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 – 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:

 

 

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

1/3 Kampot, Cambodia, March 2016. Kampot bears all the hallmarks of French influence, some 50 or so years after moving out of their colonized Cambodia. According to thousands of web pages the place is a sleepy little town, on a river near some hills and where plenty of backpackers like to hang out – which is rather odd because its doesn’t strike me as being a party spot, but then not all backpackers are party animals I guess! Anyway, time I dragged myself off the beach to go and take a look at some aspect of Cambodia that strikes out with a little more authenticity.

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.

The highways are pretty good – Highway 4 is practically new, smooth then a right turn onto Highway 3, not as new but still a pretty good run and adequate for the little amount of traffic, with rush hours consisting of animals and school kids! Its also a good look at some rural life albeit from a moving van, but still an interesting view across those dry rice fields at the base of the hills.

 

 

 

 

 

Cambodian Islands

3.The Three Islands Day Trip, Back to Base, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016. Time to leave the tranquil settings of Koh Ta Kiev and head back to base via the third and last island of this little tour. its another private place where the waters are shallow enough for a spot of snorkeling and deep enough for those jumping off the top deck not to worry about hitting the rocks!

Suddenly the peace and tranquility is shattered with the arrival of that party boat. Boom Boom base, squealing and cheering as the vessel anchors just yards away from the day boats. Well, whatever they’re doing looks like its all good fun as their boat begins to list a little. Clearly under the influence of, well lets just say its not fresh air, they all line up and begin jumping overboard, oh dear! maybe its some sort of contest.

Its all over by 3 30 pm as the boat docks at serendipity harbour. Quite a good value trip as it turns out, a nice little sail around the Gulf of Thailand. Although they do a morning round up, they don’t drop back – its a $2 ride on the back of a scooter to finish it all off – ha, quite safely.

Its a daily boat trip costing $15. Round ups from 8 am for sailing at around 9 am arriving back 3 30 pm. They provide soft drinks and water. They don’t provide life jackets for everyone, sunscreen or beer. Tickets are sold everywhere! More about Koh Ta Kiev here.

A few snaps then of the final part of the three Islands tour

 

 

 

Cambodian Islands, Koh Ta Kiev

2.The Three Islands Day Trip, Koh Ta Kiev, Cambodia, March 2016. A very pleasant trip, passing by those little islands, sold off to Chinese and French construction companies, with the idea of making visitors pay a handsome price for a nights stay – yet another exclusively high-end development can be seen under construction.. Next stop then is the Island of Koh Ta Kiev, another island disposed of by the Cambodian government but as yet there is little evidence of any development thus day trippers and over-night visitors have permission to populate the western flank – good because that’s the side the breeze blows in from!

11 30 am and the boat anchors a few meters from the shore – quite a few meters actually, there appears to be no jetty! so three options to consider: Wait for the transfer boat (5 passengers at a time), wade to the beach  or if one is a shorty, swim for it! I’m going to wait for that little boat.

we are of course here with all those other tourists, but even so, the place has that deserted Island feel – white powder sand fronted by clear turquoise water and backed with thick jungle. There’s only a couple of hours here, and while the majority are pitching up on the sand, or stripping off for a dip, I take a hike south and grab some very scenic photos and hike back again, just in time for the lunch – barbecued Barracuda fish, rice and a good helping of tropical fruits.

No time to waste since the boat leaves at 1 30 pm. This time a stomp north to explore the other end of this western flank and a few more exotic island photos. Definitely has that dessert island feel with just a few accommodation sheds dotted on the edge of the jungle, just a few meters back from the sea. Just one bar/cafe on site, run by a British chap who seems to be in control of everything, even the cooking and making the coffee, with help from a couple of natives.. A very quiet and tranquil place, clearly not the party spot some backpackers on the boat might have been expecting, but more of total rest and recuperation – the ideal Serendipity come down destination. The place is so basic there isn’t any wifi, come to think of it I doubt there’s electricity here either yet! The phone signal may not be reliable either.Waste water go’s to a nearby swamp while garbage is piled up behind the scenes.

So, if lazing around in a hammock is your ideal downtime, grabbing a coffee or quiet beer and reading a good book then Koh Ta Kiev will hit the spot without a doubt. If partying is what your after, Koh Ta Kiev is not your place – yet!

Here is a flavour of Koh Ta Kiev, also known as Crusoe Island.

 

 

This article is still work in progress and continues on the next blog post 🙂

Cambodian Islands

1.The Three Islands Trip, Sihanoukville, Cambodia, March 2016: Adverts for boat trips are everywhere – every establishments has the ability to book a sea trip of some description. On offer then, a backpacker ferry for $5, a fast boat for $20, a party boat trip for $20 or a day trip to 3 islands for $15 which actually sounds pretty reasonable. – especially as lunch and soft drinks are included, as is a pick up from Victory Hill.

An early start then for the 3 islands trip and since the usual cafe isn’t open yet, breakfast has to be of the local variety from just around the corner – rice topped with barbecued pork, omelette and a small bowl of chicken soup all for $1. The round up transport arrives – a moped, let the fun begin.

The holding bay while waiting for the other round ups is a cafe – called ‘On the Rocks’,and they provide a free breakfast!. Eggs and toast, tea and a bottle of water, better take that with me. From here, just a 5 minute stomp to the harbor pier and a malaise of tourists waiting for boats. Google Map: 

One boat, 20 passengers and 15 life jackets – not an uncommon situation in Asia but thankfully I can swim reasonably well, the sea is calm and rescue wont be far away as there are a host of other boats taking the very same tour route it looks like! Tip: Bring just the minimum needed for a day trip, leave those unnecessary gadgets behind, just incase the boat sinks and you happen to survive!

 So here we are, on the gulf of Thailand heading towards the first Island where folks can jump, swim and snorkel for about 90 minutes before making way to Koh Ta Kiev Island. No access to this island – its private! so, if jumping off the boat or snorkeling  isn’t on the agenda for you, then relax and take some scenic photos.

 

This article is continued in the next blog entry 🙂