Cambodia Backpacking Budget

backpacking budget Cambodia

(Map of Cambodia from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Cambodia on a Shoestring Budget

US$20 (or less)

Cambodia is paradise for the budget traveller with your money stretching further than it does almost anywhere in the world. This after all is the land of the $2 dorm bed and although they are a little harder to find these days, when you get private rooms going for as little at $4, there’s not really any need to stay in dorms in any case unless you have a fervent desire to sleep in a room full of strangers.

Buses between the main towns are also very cheap and although there are a few expensive restaurants cropping up geared towards an expanding mainstream tourist industry, there are still plenty of real local cheapies. Hit the local markets and you’ll find plenty of stalls and small restaurants serving local dishes at bargain prices.

Our Cambodia backpacking budget of $20 is perhaps a conservative one and there is no reason why you can’t spend $15 or less most days. However the one thing that is expensive in Cambodia is Angkor Wat. It is the country’s pride and joy and to visit it you need to pay a hefty $20 for a day pass and given there is so much to see you might need more than one day there, certainly if you’re a big ruins lover. Therefore you could have a couple of days that are going to be more like $40 which is why $20/day is perhaps more realistic as an overall budget. If you don’t visit Angkor Wat or are in Cambodia for more than a few weeks you can probably get by on less than 20 as the main sites in and around Phnom Penh are all very cheap to visit.

See where Cambodia ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in all Southeast Asian countries


More Comfortable Cambodia Backpacker Budget

US$25

Adding $5/day will allow you to stay in air-con rooms and perhaps take at least one meal a day in one of the international restaurants which are still good value just not by Cambodian standards. You might read a few articles suggesting Cambodia has got considerably more expensive in recent years but that is simply not the case. It is perhaps not as ridiculously cheap as it once was but it is still great value and $25/day should be more than enough to explore what is a lovely country.


Sample Prices in Cambodia

Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh (6-7 hours) – $6 ($1/hour of travel is typical in Cambodia)

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $2.50

Large local beer – $1

Dorm bed in Siem Reap – from $3/night

Cheap double or twin room with fan – from $4/night

Entrance to Killing Fields or Museums in Phnom Penh – $2

Day pass for Angkor Wat – $20

Compare this to the cost of travel in Laos.


Money

Currency – Cambodian Riel & US Dollar

£1 = 5850 Riel | $1.44

€1 = 4610 Riel | $1.13

US$1 = 4067 Riel

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)

The US Dollar is widely used in Cambodia to the point that chances are you will pay for most things including hostels and meals in Dollars and certainly most tourist/traveller orientated businesses quote prices in dollars rather than riels. It is common to pay in dollars and receive change in riels, which are used for buying smaller items.

ATM’s are plentiful in the main tourist towns now and dispense dollars.


MFT Recommends

Cambodia is one country where it is very important to have good travel insurance. We recommend World Nomads who specialise in backpacking trips and will help in the case of you falling sick or getting injured in a country which has limited healthcare facilities.


street art in Cambodia

street art in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (via antjeverenaCC BY-SA 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Cambodia recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016


Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Best Places to Stay in Cambodia

Cambodia is one of the most popular destinations with travellers and many backpackers in Southeast Asia leave the region with fond memories of their time in the country. While the price of accommodation is very much to the liking of budget travellers, the quality can certainly sometimes be a little bit lacking unless you know where to look!

This article should hopefully help you find somewhere cheap in Cambodia’s main travel destinations without sacrificing on the bare essentials.

cambodia map

Here are some of the best places to stay in Cambodia:

Phnom Penh

phnom penh

The Phnom Penh skyline around the bustling Central Market.

The Cambodian capital has the widest choice of accommodation in the country and has some dirt cheap options. Most of them were in the slightly crazy Lakeside area near the Beoung Kak lake which was popular with travellers on the tightest of budgets. While the lake no longer exists, Guesthouses 10 and 11 as well as a few others are still there and offer basic rooms starting from $3 although don’t expect amazing facilities and certainly don’t count on hot showers!

The biggest hostel in the city with a lively social scene is The Mad Monkey Hostel. They have modern dorms as well as private rooms and offer a huge choice of tours and also have 3 bars and a restaurant. For solo travellers it’s the safest bet for finding somewhere modern, sociable and fun but still budget friendly.

There are plenty more cheap options in the centre close to the Central Market with prices starting from $4 or so but again the standard is variable. Other solid options with travellers looking to socialise include Velkommen Backpackers and Top Banana Guesthouse while Capitol 3 Guesthouse have cheap clean private rooms which may suit those seeking a bit more privacy.

Sihanoukville

Cambodia’s most famous beach destination has plenty of budget accommodation although some of the better options do sell out quickly during peak times. Sakal Bungalows offer everything from basic huts on the beach to better equipped air-con rooms with a nice sea view. If you’re looking to meet people then try The Led Zephyr Backstage Bungalows which have several bungalows that act as dorms from $4 a night and generally receive excellent reviews.

If you want to get away from the increasingly commercialised centre then Cinderellas Dive Resort & Beach Bungalows on Otres Beach provide a quieter alternative with beachfront accommodation from $6.

Kampot

mad monkey hostel in kampot

Pictured above – The Mad Monkey Hostel in Kampot.

Just a short journey from Sihanoukville and conveniently located for the beautiful Bokor National Park is Kampot. It’s quite easy to find a budget room in town as it is very small and the imaginatively named ‘Guesthouse Street’ has many offerings that cater to foreigners. Popular options there include the Magic Sponge and Blissful Guesthouse with prices starting from $3 for dorms and $4/5 for private rooms.

There is also a Mad Monkey hostel in Kampot which is one of the best places to stay in Cambodia. It is located on the riverside and boasts one of the few swimming pools in the town which can be a welcome relief from the heat.

Battambang

The riverside town is a good place to get to experience what life is really like for Cambodians and there are some interesting homestay and community options. BOVA (Battambang Orphanage Village Assistance) Village Homestay is a bit more expensive than most of the options featured here with rooms costing $12 but it includes the chance to eat Khmer cuisine and live with a local family. You can also provide some much needed help at the local orphanage so it’s a nice way to get involved with locals and make a positive contribution to the lives of young Cambodian orphans.

Contact sophornbb@yahoo.com for info.

If you just want cheap and friendly then try Tomato Guest House were beds start at just $2! Somewhat obviously you shouldn’t expect the height of luxury though.

Siem Reap

siem reap

You can help the local communities by supporting the Mad Monkey Clean Water project.

Located close to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap receives hordes of new backpackers every day so there are plenty of budget places to eat, sleep and drink. Beds start again at just a few dollars a night and private rooms can be found for as little as $5.

The Mad Monkey in Siem Reap boasts a rooftop pool bar and has plenty of fun events and trips to get involved with. You can also help support their important community based projects in and around the town.

Garden Village Guesthouse & Hostel is another sociable option. There are also plenty of small guesthouses close to Pub Street and the Night Market that can’t be booked in advance but be sure to ask to see the rooms before handing over any money. Also be wary of tuk-tuk and moto drivers who try to take you to specific guesthouses as they are working on commission. Either tell them exactly which hostel you want to go to or get off at Pub Street and find somewhere yourself.


This article was first published in February 2015.


Frugal Backpackers Guide to Eating in Siem Reap,

Budget Guide to Eating in Siem Reap

by Milda from Asian Rooms

siem reap food

Siem Reap is ideal for people travelling on a budget who want to experience a piece of the local culture. Many backpackers like to really get stuck in and try some of the more traditional places, rather than the obvious tourist spots. Siem Reap is the second largest city in Cambodia, so there are plenty of interesting places to eat scattered around the city. It is located in Northwest Cambodia and is best known for the nearby World Heritage site, the Angkor ruins (right). Many travelers come here just to see the magnificent ancient temples. However, the city has recently angkorexperienced an influx of tourists so the number of restaurants and bars is growing rapidly.

The city has a vibrant nightlife, a friendly atmosphere, fascinating sites and great food, making it perfect for frugal backpackers. The restaurants here serve a fantastic range of delicious food including Asian, Khmer, BBQ and Western food. If you are planning to visit Siem Reap on a tight budget then you will easily be able to get some tasty food at reasonable prices. Here are some of the best restaurants and cafes for frugal backpackers.

Khmer restaurants

Angkor Palm

A favourite with locals and tourists alike, Angkor Palm is located near Pub Street. Here you can experience traditional Khmer dishes and well known soups. If you want to sample a bit of everything then they serve platters with a variety of dishes such as salad, spring rolls and fish dishes. This restaurant is especially good for backpackers because they do cooking classes, giving you a chance to learn to cook Khmer style.

Butterflies

lake in siem reapThis restaurant has been around for a while so you are pretty much guaranteed a quality meal in a beautiful setting. You can dine in their garden which has 1500 Angkorean butterflies resting on 500 plants and trees. They also play relaxing music so you can enjoy your meal in peace. They have a gift shop where you can buy souvenirs and on Tuesdays at 7.30 you can watch a traditional dance in the garden. If you want to write a blog post about your experience then you can use the free wifi. It’s a good place to escape to if you need a break from the crowded city streets.

International Cuisine

Red Piano

Red Piano is a popular restaurant which serves local dishes and Asian favourites, as well as Western food. It’s located 50 metres Northwest of the Old Market. People love this restaurant because of the quality of the food and the great atmosphere. It has a distinctly local feel and the staff are very friendly. You can enjoy a few drinks after your meal when the restaurant converts into a bar around 10pm. Dishes cost between $5 and $10 and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Chusska

Chusska is a charming vegetarian restaurant serving Indian food. The food is very fresh and authentic and they are generous with their portions. Their dishes include favourites such as the samosas, naan bread, Daal and mixed vegetable curry. You can also get set meals here if you want to try lots of things for a set price.

Street Food

street food in siem reapSome people get a bit put off by street food, but they are missing out on the true taste of Cambodia. It is only here that you can really enjoy fresh food and taste the real dishes of Siem Reap. Digging into a street food dish is an experience in itself because you get authentic food in a vibrant atmosphere.

Don’t be discouraged by the locals asking you to eat at their stall, just wander through the streets and take your time choosing somewhere to grab a bite to eat. Head to the Old Market and the stalls just off Pub street. As the evening begins lots of different stalls pop up and the streets start to come alive. You can try a range of local and international dishes such as noodles, salads, pasta, BBQ, soups and fried dishes. Enjoy some fresh market food in a lively atmosphere for low prices.

Local Restaurants

The local restaurants don’t look as glamorous as some of the more up market places, but that doesn’t mean the food is any different. In fact, the food is probably better in some of the more local restaurants.

Mr Grill

Mr Grill serves mouth watering BBQ food as well as some well known Khmer favourites. Lots of locals come here to enjoy the extensive range of Khmer dishes and relax with their friends. You can cook your food yourself if you like on their barbeque, adding something special to your dining experience. It does get quite busy here because it is a local favourite but that just adds to the atmosphere. Don’t miss this experience on your next trip to Siem Reap.

Soup Dragon

The Soup Dragon is a Khmer and Vietnamese restaurant with very reasonable prices. You can also get a few Western dishes here if you don’t fancy a local delicacy. You can do some people watching at the roadside as you enjoy your food and watch the world go by. Here you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner for excellent prices.

Cafes

There are lots of pleasant cafes in Siem Reap where you can get a fairly cheap meal. If you fancy a light bite or a sweet treat then head to one of the local cafes. Some of them serve more substantial dishes if you want a proper meal. The best cafes include Blue Pumpkin, The Art Deli, La Boulangerie and Haven. You can snack on homemade bread and ice cream, pastries, sandwiches, salads and quiches. Some of the cafes have wifi so you can surf the internet whilst you enjoy an aromatic coffee.


About the author:

mildaMilda is the Community Manager @ AsiaRooms. Born in Lithuania (love it!), studied in the UK, travelled around Asia and USA, taught in Africa and now residing in Singapore where, equipped with a strong cup of coffee and surrounded by an amazing team I’m blogging about travels, cultures, events and hotels in Asia.



 This article was published in March 2013.


Backpackers Guide to Cambodia: Lakeside, Phnom Penh

Cambodia: Trippy Times in Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

Introducing the Craziest Place in the World?

lakeside in phnom penh

NOTE – This article is over 5 years old & the info may no longer be reliable.

The lakeside (Boeung Kak) in Phnom Penh is an area a fair walk or short tuk-tuk ride from the centre and is one of the craziest place that you will ever visit. This bizarre wasteland is home to all sorts of freaks from all over the world. The Stone Roses and Bob Marley blare out from the bars and guesthouses 24 hours a day as 80’s Madchester meets Jamaica in a psychedelic heaven even if it looks more like hell.

It’s called the Lakeside because you guessed it there is a lake and a favourite backpacker pass-time in these parts is watching the sunset from the outrageously comfy chairs in one of the guesthouses while drinking cool Angkor beer and smoking high quality marijuana. In the middle of all this sweet local kids as young as 4 or 5 wander the main street and head into the bars trying to sell knock-off books and playing games on the phones of foreigners. In short this place is weird yet strangely charming and one way or another alot of fun. It’s a great place to stay when visiting Phnom Penh although it is constantly rumoured to be getting demolished so go there while you still can.

Drugs

Whatever your opinion on the subject, drugs are a major reason why many backpackers come to Cambodia. In Phnom Penh’s Lakeside district all the guesthouses sell marijuana and it is generally fine to smoke anywhere in them, check with the reception although they will probably try to sell you a huge amount when you check in.

The bars and guesthouses in the lakeside pay a small monthly bribe to the police every month so they don’t get any hassle. $10 gets an enormous amount of weed in Cambodia, so much so that you might never want to leave. The bars all sell spliffs and at closing time things can get a little bit crazy if somebody appears with mushrooms or cocaine.

The street is full of Cambodians and Africans selling every drug you care to think of. This can be intimidating at first but these people are friendly enough but desperate for money and often meth addicts, so it is obviously riskier buying from them and occasionally the police will come in and bust one of them. Head into any of the bars or guesthouses and you will see people smoking joints.

People who spend too long in Cambodia often go a little bit bonkers so if you are someone who enjoys taking drugs, some serious self-discipline is needed to prevent this from happening. If you are that way inclined then arriving in Cambodia and the lakeside especially you may feel as though all your birthdays and Christmas’s have come at once.

Eating, Sleeping & Drinking

Happy Pizza MarijuanaA lot of the guesthouses on the banks of the lake (on the right side of the main street when coming in) double up as 24 hour bars and restaurants so you could happily spend all day on the comfy seats looking over the lake with cheap and tasty food and drink brought to you. Most of the guesthouses are pretty much the same with rooms as cheap as $2 a night, so wander into a few, they will happily show you the rooms and pick one you fancy. The Number 9 Guesthouse is highly recommended!

There’s several curry places which are great if you’ve got the munchies doing 3 dish specials for $2 or thereabouts. There’s a few cool bars with pool tables and live sports and a few ‘happy’ pizza joints (non happy pizza’s are available but when in Rome….).

 

Country Guide|Temples of Angkor Wat|Cambodian Genocide|Phnom Penh’s Lakeside


This article was published in November 2011.

Word has it that the Lakeside area has since been demolished. Please comment below if you have more up-to-date info.


 

Backpackers Guide to Cambodia: Understand the Cambodian Genocide

Cambodia: Witness the Horrors of Pol Pot

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

NOTE – This article was published in 2011. Some info may no longer be accurate.

Background: Pol Pot & The Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge were a Communist group which rose to power in the aftermath of the Vietnam War which had a devastating effect on Cambodia, leading to some 2 million refugees and the danger of a huge famine. Led by Pol Pot many hoped the regime would lead to a fairer more peaceful era for the Khmer people. Tragically though around a quarter of the 8 million population died from execution, overwork and starvation. Ethnic minorities and those in the skilled professions such as doctors and teachers were targeted in a horrific genocide. It is impossible to underestimate the brutality and shocking nature of this 4 year episode which the world turned a blind eye to and no-one has ever been brought to justice for. The Vietnamese invaded to put an end to the regime in 1978, but this was by no means the end of the Khmer Rouge influence in the country, often supported in the 1980’s by powerful western nations.

Today while the Khmer Rouge has gone and the world is no longer turning a blind eye to what happened, the descendants of those who ruled then are still among the wealthy elite. Their are two main sites in and around the capital open to visitors relating to the genocide that took place and both will give you a detailed account of what took place here. Visiting the killing fields and Tuol Sleng Prison is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about the genocide.

Tuol Sleng Prison

Tuol Sleng Prison Phnom PenhThis is the prison in the centre of town where the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands before sending them to be slaughtered at Choeung Ek. Originally a high school, the building was turned into a prison and torture house by the Khmer Rouge after their rise to power. Various gruesome methods of torture were used to extract often fake confessions. Around 20,000 people were held here between 1975 and 1979 including many foreigners. This was also the site of many executions, before the more remote fields at Choeung Ek became the primary location for executions.

Now a genocide museum, It receives many visitors from abroad and from local schoolchildren. It contains photos of the victims, methods of torture and a detailed history of the events that took place here and across the country in the late 1970’s.Easy enough to walk to from the centre or get a moto ride for under a $1. Entry is $2, open daily 8am-5pm.

Visiting The Killing Fields, Choeung Ek

mass grave in cambodia

The killing fields of Choeung Ek is the site where 17,000 men, women and children were brutally executed by the Khmer Rouge. There have been in fact over 300 mass graves discovered, so this is just one of the many ‘killing fields’ across the country. It is now a memorial to the victims with a small museum. A Buddhist stupa contains the skulls of around 5000 victims, while you can walk around the fields where human bones are still very visible.

Cycle or ask any tuk-tuk or moto taxi driver to take you out to the Killing Fields, just outside of Phnom Penh. $5 should be enough for a return trip (they wait at the gates till you’ve finished). Entry is $2, you are expected to buy a flower to place at the foot of the white monument containing the skulls, before starting your visit. Open 7am-5:30pm, allow 1-2 hours to see it all.

It is pretty grim and some would argue that this kind of tourism is wrong, but it’s undoubtedly somewhere you need to visit to understand the horrors that took place in Cambodia. Needless to say you should behave in a respectful and dignified manner at all times while here. Take off your shoes before entering the memorial stupa.

 

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside


This article was published in June 2011.


Backpackers Guide to Cambodia: Visiting the Temples of Angkor Wat

Cambodia: Visiting the Temples of Angkor Wat

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

The Glory Days of the Khmer Kingdom

angkor wat

NOTE – This article is over 5 years old. Some of the info may no longer be accurate, particularly in relation to the ‘Buying Tickets’ section.

Angkor was the capital of the ancient Khmer Empire which controlled almost all of South East Asia from Burma to Vietnam between the 9th & 13th centuries. It was the world’s largest civilization and is the source of immense pride to Cambodians.

The temples are spread over a large area and were re-discovered and restored in the 20th century. The main temples include Angkor Wat itself, the largest religious structure in the world. Bayon a weird ruin in the middle of Angkor Thom, with hundreds of large faces all staring at you. Also not to be missed is Ta Prohm a mysterious temple swallowed up the jungle.

These temples in their own right are fascinating but the sheer number and size of the place, makes the Temples of Angkor Wat one of the true wanders of the world. Tourist numbers are increasing but still tiny compared to other famous sites around the world which have been ruined by mass international tourism.

Getting There & Around the Temples

Inside temples of angkor watWhen planning it is important to realise that the temples of Ankor Wat are set over a vast area. The ancient city of Angkor Thom was once home to a million people (roughly the size of modern day Birmingham (UK) or Dallas, Texas hence it is not somewhere you can walk around. Indeed most of the ruins lie outside the ancient city walls.

There are two main routes, the little circuit (17km) and the big circuit (26km) follow the same course up until just past Bayon. Both take in the temples at Angkor Wat and the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The big route includes Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean and Eastern Baray. The little route goes via Ta Prohm and Ta Keo. There are also many temples and ruins that neither route takes in, some being as far as 80km from Siem Reap. There is a huge amount to see and your chosen route will depend on how many days you intend to stick around, your chosen mode of transport and your level of interest in Khmer history.

Bicycles can be rented for little more than a dollar in Siem Reap, although set out early if you want to see it all in a day, and the big circuit is around 40km in total given it starts around 8km from the centre of Siem Reap. Your bike will come with a lock so it is safe to leave by any of the temples you decide to check out. Otherwise find a moto driver in Siem Reap (it’s not hard) to transport you around the temples for the day for around $8. Add $5 or so for a moto pulled trailer tuk-tuk thing (not sure of the exact name) which is perfect for two. Elephant rides are available for $10 from the south gate of Angkor Thom to Bayon.

Buying Tickets

The official Angkor Ticket Office (5am-5:30pm) is on the main road to Angkor from Siem Reap.

1 day US$20
3 days US$40

7 days US$60

Your pass will have your photo on and you can only pay in cash, so take enough out from one of the ATM’s in Siem Reap. The pass allows you to visit any of the 80 or so temples and ruins. The Temple of Angkor Wat is manned by several staff at the front gate who you will have to show your pass to gain entry. The other temples don’t require you to show your pass to enter, however you must have it with you at all times and there is a fine if you’re caught without it.

The temples are open for visitors from 5am to 6:30pm. If cycling you may want to head back before 6ish because it gets dark quick and there are no streetlights.

Top Temples Tips

1) Get a guide (either Cambodian moto guy or guide book) to get the most out of your visit.

2) Cycling is a fun way to see the temples, watch out for the moody teenage girls who expect payment to ‘look after your bike’. We were told our bike would be broken if we ever returned because we only bought one bottle of their water.

3) You’re supposed to be out of the temple complex by dusk, but we can’t think of a better or spookier way to spend a night than camping out by one of the temples. You will probably get in some trouble if caught.

sculptures in wall temples of angkor wat4) Don’t forget to buy your pass and once you’ve got it don’t lose it. You will need it to get into the main temples and will be fined $30 if caught without it.

5) The temple of Angkor Wat may be impressive and has to be visited but is flooded with tourists and people trying to sell stuff. Visit any of the other 70+ ruins for a more peaceful real experience.

6) Unless you’re a real temple history geek a week pass is likely to be too long. Having said that 1 day is not enough to see everything and take it all in. We reckon the 3 day $40 pass is your best bet.

7) It is true that $20 goes a long way in Cambodia but seriously don’t be tempted to skip this because it is more costly than other activities you’ve taken part in during your time in Cambodia.

8) It’s normally hot and sunny in Cambodia. Drink alot of water. Sold outside the main temples but not all so bring supplies.

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside


This article was published in June 2011


Backpackers Guide to Cambodia

Backpackers Guide to Cambodia

Country Guide | Temples of Angkor Wat | Cambodian Genocide | Phnom Penh’s Lakeside

cambodia entry


NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old so some of the info may no longer be 100% accurate. Get more current info on Cambodia and the rest of the region in our Southeast Backpackers Guide (EBOOK).


Basic Shizzle

Population: 15 million (rough estimate)
Size: 180,000km2, bit smaller than UK, about same size as Oklahoma, USA and bit bigger than Greece.
Weather: Monsoons from May to October, dry November to April. Hot all year with temperatures varying between 30-35°C. November to January is the peak time to visit when the monsoons are over and the temperatures are at their lowest.
Law: Laws aren’t dissimilar to most countries, however the law enforcement here is very different. The cops are almost all corrupt and as a foreigner you can probably to do what the hell you like. If caught breaking the law and they actually bother to chase you down, a small bribe normally will see you on your way, bearing in mind the wages for some policemen can be as low as $20/month.
Exchange Rate: Steady at around $1:4000 Riel. In reality the US Dollar is the main currency in Cambodia and are preferred except for when paying for items under $2 or so. You will often receive change in Riel as US coins aren’t accepted. ATM’s in main towns but not in less touristy parts so take enough cash out before heading to rural areas.
Time: GMT +7 hours, same as Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Religion: 95% Buddhist

Vaccinations/Health

Typhoid and Hepatitis A are recommended. If you’re staying a long time (over 3 months) in Cambodia and South East Asia you might want to look into several more vaccines such as Hepatitis B and Diphtheria so consult your local health surgery. If arriving directly from yellow fever infected countries you need a certificate of immunistation but this only applies if coming from parts of Africa or South America. Malaria is a problem in pretty much all of Cambodia so you’re going to need some malaria tablets such as mefloquine.

Getting In

cambodia child in lakeVisas required for most nationalities including British, US, EU and Australian citizens. Easy to obtain on arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap Airports and valid for 1 month. Also can be obtained on arrival at Bavet (from Vietnam), Poipet and Koh Kong (from Thailand) Border Posts. Cost is $20 (and is payable in US$), slight overcharging is fairly common practice. You do NOT need a return or onward ticket.

From Bangkok:
take a bus or train to Aranya Prathet (4 hour bus 6 hour train). Take a tuk-tuk to the border post which is open 7.30am-5pm. Cross the border into Poipet and catch a share taxi to Siem Reap (2-3 hours). The whole journey should be about $10. There are direct buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap although reports exist of this been a nightmare journey, so be adventurous and go it alone. If your heading to Sihanoukville then head to Hat Lek and cross there.

From Ho Chi Minh City:
Buses go to Phnom Penh and cost 150,000 Baht ($7-8) plus $25 instead of the official $20 for sorting the Cambodian Visa out when you approach the border, which is annoying but they have been known to leave people stranded at the border who refuse to pay the extra $5. The journey is around 6 hours on a good day although border formalities can take a while so allow for more.

From Laos: Few travellers cross from Laos into Cambodia but if you fancy heading off the beaten track it’s well worth it. There’s only one crossing and it’s not an official one. The Voen Khan-Dom Kralor crossing is open 8am to 5pm and guards may ask for “administration fees” which you can probably bargain down. You need a visa in advance which can be obtained in Vientiane. There are buses from Pakse to the border taking 3+ hours for $2ish. After crossing the border, Stung Treng is a 90 minute speedboat ride away.

Border Crossings (Cambodian town is always second)

VIETNAM
Moc Bai-Bavet
Vinh Xuong-Kaam Samnor
Tinh Bien-Phnom Den
Xa Xia-Prek Chek

LAOS
Voen Kahn-Dom Kralor

THAILAND
Choam Srawngam-Choam
Chong Jom-O Smach
Aranya Prathet-Poipet
Ban Pakard-Psar Pruhm
Hat Lek-Krong Koh Kong

Best Places to Visit

Entrance to Angkor ThomThe Temples of Angkor Wat are without doubt the highlight of this country and source of immense national pride. You don’t have to be a history buff or have a fascination for architecture to appreciate it. They are located just outside Siem Reap, which has developed into a great place in it’s own right to spend a few nights. It is also the most touristy part of the country but not overwhelmingly so by any means. For a taste of the real Cambodia of the 21st century then visit anywhere else in the country.

Capital Phnom Penh is the only place resembling a city but is as laid back a capital as you’re ever likely to find. It’s also a good place to learn about the horrific genocide that took place here in the late 1970’s. Visit’s to the genocide museum and killing fields are grim but educational and shed light on the horrors that took place here. Buddhism is thriving here, monk’s roam the streets and there’s many wats, pagodas and palaces that make this city surprisingly pleasant on the eye. Aside from that Phnom Penh is a downright bizarre psychedelic kind of place. Other fun activities here include firing weapons and cockfighting. If you have the money the Cambodian Military will let you loose on any of their weapons from machine guns to rocket launchers! For those not in the know cockfighting involves chickens with blades attached to their feet going at each other until one decides to through in the towel. This is serious business, punters bet on the outcome and $2 will get you a ringside seat at a cockfighting event.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Aura Thematic Hostel, Phnom Penh 

Cambodia has a lively hostel scene that is great value. This is a good bet in the capital.


Beach bums should head to Sihanoukville (one of our Top 10 New Backpacking Hotspots). This is where the best beaches in Cambodia are, although they don’t really compare to those in Thailand. A good idea might be to head off to one of the islands off the coast which are often deserted. Other highlights with very few tourists include Ratanakiri province in the far north-east which provide opportunities for trekking through the highlands and forests of the Virachay National Park, swimming in a volcanic crater and some impressive waterfalls.

Getting Around

Buses like just about everything else in Cambodia are ridiculously cheap and will get you to the main towns from Phnom Penh. Unfortunately there are no buses from Sihanoukville to Battambang or Siem Reap, so some thought should go into planning your travels here to avoid having to backtrack, even if you are a go with the flow kind of traveller. Journeys can be slow and not always comfortable, but the main bus companies such as Mekong Express do have air conditioning that will make you feel like you’re somewhere in Antarctica. Buses normally depart from the main market square in each town and don’t depart until they’re pretty full.

There are no trains running any more in Cambodia. The Battambang to Phnom Penh train stopped in 2009. Share taxis and pick-up trucks offer alternatives to buses and your best option in parts of the country. Share taxis normally involve alot of random driving around until the car is full to bursting (you’d be surprised how many people you can fit into a 5-seater!). It’s not an uncommon sight to see pick-up trucks with upto maybe 50 standing local people crammed in the back on the main highways.

There’s also various journeys you can do by boat along the Mekong River which runs from Vietnam through the heart of Cambodia and up north to Laos. You can also catch the fast boats from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, costing $20-25 along the huge Tonle Sap Lake in the heart of the country. Boat journeys are scenic but can be crowded and have little protection against the sun.

If you plan on independent travelling by bike or long hikes then be very careful not to stray after major paths, there are still millions of landmines all over this country and people regularly lose limbs to them. Bicycles can be rented for as little as $1/day and are a fun way to get around the Temples of Angkor Wat.You can get by on foot in all the towns, but tuk-tuks and moto taxis are everywhere, and you can arrange single, return or day trips with them.

The most common route through Cambodia for a South East Asia backpacker is probably Bangkok-Siem Reap-Phnom Penh-HCMC or vice versa. Each leg on this journey is roughly 6 hours although can be and often is more. The border towns on this route aren’t pleasant with massive casino resorts to attract the wealthy folk from Thailand and Vietnam, so be prepared for a negative first impression of this country. Buses run all the way along this route, although you might want to consider a share taxi from Siem Reap to Poipet on the Thai Border.

For fitting it into a South East Asia trip see our Backpacking Route for the region.

Nightlife

There is some exciting nightlife in the main towns of Phnom Penh, Siam Reap and Sihanoukville. Inevitably in a country where drugs are so cheap and readily available, nights can get a little crazy and you will encounter many people, locals and foreigners alike completely off their faces on drugs. Each town has a slightly different scene though.

Cambodia Fish MassageSiem Reap attracts more package tourist types with a bit more cash and the town has a slightly classier feel, but there is still a great traveller vibe to it with people just come back from a day at Angkor. There are some lively bars on and around the brilliantly named Pub Street and this town really comes alive at night with some great night markets to test your haggling skills and fish massage places that you should check out!

Phnom Penh has the biggest selection of nightlife. The main backpacker ghetto is the lakeside (Boeung Kak) and the place is oddly charming even if drugs aren’t your thing, although it certainly helps! Elsewhere bars and clubs are dotted around the city, attracting a mix of foreigners and wealthy local youths. Phnom Penh is actually fairly safe when you consider the utter lawlessness of the place (the police are corrupt and useless). Compared to Bangkok it’s nowhere near as seedy although the city does have it’s share of prostitutes and ladyboys. Happy pizza parlours are found all over the city, offering tasty pizzas that get you high…fun times!

Sihanoukville has lots too offer too. There’s plenty of 24 hour bars so nightlife here can and does last too well past sunset. There’s lots of beachside bars and budget food places and bbq’s. If you arrive at full moon time then there’s often parties on the beach if not quite on the scale of Koh Phangan. The most lively backpacker scene is around Serendipity Beach.

Local Lingo

Khmer is the official language and script of Cambodia. Anyone working in the tourist sector will speak enough English so you don’t have to know Khmer but if heading off into the wilderness it’s very useful to learn some basics.

hello- johm riab sua
goodbye- lia suhn hao-y
yes-baat (if you’re a dude) jaa (if you’re a girl)
no- te
please-sohm
thank you-aw kohn

when does the bus leave?-laan ch’nual jein maong pohnmaan?
bus station- kuhnlaing laan ch’nual
how much is that?- nih th’lay pohnmaan?
too much- th’lay pek!

1 muy 2 pii 3 bei 4 buan 5 bram 6 bram muy 7 bram pii 8 bram bei 9 bram buan 10 dawp 11 dawp muy 12 dawp pii

beef-sait kow
chicken-sait moan
fish-trei

Typical Backpacker Budget

Roughly $20 a day or less will get you a basic room and couple of decent meals a day with enough left over for several drinks in the bar and a couple of joints if you so fancy. Most activities and tourist attractions are cheap and you can travel practically the length of the country for under $5. The main towns are all small enough to get by on foot, but it won’t break the bank to take a tuk-tuk every now and then. The temples of Angkor Wat is the only exception to the general cheapness with entry fees of $20 as it is the only site in Cambodia which attracts large numbers of international tourists.

Budget room in Phnom Penh $3/night
Budget room in Siem Reap $4/night
Draught glass of Angkor Beer 2000 Riel
Jug of Angkor Beer $1.50 (6000 Riel)
Joint in a bar $1
Ounce of weed (bought in guesthouse or on street) $10
6 hour bus journey $4
A meal in a cheap restaurant $3
A moto ride in town 2000 Riel
A moto ride at night $1

Country Guide|Temples of Angkor Wat|Cambodian Genocide|Phnom Penh’s Lakeside


AUGUST 2015 UPDATE 

Recent traveller reports suggest inflation has hit and although Cambodia is still very cheap to travel in, the prices featured in this guide may have increased. For the latest check out our article on the cost of travel in Cambodia, which is newer and will be updated more regularly.


This article was published in May 2011.


Backpacking Budget for Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia Backpacking Budget

This page aims to give you a rough idea of what a typical shoestring backpacking budget for Southeast Asia might be.

southeast asia

(Map of Southeast Asia from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the cheapest parts of the world to travel in and your money really can go a long way! Here’s an idea of shoestring travel costs in South East Asian countries. Click on the links for more detailed info on each country including a shoestring & more comfortable backpacker budget as well as sample prices for thing like buses, beds and beers:

$20/day : Cambodia, LaosVietnam

$25/day : Thailand, Malaysia, IndonesiaMyanmar

$30/day : The Philippines

$45/day : Singapore

(The US Dollar is the reserve currency in most countries and often accepted)

These figures are all based on staying in cheap hostels and eating/drinking in budget or local restaurants and bars. It allows for a bit of partying but if you’re going out getting drunk almost every night you will end up spending more than this!

There are big regional variations in some countries particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. Away from Java and Bali, Indonesia is as cheap as anywhere in the region but the large amount of travelling needed to get around and the island nature of the country makes it a bit more expensive to travel around. Mainland Malaysia although much richer and more developed is cheaper than Malaysian Borneo for the traveller due to the poor infrastructure in Borneo which makes life more complicated and more expensive for getting around.

Monthly Backpacking Budget for Southeast Asia

A realistic shoestring monthly backpacking budget for Southeast Asia, allowing for a few connecting flights in the region but not your main flight to/from SE Asia is therefore around:

1 month – £660, €760, $800

2 months – £1320, €1520, $1600

3 months – £1980, €2280, $2400

4 months – £2640, €3040, $3200

5 months – £3300, €3800, $4000

6 months – £3960, €4560, $4800

(Exchange rates are correct as of January 2017. Use Dollars as a guide & convert to your currency on current exchange rates if in doubt.)

This is still designed as a shoestring budget and if you don’t have experience of travelling on the cheap you might want to allow for a little more. If you wish to go to the Philippines or parts of Indonesia that will require extra flights, you might want to increase it a little bit too. Everywhere else is accessible by land or short ferries and getting around in the region is typically very cheap. Think $1-2/hour of travel if you take the cheapest available option. If you’re just visiting Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and/or Vietnam then you can get by on a bit less if you’re smart but these countries have a big backpacker party scene which can eat away into any travel budget.

Remember there are still going to be quite a few extra expenses on top of this in terms of sorting out flights to/from the region, vaccinations and travel insurance. The latter can be quite costly but is important. We recommend World Nomads for excellent travel insurance packages for backpackers.


More on Budget Travel in SE Asia

Read our SE Asia budget travel overview.

Also check out our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia (Ebook).


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

South America | Central America | Europe


How much did travel in Southeast Asia cost you?

If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in SE Asia. Budgets really do vary considerably amongst travellers here so there will never be a definitive right figure for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Funky 100 – 5 Things to do in Phnom Penh

BUSAN | PHNOM PENH | ACCRA

Get involved with the Funky 100!


Funky 100 – Number 9

5 Funky Things to do in Phnom Penh


Why you should Visit

Phnom Penh is a city of contrasts. There is genuine luxury in the form of magnificent temples but there is also a large amount of fairly desperate poverty. The streets are filled with monks, street vendors and young Cambodians going about their daily lives. It’s a relatively small city but one of the most entertaining and genuinely eye-opening places to visit.


1) Have a happy (laced with marijuana) pizza

happy pizza in Cambodia


2) Dine on food you have never seen in a traditional market place you wouldn’t believe.

market in phnom penh


3) Meet amazing monks and explore their colorful temples.

temple in phnom penh


4) Watch the people and the animals of the city live their normal lives, and yes the monkeys smoke and drink.

monkey smokes


5) Explore the sprawling streets of Phnom Penh. Unique architecture, motorbikes and tuk-tuks, street stalls and street vendors, a life you wouldn’t believe.

phnom penh


ericBIO

Eric has been traveling the world for years. Usually he travels slowly, trying to learn the languages and cultures of his host countries.

He spent 20 months traveling and working in Cambodia and now even speaks Khmer, the language of Cambodia. Now he is working on his travel memoir about hitchhiking around the world in 12 months on a budget of $2000.


PREVIOUS CITY | FUNKY 100 | NEXT CITY


This article was published in January 2014.


Popular Backpacking Route in Southeast Asia

asia/oceania routes

southeast asia | thailandmyanmar | vietnam | indonesia | india | australia


Backpacking Route in Southeast Asia

Backpacking around South East Asia is ever popular and it’s not hard to see why. It’s very cheap, home to unique and varied cultures, fantastic weather and scenery but with such a thriving backpacker scene, home comforts are never hard to find. Perhaps it has lost some of the mysticism it had back in the day when traveller numbers were still relatively small but there is still undeniably a certain magic about this part of the world.

The route on this page aims to give you a basic idea of what a typical backpacker itinerary in Southeast Asia looks like. It’s not the definitive answer to travelling around the region so don’t treat it as such but hopefully it will help shape your plans for travelling around this wonderful part of the world.


TIME NEEDED – 3-4 MONTHS

Could just about be squeezed into two months but would be a rush. If you’re not limited on time you could easily spend six months travelling in Southeast Asia. You can find a longer route including Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines in our Backpackers Guide to Southeast Asia (E-book).


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £2500 €2850 $3000

Figures are based on prices and exchange rates as of January 2017. For more specific info see backpacking budget for Southeast Asia.

These figures don’t include cost of flights to/from region or other pre-trip expenses such as getting travel insurance. They allow for a bit of partying and the odd organised tour/trip in the day-time but if you are planning on doing lots of that then you will spend more!

This is a realistic shoestring budget for Southeast Asia and it’s possible to get by on less if you stick to local food rather than tourist options. However on the Southeast Asia backpacker trail, temptation lies at almost every corner and it’d be easy to blow this budget if you aren’t great on self-discipline! If it’s your first time travelling then you’d be wise to budget for more.


VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR SOUTHEAST ASIA

Most nationalities do not require a visa for Thailand (30 days) or Vietnam (15 days) but will need to get a visa on arrival in Laos and Cambodia, the cost of which depends on where you’re from. You don’t need to do anything in advance, just show up at the border with your passport and some US Dollars.

Use our visa check tool to confirm which countries you will need a visa for.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

We recommend World Nomads who specialise in providing cover for backpacking trips.


Southeast Asia Backpacking Route

The route begins in the traveller hub of Bangkok before heading into mystical Northern Thailand and then crossing through lazy, chilled-out Laos. Next stop is Vietnam, a rapidly developing country with a fascinating history before looping back around into the crazy kingdom of Cambodia. Back in Thailand and returning to Bangkok for the trip to the beach paradise of Southern Thailand. After a few weeks of island hopping, the route takes in the length of Malaysia before finishing off in the exciting city state of Singapore.


Thailand

Bangkok – The Thai Capital is in many ways the best place to start your South East Asian trip. For starters it’s a major airline hub so it is very easy to get to, and flights are more reasonably priced than ones to other South East Asian cities which often pass through Bangkok anyway. It is the most Westernised city in the region so the culture shock is less than if you landed straight into Vietnam or Laos. It offers you a chance to stock up on anything you may need for your trip, with prices much cheaper than back home but still with great choice. Bangkok is very much base camp for travellers in Southeast Asia. Love it or loathe it, chances are you’ll return at some point on your trip.

As for the city well it’s the sort of place that divides opinion. It’s certainly something of a backpacking Mecca centred around the famous Khao San Road (below), possibly the most international street in the world. It is a huge place with many different districts and lots of sights to see. Then there’s the seedy side of Bangkok and its infamous sex industry, which is almost unavoidable and probably what the city is most known for around the world.

backpacking route in Southeast Asia


MFT RECOMMENDS – The Aris Hostel, Bangkok 

Just 100m from Khao San Road, the perfect place to begin your SE Asian adventure.


Ayutthaya – Ancient city and former capital of Siam. Ayutthaya is effectively an island in the middle of three rivers. History buffs will love it and for everyone else it makes for a nice stop on the way to the North of Thailand.

Phitsanulok – Not a on the regular hit-list for people backpacking in Thailand, but it is somewhere to break up the journey between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Explore the nearby Sukhothai Historical Park and visit some of the temples and museums in town.

Chiang Mai –
The Northern city of Chiang Mai is an intellectual kind of place with an alternative vibe and many travellers prefer it to Bangkok. It’s a good spot to study traditional Thai practices such as massage and meditation. It is also the best place to base yourself for exploring or trekking into the jungle and ethnic minority villages near the city.

Chiang Mai is also a good place for joining up with our backpacking route for Myanmar.

Chiang Khong – Right on the border with Laos, it has a real traveller vibe to it with people heading in both directions. It is in the Golden Triangle, a famous opium growing region which covers areas of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Chiang Khong is also a market town and attracts local hill tribes such as the White Hmongs. Explore the mountainous region, visit some of the other villages and learn about the opium trade which has been cut out in Thailand but still thrives over the nearby Lao and Burmese borders.

Border Crossing from Thailand to Laos:
Chiang Khong and Houay Xai are right next to each other so it’s fairly straightforward and you can purchase a 30 day Laos tourist visa for around $30-40 at the border.


Laos

Houay Xai – For a border town, Houay Xai is very pleasant and it may be worth hanging around for a day or so to adapt to the chilled out Lao lifestyle and enjoy sitting on the banks of the Mekong or consider visiting the nearby Bokeo Nature Reserve. It’s a decent spot to psyche yourself up for the long journey to Luang Prabang. (Backpacking in Laos isn’t as easy or anywhere near as comfortable as in Thailand thanks to dodgy roads and a basic to non-existent transport system).

Luang Prabang – French and Indochinese culture met here and resulted in an enchanting city, one of the highlights of Laos. The Old Quarter on the banks of the river is home to an array of temples and museums that are worth visiting. The night market is another big draw and there are plenty of companies offering trekking, biking and kayaking opportunities.

Vang Vieng (below) – This is another hugely popular backpacking destination in South East Asia. Hop on a rubber tube and make your way between the various bars along the river. This is the main attraction here but there’s plenty of other adventurous stuff you can do around the ramshackle town of Vang Vieng, which has a real chilled out backpacker vibe. The tubing is not as crazy or dangerous as it once was thanks to a government crackdown but injuries and deaths are not uncommon.

Update on state of tubing in Vang Vieng (November 2015)

tubing in laos

Vientiane – A capital city it may be but don’t let that deceive you. Vientiane is about as friendly and laid back a place as you’ll find anywhere. Set on the Mekong River, this French influenced town is pleasant and picturesque and the perfect place to chill out for a few days.

Tha Khaek – A small town with a large market selling all sorts of weird stuff including unorthodox dishes like snake and squirrel frogs. Its main use for travellers is as a base for exploring the Phou Hin Boon National Park. Don’t miss the giant Konglor Cave, which is basically a river beneath the surface that can be navigated on boat trips. You can also visit the Tham Nong Pafa Cave discovered as recently as 2004 and home to 200 mysterious Buddha statues.

Savannakhet – Second biggest city in Laos, but again it is very chilled out, with a combo of French and traditional Lao feel to the city. Stuff to do here includes a visit to the Dinosaur Museum which exhibits various dinosaur remains found in the area. There’s also a museum about the problem of unexploded bombs from the Vietnam War that still litter the Eastern side of the province. The city also hosts many different festivals throughout the year which you may be lucky enough to catch.

Border Crossing from Laos to Vietnam:
Buses are fairly high quality with air-con and run from Savannakhet to Dong Ha in Vietnam and take around 8 hours. Enquire in town for bus times. Depending on how long you wish to stay in the country, you may need to arrange your Vietnam visa in advance, which is probably best done at the Vietnamese Embassy in Vientiane.


Vietnam

see our full Vietnam backpacking route here!

Dong Ha – The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is very different to Laos and it will take a little time to adjust to the increased pace of life here. The main sight near Dong Ha where the buses from Savannakhet arrive is the former de-militarised zone (DMZ) which used to separate North and South Vietnam. You won’t want to stay in Dong Ha more than a day, if that and many travellers head straight to Hue.

Hue – Ancient city on a musty coloured river with dragon boats. Lots of Vietnam War sites nearby and a pretty decent traveller scene. Good place to try Vietnamese food. It rains a lot.

Hoi An (below) – This riverside town is pretty damn cool. It’s the place to buy tailor-made clothes of all varieties and then prance around like a prize nutter in your new bright purple suit. The beach is a short moto-taxi ride away and is one of the finest in the country. There are also some surprisingly cool bars here catering to a variety of music tastes. It made our Top 10 New Backpacking Hotspots a few years back.

Hoi An Boats


Nha Trang –
Nha Trang has a fairly seedy traveller area and a dirty beach but there are a few positives. A peaceful temple near the bus station is home to a giant white Buddha. There’s also a decent beach club that serves cheap cocktails and stays open till much later than anywhere you’re likely to find further north. Some decent water sports on offer here too.

Dalat – 1500m above sea level, Dalat has distinctly different feel to it to the rest of the main places to visit in South East Asia. With a temperate climate that makes nights chilly, it comes as a refreshing change and with lakes, forests and waterfalls that surround the town, it is a paradise for fans of the great outdoors. Hiking and cycling opportunities aplenty here and there’s a few villages nearby home to ethnic minority groups.

Mui Ne – The nearby sand dunes are good fun if you can stand the heat. There is one road, it’s very long and runs parallel to the 20km or so long beach which is largely deserted. Good place to unwind but not much going on.

saigon crazy trafficHo Chi Minh City (Saigon) –
It is the biggest city in the country and has by some considerable margin the largest backpacker scene in Vietnam. Hit the Pham Ngu Lao traveller area and you will find numerous cheap places to eat, sleep and drink. The area is busy until late and has cuisines from literally all over the world. The moto drivers here will compete for your business non-stop so it’s easy to get anywhere else in town. Lots of sights relating to the war here in this ever growing and somewhat crazy city. The traffic is mental!

More about Saigon here!

Border Crossing from Vietnam to Cambodia:
Buses from Saigon to Phnom Penh are cheap and regular taking around 6 hours. You will have to get off at the border and most bus companies seem to rather annoyingly take your passports off you on the bus and charge $25 to sort out the Cambodian visa as opposed to the official $20. If you refuse and demand to sort it yourself, you risk being left at the border, while your belongings hurtle towards Phnom Penh!


Cambodia

Phnom Penh – On the surface Phnom Penh is a pleasant, aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly peaceful capital city with lots of monks. Dig a little deeper and it’s a lawless, poverty stricken place where just about anything goes. Welcome to Cambodia.

Backpackers here depending on who you speak to get up to just about anything from blowing up cows with rocket launchers to attending cock fighting matches and getting off their faces on ridiculously easily available drugs. If none of that really sounds like you, then you can spend some time reflecting and trying to understand the horrors that took place here all too recently during the days of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge by visiting the Killing Fields and a former prison where unimaginable horrors took place. There’s also some stunning temples and palaces which could grace any of the finest cities on the planet. Inequality is everywhere in Cambodia and Phnom Penh demonstrates it better than anywhere.

Check out our 5 Funky Things to do in Phnom Penh!

Sihanoukville –
 24 hour bars and unspoiled beaches are the order of the day here. It’s a bit like some of the Thai beach destinations would have been like 20 years ago before they became commercialised. Much like Phnom Penh there’s a majorly psychedelic backpacker scene.

Battambang – Travelling to Battambang from Sihanoukville is likely to involve going back to Phnom Penh and changing buses such is the limited transport network in the country. The city is full of statues and interesting Wats and has plenty of river based activities to entertain travellers. Once you’re done hop on a boat north to Siem Reap. It may be worth checking the estimated length of the journey as it depends on water levels and can take up to 12 hours, in which case you may well prefer the less scenic bus route.

Siem Reap
(for Temples of Angkor Wat) –
Siem Reap has grown from nothing into a thriving little town thanks to its proximity to the country’s main pride and joy, the magnificent Temples of Angkor Wat, an essential stop for anyone backpacking in Cambodia. If you’re a fairly well travelled person you’ve probably been to some ancient ruin that’s in all the guidebooks and been left thoroughly disappointed at the crappy little pile of rocks that you’ve payed to come and see. Angkor Wat however is in a different league with hundreds of impressive ruins spread out over a large area of jungle, it’s a pretty amazing place and you’d have to be very hard to please not to be impressed by the scale of it. In Siem Reap itself there are few sights but some decent bars and plenty of great food.

temples of angkor wat


For more on Cambodia see our Backpacker’s Guide to Cambodia (old article but some handy tips).

Border Crossing from Cambodia to Thailand: Take the bus from Siem Reap to Poipet, a Cambodian border town which is a total hellhole. Your main objective ought to be to cross the border as quickly as possible while trying not to get scammed. The Thai side isn’t as bad but you are likely to have your luggage sniffed by dogs either at the border or once onboard your onward bus which will probably be stopped by police at some point early on in the journey. They are looking for drugs and penalties are severe if caught. Once you’ve got through immigration, take a tuk-tuk to the bus terminal in Aranya Prathet from where there are regular buses to Bangkok taking 4 hours or so.


Thailand

Bangkok – Kick back on the KhaoSan Road or hop straight on a night train south depending on how much you enjoyed the city first time around. Having completed the big loop around the North of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia it’s time to hop on a night train and head for the beach paradise of Southern Thailand.

Ko Samui- A large and very westernised island that tends to attract more mainstream tourism than people travelling in South East Asia on a budget. Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai are party central for the tourist masses but there are plenty of quieter spots to explore with a vast choice of beaches to choose from and you’ll probably have to pass through here to get the boat to Ko Pha-Ngan.

Ko Pha Ngan fire displaysKo Phangan (right) – This island is probably the most famous backpacking destination in the world. A tropical paradise it certainly is and the options are endless when it comes to finding a beach to spend the day on. There are no major developments here so accommodation is basic and dirt cheap with plenty of traditional beach bungalows still available. Hat Rin is the place to party and home of the famous full moon parties which attract thousands at that time of the month. The other beaches are considerably quieter and great places to relax and enjoy your days in peace.

Ko Tao – Express boats travel the 45km between Ko Pha-Ngan and Ko Tao taking around two hours. This is the place to come to delve into the ocean and experience diving or snorkelling in beautiful clear waters with lots of marine life. It almost goes without saying that this is also another great island to soak up the sun and laze around on the beach all day. Hat Sai Ri’s bars are the centre of the drinking action, but Ko Tao’s nightlife is nowhere near as lively as that on Ko Pha-Ngan or Ko Samui.

Krabi – Back on the Thai mainland and now the Andaman Coast, hit the popular beaches of Ao Nang, Tang Sei and Rai Leh. Crash out in the cheap guesthouse or bungalows on one of the beaches. There’s also more opportunities for the active traveller here so if you’re bored of lazing around all day, try your hand at rock climbing, a popular activity on Hat Ton Sai and Hat Rai Leh (Railay Beach).

Ko Phi Phi – Ever popular with backpackers in Thailand, this is where the movie ‘The Beach’ was filmed (below). The main action, and again a very lively party scene, is on the larger island though and you will have to stay on it (Phi Phi Don). It’s a bit pricier than some of the other Thai beach destinations and isn’t exactly a secret paradise any more but it’s still beautiful despite being badly affected by the 2004 tsunami and a recent large influx of Chinese tourists.

ko phi phi


Ko Tarutao National Marine Park – Over 50 little islands in the far south-west of the country. So far it has managed not to become at all commercialised or overrun by foreigners and isn’t regularly visited by peeps backpacking in Thailand. You can rent out a tent on one of the few accessible islands and enjoy a day or two in unspoilt natural surroundings.

Border Crossing from Thailand to Malaysia:
Boats travel between Satun, Thailand and Pulau Langkawi in Malaysia taking 1 hour 30 mins and costing around 300 Baht. Violence sometimes flares up in the largely Muslim provinces in the far south of Thailand so if in doubt it’s best to head straight to Malaysia.


Malaysia

Penang – A small island off the West Coast of Malaysia that is well worth visiting. Hit Georgetown, for a taste of British colonialism and experience the town’s famous markets and religious sites of various faiths. Elsewhere on the island there are some decent beaches and plenty of quaint little fishing villages.

Ipoh – There’s lots of nice sights in Ipoh, even the train station is something of an architectural masterpiece. It is a mysterious kind of place, home to haunted castles, secret passages, weird statues and various caves. You can also go trekking in the surrounding jungle, visit nearby hot-springs, enjoy a day at the water park or for the adventurous try your hand at caving and white-water rafting.

Taman Negara Park BridgeTaman Negara National Park –
It can be a bit of a pain to get to but is well worth the effort. You don’t really need a guide so you can wander around the jungle terrain at your own leisure. There are some beautifully clear lakes to swim as well as some spectacular water cascades and a 500m long suspension bridge (right) which cuts through the jungle canopies. Longer treks deeper into the jungle can be arranged as can mountain climbing and 4WD safaris.

Kuala Lumpur –
The Malaysian capital is a developed modern city. There’s some excellent shopping and lively nightlife here in the Golden Triangle home of the Petronas Twin Towers, two of the tallest buildings in the world. It is considerably more expensive than most places on the route but still very cheap by Western standards.

Malacca – Another one of these World Heritage Sites, Malacca is considered one of the backpacking highlights in Malaysia. It’s a rather old city having being founded over 600 years ago but there’s still plenty of buzz about Malacca today. There are plenty of interesting and centuries old streets and squares to kick back in, and there’s a good choice of local dishes and drinks to try.

Read about the cost of travel in Malaysia.

Border Crossing from Malaysia to Singapore:
Heading to Singapore, one way or another you’ll need to get to the town of Johor Bahru which is connected to Singapore by a 1km long causeway. There are frequent buses from Johor Bahru’s bus station north of the city and Queen Street Station in Singapore. They all stop at both immigration checkpoints where you will need to get off with your luggage and then re-board once you’re through passport control.


Singapore

singapore skyline

Check out these 5 funky things to do in Singapore!

Singapore – The glamorous city state of Singapore is full of flashy skyscrapers and is a complete contrast to most of South East Asia. The city is is very multi-cultural and has lots of fascinating districts to explore and foods to taste. The law here is famously strict so behaviour that is considered perfectly acceptable in Cambodia and Laos could be punished by the death penalty so don’t take any chances. Even chewing gum is illegal here!

As far as budget travel in South East Asia goes, Singapore is firmly on the expensive side of the scale. Beer here is probably ten times the price it is in other parts of the region and although not everything is extortionate, it’s a good idea to ensure you’ve not totally blown your budget by the time you get here.


MFT RECOMMENDS – Betel Box Backpackers, Singapore 

A cheap backpackers joint in Singapore with probably the best value beds in an otherwise pricey town. Cool staff.


Singapore has probably the best airport in the world and is very well connected to locations all over the world so is the perfect place to end your trip and fly home or onwards to a different part of the world. Alternatively you could make the short sea crossing to Indonesia and continue your travels there.

Many travellers then take a flight down under from Singapore and you might find some more inspiration in our backpacking route for Australia.


Budget Accommodation in Southeast Asia

Advanced booking isn’t really necessary in the majority of places on this route but it’s a good idea for your first destination (probably Bangkok) as you’re likely to be tired from a long flight. Also a good idea during festivals and certainly in or around the full moon on Koh Phangan.


What did we miss out from the Itinerary?

Northern Vietnam especially Hanoi and Halong Bay are well worth visiting and perhaps the most notable exclusions from our route. The problem is they are farily inaccessible from Laos by road. The trip is very long and bumpy so if you do fancy it, your best bet is probably to follow the route to Vientiane and then fly to Hanoi. Check out our backpacking route for Vietnam which follows the Re-Unification Express trainline from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, where you can rejoin this route.

Indonesia is a huge place and could justify 6 months travelling in its own right with the possibility of continuing onto Australia and New Zealand. Check out our suggested backpacking route in Indonesia if you’re interested. The Philippines is also a huge collection of islands and is less popular with travellers, possibly because it is off the South East Asian mainland and parts of it have a somewhat dangerous reputation.

Daytrips to Burma can be arranged from the North of Thailand and longer visits are becoming increasingly popular. For some inspiration have a read of our 3 week backpacking route for Myanmar. If you do decide and are able to visit then you will find a fascinating country with as much to see as any of the others in the region.


Pics courtesy of jjcb (singapore), flip.01 (malaysia national park), bruno (Ko Pha Ngan), JonasPhoto (tubing in Laos) and Argenberg (Ko Phi Phi) on flickr
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This article was last updated in January 2017.