With luxury eco-lodges springing up left, right and centre, and boutique hotels spreading out along the coast, this is one South East Asian country that’s certainly on the up – but is a holiday in Cambodia affordable any more?
If you’re already travelling around the region, whether backpacking, flashpacking or simply visiting a cluster of neighbouring countries, your airfare will be stretched over several destinations, which effectively reduces the amount you spend on reaching each one. But when all the glossy travel mags are running Cambodia features that seem more targeted at super-wealthy honeymooners than the average traveller, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether you can afford bed and board once you get there.
Don’t worry – Cambodia is highly unlikely to turn into Dubai overnight. The cost of living is still incredibly low here, providing you’re not seeking roof-top pools and endless cocktails, and there are still hostels in Siem Reap that only cost £3 a night – including breakfast and free wifi.
Instead of flying in from a neighbouring country, consider getting a bus from Thailand for just a few pounds, or, rather more thrillingly, a boat up the Mekong River from Vietnam. The latter is an inexpensive but excellent way to see both countries, not to mention exploring the legendary Mekong, with its floating markets, bustling harbour towns and fascinating wildlife. British passport holders can buy their 30 day tourist visa for Cambodia once they’re in the country, providing they possess a passport valid for six months from their arrival date. This currently costs around £14 but is payable in US dollars only.
Boats travelling up the Mekong into Cambodia from Vietnam can be found in the Mekong Delta, particularly Can Tho. If you’ve a little cash to spare, several of the boats include a tour of the Delta as well, offering a fascinating insight into traditional – and modern – life on these fertile waterways.
Remember that travel doesn’t have to mean ticking off a list of potentially expensive attractions and eating at lots of fancy restaurants. By all means peruse the guidebooks, interview friends for ideas and post on travel forums for the latest tips – but when you reach your destination, spend a good 24 hours just getting a feel for it before hurling yourself into some hectic itinerary. Go charging off to Angkor Wat and you might miss the kids playing on the street, the elephant wandering down the riverbank, or the delicious street-food you just happened upon round a mystery corner.
It would admittedly be a little odd to visit Cambodia without seeing Angkor, but bear in mind that the magnificent temple complex is best explored over a good two or even three days instead of on a whirlwind guided tour. Meanwhile, there are many more hidden, untouristy temples further out, like Prasat Banon near Battambang. For beaches, try heading to Kep instead of the ever-popular Sihanoukville – although the beaches here are less glossy, there’s not a tourist trap in sight, leaving you to enjoy the old Colonial town and its beautiful coastline in peace, with nearby Rabbit Island on hand when you fancy day or two on an untouched tropical island.