Ways to Save On Your Budget in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Have you watched Lara Croft: Tomb Raider? Did you know that it was filmed in a little known place called Cambodia? Cambodia, also known as Kampuchea, is a country located in the southern part of the Indochina peninsula. This country is an ancient place that was formerly known as the Khmer Empire which used to dominate much of Southeast Asia. Now many temples from its glorious past still stand and are being conserved until now. Why not be a tomb raider too in this magnificent country that is rich in culture, diverse range of food and wonderful people? You can start your tomb raider journey here without spending much as well. Here are a few tips to save on your budget in Cambodia while not sacrificing your enjoyment there!

Change your currency in your home country

US 1 Dollar Note

US 1 Dollar note

The moment you land in Cambodia, the only thing that would be of value in your wallet would be the US Dollar or Cambodian Riel. I highly recommend that you convert your money to US Dollars in your home country. The US Dollar is widely used in Cambodia for almost any transaction. Plus, US Dollars are widely available almost anywhere across the globe so there shouldn’t be any problem for you to convert your money. My biggest mistake in Cambodia was exchanging about $100 to Cambodian Riel at the airport as I was scared that some shops might not accept US Dollars. Well, I was wrong and I totally regret that decision. My advice: hold on to your dollars as you travel there! For a 2 to 3 days stay, I recommend you bring about $120 – $180 for food and accommodation as well as another $50 for emergency cases.

Book a cheap hotel (Accommodation: Kanak Garden Hotel)

My Cambodian boutique hotel room at Kanak Garden Hotel

If you’re going to travel on a budget, then you’re gonna have to skip on the luxury of staying in super comfortable hotels. But don’t worry about that. There are plenty of hotels that have very nice rooms and amenities at a very low price. Some are so low that you would be tempted to book the hotel for weeks! You can opt for online platforms such as booking.com, agoda.com (I used this for my travels) or even Airbnb. One place that I would recommend is Kanak Garden Hotel which cost me about $17 per night during my vacation there. The hotel is quite secluded from street view which is different from the other hotels which are clearly visible on the roadside. But staying in this hotel will free you of the noise from the streets. As a person who loves quiet places, I enjoyed the peace there and felt very secure in that place. I was able to do my work in the room without any interruption or noise. The room is very cosy and it has a spacious bathroom with hot water as well. Out of all my travels, I have never felt so comfortable in a cheap hotel. The hotel staff is very friendly too. At that time, my flight to depart from Siem Reap was very early in the morning around 4.00 a.m. So I told the manager quite late at night but he attended to me in a friendly manner anyway. Location of Kanak Garden Hotel: https://goo.gl/maps/pzh2awf6bzLvnDDm7  

Opt for street dining like Khmer Taste Restaurant

Cambodian traditional dish called Amok

There are a lot of small eateries along the streets of Cambodian cities such as Siem Reap which is well known for many temples. These street shops will have the cheapest prices you can find that it will blow your mind! You can get a proper meal as cheap as $2 or even $1.50! There was one shop called Khmer Taste Restaurant (view the Google Maps link below) that I regularly dine in during my vacation there where I only spent $4 for both lunch and dinner! They were even generous enough to provide mineral water for free so I didn’t have to spend a penny on drinks there. They even had a fish massage service where it only costs a dollar for UNLIMITED time! Plus, the place is just a walking distance to nearby hotels. So do keep an eye on shops that give you great deals like this! Location of Khmer Taste Restaurant: https://goo.gl/maps/JLaYzRBThPTXfpER9  

Bargain whenever possible

Inside a Cambodian marketplace

Bargaining is a skill that any traveller should pick up so that they can save a lot in the long term. When I was in Siem Reap, I bargained with almost every souvenir shop there. I bought a lot of souvenirs which was totally worth it because in my home country I had to spend twice as much to get that amount of stuff. However, the seller can sometimes be pushy when selling you something. Do not give in if you are not interested in buying and also try to be polite when rejecting. If you do want to buy their stuff, keep calm and negotiate a good price that both of you can agree on. When I was looking for souvenirs at the market, I was all-out bargaining my way from shop to shop. Initially, I scanned through almost all of the shops there before I begin my bargaining spree. I bought T-shirts, fridge magnets, silk scarves and table decorations for around $50. Take note that not all the shopkeepers there are willing to bargain a lot as they still need to reach breakeven.

Going through the streets via TukTuk

Passenger view of a TukTuk

One of the new things I encountered was their transportation. I didn’t see any public buses at that time and most of the streets were roaming with TukTuks which can carry up to 5 people per ride and it’s very cheap. It could just cost you around $4. But it also depends on where you are going through. But I recommend you use this. It is so easy to get as almost every corner in town has a TukTuk driver waiting for a customer. When I was walking through the streets, almost every TukTuk driver I encountered offered me a ride. When I checked my Grab e-hailing mobile app, I found that they had a TukTuk option for you to order.

Buy long-term tickets for temple visits

When I went to Siem Reap, the tickets were unbelievably expensive for a 1-day pass to most of the temples there which were $37 per person. Imagine you are going with your family! That’s a lot of money spent on just one day. Not only that, there are a lot of temples to cover in one day and you need a few hours to enjoy the scenery at each different temple right. So I recommend that you take the longer passes:
  • 3-day pass: $62
  • 7-day pass: $72
In this way, you can take your time exploring the many different temples there. This will give you time to take a lot of pictures as well as learn a thing or two about each temple’s history. If you are coming with your family, keep in mind that children under 12 years old are not required to purchase an admission ticket. You just need to show their passport to the counter staff as proof of their age. This will significantly cut your cost if you have a lot of children. However, the pass does not include 2 temples which are Beng Mealea and Koh Ker temples. These temples require a separate pass. But even though these temples are not included, you would already have covered about 3 – 4 temples which would be totally worth it as each temple is quite big. The ones I went for were Ta Phrom, Bayon, Angkor Thom and the must-see iconic temple in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. At that time, my travel mates and I travelled by van and made a deal with him to take us to wherever we want for just about $60 for the whole 3 days of our trip. At that time, we were 6 adults and 2 children altogether. So it was definitely worth it and we were lucky enough to have a driver who would do that deal. My advice: Always try to negotiate for the best price. There are many other ways to save but I hope that these tips that I narrowed down will help you as you explore the wonders of Siem Reap and indulge yourself in its glorious past which is reflected by the massive structures of temples. Siem Reap is one of the hotspots of tourism in Southeast Asia that every backpacker should not miss as it offers incredibly low prices for a wonderful experience in a Southeast Asian country. Even the beer is just $0.50!  

Byron Benjamin

A bright-minded Malaysian who enjoys spreading valuable information to people and keen on inspiring youths to strive towards lifelong learning as well as making the world a better place.