Previously I wrote about traveling without knowing where to go and ending up solo in Cambodia with a budget. I’d been alone for a day or two in several cities before, but 7 days was a whole new nerve wrecking experience for me (especially only finding out the destination just hours before my flight).
With my flight tickets, a copy of Lonely Planet Cambodia, and US$200 in an envelope, here’s how I spent 7 days in Cambodia on a budget.
Look out for the breakdown of my budget at the end of the post!
Day 1 – 3: Siem Reap
Stepping out from the plane with excitement, I was invited by a hot gush of 39°C air. This is Cambodia for sure. I was still letting it sink in that I’d entrusted someone to send me somewhere on my own.
I did what most of us would do and quickly settled on getting a data SIM card just outside the sliding doors. You never know when you might need the internet since I was travelling alone and hardly had time to plan anything on the plane!
USD$3 for 7 days of Unlimited Data from the airport: Yes Please!
Hendric had arranged a pick up from the Hostel (yes, hostels provide this service too!) so it was quite a relief to see my name on a board amidst a crowd of hustling taxi and tuk tuk drivers.
Siem Reap Hostel
Arriving at the hostel, it was pleasantly surprising to find an inviting pool by the hostel’s bar.
Siem Reap Hostel’s Pool by the bar Source
Really loved how they had this whiteboard to plan outings and split the cost of the tuk tuk!
White Board to plan outings with the hostel guests
I immediately signed up for the 5am Sunrise at Angkor Wat, borrowed a bicycle (free from the hostel) and went out to explore the city. Cycling around was pretty scary at first. There were no traffic lights so crossroads were a true art to learn, the grounds were all bumps and holes and the local pedestrians crossed like unrestrained pendulums from all directions. But taking the bike out was a really good choice.
Exploring Siem Reap on a bicycle
I ended up at this café that offered Ashtanga classes!
Stopped by Pub Street on the way back
Spotted a pushcart selling insects!
And ended up with a tarantula, which was surprisingly tasty. I later learnt I was lucky the guy picked one with a pretty flat body so it wasn’t juicy at all in the centre and the seasoning was quite tasty.
Stopped at a rare modern and air-conditioned massage parlor down the street. Heavenly place for a foot massage after cycling around all day at 35 – 40 degrees outside.
$6/hr for Foot Reflexology at Temple Massage
Finally headed back to the hostel to find all the girls in the 6 bed dorm asleep. Checked out the board to find out that the 5am tour was filled out! Yay.
Siem Reap’s Temples – Angkor Wat and more
Set out at 5am the next morning and spent the next 9 hours exploring temples with 3 other guests from the hostel.
Caught the first light from Angkor Wat
Exploring the Angkor Temples
Bayon – the temple of faces
And finally our favourite Ta Prohm temple, where Tomb Raider was filmed.
After 8 hours exploring temples, we were more than looking forward to having beers back at the hostel.
50cent Beers everywhere! Source
Brought the new friends back to the pushcart selling insects. And unfortunately, one of them got a really fat bodied tarantula. Poor thing. But one thing’s for sure, insects are more fun with friends. :P
Accommodation: Siem Reap Hostel
Great Location. 20min tuk tuk ride from the airport. 20mins to Angkor Wat by tuk tuk and 10minutes to Pub Street and the Night Market by foot. Has a shaded pool, a bar that sells beers for $0.50 and has a really useful white board at the lobby area to plan group outings with the other guests.
Highlights: Catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, explore the temples around Angkor area – Bayon & Ta Prohm, try local street food & insects (crickets, tarantulas, water bugs and scorpions!) on Pub Street, get a massage by the Blind at Seeing Hands or Temple Massage for a more comfortable option.
Accommodation for 2 Nights – $19
Food – $28
Transport – $2 (Shared tuktuk to Angkor Wat)
Activities – $13 (Yoga Class, Massage, & hostel food tour)
1 Day Temple Pass – $20 (there’s also a 3 day pass for $40)
Data SIM Card – $3
Drinks (Alcoholic & non) – $3
Day 4 – 6: Kampot
By the third day, I realised it was almost half way into the trip and there’s so much more of Cambodia to explore! Finally left on an overnight bus out of Siem Reap. The Giant Ibis bus was the best! A few dollars more than the other local company but the comfort was worth it.
It’s super cosy – you take your shoes off at the front, get your own BED (there’s top and bottom layers), individual charging stations beside the seat and wifi throughout the journey! Although you wouldn’t need it if you got the unlimited data plan.
On the Giant Ibis bus overnight to Kampot via Phnom Penh
Arrived in Phnom Penh at 7am and took a separate day bus down to Kampot 3 hours away.
Arcadia Backpackers hostel
The Arcadia Backpackers hostel was highly raved by Dennis, a friend I met at the earlier hostel. (Awesome recommendation indeed)
This place is an adventure on its own! The bar sits over a river playground featuring a 3 storey high tower to jump off, a swing that launches you into the river, hammocks everywhere and even this blob thing where you can launch people out into the river. I wished I could stay an entire week there.
River View from Arcadia Backpacker’s in Kampot
Took a sunset boat ride out on the river and although the skies were too cloudy that day to catch the sun, we were quite thankful for the intermittent coolness the clouds brought.
$5 Sunset boat tour organised by the hostel. Includes a free beer!
Local kids and cows swimming across the river
Exploring Kampot on Scooters
The next day we rented scooters to explore the town.
Scooter rental for $6/day
Phnom Chhngok Cave – The dirt roads towards the caves can be a tad challenging on scooters but quite easy to navigate. Hire one of the local kids to be your tour guide and they’ll show you a less accessible way out of the cave.
Phnom Chhngok Cave, Kampot
“Secret” Lake – Thought we could take a dip but the water isn’t exactly the cleanest
Lunch by the sea at Kep Town
Kep Town – Where the beaches are. Not the cleanest but great for a dip in the middle of a scorching day out. Lots of fresh seafood and supposedly known for their crabs.
I wished I had more time in this town but with only 2 days left, I decided to take the morning bus out to Phnom Penh.
Accommodation: Arcadia Backpackers
Be prepared to stay here longer than you expect if time allows. There’s no air conditioning nor hot water for showering but the weather is pretty cool at night. I took the Sqwakers room – a cosy straw hut with 6 bunk beds, with individual mosquito nets. It can be a little noisy if you decide to take an early night since the bar is just next door but it’s a lot better ventilated than the newer concrete dorms.
Highlights: Phnom Chhngok Cave, The Secret Lake, Pepper Farms, Kep Town for fresh seafood and beaches, hike up Bokor national park – find the abandoned casino, swim with or hitch a ride from the cows across the river.
*Pro-tip: Rent motorbikes/scooters for $5 a day to explore the town. The rental shop opens at 7am and is just round the corner from the bus station. So if possible, keep the scooters until you check out so you can ride it down instead of booking a tuk tuk for $4/5.
Accommodation for 2 Nights – $12
Food – $26
Transport – $32 (Bus from Siem Reap, tuk tuk rides and scooter rental)
Activities – $7 (Boat tour, cave entrance + tips for the guide)
Drinks (Alcoholic & non) – $4
Day 6 – 7: Phnom Penh
(3hr Bus Ride from Kampot for $7)
Arriving at 12noon, everyone in the hostel had already gone out for the day so it was a solo day out exploring the city’s sights. Which honestly wasn’t a bad day to be alone considering the nature of the sites – learning about Cambodia’s dark history during the Khmer Rogue.
Learning about the Khmer Rogue
Cheung Ek Killing Fields – A 40 minute tuk tuk ride away from the main city, the site where one of the most gruesome genocides happened during the Khmer Rogue. Around 20 thousand out of the 3 million people were sent here to be killed. Most were slaughtered or clubbed to death by chains, axes, knives or garden tools because bullets were too expensive.
Cheung Ek Memorial Hall which houses 10 storeys of skulls and major bones found on the field
The entrance fee includes a personal audio guide that allows you to walk through the site towards numbered markers and listen to stories of what it once was where you stood – the waiting room, the killing shack and huge areas of dug up land where they retrieved the bones and skulls displayed at the memorial hall.
Skulls from the victims of the Khmer Rogue at the Cheung Ek Memorial Hall
Tuol Seng Genocide Museum (S21 Prison) – The remnants of a secret torture centre. If you were educated, spoke a different language, belonged to an elite family or were suspected in any way or form to be plotting against the Khmer Rogue, you’d be unknowingly sent here for torture until you confessed before being sent to one of the many killing fields like Cheung Ek. Look out for the rows and rows of black and white pictures of the guests that once lived there probably never seeing the outside of these walls again.
Formerly a school, brick cells were built into what was once a classroom
Pro-Tip: Share the tuk tuk with 3 other hostel mates to maximise the cost of the tuk tuk. It costs $15 to these 2 sights from the Mad Monkey Hostel.
Accommodation: Mad Monkey Hostel
A dead straight party hostel. Definitely stay a night or 2 just to party at the bar upstairs but don’t expect to have an early night while you’re around. Clean and air conditioned rooms available; plus the staff are really outgoing and friendly!
Highlights: Cheung Ek Killing Fields, Tuol Seng Genocide Museum (a.k.a S21 Prison), shopping at the Russian Market (similar to Chatuchak in Bangkok), Party at Mad Monkey’s Bar upstairs, have a drink at Foreign Correspondence cafe.
Bonus (for Yoga lovers): NataRaj Studio (a 5min walk from Mad Monkey Hostel) has a REALLY good Ashtanga class. Only did 1 6am class so not too sure about the other classes but the vibe seem legit!
Accommodation for 1 Night – $10
Food – $9
Transport – $16 (Bus from Kampot, tuk tuk)
Activities – $12 (Entrance fees to 2 sights)
(All prices in USD)
Unlimited Data SIM Card: $3
Transport: $50 (Includes inter city bus rides and tuk tuks to main attractions)
Accommodation: $41 (for 5 nights with 1 on the bus)
Dinner & Drinks: $70
Tours & Activities: $52
Total: US$426 (S$553)
Pro-tip: Many of the main tourist sights and tuk tuk drivers actually prefer to accept US dollar notes so there’s no need to change a lot of Riels. Bring more US$1 bills for convenience and make sure the bigger bills are nice and crisp. Vendors might not accept if there are visible tears.
While waiting for my flight at Changi, I remember worrying for a split second if 7 days would feel really long and dreadful traveling alone. The thing is, you’re never really alone no matter where you are. Traveling exposes you to a lot of unfamiliarity which you can choose to feel daunted or curious towards.
There were definitely moments I badly wished to be amongst familiar company but at the end of it, I actually wished I had more time before heading home. Cambodia was indeed a good start :)
Read also: 11 awesome places for solo travel
ENFP, fuelled by yoga, the outdoors, adrenaline and anything that spells adventure. In 2015, she quit her job to complete a 500hr Ashtanga Yoga Teacher training in India for 3months. Follow her adventures on Instagram @cheriesyw.