Cambodia, home to the world heritage Angkor temples, shares its land border on one side with Thailand. The nearest border checkpoint between the two countries is ‘Aranyaprathet’ on the Thai side and ‘Poipet” on the Cambodia side. There are direct bus services that connect Bangkok with Cambodia’s two main cities – Siem Reap (Angkor temples) and Phnom Penh (capital city). The direct buses stop at the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border checkpoint for visa/immigration formalities and then continue their journey to the final destination. Cambodia offers Visa on Arrival to the citizens of most countries including India. Visa on arrival fee is 30 USD and a passport with a minimum remaining validity of 6 months and a return ticket within 30 days of arrival are the other main requirements for visa on arrival. An e-visa service is also available for those interested in getting their visa before travel. For a tourist, a holiday to Cambodia will be similar to a holiday in Thailand because there are similarities in the cultures of the two countries. Yet, there are several differences too. Cambodia is less economically developed and its tourist infrastructure is not as developed as that of Thailand. But cost-wise, I have found Cambodia to be equally or sometimes even more expensive than Thailand. But then, Cambodia has a stunning tourist attraction – Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap, and it has legalised casino gambling that Thailand does not have.
Also read: Cambodia eVisa and Visa on Arrival
Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap
You have to see this place to believe it. Most of us have only seen images of the centuries old Angkor temples that remained hidden in the jungles for centuries before being discovered. A complete sightseeing trip inside Angkor Archaeological Park can take a few days but a mini-circuit trip on a hired tuk tuk can be completed in a single day. The tuk tuks that operate in Cambodia are the real “Indo-China” tuk tuk, that is a taxi-like cart driven by a motor bike. The tuk tuk we see in Bangkok is a high-powered three-wheeler, that is faster but a bit too expensive for tourists. In Cambodia, a tuk tuk ride for a short distance can cost only 1 USD.
After a tour of the temples, one can enjoy a huge buffet dinner accompanied by Cambodia’s cultural dance show called ‘Apsara’ dance. After the dinner and the show, one will still have time for a Khmer Body Massage at something like 5 USD an hour. This massage is somewhat similar to the Thai body massage that costs upwards of 200 THB an hour in Thailand.
Cambodia’s own currency is Riel. One USD roughly gets you a value of 4000 Riel anywhere in Cambodia, though the official exchange rate will be still better. Some supermarkets that mark their prices in Riel, value a USD at 4100 Riel or so. A small water bottle costs 1000 Riel. For a tourist, small value USD bills will work everywhere in Cambodia. USD 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 are all good but somehow, USD 2 is not. So, if you can avoid taking 2 USD bills to Cambodia.
Vegetarian food is easily available in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Indian restaurants are everywhere in Siem Reap – near the main Angkor temple and also in the city’s tourist area near Pub Street and Sivatha Road. In Phnom Penh too, there are Indian restaurants near the riverfront. There are cafes like The Blue Pumpkin that serve vegetarian food. Khmer food is also not bad. One can find vegetarian Amok curry in some Indian restaurants – like the Curry walla in Siem Reap. Restaurants and bars in Camobdia are very similar to the ones that we see in Thailand.
Phnom Penh’s main nightlife area is near the riverfront. A lot of nightlife options are presented by Naga World, Phnom Penh’s only casino & hotel complex. Naga World is an attraction in itself because its casino rivals many of those that exist in Macau. In Siem Reap, nightlife is concentrated in the area in and around Pub Street where countless bars, restaurants, massage shops, and night markets keep the tourists happy and busy. Actually a few days spent in Siem Reap can be a very really relaxing experience. Its cheap and very lively.
For tourists, Naga World Phnom Penh is the best bet. Apart from Naga, there are casinos on Thailand border at Poipet and on Vietnam border at Bavet but those are for Thai nationals and Viet nationals who come to Cambodia’s border areas for gambling. A tourist visiting Cambodia on a holiday need not bother about Poipet or Bavet. If you want to experience casino gambling, just go to Naga. You will really like this place. Casino gaming is conducted in US dollars and slot machines work starting at 1 cent, like in Las Vegas.
There are other positives for tourists like 1 USD per kg laundry, 10 USD a night hostels and 20 USD a night hotels complete with free pickup from the airport and free breakfast. You can’t beat the value. Just be careful about the tuk tuk drivers though. Cambodia’s tuk tuk is an industry in itself. You will find the best guys there and the worst ones too. Some of them will be your real friends and guides while the others will try to sell you drugs and try all kinds of scams on you. Motor-bike taxi is better if you are travelling solo because they happily accept 1 USD for a short ride while the tuk tuk will start bargaining at 2 USD minimum. And then they ask for tips.
Another issue you are likely to face during your holiday to Cambodia is the conduct of the corrupt immigration officials. They are actually being nice when they demand a 5 USD bribe for a visa on arrival at a land border crossing. They sometimes harass people at the time of departure from the country by refusing to put a departure immigration stamp on the passport. So, travelling from/to the airports is easier but a bit more expensive. If you are trying to save money by travelling via road, do account for the bribes and the mis-behaviour of Khmer immigration officials. This is Cambodia, and there is no way around it. I told you about the bad guys – the tuk tuk drivers and the immigration officials. The rest is almost all good. Must read: Cambodia Visa on Arrival / eVisa