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Thread: Quick Guide to Visiting Cambodia / Phnom Penh

  1. #1
    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    Quick Guide to Visiting Cambodia / Phnom Penh

    Quick guide to visiting Cambodia:
    Cambodia is a relatively small country in South East Asia with a population of around 15 million people. It has a very chequered and sometimes disturbing past but it is quickly emerging into a popular tourist destination thanks mainly to its national heritage park: Angkor Wat near the city of Siem Reap.

    Currency Ė Riel (approx 4000 to the US Dollar) and US Dollar.
    Cambodia operates a dual currency and Riels are only used to give change from US Dollar notes, EG if you but something for $2.75 youíll get 1000 riel in change. Pretty much everything is priced in dollars and ATMís give out dollars. There are a lot of exchange booths at the airport when you clear immigration and ATMís are plentiful and take the major credit cards. Riels are worthless outside of Cambodia so unless you want them as souvenirs donít take them home.

    Climate Ė Typically South East Asian, with daytime temperatures around 30 C for most of the year cooling a little at night, rainy season is June until October with the latter being the worst, Phnom Penh is very humid.

    Language Ė Khmer but English is quite widely spoken in the tourist areas and to a decent standard despite not being on the official schoolís curriculum.

    Government Ė Cambodia has a fledgling democratic constitutional monarchy that is trying to break free of accusations of corruption and quasi dictatorship, sometimes protests do flare up from time to time usually around elections but most visitors will not experience any of this.

    Economy Ė Growing and growing fast by all accounts although still largely rural and agrarian more people are moving into the tourist services industries.

    Infrastructure Ė Infrastructure outside of the cities can be poor but in the major tourist destinations of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville you can expect most western comforts. Wifi is usually very available in the cities and barís/cafes usually offer it for free.
    There are airports at the major cities and there is a bus network that is quite cheap and high quality vehicles with various operators, some also offer night bus services. Some of these offer online booking and seat reservation. If there are enough of you you may be able to rent a private minibus or large taxi for a reasonable fee. Taxiís and tuk-tuks are everywhere and very cheap.
    Some bus operators include Ė Giant Ibis, Mekong Express and Capitol Tours.
    Sample Fee, Phnom Penh Ė Siem Reap - $10, approx. 7 hours with 2 short stops(Giant Ibis). You can book a tuk-tuk to your accommodation onboard. Luggage is checked to a hold, wifi(patchy outside of cities), aircon and on-board movies.

    Visa requirements Ė Cambodia operates an E-visa system so applicants can get visa approval before they arrive. This costs $28 and you must provide details such as passport number & a passport type photo.
    There is a very helpful website Kingdom of Cambodia - Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation ran by the Cambodian ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation where you can apply for the E-Visa. Do not use any other sites for you visa, they may offer faster service or more secure booking but the official site is the only site you will need.

    Few things to check : Passport validity for 6 months, e-visa is valid for 3 months from your application date so donít book it a year in advance of your trip, make sure the photo is against a white background, donít wear a hat or glasses for the photo, print off two copies of your e-visa when it arrives by email about 2-3 working days after you apply. One is for the immigration officer on arrival and one is for departure. Some ports allow e-visa on exit only so check beforehand. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports do both but Sihanoukville only does exit.

    If you donít trust the internet or just canít go the e-visa route you can get a visa on arrival. If this is by plane youíll get a few forms to fill out before landing, these have to be handed over along with a passport photo and your passport. Itís all a bit of a scrum and after a while someone will try and pronounce your name and hand you back your passport with the visa. No real need for it, e-visa is a lot easier.
    Getting there: By plane is the easiest option, Phnom Penh is easy to get to from most South East Asian countries by air, Air Asia operate cheap flights to here, if flying from Bangkok it is noticeably cheaper to fly from Don Meung than Suvarnabhumi airports. Cambodian Airlines are the national carrier but are more expensive than Air Asia but maybe your only option depending on your destination. As ever check sites like Skyscanner and Kayak for flight comparisons.

    There are overland options too but the land border crossings are filled with tales of overcharging and not so above board operators. If this is your only option try and use a reputable or referred transport operator with clear costs detailed up front. Again check to see if your arrival/departure port allows the use of e-visa.

    Taxiís and tuk-tuks are widely available at the airport, a lot of hotels will arrange to pick you up for a fee. Cambodia can be quite dusty and dirty in places so if you suffer from any breathing ailments taxiís are a better bet. Tuk-tuks run about $7 from Phnom Penh airport to city centre, taxiís about $10, hotel transport usually about $15. In Siem Reap tuk-tuks were $2 from the bus station to the hotel and $3 to the airport. Guideline prices in general for tuk-tuks are $2 for a short trip or $3 for a longer one. Some will try and charge you more for more people or nighttime hours but they are very plentiful so just move to the next one if you donít like the price. Remember the daily minimum wage in Cambodia is $2 so getting an extra dollar can mean a lot to these people.

    While youíre there: Iím going to concentrate on Phnom Penh for this quick guide as I intend doing a separate guide for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
    Phnom Penh was built as it lies where the Tonle Sap and mighty Mekong rivers converge making it a perfect location for trade, like a lot of other Asian capitals it has some nice Buddhist temples to visit, some nice shopping markets, good nightlife options and of course what has been termed the misery tour of the S21 Tuol Sleng former prison now a museum and the Choeung Ek Killing fields. Its streets are all numbered with east-west given even numbers and north-south given odd, lots of streets arenít signposted and the numbering system can be confusing. Itís also worth noting that Phnom Penh can be quite dark when the sun sets due to poor street lighting which can be a little daunting at first. If youíre venturing out see if the hotel has a card/pamphlet with the directions in Khmer just in case.
    For the above trip a 5 night trip would be comfortable, I did it in 4 with little chance for downtime or exploring off the beaten track. The attached map shows the central touristy area from the start down near the Royal Palace and the finish near the old Stadium/Bridge. Iíve highlighted a few areas of interest. The distance from start to finish is probably about a 40 minute walk. Tuk-tuk drivers will wait for you while you go about your touristy stuff but get an upfront price for this. Day rate is about $15-20, half day or a couple of hours closer to $5 or 6.

    Hotels: I stayed at the 4* Ohana hotel on street 104, nice accommodation with friendly staff and in a great location for the tourist trips and nightlife. Pricewise, about Ä40 a night with breakfast. It has a small pool and a handy atm inside in a spacious reception area. Other nice hotels in the locality and price range include the Quay Boutique, BougainVillier, Riverside Suites and the Season Residence. Backpacker accommodation is available at a fraction of this cost.
    LivinLOS and kris-one like this.

  2. #2
    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    Suggested Itinerary:

    Day 1: Afternoon arrival, check in to hotel, try and get out during daylight(before 6pm) to get your bearings. A good option for your first evening is to head to California 2 which is located beside the river near street 102. It’s run by board member JimCA2 who’s been living in Phnom Penh for some time and can point you in the right direction for local hotspots. Good value food can be had here along with a few games of pool and accommodation if required. If you’re looking for some hostess fun street 104 is very nearby with over a dozen bars.

    Day 2: Temples & Royal Palace: After breakfast head to Wat Phnom and Wat Ounalom, they are both open to the public and are nearby each other. Figure about an hour for each, this should bring you to lunch time, there are nominal fees for each. Try and aim to get to the Royal Palace a little after 2pm as it closes for lunch(1-2) and there can be quite a queue when it reopens. Entry fee is about $6.50, it can vary but 2-3 hours here should suit most people. After that you’ll probably want to cool off in your hotel before you head out for some food and some more Phnom Penh nightlife. Good cafť’s are plentiful along the riverside with a variety of western and Asian dishes for very reasonable prices. Guide price for good 2 course meal with a drink - $10

    Day 3 - Misery tour: Cambodia has a very recent bloody history after the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975 and tried to revert the country back to the dark ages. Educated or new people as they were called were rounded up, 1 in 4 Cambodians were killed, they were brought to processing centres such as S21 Tuol Sleng where they were tortured, forced to confess to various things and then usually brought to what became known as Killing fields. These have now been turned into informative museums where the memories of what happened are preserved in a tasteful and informative manner. The story that is told is not pleasant but it is very worthwhile to know about. Guide price of $15-20 for a tuk-tuk for the complete trip.

    The Phnom Penh killing field(Choeung Ek) is about 45 minutes from the city centre by tuk-tuk, expect a bumpy dusty but enjoyable journey as you get face to face with Phnom Penh’s traffic. The killing field has been stripped of pretty much anything that was here during the Khmer Rouge’s reign but mass graves do remain as do the clothes of a lot of victims of all ages. The entry fee is $5 and this includes your audio tour available in a variety of languages. The tour is self-guided and is well signposted with a small museum at the end and a memorial stupa which has the skulls of hundreds of victims in it. It really is a place to take your time and reflect, although it is practically impossible to imagine the horrors that took place here. The killing field is actually quite small but allowing for a trip to the museum and taking your time allow at least 90 minutes here. When finished return your headset and head outside to meet your driver and get a drink from the multitude of vendors.

    Tuol Sleng S21 prison is back in Phnom Penh central, it has a $2 entry fee and offers tour guides for $6 which is something I’d very much recommend. It is a former school that is arranged in blocks around a courtyard, some of the cells are as they were during the Khmer Rouge reign, torture implements, paintings by former inmates and haunting photos of people that were processed here, some survivors have written books and sell them here with proceeds going to survivor charities.

    Day 4 – Some Shopping : There are 3 major shopping areas offering various options. The Central Market is a hive of activity with hundreds of stalls packed into a uniquely shaped building, mountains of clothes, jewellery, food and everything for your house can be found here. It’s easily found and reasonably well signposted from the bus station at street 108, it’s a massive Soviet style building and hard to miss.
    Nearby is the more up market Sorya shopping mall with 5 floors of more modern style shopping with food courts and a cinema as well as the usual selection of clothes, accessories and electronics on offer. http://www.soryashoppingcenter.com

    Lastly is the Russian market so called because of its popularity with Russian expats(Called the Tuol Tom Pong Market) is another smorgasbord of shops and market, this is located a little outside of the central district and is actually closer to the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum between streets 432 and 450.
    phnom penh guide.jpg
    If you still haven’t had your fill of shops and markets there is a night market too open at the weekends(Fri-Sun 17:00-Midnight), it’s located at street 108 near the river and comes with very favourable food reviews.

    Day 5 – You’ll probably be fairly tired after all of the above so a pleasant way to pass a few hours would be to take a river cruise in the afternoon after a lazy morning. It does get dark in Phnom Penh around 5pm so an afternoon cruise affords day and night time views of the riverside cityscape. Various operators can be found between streets 130 and 144 with a passenger port terminal also near street 104. A couple of hours should cost around $5 per person.
    Cambodia is really starting to open up to the world and Phnom Penh is getting better at catering to tourists all the time, it will be a very different trip if you’re used to visiting Thailand like I was when I went but a very worthwhile and enjoyable one. Any questions or additions let me know.
    For further reading board member Steve@Thaib has written a short Kindle book available for download from Amazon at Amazon.com: Cambodia - A Traveller's Guide eBook: Steve Finn: Kindle Store
    Last edited by dontpanic; 11th December 2013 at 19:44. Reason: Layout
    Dkdude, tnlawyer, kris-one and 3 others like this.

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    Nice piece. A few things to note,

    I wouldn't change money at the airport as they don t give the best rates. If you arrive late you might have to change money to get you to your hotel and through the evening, but after that, various money changers are located near Kandal, Russian, Central and Old Markets. I change dollars to Thai Baht here and get a slightly better rate than what I would get in Thailand. Some hotels will change or accept your Baht and areas close to the Thai borders will deal with Baht.

    Getting a Sim Card for your phone is not as easy as going into 7/11. Some phone shops will give you one with your passport and others wont. My staff has often gotten customers sim cards, but if you arrive before evening, as soon as you exit the terminal in Phnom Penh, there are some phone company booths that will sell you a sim card. Easiest to do it there.

    The Ohana is actually on 148 Street less than a Kilometer from 104 Street. A short walk north along the riverfront will get you to the bar Streets 136, 130 and farther north to 104. It is an easy walk to Kandal Market, the Royal Palace and National Museum.

    Easy Navigation in Phnom Penh. Even streets run east west and odd north south. Odd numbers get higher as you move away from the river and even numbered streets are lower to the north.

    a few pics of Phnom Penh Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Jim

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    Senior Member NeedHoliday's Avatar
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    Great post, pretty much agree with everything. Looking forward to my return - miss FireBar

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    Super Moderator LivinLOS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NeedHoliday View Post
    Looking forward to my return - miss FireBar
    She didnt get married.. So something else to look forward to

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    Senior Member NeedHoliday's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LivinLOS View Post
    She didnt get married.. So something else to look forward to
    555, so many cuties in Phnom Penh, but would be definitely happy to see her again.

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    Yes
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    Nice work DP,good contribution.
    some actual Asian info

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    Senior Member nelsonone's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LivinLOS View Post
    She didnt get married.. So something else to look forward to
    she seemed happy in my friend's company when we were in a couple of weeks back...

  9. #9
    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Yes View Post
    Nice work DP,good contribution.
    some actual Asian info
    Thanks, we really do need more of this type of stuff if the forum is to grow, I've a couple of more ideas so trying to knuckle down and get them done instead of reading the more run of the mill threads that are on too many forums. Like I've said before most of the PI knowledge is still here, we just need to write it down and contribute.
    LivinLOS likes this.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator LivinLOS's Avatar
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    Agreed I really need to focus on writing some guides on places I know..

    I just keep getting distracted by real life (TM)..
    JimCA2 likes this.

  11. #11
    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    FYI Evisa has gone up to $37 from October 1st 2014.

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