Here are some tips and tricks for when you travel in Cambodia!
- When you first cross the border, there may be a casino. Don’t even bother with it. It is super confusing to get money back from the machines and such, involving at least three people in addition to yourself, and the slot machines with the levers are just for show.
- In Siam Reap it may be tempting to stay in the Pub Street area, as that is the tourist area with lots of shopping and restaurants of all types. No. The shopping there is great if all you are looking for are cheap souvenirs. (Word of advice, don’t bother with elephant pants. The seams will start ripping by the second time you wear them.) The restaurants are nice enough, but they are mostly western food. I recommend finding a nice, quiet hostel or hotel maybe even just a 10-15 minute walk from the Pub Street area. That allows you still easily pick up your souvenirs, but also lets you step back from the hustle and bustle of tourists and locals yelling “Tuk Tuk lady!” at you every two feet.
- When you do go shopping anywhere that does not have visible, set prices, BARTER. They expect you to, so it is really easy to get them to cut the price in half, if not more. Good techniques include telling them you saw the same thing cheaper down the road, feigning indifference, and telling them that it is not for you. Whatever price they tell you first, you tell them that is too expensive and go from there.
- Angkor Wat is huge. Much bigger than I realized. I only got the one day pass, but I can definitely understand why someone might get the three day or even week-long pass. I highly recommend going and catching the sunrise. There are still a lot of tourists there, but not as many as there will be later and as an added bonus you can do a lot of your touring before the heat of the day.
- When travelling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, keep in mind that it will not be a smooth ride. There was construction the entire way. Accept it.
- When booking a place to stay in Phnom Penh, remember that there is Phnom Penh province, and then within Phnom Penh province there is Phnom Penh city. Book accordingly.
- Phnom Penh has all of these fabulous pocket guide books available for free almost everywhere. They were fantastically handy at helping choose restaurants to eat at, places to shop, and activities to do. Pick one up today!
- Just outside of Phnom Penh there are the Killing Fields, and in the city there is a museum that expands greatly on the experience. If possible, try not to do both on the same day. It is a lot of painful history to take in, and it was not the best idea to do them back to back.
- There is a fantastic little circus that is performed every Friday and Saturday night that is worth checking out. It is performed by Circus School students, so it is not the most put together, but ultimately very enjoyable. The trapeze act left me with my mouth hanging open in wonderment. Tickets are only $2.50-7.50 depending on your seat, so very affordable.
- The palace was nice to look at, but I would recommend getting a guide. I had little to no idea what I was looking at most of the time.
- There is a restaurant called Mount Everest. It doesn’t look like much, but it was some of the best Napalese/Indian food I have ever had. Go to Cambodia just to eat at this restaurant.
- For those who like shopping for a cause, there are a whole bunch of different free trade stores in the city for all sorts of causes such as orphans, amputees, freeing people from the sex trade, women in general, and much much more. I found the wares at these stores to generally be of better quality, and often quite neat (wallets made out of tire rubber, necklaces with nuts and bolts wrapped in silk, etc.) Things at these stores are more expensive than what you could haggle for at a market, but I feel that they are supporting good causes. I ended purchasing a t-shirt from a store called Daughters of Cambodia, an organization that works to free people from the sex trade (they also have a Sons of Cambodia section).
- If you are looking for a day of relaxation, but the place you are staying at doesn’t have a pool, there are a number of hotels around the city that will let you use their pool for the day for a small fee.
- For the most part, it is not unreasonable to walk most places in the city. I think the longest it took us to walk somewhere was maybe 30-45 minutes, so really just a warm-up exercise. My only word of caution with walking is to be mindful of the traffic. Motorcycles will drive down the sidewalk if they think it is easier, and just because the lane goes one direction, it doesn’t mean everyone driving in it does. Crossing the street is an adventure on its own. The traffic doesn’t stop until it reaches its destination, so don’t bother waiting for it to, even if you are standing at lights. Once you see a bit of a break just start walking. Maintain a constant pace and don’t stop. They will see you and adjust their speed and/or direction accordingly. Sometimes though, this may not seem possible. That is okay. During rush hour there are generally police on most busy corners and they will either tell you when to go, or just walk you across the street. The traffic doesn’t stop for them either, so stay with them and don’t fall behind!
Alright, that is all I can think of for now. I hope you all enjoy your stays in Cambodia!