Cambodia – The Cost

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. So, what does a 4 week budget minded trip to Sihanoukville actually cost? The term ‘budget’ will of course differ in meaning among the budget travelling fraternity, but for me budget means – paying the least I can get away with while avoiding hostels!

So, here it is. A breakdown of the costs:

Bus ticket from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville = $12 = £8.57

Accommodation 29 nights basic room, double bed = $100 = £71.42 = £2.46 per night

Food including drink averaging $10 = £7.14 per day for 30 days

Day trip to Koh Ta Kiev including lunch and the $2 ride back to base $17 = £12.14

Day trip to Kampot, bus ticket $10, coffee x 2= $3.50 and transport back to base $2 = $15.50 = £11.07

Bus ticket Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh $6 = £4.28

Total = £252.72 or £8.71 per night. If you need alcohol and cigarettes add a bit more. If your a duo then take a bit off the accommodation price. If you want to rent a scooter add some more. Personally I don’t eat heavy and I drink light which helps me to keep on budget and I didn’t need a scooter because I borrowed a cycle!

 

 

 

 

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Cambodia – The Verdict

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016: Another subjective post because each visitor to Sihanoukville will form differing opinions according to their experiences and undoubtedly some will be bad.- food sickness, petty crime and drunken debauchery, yes the party spots across town there in Serendipity have it all!

Personally, Sihanoukville means quiet beach time (away from Serendipity) with all the trappings a tropical paradise can throw in your face – that is, a clean sea,a clean beach, big coconuts, nice coffee, blue sky, hot weather, rustic charm and a good nights sleep, all on the cheap. Sihanoukville hits the spot quite admirably! Overall, its a very nice place with some pretty cool people – the locals I mean. And if your a Brit missing that Friday night pint with your buddies down the pub, well, you can do that here too. Not quite the same but one can observe British guys huddled around a bar, nursing their beer and gently chewing the fat!

Sihanoukville is transforming itself from a sleepy beach town to an international playground. The signs for the future are everywhere to be seen with construction unabated.Foreign investors are rushing in buying up land and building smart new hotels and holiday homes, not to mention the plethora of Casino’s. For now though the place retains its relaxing character and I’d say its a long way off becoming the next Pattaya!

So, as Cambodia 2016 draws to a close lets look back at some of the highs and lows of the last 4 weeks.

 

Cambodia – A Survival Guide

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. Travelling down to Sihanoukville? Then here’s a quick survival guide to helping to keepthat budget on track when you get here.

  1. Money: The local currency is the Riel but vendors and business’s prefer to trade with the US Dollar. Change can be a mix of both. 4000 Riel is worth $1. Don’t get confused with the zero’s – check that your not handing over 10,000 Riels when you mean 1000, trust me when I say you won’t get any change! ATMs dispense Dollars, there are a couple on Victory Hill, more downtown.
  2. Transport: No local public transport here in Sihanoukville. What transport there is is controlled largely by the Tuk Tuk mafia. Intercity and Boarder runs will drop in down-town. A Tuk Tuk to Victory Hill should cost around $4 and a ride on the back of a scooter if your travelling light should be no more than $2. When negotiating your price, walk away and the price will come down quickly!
  3. Pests: Actually compared to other Asian countries I’ve visited being bothered by pests isn’t the trauma it could be. Mosquito’s are few (until rainy season in June), beggars limited to maybe 1 or 2 every couple of days here on Victory Hill. But occasionally there will be a landmine victim shuffling around because his limbs have been decapitated – you may not notice and of course your bag may disappear – most of the time though they’e asking for money, curiously they won’t take food if its offered.
  4. Climate: Stay cool, hit the beach, swim and drink plenty – filtered water should cost 1000 riel and no more!. its pretty hot if your not used to it – 31c on the beach, up to 34 in town.
  5. Safety: Try not to stray too far from civilization. A large proportion of Cambodians are still poor and may just be tempted to find out how much you have in your wallet. Don’t wander around dark lanes at night either, especially if your likely to be inebriated! Having said that, crime doesn’t appear to be a problem in Sihanoukville.
  6. Don’t get Board: Bring your drivers license and hire a scooter, about $6 per day. Explore local villages, the Sihanoukville Snake House, a few temples and try different beaches. Also be sure to take a boat trip to the Islands. Shopping, best do that in downtown for the cheapest prices on just about everything.
  7. A few more ideas of things to do here.
  8. Victory Hill Google Map

Cambodia – Sleep, Eat, Drink

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. Its my 4th visit here which in its self must be a good recommendation by anyone’s standards!  I always head for the same part of town, stay in the same guesthouse and eat at the same restaurant. I have discovered that a little bit of loyalty can go a very long way here, on Victory Hill, Sihanoukville and its not always about the money. I’ll attempt to explain why I like it here so much below:

Why I like Victory Hill: Simply because the views are pretty good from the top of the hill. Sihanoukville began life here in the mid 50’s with the construction of a deep water shipping port. The clearance of hick jungle was necessary for infrastructure, housing etc. Thankfully though there is still plenty of it left today which provides a scenic foreground for some pretty nice photos.The hill is also a good spot to catch a Cambodian sunset as can be seen in the photos below.

 

Why I stay at Mealy Chander Guesthouse: Because its cheap and my budget is small! Each time I roll up here there’s a room for $5 a night. Basic and in the basement, but there is a cooling fan and a bathroom with western style toilet – good enough for my requirements as a solo backpacker. March is low season and I’m offered the room for a flat $100 for the month. There are of course better, more expensive rooms with a TV, balcony and air-con for $450 a month. $200 a month will get a bigger room, nice bathroom and a flat screen TV, No balcony though,oh and the cooling fan too. Complimentary coffee for all guests in the morning.

Here, a set of photos from the Mealy Chander. guesthouse.

 

 

Why do I eat at Sovann Vortey Restaurant: Because the food is good and cooked hygienically, they give me extra rice each time I ask for it and they throw in a push bike for me to use as and when I don’t feel like hiking down to the beach. I use the place everyday and Its always a problem to find small change so I pay them $20 every 4 days – they like that idea! Oh and Wifi is as fast as you’d find  throughout most of the UK.

A few snaps that might make you’r mouth water.

 

Cambodia – Victory Hill

The Neighborhood, Victory Hill, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. so, how does this Neighborhood perched on a hill top far from the madding crowd, really shape up? Well the place is predominantly inhabited with white settlers punctuated occasionally with a native and a few tourists thrown into the mix. The proportions are hard to state, but i’d say its 60/40 to the settlers. Tourist numbers are dwindling now (late March) as low season encroaches with the threat of rain on the horizon. I’ve stayed here also in high season where numbers of visitors are higher but you’d think this place should be busier than it actually is – making for a rather laid back and sedate lifestyle year round.

Bottom Line:The streets are clean, food is prepared and cooked hygienically, the climate is nice and I can sleep at night. Party animals and dancing dudes will find nightlife around here pretty thin on the ground, with a limited number of bars/clubs but to compensate, boys can quite easily find a girlfriend for the night!

Beer is cheap bu food is more than I like to pay but there are local food available on the fringes of the neighborhood, where prices are just $1 for barbecued pork and rice.

here, I’ve taken these snaps that should give a pretty accurate depiction of the neighborhood around here, Victory Hill. As you will see, the place is pretty informal, relaxed and friendly. Street 100, 141 and 139 pretty much defines Victory Hill – Google Map

 

 

 

Cambodia – Where To Sleep

Budget Rooms, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. That’s a big question of course, subjective and depends largely on ones itinerary and budget. Solo travelers are frequently at a disadvantage when it comes to accommodation and budge rooms tend to be somewhat on the thin side, especially in smaller towns. Not the case in Cambodia, visitors pay for the room, the whole room. Right across Cambodia one can find a cheap room, spacious and clean – especially in Sihanoukville where there are more beds than people. So, when your done with Siem Reap and through with Phnom Penh, head south for some very cheap tropical beach time.

Sihanoukville is benefiting from the tightening of Thailand’s visa rules since the military dictatorship took charge a few years ago. White settlers there are slowly migrating towards the southern Cambodian coastal town and coupled with Thai price inflation, Sihanoukville is seen an attractive alternative. This is good news for some, perhaps not so good for others, but in general the supply of cheap rooms doesn’t look like drying up anytime soon.

So, where to sleep on the cheap, avoiding hostels, raucous and rowdy party animals and where the neighborhood has picturesque views across the ocean. Victory Hill, that’s the place to head for and that,s my pick every time. No need to make reservations, just roll up and I guarantee you’ll walk into a cheap room within 5 minutes! The place is compact with  guesthouse every few meters and the place is clean too with some kind of garbage control in place. Rooms here are going for around $8 on average, with air-com, bathroom and TV. Some of the more recently constructed properties are trying to get $15 per night. Everything around here is negotiable, and if your travelling slow, a month say, then monthly rates are even better! Basic fan rooms, double bed and bathroom are around $5 per night. I’m staying a month and paying $100 flat rate for a basic fan room, bathroom and double bed. More about Victory Hill and the neighborhood in the next blog.

Google Map:

 

 

Cambodian Nature – Flora and Fauna

Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016  Not so much flora since its the dry season, but there are still a few wild creatures to be spotted if one keeps a close eye out. Seen here, a few nice birds and bugs mostly around the Independence area. With the rampant spread of concrete and tarmac sights like this will soon be a thing of the past in Sihanoukville.

I don’t know all the species names here, except of course the obvious: Hornbill bird, giant grasshopper and Mantis

 

Phnom Penh Airport – Transport to and from Sihanoukville

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2016. There’s plenty of public transport between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville and it all passes close to the airport. There’s no need to succumb to the Tuk Tuk mafia and take that overpriced ride into downtown first, now visitors can hop onto a local bus to connect with the bigger intercity transport down to Sihanoukville and here’s how to do it.

  1. Once through immigration, leave the airport and make tracks for the main road outside. Don’t stop at the information desk, they’r allied to the tuk tuk and taxi drivers and wont know anything about public transport to Phnom Penh. Bypass the Tuk Tuk and taxi mafia waiting just outside the terminal, they’ll tell all manner of lies! (based on personal experience).
  2. Once outside, cross the main road and look for a bus shelter – its quite new and noticeable. Its situated almost opposite the new departure terminal.
  3. When the public bus rolls up, wave to stop it. it’ll have a number 3 circled.
  4. Pay 1500 Riel for the ride down to the last stop on that route – Choam Chao. Buy something like a bottle of water to get small change – the bus needs exact money. There’s a stand outside the airport where a bottle of water should cost 1000 Riel. Give $1 and get 3000 Riel back.
  5. On the opposite side of the giant Choam Chao roundabout there’s a guy,sometimes a lady, selling bus tickets outside a shop. Cross the roads, but be careful! It should be $6-8 down to Sihanoukville. Insist on that price, if not then they’ll overcharge considerably!  The trip will take around 4 1/2 to 5 hours with a stop, and a few more unscheduled stops.
  6. If all this is after 2 pm you might be out of luck as most of the transport south will have left Phnom Penh already.

Sihanoukville back to Phnom Penh Airport, well, its simply the above in reverse.

  1. Buy a ticket for $6.
  2. Make sure the bus driver knows he’s to stop at Choam Chao (Chom Chow). Get someone in Sihanoukville to write that name in Khmer so the driver won’t make any mistakes or forget to stop.The bus will stop just before the giant roundabout at around 1.15 pm.
  3. Walk a few meters further on and there will be the bus stand and hopefully bus number 3 will be waiting. If not, grab some lunch while waiting for it.
  4. Pay 1500 Riel and tell them you want the airport – thats it!
  5. Full of energy, then hike up to the airport. Should take around 25 minutes.

 

 

market pp

The Choam Choa Roundabout at the end of the runway, Phnom Penh Airport

 

Cambodian Town – Kampot

3/3 Explore the market, Kampot, Cambodia, March 2016  A very pleasant couple of hours observing the life of ordinary Cambodians away from the tourist glare, but now I’d better head on back towards the bus station and with a little time in hand lets go via the market – always a good bet for some colour and excitement. So, back across the bridges, stopping momentarily for another photo or two.

The town centre is pretty small actually with the market situated almost inline with the new bridge – which is ind of on the way back to the bus, and probably time to grab another coffee.

An interesting market here with a big jewelry section. Crafting items in gold, silver among others, they didn’t look too happy when I pointed for a photo – so I didn’t take any of boys and girls busy with their craft. The variety of fish is pretty amazing, dead and alive –  types I haven’t seen at an Asian market before today. A good half an hour or so is adequate to get a flavour of market life here in Kampot but now I wouldn’t mind a nice quiet coffee for 10 minutes.

 

So, that was Kampot in a day. A place with a certain degree of charm both sides of the river. Personally I wouldn’t gain by staying overnight here but plenty of travelers do as there are a host of guesthouses around the place with a couple more dotted along the other side of the river and using the town as a base for exploring the nearby hills and pepper farms, not to mention the next village of Kep. All this of course needs transport – hiring a scooter is the way to go.But for me, its back to Sihanoukville quite glad that I pulled by butt off the beach and made the effort to see Kampot.

Kampot MapThe map above shows the route I took to obtain the photos in this article – approximately 3 1/2 hours hours at a pretty slow pace.

A day trip is easy to arrange from here in Victory Hill, Sihanoukville -$5 gets a seat on the Vietnam boarder run at 8 30 am and another $5 for a seat when it returns later picking up in Kampot at 3 30 pm. Its a mini-van, bit cramped full of big built, long legged westerners but at least the operators will do a round-up avoiding the need for a ride downtown first. Travel time is 1 3/4 hours each way and they drop back at the Serendipity office meaning one has to find teir own way home. Victory Hill is $2 on the back of a scooter.

More about Kampot including what to see and where to sleep here.

 

 

Cambodian Town – Kampot

2/3 Looking around Kampot, Cambodia, March 2016. A pleasant enough journey – 1 3/4 hours from Sihanoukville downtown via Otres Village. I’m the only one getting off here at the drop off point, a bus depot of sorts with an office ticket window and a bus on the street.

First thing to do now is find some place to grab coffee and consult the google map. Pounding the pavements of Kampot then and immediately noticeable is that the place has a very different feel to Sihanoukville. Certainly less busy, but not sleepy by any means. Brisk is how I would describe life in the town centre, just a handful of tourists mooching around the streets which do have a certain French colonial flavour. But right now, I’ve spotted a coffee shop on the corner- its got a French name to it!  French bread, French pastries and French coffee – you’d think this was France. At least the price of the coffee wasn’t on french terms, but still pricey at $1.75. So, over a very small costa-lot-coffee time to consult the google maps and get some kind of bearing on the next few hours.

Head towards the river, turn right, find the bridge and cross it – lets wee whats on the other side. A very pleasant little stomp among the villas and a host of tourist ticketing desks, cafes and several bars along the to the river side where a panoramic view of nearby hills makes for a rather nice set of photos.

 

The old town bridge – clearly out of bounds but since the locals had cut through the wire mesh I’m sure I’d be able to sneak across without too much drama! Closed for good reason as it happens – its been well used and some with pretty large gaps in the corroded metal plates. Across the river and a lack of tourists is apparent and its easy to see why! No smart bars, French style cafes and no English fish and chips. This is clearly the poorer side of town, and of course a more authentic side of Cambodian life – perhaps this is what I needed to see.

 

Another bridge to cross and another part of the town to explore as the hot sunshine beats down. There is an occasional breeze blowing up the river, a welcome cooling if just for a few seconds. Plenty of greenery, once jungle with palms and banana trees lining the street sides. Spotted among the trees, a pointed roof encrusted with something in gold – that indicates temples and with those one will find monks, and hopefully a drink of water. Yes I’m right – its a temple complex and with a school attached. Its lunch time and I’m spotted by a group of monks having their rice – yes, soon I was downing a bottle of water and  eating their rice, with pumpkin and salted vegetables that I have no Idea what they were – and the monks couldn’t tell me either! It was a pretty good lunch and nice of them to share their food – thank you monks.

 

. Another look around here, a rather grandeur place with statues and a reclining Buddha figure. I’m surprised this place isn’t swarming with tourists! not a single tourist to be seen though.And just behind the complex is a pepper factory. Kampot pepper is famous apparently and here there’s a little shop and a few samples – red pepper, white pepper and black pepper as the girl encourages me to take a sniff – I’m not a fan of pepper usually but the red pepper corns smelt OK to me! I’m invited to take a look around the little school here – kids in the playground with a football  while others loiter near the classrooms.

Time to head back to town via the market, marked clearly on google maps and Asian markets can be pretty interesting.