All you need to know to backpack in Cambodia

WHY TRAVELLING TO CAMBODIA

Culture

It is a five-star rate due to Angkor Wat and all the other temple complex around the country. The Khmer empire was tremendously developed around the XI and XII centuries, when they had their golden age. However, the genocide that the Khmer Rouge performed in the 1970s can be consider the dark age and thinking it was not long ago makes you shiver when sightseeing the killing fields.

Nature

Wildlife from Ratanakiri, Dangkrek mountains and the beaches in the South of the country and the islands combine to complete three of the most beloved natural landscapes. If you have time to reach to every isolated spot, then Cambodia can offer plenty of idyllic scenes.

Adventure

It is up to you staying in the touristy places or discovering hiden gems as Battambang, Sambor Prei Kuk or Ratanakiri. But a unique experience can be encountered easily when you get off the track. It is not recommendable to explore the jungle though, since some mines from the Vietnam war are thought to be still active in certain untouched areas.

Safety

It is broadly consider a safe country (it ranks #58 out of 160 according to SafeAround), except for certain scams that you may only find if you do not know them. No violence at all was found during my trip there, just a few pickpockets as in most cities and some scams that typically occur in South East Asia. Among the most common scams in Cambodia you may be tricked by someone who approaches lonely tourist in a friendly way saying to bring them to a dark spot and take their wallets. Hence, be aware not to be stolen and do not trust everyone.

Affordability

The cost of living in Cambodia is higher than expected due to the use of US Dollars (it ranks #67 out of 117 according to Numbeo in 2018), the price of the items is rounded to units in dollars, especially in touristy areas. Therefore, I suggest using the local currency to decrease the rounded prices and to have the possibility to bargain. Local food should not require more than 3 USD per meal.

Cuisine

Food in Cambodia is not as delicious and famous as in its neigbour countries, but you can still find some typical dishes as Amok, which is baked fish with chilli, lemongrass and coconut. Besides, locals offer plenty of seafood and fish to taste all around the country.

What to visit in Cambodia

Hereafter, I sort the spots to visit in Cambodia by its attractiveness and uniqueness:

1. Angkor Wat

Finalist candidate to be one of the new 7 wonders, to me there is no doubt it should have been chosen. It is a complex of hundreds of temples in an enormous area where you can get lost. Abandoned by the Khmer in order to run away from the Ayutthaya empire and lost during centuries, a French explorer found it in the XIX century. Angkor Wat is the main temple of the complex, but some other temples such as Bayon (the temple of 216 stone-carved faces), Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom or Preah Khan are also worth a walk around. Sunrise will be enjoyed the most near a small lagoon where you leave Angor Wat temple between the lagoon and the East. You can get around by bike if you are a sporty person, by scooter or rent a tuk-tuk for the whole day (should be less than 30 USD). You can purchase a one-day, three-day or seven-day ticket and I suggest buying your ticket the previous day after 6pm (you can visit it for the rest of the day and the following one).

Angkor Wat

2. Phnom Penh

The capital of the country offers the Royal Palace and the National Museum as the main attractions in the city. Khmer architecture and many pieces of Khmer sculpture are respectively found in those two spots. Moreover, the Choeung Ek killing fields shows how cruel the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia (an excursion from Phnom Penh will take you there).

Phnom Penh

3. Ratanakiri

This province located in the East of the country contains the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, where gibbons, elephants, tigers and sun bears dwell. Moreover, the waterfalls of Chaa Ong and Ka Tieng are awesome spots for swimmers as well as the Yeak Lom Crater Lake next to Ban Lung.

4. Battambang

Find a cluster of temples beyond the town, I suggest hiking to reach Phnom Sampeu to enjoy its beautiful views, Phnom Banan and Wat Ek Phom. Visit the Killing Caves where the Khmer Rouge tossed thousands of people. Do not miss the bat caves at dusk to observe how thousands of bats cover the sky while getting off the cave.

5. Prasat Preah Vihear

Shiva, the destroyer, is one of the three main Hinduist gods and this temple complex honors him. It stands atop the Dangkrek Mountains and near the border with Thailand, which has caused dispute between both countries. The access to Prasat Preah Vihear is from Siem Reap or Sra Em.

6. Sambor Prei Kuk

This is a hinduist temple site from the 7th century that has been abandoned for a long time. The most remarkable buildings in the area are Prasat Tao, Prasat Sambor and Prasat Yeay Peau. In order to reach this site you should depart from Kompong Thom.

7. Sihaunokville Beaches

This town stands at the South of the country and it is the gateway to reach all the islands nearby.  Beaches such as Serendipity and Ochheuteal ones are a great party area. Nevertheless, Otres beach is more quiet and, hence, recommended for day time.

8. Kratie

If you want to spot the endemic Irrawaddy dolphins, you must go to Kampi, which is located a bit to the North of Kratie. Boat tours depart from Kratie whenever you want to take them. This is the best experience in the Khmer Mekong.

9. Kampot

This region is one of the most untouched in the country and still offers nature and old colonial architecture. For example, you can reach Kep and Bokor national parks from this city to spend some adventurous time.

10. Tonlé Sap

Tonlé Sap is the biggest lake in the country and it contains plenty of floating villages. Transportation from Siem Reap will take you to the lake where you can hire a boat and sightsee how fishermen work to feed their families.

11. Mondulkiri

At this province, you will find the adventure you might be looking for. As well known as the wild East, the Elephant Valley Project takes you to encounter these charming pachyderms. In addition, some primates, sugar palms, rice fields and waterfalls can be found in this region.

12. Koh Rong Saloem

You can find this island at the South of the country and will be able to reach it by boat from Sihanoukville. Walk the peaceful sands of Saracen Bay and stay at any of its resorts. Take a rest while you listen to the sound of the waves striking the shore.

RECOMMENDED ROUTES IN CAMBODIA

Down below, I sketch some possible routes depending on the time you are planning to spend in the Khmer country.

7 DAYS IN CAMBODIA

If there is only one week to spend in Cambodia I would say you should not miss the main spots and chose the following path: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) – Battambang or a Tonlé Sap floating village – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields)

15 DAYS IN CAMBODIA

Half a month would be perfect to be able to explore some adventurous spots and the following route would be within schedule: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)- Battambang – a Tonlé Sap floating village – Kratie – Ratanakiri – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields) – Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh

1 MONTH IN CAMBODIA

In case having plenty of time to discover all of it, a month can be filled with many activities following the next tour: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)- Battambang – a Tonlé Sap floating village – Prasat Preah Vihear – Sambor Prei Kuk – Kratie – Ratanakiri – Mondulkiri – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields) – Sihanoukville – Koh Rong Samloem (or other islands) – Kampot – Phnom Penh

GET YOUR BACKPACK READY FOR CAMBODIA

Visa for Cambodia

Passports holders from Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore Thailand and Vietnam can visit without a visa.

You may obtain your visa upon arrival at the two airports in Cambodia: Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, along with most border crossings. You will need US$30 cash for a tourist visa and US$35 for business. You will also need one passport size photo and your passport must be valid for six month from the date of entry.  Try and have the exact amount or you may be given a very bad exchange rate by the border official. You will need a passport photo or you may have to pay US$2 extra.

A visa can be issued upon arrival at the border checkpoints into Cambodia.
Thailand: Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), Chorm (Oddar Meanchey), Daung (Kamrieng Battambang), Poi Pet (Banteay Meanchey), Prom (Pailin), O Smach (Oddar Meanchey).
Vietnam: Bavet (Svay Rieng), Kaoam Samnor (Kandal Mekong), Phnom Den (Takeo), Trapaing Sre (Kratie).
Laos: Dong Kralo (Stung Treng).
There is also an entry at Sihanoukville if you arrive by sea.

Passport holders from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan need a visa at an embassy prior to arriving.

Cambodia visa information

Cambodian embassies

Cambodia has recently started an e-visa service which allows you to pay online using a credit card instead of handling cash at the airport.

The e-visa is only for entry at Phnom Penh International airport, Siem Reap International airport, Bavet/Svay Rieng, Cham Yeam/Koh Kong and Poipet. It costs US$7 dollars more than paying cash.

Cambodia e-visa

 

Credits to Projectvisa.

Vaccinations for Cambodia

  • Recommended vaccines for Cambodia: Malaria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria and Tetanus.
  • Rarely necessary vaccines for Cambodia: Rabies.
  • Not necessary vaccines for Cambodia: Yellow fever (a certificate may be required if you come from any area with transmission risk).

Plug in Cambodia

Most electrical sockets in Cambodia are compatible with type A (two flat vertical pins), type C (two round pins) and type G (three rectangular pins). Voltage in Cambodia electricity supply is 230V. Frequency in Cambodia electricity supply is 50Hz.

Currency in Cambodia

The local currency used in Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR). However, US Dollars (USD) are widely accepted if they are not old bills. Paying with Cambodian Riel will save you money and prevent you from headache.

Please, use the currency converter on the sidebar if you want to check the latest exchange rates.

Weather in Cambodia

Since it is a tropical country, there are two main seasons along the year. Dry season runs from October to March and it is the most recommended one to travel to Cambodia. Wet season covers from April to September and rains may be too annoying to discover temples or enjoy the coast views.

Average temperatures range from 21 to 35ºC along the year. We recommend to avoid April and May (average 35ºC) to visit this country since the heat will not allow you to be pleased by its wonders.

Khmer language

EnglishVietnameseSound
HelloJumreap sooa(To Be Added)
ByeLeah suhn heuy(To Be Added)
Thank youOrgoon(To Be Added)
You are welcomeMun ay te(To Be Added)
YesBaat (men)/ Chaas (Women)(To Be Added)
NoDteh(To Be Added)
PleaseSuom mehta(To Be Added)
I am sorrySohm dtoh(To Be Added)
CheersLeuk dach!(To Be Added)
My name is...K’nyom tch muoh...(To Be Added)
I am from...K’nyom mao pi...(To Be Added)
How much is it?T’lay pohnmaan?(To Be Added)
ZeroSoun(To Be Added)
OneMouy(To Be Added)
TwoPii(To Be Added)
ThreeBei(To Be Added)
FourBuon(To Be Added)
FivePram(To Be Added)
SixPram mouy(To Be Added)
SevenPram pii(To Be Added)
EightPram bei(To Be Added)
NinePram buon(To Be Added)
TenDap(To Be Added)
Khmer basic words to get along

Recommendations for Cambodia

In order to save money and not to get lost, you must install on your smartphone the free app Maps.me and download the maps of the Cambodian regions that you plan to visit using wifi before you go. Afterwards, you will be able to use your GPS signal for free over the previously downloaded maps.

All you need to know to backpack in Vietnam

WHY TRAVELLING TO VIETNAM

Culture

The Chinese occupation, the French colonialism and the famous Vietnam War highly mark the Vietnamese culture. My Son are some old hinduist ruins that can give you a feeling of what was going on in the area in the 4th century. The Chinese influence can delight your visit to Huế and Hội An. The Vietnam War has a dedicated museum in Ho Chi Minh but the most recommended visit to acknowledge war times are the Củ Chi Chi Tunnels, where a firegun sound as a background makes you feel stressed along your visit.

Nature

Its three-star rate is mainly by virtue of Ha Long Bay, one of the 7 new natural wonders. In addition, rice terraces may draw idyllic landscapes in the mountains near Sappa (from September to November would be the perfect time to visit) in the North and the Mekong delta shows the way of living in nature of its inhabitants, mainly fishermen, in the South. Glorious caves in several spots around the country and the Ba Be National park in the North of the country round off this section.

Adventure

You can feel quite adventurous while travelling through Vietnam because of the comparison with occidental countries. Motorbikes create an incredibly heavy traffic in the main cities, especially the old quarter in Hanoi where dogding scooters on the sidewalk becomes a funny game. English is not mastered by the majority of its population, so you will have to find the right people to talk to or enjoy the language of gestures, which I absolutely recommend. Intrepid travellers must rent a scooter at least from Huế to Hội An (many retailers rent bikes in one city and pick them up in the other).

Safety

It is broadly consider a safe country (it ranks #45 out of 160 according to SafeAround), except for certain scams that you may only find if you do not know them. No violence at all was found during my trip there, just a few pickpockets as in most cities and some scams that typically occur in South East Asia. Among the most common scams in Vietnam you may be tricked by someone who swaps bills with the same color (have a look at the digits in the paper to know how many dongs it costs; my taxi driver from the airport unsuccessfully tried on me). Hence, be aware not to be stolen and pay attention to the bills.

Affordability

If not the cheapest, Vietnam is one of the cheapest countries in the world due to their currency (it ranks #83 out of 117 according to Numbeo in 2018). Experience how it feels to be a millionaire, you can have 1 million vietnamese dong in your hands in exchange of less than 50 USD. Therefore, the cost of living in Vietnam becomes extremely cheap. A night might cost 1 USD in a hostel or 3 USD in a 3-star hotel (one dollar per star) if you are a good bargainer. Local food should not require more than 1 USD per meal.

Cuisine

Because of the hot weather, hot noodle soup is the vietnamese main dish. Bacteria frequently appears on the food if there is scorching weather and there are two way to combat that fact: Boiling and spices. Phở is the name of this delicious and economical dish. To complete your traditional Vietnamese meal you must order Gỏi cuốn, which are the common known Vietnamese rolls, and enjoy the distinguished local coffee, which may come along with condensed milk to smooth its intense taste.

What to visit in Vietnam

 

Hereafter, I sort the spots to visit in Vietnam by its attractiveness and uniqueness:

1. Halong bay

One of the new 7 natural wonders, the descending dragon bay is named like that because its 2000 limestone islets look as a water dragon from distance. Sleep over on a boat in this marvellous spot of the South China Sea, do kayaking, dive from the boat, bargain to buy provisions to the ladies who approach your boat and blend yourself into naturefor a while.

Halong Bay

2. Củ Chi Tunnels

One of the best museums I have ever hit which makes you experience what it was like to be in the war. It is a vast outdoor area where the guide shows you the way of living of the Vietnamese people during the war, including the weapons the designed, the food they were used to eat and the network of tunnels that encompassed a length of 121 km. War, creativity and a tremendous amount of free time led locals to design an ingenious way of living to be admired by visitors. Vietnam won the war!

Cu Chi Tunnels

3. My Son

Hinduism remains in Vietnam thanks to this magnificent temple which is dated to the forth century. It can be reached from Hội An and was abandoned for centuries. There are around 20 brick or sandstone temples still standing there after some of them were destroyed by the US during the war. Do not miss this hidden gem!

4. Hội An

Cuteness is the word that defines its old town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains such beautiful buildings as the Chinese Fukian Assembly Hall, the Japanese bridge or the performances at the Phung Hung House. I challenge you to find the four Vietnamese sacred animals around the old town: the water Dragon, the noble Phoenix, the wise Tortoise and the Kỳ Lân Lion-Horse. You can celebrate you found them having the cheapest beer of the world… Good luck!

Fukian Assembly Hall

5. Huế

This Vietnam former capital and home of the Nguyễn dynasty is located in the Center of Vietnam. The main attraction to be found in the city is the citadel, which is enclosed by walls in the center of the city. It contains a replica of the Royal Theater, the Imperial City, which is formed by palaces and shrines, and the Forbidden Purple City, were the emperor used to live at.

6. Sapa

Rice terraces can be found everywhere around Sa Pả, a city situated in a province where several ethnic groups live in villages. Designed for hiking lovers, the mountain ranges form leafy fresh landscapes and every true backpacker dream of getting lost overthere.

7. Mekong Delta

This fishermen heaven, where over 1000 species of animals live together,  is filled by floating markets and villages and known as the nine dragon river. An excursion from Hồ Chí Minh to this area is highly recommended.

8. Ba Be National Park

If you love nature, this natural park offers you a halcyon lake which you can cross on a canoe wearing vietnamese typical hats and take some memorable shots with your camera. Only recommended if you have plenty of time.

9. Hanoi

The capital of Vietnam and one of the most attractive spotsto feel the rush of a city. Enjoy the Old Quarter neighborhood with the chaos of the scooters during the day and the absolute silence at night. Spots worth visiting are the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, Turtle Tower, the Temple of Literature, the Flag Tower and the One Pillar Pagoda.

10. Hồ Chí Minh City

An enourmous city, also known as Saigon, inhabitated by 13 million people and named after a communist revolutionary leader who was Prime Minister and President of North Vietnam before the unification. You should not miss the street market in the evening near the city center and the Vietnam War museum. Besides, the Củ Chi Tunnels can be reach in a morning excursion from this city.

Vietnam War museum

11. Nha Trang

If you desire to lay on the beach, get tan and forget about stress, this is your venue. Calm and relaxing location in order to refuel your energy tank. However, I would personally skip this spot because it is not as unique as others in the country.

RECOMMENDED ROUTES IN VIETNAM

In any of the cases, visiting Cambodia after or before Vietnam is a must. So make sure you save some time for the neighbor country. Buses around Vietnam are cheap and easy to book. I advise to book night buses to sleep on during the transportation time. I designed the routes from North to South, but this is absolutely optional.

7 DAYS IN VIETNAM

I suggest not missing the main spots, so the following route may be a good choice: Hanoi and Halong bay – HuếHội An and My SonHồ Chí Minh and Củ Chi Tunnels

15 DAYS IN VIETNAM

Half a month should be enough to get around the country. The following route is logical: Hanoi – Sapa – Ba Be National Park – Halong Bay – HuếHội An and My Son – Nha Trang – Hồ Chí Minh and Củ Chi Tunnels – Mekong Delta – Hồ Chí Minh

1 MONTH IN VIETNAM

Rent or buy a scooter and get lost. Do it from Hanoi to Hồ Chí Minh or the other way, but spend time in little villages on the way to discoverthe real Vietnam.

GET YOUR BACKPACK READY FOR VIETNAM

Visa for Vietnam

Passport holders from Belarus, Brunei, Cambodia, Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea (South), Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Norway, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand and UK do not require for a visit of 14 or 30 days.

Nationals from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain do not need a visa for visits up to 15 days.

Vietnam has an E-Visa service available that costs US$25 and takes 3 working days.

Tourist visas are good for thirty days and may be extended after your arrival in Vietnam. Fees and requirements vary from embassy to embassy; about $50 in Bangkok and $85 in Washington, for example. A double entry visa is also available for tourists making side trips from Vietnam to destinations in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Credits to Projectvisa.

Vaccinations for Vietnam

  • Recommended vaccines for Vietnam: Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria and Tetanus.
  • Rarely necessary vaccines for Vietnam: Malaria and rabies.
  • Not necessary vaccines for Vietnam: Yellow fever (a certificate may be required if you come from any area with transmission risk).

Vietnam plug

Most electrical sockets in Vietnam are compatible with type A (two flat vertical pins), type C and type F (two round pins). Voltage in Vietnam electricity supply is 200V. Frequency in Vietnam electricity supply is 50Hz.

Currency in Vietnam

The local currency used in Vietnam is the Vietnamese đồng (VND).

Please, use the currency converter on the sidebar if you want to check the latest exchange rates.

Weather in Vietnam

Since it is a tropical country, there are two main seasons along the year. Dry season runs from October to March and it is the most recommended one to travel to Vietnam, although it gets too cold in the Northern mountains in December and January. Wet season covers from April to September and rains may be too annoying to hike the rice terraces or enjoy the coast views.

It is divided in four regions:

  • Northern mountains (Sapa and Ba Be National Park): Temperatures range from 7 to 24ºC depending on the season.
  • North of Vietnam (Hanoi and Ha Long Bay): Temperatures range from 14 to 33ºC.
  • Central Vietnam (Huế, Hội An and My Son): Temperatures range from 19 to 34ºC.
  • South of Vietnam (Nha Trang, Mekong Delta, Hồ Chí Minh and Củ Chi Tunnels): Temperatures range from 22 to 34ºC.

Vietnamese language

EnglishVietnameseSound
HelloChào(To Be Added)
ByeTạm biệt(To Be Added)
Thank youCám ơn(To Be Added)
You are welcomeKhông có gì(To Be Added)
Yes(To Be Added)
NoKhông(To Be Added)
PleaseLàm ơn(To Be Added)
I am sorryTôi rất tiếc(To Be Added)
CheersDô / Vô / Một hai ba, yo(To Be Added)
My name is...Tôi tên là…(To Be Added)
I am from...Tôi đến…(To Be Added)
How much is it?Cái này giá bao nhiêu?(To Be Added)
ZeroSố không(To Be Added)
OneMột(To Be Added)
TwoHai(To Be Added)
ThreeBa(To Be Added)
FourBốn(To Be Added)
FiveNăm(To Be Added)
SixSáu(To Be Added)
SevenBảy(To Be Added)
EightTám(To Be Added)
NineChín(To Be Added)
TenMười(To Be Added)
Vietnamese basic words to get along

Recommendations for Vietnam

In order to save money and not to get lost, you must install on your smartphone the free app Maps.me and download the maps of the Vietnamese regions that you plan to visit using wifi before you go. Afterwards, you will be able to use your GPS signal for free over the previously downloaded maps.

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