Living in Cambodia on a Budget: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia, week 1

It's easy to spend money in Cambodia because we can use US dollars, and that cash just pours out! Normally we get ourselves into a local mindset (e.g. 15,000 dong in Vietnam could buy a delicious sandwich, who would pay 50,000 for a coffee?!) and it helps you stay on budget. When you're using your own currency, it gets harder. Now, that 50,000 dong coffee is under $2.50, which doesn't seem crazy at all! Cambodia is cheap, but just like everywhere else, it's not hard to overspend... and we did!

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Our goal: $50 per day total, including transportation, accommodation, visas, and bills back home. For two people.

In every budget update I will add a prorated estimate of our bills back home (loans, phone plan, etc. which may vary slightly by month), to include in our $50/day travel budget. I am not including travel insurance -- this would add about $5.75 per day to our total.
  • Days: 7
  • Location: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Weekly spending: $357.70
  • Avg. spending per day: $51.10
  • Avg. spending per day incl. bills back home: $54.30
  • Avg. spending per day overall in Asia: $45.10  
Wat Botum Park, Phnom Penh
So what are our living expenses in Cambodia this week?

  • Conversion rate: 4,000 Cambodian Riel (KHR) = US$1.00
  • Accommodation: $106.91
    • Our accommodation in Cambodia has been more expensive than Vietnam, but it's been quite nice. In Phnom Penh we had a huge comfy bed, A/C, hot water, and were right by the Russian market (the largest market in town). It's not as lively as downtown but due to a week-long Grab deal, we got many free tuk tuk rides!
 No comment. 
    • In Siem Reap we are in a gorgeous homestay called the Natural Homestay, and we are with a family with two rambunctious young girls, a cat with three brand new kittens, and an adorable wonky-eyed dog. It's about $20 per night and we have a balcony area, A/C, comfy bed, nice shower, and free breakfast. We also have bicycles we can take around town for free!
Click the picture to book the Natural Homestay!

 This is just outside our room
  • Food and drinks: $164.78
    • Most of our time in Phnom Penh, we ate western food. This is unusual for us BUT Phnom Penh is known for having excellent international cuisine. We had Mexican food, pizza (not "happy" pizza although apparently it's great), fancy coffee and pastries, etc. Khmer food is good too but we knew we'd have our fill in Siem Reap.
"Just like grandma's chop suey!" at the Phnom Penh night market.
    • I was also sick for 24 hours so we got snacks like Pringles and cup noodles... the kinds of comfort foods that you want when your body has been "cleansed" of everything else.
    • We simply overspent here -- we are in "vacation mode" and are buying whatever we feel like, including breakfast burritos for $10.
Phnom Penh riverfront, along which you can find many tasty international restaurants
  • Transportation: $35.51
    • As mentioned above, we took advantage of an amazing code to get tuk tuk ride Grabs (sign up using this link for a discount) FOR FREE. They should have been about 7000-10,000KHR each time (around $1.75-2.50) so this was a fun savings this week.
Locals packing onto the ferry near downtown Phnom Penh
    • To get to Choeung Elk killing fields, we hired a tuk tuk for $15. The driver brought us there waited for a few hours while we did a tour, then took us home.
    • We took a van from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on Thursday for $18.89 total (after fees and conversion rates) for two people. 
Spotted en route to Siem Reap: this terrifying new year monster man!
    • Sometimes, it's just easier to hail a tuktuk and we took a few for around $2. Exact numbers are unknown so I'm grouping this into "food and drinks". 
    • As expected, we still spent lots of time on foot. You never know what you'll find.
Wat Botum Park has a giant golden bird, perfect for napping under.
We arrived in Siem Reap in time for Khmer New Year -- another year of the dog celebration!
  • Entertainment/miscellaneous: $50.50
    • We started our Phnom Penh trip with a necessary visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also known as S21). The foreigner entrance fee with audio tour was $8 per person ($16 total). I hope to write a post about how the museum and killing fields effected us, but it's hard to describe. Many days later I'm still full of sadness and rage over the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities committed against Cambodians, by Cambodians. I get choked up writing about it now.
Tuol Sleng barbed wire, installed to keep prisoners from jumping over the edges to kill themselves.
    • The Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (aka the Killing Fields, $6 per person with audio tour) was equally horrifying. Notice below the beautiful stupa that was built as a place of remembrance; contrast this to the mass grave next to the killing tree, where babies would be killed by slamming them against the tree.
Stupa and beautiful foliage create a peaceful and somber ambiance
Killing tree and mass grave
    • Enough sadness for now. We picked up some essentials (sunscreen, deodorant) plus I bought a hat en route to Siem Reap. Warren also bought some pants at the Siem Reap market.
Checking my new hat look

Happy about his new red pants

Other Cambodia posts coming soon (subscribe for updates when they're posted!)

  • Phnom Penh city review
  • The Killing Fields and Genocide Museum
  • Siem Reap city review
  • The Angkor Archaeological Complex

Our whirlwind trip to Phnom Penh was heavy with emotion, so it's no surprise that we went overboard on food/drink after some long days learning about the terrible genocide of the Khmer Rouge. You absolutely must visit the museums in Cambodia, and we encourage you to learn about the Khmer Rouge even if you're never going to visit Cambodia. It's even more shocking when you think of how recently the genocide occurred. The resilience of Cambodia is astounding -- come and see how welcoming and friendly Cambodians are today, and let your tourist dollars help the country rebuild.


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