Travel Cambodia like an Expat

This post is dedicated to the German, Frenchman, and Dutchman that I met in Luang Prabang. Hope this helps guys and hope you got your tuk-tuk!

FGD

With love,

From an American Princess.

For 2013/2014 I lived, taught and travelled Cambodia. This blog covers 10 of Cambodia’s 24 provinces that I went to and what I did. Before we get into that let’s get some basic information out of the way:

Currency: $1=4,000 – 4,200 riel. Dollars come out of the ATMS and depending where you are you may find prices listed in dollars more than riel.

Bargaining: is a go in Cambodia. Something that I realized is that if they think that you are a barang (foreigner) they will charge you double, so the best thing to do is to ask them the price, then cut it in half and go from there.

Transportation: (Phnom Penh) From the airport it should be about $6 into the city. To get around town in a tuk-tuk it should be no more than $2-3 depending on how far you going, how many people are with you, and how long you have your driver for. If you want to see a couple sites you are able to rent a tuk-tuk for the day. Make sure to agree on the price BEFORE getting into the tuk-tuk and not after. Your hostel will have tuk-tuks and they will be more expensive than the ones you can find on the street that offer the same tours and speak English. Also, if you need to run some errands (post office, embassy, etc) just ask your driver to wait for you.

Motos are another way to get around town and about half the price of a tuk tuk. Depending on how big you are you can fit two people on the moto plus the driver.

WARNING: when it gets to be late at night there is a high probability that your tuk-tuk/ moto driver may be under the influence so just be aware. If you think the driver is wasted go to the next one. Also if it is really late at night there are very few tuk-tuk/ motos as they are all asleep.

BEST BUS COMPANIES: if you are able to, take either Mekong Express or Giant Ibis, those are the best bus companies, as they have the fewest number of collisions, and are good at leaving on time. They don’t go everywhere but they do go to major destination hot spots.

a sleeping pedicab

a sleeping pedicab

Language: Khmer (you will hear it pronouced how it looks as well as Kh-my)

Bong: how you address someone who is about your age

Boon Mon?- How Much

Sock Sa Bye: How are you?

Sue Sa Die: Hello

Chul Muy: CHEERS

Akun (tran): thank you (very much)

Tich tich: little little

Tom tom: big big

Baht Sadam- turn right

Baht Schwang- turn left

Chop- stop

Sum- please

Barang: foreigner- used to mean a French foreigner but now it is a used word to reference white foreigners.

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THIS IS A LONG POST, THE BEST WAY TO NAVIGATE IT IS TO USE THE FIND (CTRL/COMMAND F) AND SEARCH THE CITY/PROVINCE YOU ARE INTERESTED IN. THE ARTICLE IS BROKEN INTO TWO PARTS SOUTHERN AND NORTHERN CAMBODIA. ENJOY AND PLEASE COMMENT WITH YOUR FEEDBACK OR ANY UPTODATE INFORMATION YOU HAVE LEARNED!

SOUTHERN CAMBODIA

PHNOM PENH– the capital of Cambodia with about 2 million residents

THINGS TO DO:

Touristy:

Choeung Ek (Killing Fields)

Toul Sleng aka S-21 (Genocidal Center)

Shooting range (where you can shoot an AK-47 [$40], grenade, rocket launcher [$150], and many others- it is on the pricier side, so make sure to bring enough cash with you. [The prices listed are from my memory and from the shooting field that is near the Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh]

MR. BEAVERS with a firearm at the shooting range

MR. BEAVERS with a firearm at the shooting range

Royal Palace- honestly I wasn’t that impressed, it is pretty and it is one of those things that you should see because you are there. The Silver Pagoda is famous because the floor is completely made out of silver, amazing right? Well it would be if it was polished and most of it was not covered with a carpet. The heirlooms inside the Silver Pagoda are really cool, as there are smoking pipes, jewel encrusted buddhas, and other orient wonders. Entrance is $6.5 and you are able to get a guide for an extra cost. I would suggest the guide so you can at least learn something cool, for example King Father Sihounk smoked the ganja and had a bunch of concubines.

National Museum- I never made it, which is embarrassing to say after living in PP for a year, but I saved it till the last minute and wanted to go visit my students instead of seeing the National Museum. I have heard good things. It is located in walking distance of the Royal Palace so it is easy to make a half-day of these two.

Wat Phnom- one of the most sacred Wats in Cambodia. The cost is $1 for foreigners and is has a nice park around it. It is also located near the old French Colonial district by the post office, which is a nice area to walk around.

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Not Touristy

If you are in Phnom Penh for the first Friday of the month head to Kingdom Brewery for $10 all you can drink beer plus an In-N-Out style burger. It is $13 if you want two burgers. It starts at 6:30 or 7 and lasts for three hours. It is a bit outside of the city past Riverside and oyu go under the Japanese Friendship bridge. The tuk-tuk should be around $4-5 total.

kingdom

Khmer Boxing: it takes place every Sunday and is free entry. Bring some beers and find a seat with some friends and watch. It starts at either 11 or 1 I don’t remember ask the front desk at your hostel. They also changed locations so make sure to ask around. You can ask your tuk-tuk to wait for you, to come back and pick you up or invite him in if he is cool.

Khmer Boxing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon

Khmer Boxing on a beautiful Sunday afternoon

KTV is always fun, grab a group and head out to many of the KTV bars around the city. Some are seedy with dodgy people, but hey that’s half the fun isn’t it?

If you want a day where you just relax, head to The Patio (BKK1) for a pool day where you can overlook the city, swim, sunbathe, eat and drink. Entrance is $7 if you are not a guest, but the pool is nice and the view is beautiful, well worth it.

Feel like practicing meditation? Head to Wat Lanka for free meditation fromm 6-7 pm on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. The head monk will be there and will give out free material to help guide you through your meditation practice. Don’t be shy if you have never meditated before, this is where I meditated for my first time ever and I really enjoyed it.

Do a day trip biking through Kandal through Adventure Cambodia. We elected to do the half-day tour ($29) that took us across the river where we biked through the province to a silkworm farm where we learned about silk worms and weaving. They pick you up from your hostel/guesthouse/hotel and it includes bike cost, water, lunch, and the ferry fee. To read more about it and see pictures click here, to inquire with Adventure Cambodia click here.

A wedding set up during our bike ride in Kandal

A wedding set up during our bike ride in Kandal

Dodgeball: This is an expat haven that takes place every Tuesday starting about 9 and runs for about 2 hours. There is a small cost depending on how many people are there to cover renting the court. It is a good time, and everyone heads out for beers afterwards. Check with expats of Cambodia facebook group for details.

Olympic Stadium: I went to a Myanmar v. Thailand football (soccer) match that cost me about $2. There are events here sometimes, ask around because most of it is not advertised. There is a pool as well as a track that is open to the public most of the time. Olympic stadium was built just in case the Olympic committee decided to host the Olympics in Phnom Penh, it hasn’t happened yet (doesn’t look promising), and is now used by the locals.

A kiwi and an American

A kiwi and an American

Traditional Khmer Photos: This is an awesome souvenir, if not the best. Gather a group and head to one of the numerous photo shops along Sihounk Blvd or Norodom and get ready to get glammed up and photoshopped. The girls get their makeup and hair done and it get take a while so plan accordingly. It usually takes about 2 days to get them developed and the cost will be about$15-25 per person, each person get’s some prints and you can also order a CD with all the photos on them. This is one of the best souvenirs because these photos are a part of the Khmer culture and happen for any big life event (new baby, marriage, etc)

American turn Khmer Princess

American turn Khmer Princess

Eats:

For a list of some favorite restaurants in the city click here. Others not listed (Alma [awesome breakfast burrito] and Taqueria Corona [bomb ass Mexican food, seriously make sure to order the chips and salsa as a starter])

Some favorite watering holes (they are grouped in proximity to each other)

Blue Dog, Top Banana, Penthouse, (BKK1/ St. 278 near Wat Lanka)

Led Zephyr, Howies, Love Bar, Reggae Bar, Heart of Darkness (club), Pontoon (club) (st.51)

Sundance, Laughing Fat Man, and the rest of the street is lined with guesthouses and hostels that each have their own bars and restaurants (St. 172)

Meat and Drink, Red Bar, Seibar (more expensive drinks $5) (St. 308)

If you have a Mac product that is on the fritz and you need to get it looked at, take it to Uni Young by the Central Market. They are a certified Mac Store, speak English and are very helpful and honest. I took my Macbook Pro there to get fixed and before ordering any of the parts they cleaned it to see if that was the problem. It was and it cost me $15.

LADIES: need to get waxed? Head to Aziadée Spa (#42 St 322) and ask for Srey Ne (there are two she is the skinny one).

Need to buy bus tickets around Cambodia? Head to Boom Boom Records on st 278 and 57. Phnom Penh is a central hub for buses. If you are traveling from a Northern province (eg Battambang) and want to go down to the coast you will have to stop in PP. When I was there bus companies do not do transfers so you have to buy the tickets separately.

I never stayed in a guesthouse or hostel in PP since I lived there, but you know where to look. Popular places to stay are in BKK1, Riverside, and St.172 which is also known as the backpackers street.

KAMPOTa mellow riverside town that has plenty of activities and a small but fun night life.

ACTIVITIES:

Rent and take it up Bokor Mountain. There you can go to a waterfall, see the old abandoned casino and the church. At the top of the mountain if it is a clear day the view is spectacular.

The abandoned church

The abandoned church

Friends at a spectacular viewpoint by the abandoned church

Friends at a spectacular viewpoint by the abandoned church

For the next day you can take your moto to a cave which is back in the provinces or find the secret lake, or go to the Kampot pepper fields, or just drive around get lost and then get found again. This is the first place where I drove a moto and it was not stressful. An automoatic should run you abour $7 for the day while a manual is about $6- not including gas, but it does include a helmet. You are also able to hire a guide that you can follow on your moto, or you can ride with if that is more your fancy. The only time I used a guide was to get to the cave in the backland of the province, as there are no signs or markings to guide your way.

Backland province in Cambodia

Backland province in Cambodia

Where to stay: Samon Village (bungalows on the river over the bridge), Villa Vedici, Kampot Riverside Hotel (had one of the biggest included breakfast I have had and it was delicious)

Where to eat: Kampot’s most famous restaurant is the Rusty Keyhole. It is an American food joint serving the best ribs in Cambodia. It is a must if you are in Kampot. Also keep you eye open for the Cambodian man on a bicycle selling homemade coconut ice-cream, it is delicious and totally worth eating before dinner.

Chinese Noodle House is a delicious and cheap place to get noodles and dumplings. They also have movie screenings.

Kep- a sleepy town that is on the coast about a 40 minute tuk-tuk from Kampot

Is extremely low-key with not a lot to do except relax. The beach is small and I would not recommend Kep if you are looking to go to the beach to party that is what Sihounkville of Koh Rong are for. It is an awesome place to relax, do some trekking through the national forest, and eat awesome sea food- they are known for their crab with kampot pepper, and it is not for nothing- it is mouthwatering. From Kep you can also head to rabbit Island. I didn’t make it there but my friends that did said it is pretty, but nothing in comparison to Koh Rong. Rabbit Island is cheap and almost undeveloped completely with only a few shacks for food and minimal bungalows.

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A placard in the Kep National forest

A placard in the Kep National forest

Where to Stay:

Le Coco De Mer bungalows- owned by an expat and his family who are live on the property so don’t expect crazy nights here (or anywhere really in Kep for that matter). They are extremely nice and helpful and make a mean meal.

Other places: Kimly Lodge, Kep Lodge, and Le Flamboyant

Where to eat:

You must go to the Sailing Club for at least one cocktail. Their happy hour is only on weekdays but the restaurant is right on the coast and they have a pier that you can walk out and sit on, even swim off of it if you would like. Before jumping in making sure it is not shallow. It is on the expensive side so if you are on a budget, afford yourself one cocktail!

The Sailing Club looking back from their pier

The Sailing Club looking back from their pier

Koh Rong:

If a backpacker and tropical island got it on this would be their love child. It is a must especially if you are traveling to Cambodia in 2015/2016. Rumor is the island is going to get leveled within the next two years with 5 star hotels and an runway aka ruined. The locals here are awesome and have adapted to having so many barangs. You can lay out on the beach all day, or partake in an infinite number of activities. There is spear fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, and boat day trips. . Make sure to buy some of the local coconut oil (or bring your own) and lather your bodies to deter the sandflies that at certain times of the year can get pretty intense. The bites don’t hurt so no worries about that. Also know that if you have an open wound be weary. Since the water is warm it is a place where bacteria thrive and serious infections have happened. There is no wifi in the bungalows only at restaurants and the electricity comes on around 6pm and goes off in the morning. There is also no hot water, but it is so hot you don’t need it. While these may seem like inconveniences, they are not- Koh Rong is beautiful and well worth it all.

Enjoying the sunset in the water at Long Beach

Enjoying the sunset in the water at Long Beach

Getting There: To get there you have two options a slow boat (2.5 hours) or the fast boat (45 minutes) I have only taken the fast boat. Check with the Koh Rong Dive Center near the Golden Lions at Serendipity Beach for boat times and ticket prices. When I was there in April 2014 the fast boat returnn ticket was $25. Bookings for the island must be done through the Koh Rong dive center, you can reach them through email at: contact@kohrong-divecenter.com

Where to stay: There are many options and the further you go down the beach the quieter it is. Everything is in walking distance so being at the other side of the beach means you walk to the party then are able to sleep in the quiet.

Inside the bungalow at White Sands Resort

Inside the bungalow at White Sands Resort

I stayed at white Sands Resort, which is right before Treehouse Bungalows. It is $60 but can fit 4 comfortably, which brings the price to $15 per person.

Some of the hostels have tents set up on the beach that you can rent as well as just renting a hammock. I am sure you could bring your own as well and set up, I am not sure what the rules are but sometimes it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

BEACHES:

White beach (where the dock landing is and where all the hostels/restaurants are)

Another day at Long Beach

Another day at Long Beach

4 km Beach is easily accessible on a flat trail from white beach. It is about a 10-15 minute walk. There is only a small hut here that sells drinks, I am not sure about food. You can also kayak, paddle board or swim to this part of the beach.

Long Beach- the most beautiful of them all. This is on the other side of the island. You can take a boat there or you can do the 2 hour hike. Some parts a bit steep but come with a rope for your assistance. I would recommend taking the hike there then catching a boat back so you are able to watch the sunset. There are two shacks on long beach that have accommodation.

There is another beach called Police Beach that I did not go to because I became too obsessed with Long Beach.

PAY IT FORWARD:

If you are feeling like spending a couple hours giving back to this beautiful place, you can. There is a school on the island where, upon permission, you could go in and give a short English lesson or play an English game. If that doesn’t do it for you take the initiative and walk up and down the beach and pick up some trash and put it in a bin. I did it then I rewarded myself with a beer.

Restaurants:

If you are a seafood fan you have to eat the seafood bbq that happens almost every night. Walk up and down the beach before deciding on a place- the prices are mostly the same as well as what they offer.

If you are looking for pizza head to Tree House bungalows at the end of white beach around the corner (on your way to 4 km), they have good wood oven fired pizza. They also have shakes a favorite became the chocolate coconut. The shakes are only available when the electricity is on so plan accordingly.

Mr.Bongs has some delicious cheesy garlic bread bites that quickly became a favorite.

Paradise Bungalows: this is the only place on the island that has wifi all the time because it is solar run. The restaurant ambiance is relaxing and beautiful and a favorite place to hang out to escape the sun. Make sure to have at least one meal here.

Sihounkville- it’s where the party’s at

There are main beaches that make up this Cambodian beach city. The first is Serendipity Beach which is where the party is. It is gorgeous but has been overrun and it is impossible to sit on the beach without being hassled to buy a bracelet, get a massage, or be threaded. This is where you should go for the bars and the party scene.

A mellower beach and the one that has my heart is Otres. It is about a 15-minute tuk tuk from Serendipity ($8). During the high season the beaches are a bit less busy than serendipity but not by much. You won’t get hassled as much either. It is the perfect beach to watch the sunset, but when the sunsets, the party scene is minimal because everyone who wants to go out goes to serendipity. There are plenty of bars and restaurants that are open until 11 or midnight depending on how busy it is. A nice thing to do is the night market, which takes place on the weekend. A great place to get some food, do some shopping, drinking and listen to live music. Something that I would highly recommend is DC Boat Tours (find him on facebook or ask at Indigo on Otres). An American expat has a long tail boat with a speaker system. It is a day trip where you will go to elephant rock and jump off- float in the ocean and drink (if you want) then you go to island have a bbq then come back at night. Get a group and head out- it is a great time. There are plenty of water activities suck a kayaks, paddleboards, snorkels, water jetpacks and sail boats.

Sunset at Otres

Sunset at Otres

Where to stay: if you are staying at Serendipity beach the Led Zephyr is a good place to stay. It is clean and up the hill from the beach so the music won’t keep you up but you can walk to and from the beach no problem.

If you are going to Otres check out Indigo bungalows. The manager and workers are awesome, the bungalows are on the beach and the food is delicious.

Eats at Otres:

There is a really good Italian restaurant, Papa Pippo, and a good place to get seafood BBQ. Indigo has really good food, a favorite of mine is their calamari. If you are feeling like some good chicken wraps, chicken fingers, and French fries let the manager at Indigo know and he will make a phone call for you. Want some fresh seafood bbq head down the beach to a place called Sunshine.

NORTHERN CAMBODIA:

Siem Reap: ANGKOR WAT- lets just get that out of the way because everyone knows about Siem Reap- hell this is usually the only reason people go to Cambodia. Please don’t be one of those people who only go to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh- honestly explore Cambodia. Siem Reap is extremely touristy and does not represent Cambodia. The temples at sunrise were a really cool experience. Not because we got a beautiful sunrise (we didn’t it was overcast) but because while all the barang were waiting for this beautiful sunrise that they somehow thought was going to come after the sun had already risen, we ditched the crowd and started exploring Ankgor Wat and we had the temple to ourselves which never happens. It has a completely different feel when it is empty then when there are thousands of people walking around. I would suggest the sunrise for that reason alone.

Trekking around Angkor Wat

Trekking around Angkor Wat

Where to stay: There are a plethora of places but I stayed at 288 Boutique Villa (more expensive) and for a hostel Tropical Breeze (walking distance to pub street and the market, very close to where the new Hard Rock Hotel Siem Reap is)

Battambang:

This is about 3-4 hours South East of Siem Reap. It is beautiful and quiet and if you have time it is well worth a trip. If you want to make it a short trip you can do everything in two days, but traveling there is a long journey from Phnom Penh.

ACTIVITIES:

Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus- this is an awesome circus that originated in the Thai refuge camps along the border of Cambodia. The circus works with disadvantage kids and trains them in acrobats, performance arts, and contortion. It was an awesome show and I would highly recommend it. Cost is $20.

Crocodile Farms: any tuk tuk will know about the crocodile farm. This is where you can hold baby crocs as well as see grown ones. It might not be the most humane, but it absolutely amazing to see these dinosaurs up close. They act as a breeding ground and then sell the crocs to the Chinese mostly for expensive soups and such.

Holding baby crocs

Holding baby crocs

Bamboo Train: the bamboo train is a rickety bamboo platform with an engine attached and was first used after the Khmer Rouge. There are rumors that this will be shut down in the near future when Cambodia expands its rail line system. As of now it is still up and running and was a cool experience. Some view it as a tourist trap because at the end of the line you stop at a village where everyone is trying to sell you something. I didn’t buy anything and a good tactic especially with the kids is to talk to them and ask them questions about them. It completely distracts them from their sales. ($10-$20 don’t quite remember)

My mom and I getting ready to depart on the bamboo train

My mom and I getting ready to depart on the bamboo train

Killing Cave: After the bamboo train head to the Killing Cave that is on top of a mountain. You can walk or take a moto up. There are monkeys everywhere and the view is really beautiful. There is also a temple. The cave was another place where the Khmer Rouge would drop bodies of their victims. Please take care to remember to respect the culture and wear appropriate clothes, as there is a practicing temple.

Found this at the Killing Cave

Found this at the Killing Cave

Bat Cave: The bat cave is at the bottom of the mountain where the Killing Cave is. This is a natural phenomenon that happens around 5:30 (ask you hostel/tuk-tuk) everyday. This cave is inhabited by hundreds of thousands of bats and all of sudden they all come streaming out. It is a constant stream for about 45 minutes and pretty amazing to see.

There is also rice whisky tasting that you can do, ask around about it!

*You are able to do the bamboo train, killing cave, and bat cave in one day. Possibly the circus as well if you plan it right.

Where to eat: We ate mostly at our hotel since the food was delicious but when we did venture out we went to Café Eden on Riverside (Road No.1) which had excellent food.

Where to stay: The Sanctuary Villa- is absolutely beautiful and relaxing, but it is on the pricier side.

Need a tuk-tuk? CALL MR. PHI LAY who is awesome. His English is excellent and he is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and is not shy to talk about it, in fact he enjoys sharing his stories and spreading the knowledge and his experience. He is good-hearted and made my trip exponentially more enjoyable!

Stueng Treng:

A small province in the north that borders Laos, if you happen to cross the border here have some time and enough money I would highly recommend it. The only thing that is touristy to do is the flooded forest and it was an awesome experience. Make sure to bring lots of sunscreen. It is $75 per person but it is an awesome experience. You can read reviews on TripAdvisor here and check out Xplore-Cambodia page here to get in contact about setting up a tour here

The Flooded Forest

The Flooded Forest

Where to stay: Golden River Hotel- which is walking distance to Xplore- Cambodia’s shop where you meet up before your adventure

Kratie:

What to do: People come here to see the Irrawaddy Mekong Dolphins that are endangered. They are much more timid and reserved then their ocean cousins and as one of my friends described them look like a penis.

The Irrawady Dolphin

The Irrawady Dolphin

Where to stay: River Dolphin Hotel– this is located out of town (not too far) and provides free tuk-tuks into town

Mondulkiri:

Is a large province up in the north east of Cambodia that is known for its forests and wildlife. Depending on what you want to do, you only need about 2-4 days. WE spent three nights two days and it was perfect. It is quiet, gorgeous and off the beaten path so you will find minimal tourists. I would highly recommend the Mondulkiri Project, which is a humble project protecting the forest and the elephants that inhabit them. While you won’t be able to ride the elephant you get to see them in the forest, feed them bananas then bathe with them in the river. For the day trip it is $50 that includes lunch/water, transportation, playing with the elephants, and a small trek to a waterfall. There is a two-day option that is $70 and there is a full day trek to a different waterfall as well as going to a village on top of the aforementioned.

Hanging out with Pon the elephant

Hanging out with Pon the elephant

Where to stay: Tree Lodge (they have free pickup from the bus station), the bungalows are comfortable and the scenery is beautiful.

Ratanakiri:

Is located a couple hours north of Mondulkiri. The road between the two was under construction when I took it and was horrible, but made it more of an adventure. Ratankairi is beautiful and is also known for it’s natural beauty than anything else.

What to do?

Rent a moto, grab a map and head to Lake Yeak Laom (Crater Lake) for an excellent swimming spot. It is more of a local spot than anything so don’t be surprised if you are the only or one of the few foreigners around. Ratanakiri also has waterfalls that are accessible by motobike. I only made it to one that was pretty but I enjoyed the drive out there more than the actual waterfall.

Taking a swim at Crater Lake

Taking a swim at Crater Lake

Where to stay? Lakeside Chheng Lok Hotel- located on a different lake the restaurant has a beautiful view and relaxing atmosphere and it will be hard to pull yourself away to go explore.

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