I'm travelling to Cambodia in Jan for about 3 weeks with my 2 children, 12 & 15...should I take a tour or just plan it myself? I would like to see the highlights but also experience maybe a homestay, cycling and also some beautiful beaches. I have travelled extensively in Europe and also Thailand, but not so sure about the ease in Cambodia. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks
Once you arrive, there will be no shortage of people offering you their services. I found it has been cheaper and more reliable to organise day-to-day activities upon arrival.
Pre-organised tours are often overpriced and won't allow you the flexibility you need with teenagers.
In Siem Reap for example, you can just hire a bike for 3 days and explore Angkor Wat on your own. Maps are plentiful everywhere, or your guide book will provide the factoids and maps you'd get from the average, run-of-the-mill guide.
I have done both self-guided and guided, and my solo bike trip was more enjoyable and I saw more than most tours would allow.
In Shihanoukville, all you need is a beach house. :)
I say, go and try to organise it yourself and if you don't like it, it will not be difficult to then get a tour, guide or day trip organised. Tourism is their major drawcard, so it will be easy whichever way you decide.
It's a beautiful place, you'll love it. Safe travels! :) almost 6 years ago
Thank you so much for your great advice. As Cambodia seems a little more untouched than Thailand and Vietnam, I was unsure of how to approach it with kids. Your advice has given me the confidence to plan a bit before I go, but to just go with the flow once we get there. A much more exciting and hopefully rewarding way to see the world I think! Have you any other tips ie places to see and things to do, that you have experienced there? Do you prefer Vietnam or Cambodia overall? almost 6 years ago
Hi freebunny, I spent 3 weeks in Cambodia a few years back and was a little worried about how easy it'd be to get around, find food etc. Turns out that it was totally fine and I'm really glad I didn't do a tour - it gave us the flexibility to change our minds (we thought we'd spend 2 days on the beach in Sihanoukville, but that turned into 5).
Our flight arrived in Siem Reap and we had made no plans whatsoever for what would happen next. Found a taxi at the airport easily which took us to the main road where we found a nice guesthouse within 5 minutes. The taxi driver seemed like a good guy so we asked him if he'd be our driver for a big day trip we wanted to do out to one of the far flung Angkor temples. It was easy to sort this stuff out.
If you've done a lot of time in Thailand, you will totally fine in Cambodia (or Vietnam). It's not quite as clean or polished as Thailand - hey, the scars of the Khmer Rouge are still strong - but that's half the fun. Go on, do it. It's just the first 24 hours that'll be a culture shock to the system - then you'll be ever so glad you're not stuck on a tour bus every day. almost 6 years ago
Thanks Christy. We will definitely go and see the temple you suggested. It looks amazing! My kids are happy to have the adventure of no tour, and your answer confirmed what the other nomad suggested. Are there any places you would avoid, or things to watch out for? Thanks again
:-D almost 6 years ago
Yes, Cambodia is less developed than Thailand and Vietnam, but it is changing so fast! I first travelled there in 2007 and when I returned in 2011 and 2012, some areas had changed so dramatically! Angkor Wat is better equipped to handle tourists, they built tracks with railing on what used to be slippery mud tracks and the guides are more knowledgeable about how to protect their national relics and why. For example, in 2007, you could climb all over the ruins and the banyan trees, now many of the popular sites have signs and sections are roped off to prevent damage to the site - which is a big step to preserving such a unique piece of history for more people to enjoy.
Okay, I'm about to start writing an essay! :p Another incident that made me happy was in 2007, I went to 'Angkor Zoo' that was located inside Angkor Wat. They call it a zoo but it was more of a prison. I won't go into details but animals were caged and obviously starved and some were in pain. Conditions were atrocious, I felt sick that I paid US$10 to see this horror.
In 2011, I went to Phnom Penh with my boyfriend and we went to Phnom Tamao Animal Refuge Centre with Betelnut Tours (http://www.travelfish.org/feature/142). The English-speaking guide was wonderful and although the conditions here are not the standards we are used to for zoos in the western world, it was immensely better than the place I saw in 2007. I told the story about my last visit to my guide and she was so excited to tell me that they were involved with the closing down of that zoo and now all the animals are living happily there. They do good work and one of the charities that I donate to 'Free the Bears Fund' works tirelessly there to well...free the bears! (http://www.freethebears.org.au/) :)
I was so happy to have done this tour and to find out that those animals have a better home. I think that you will enjoy it too, it is also a good chance to see the countryside on the outskirts of PP.
As for my preferences on the SE Asian countries? I'm part Cambodian, so I'm a little bias. Speaking objectively, they are so different, the things to enjoy and explore in each country is definitely unique. almost 6 years ago
...if I had to make a preference list. 1. Cambodia 2. Thailand 3. Vietnam 4. Laos
I think it's wonderful that you are planning on your own. It will instill a thirst for independent travel in your children, which is an amazing gift. If there are hiccups, that's also part of the fun and unpredictability of travel, whether it be independent or guided.
Hope this helps you further! :) almost 6 years ago
Thank you friends! All your advice has really helped a lot.
Would you recommend going to Phnom Penh or just avoiding it? I've heard mixed responses.
Also, do you have to just carry cash ( US $ ) or is it possible to use ATMs? Once again, my research is contradictory....and how safe is it to be carrying around a large amount of cash needed for 3 of us to travel for 3 weeks if that's the case? Any tips would be appreciated.
Thanks again. almost 6 years ago
It will be useful to have small bills, US$1, $5, $10, and $20. Because most vendors will give you change in the Cambodian currency, Riel and as this currency has low exchange rates, you do not want to accumulate this throughout your trip. Therefore, better to have exact or close to exact change at all times.
ATMs are readily available in the populated areas. Hotels also except both cash and cards. Hostels mostly accept cash.
I do not recommend carrying around large amounts of cash but up to around $50 in small notes on the body should be plenty for the day's activities, like bike hire, tuk tuk, and food.
For my previous 3 week trip, I got around $500-800 in small change and used a hotel safe to keep what I was not using. I, then withdrew cash in larger bills as I needed it for accommodation or tours - or used my card. I am not saying this is the best way but that's what I did. almost 6 years ago
I always change my money into local currency when i travel , in cambodia it is also better to have riel in my opinion, with dollers they wil charge you ( for example) 2 dollar for a bottle of water or just 2000 riel which i belive is not even one dollar, have done this in vietnam and burma as well , bleive me it is better and yes more fun as well to use thier currency
PP is great and I think your kids will love it , there is a bit of a western touch especially o the river front and then the mega contrast when you venture a little away from there , a vist to the war graves is also a must , just ask a tuk tuk driver to take you there but dont pay more than 15$ ( or equivalnt ) return.Go on trip advisoe and you wil see al the tours you can do , because sometimes a tour has to be done , dont like them myself but sometimes it a must otherwise you might not get to see some of the wonderfull stuff there. almost 6 years ago
Thanks Simon. I think I'll take some $ and use the Riel I get as change. I've already booked flights and some accomm as its the busy period , and the rest will be an adventure for us 3! Can't wait!... oh, and we will be spending a few days in PP too. The Betelnut jeep tour to the wildlife sanctuary looks fun, and a bit of a different adventure for the day. I think I've fallen in love with Cambodia already, and I haven't even been there yet!;-) almost 6 years ago