: Beware of bag snatching in Phnom Penh. It is rampant while travelling in tuktuks or walking on the roads. Try to walk while facing the oncoming traffic and keep your bag in the middle of the tuktuk or hold it tightly. Always carry your bags cross-bodied. Leave your passport and valuables back in the safety box of your hotel.
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