Our Cambodia budget: What we spent on 9 days in Cambodia (w/scuba certification!)

Calling what we spent in Cambodia a “budget,” is a bit of an oxymoron; this part of our travels was anything but “budget.” Of course, we knew that’d be the case going in, as we planned to do our PADI open water diver certification course while in Cambodia.

But that aside, Cambodia was still quite a bit pricier than I expected. I suspect this is due, in large part, to the fact that Cambodia uses the US dollar almost exclusively. (They don’t use coins, though; instead, they handle change in the local currency, the Cambodian riel.) Moreover, everywhere we went was firmly on the tourist trail. Compared to the beach town of Sihanoukville and world-famous Siem Reap (home of the temples of Angkor), Phnom Penh is actually pretty cheap. So, what was the damage? (I’m basically weeping as I write this.)

Total budget for 9 days in Cambodia: $1351.35
Per day: $150.15
At the time of our visit, US$1=Riel 3988; however, Cambodia uses USD almost exclusively. Change is given and received in riel, but otherwise, all bills are American. Unless otherwise noted, all costs are for two people traveling together.

Meals

As I mentioned above, food in Cambodia is pricier than much of Southeast Asia. Moreover, we heard absolute horror stories about food poisoning in Cambodia, so we ate pretty much exclusively in restaurants — a mix of the outdoor, local places common throughout the region and budget restaurants. Our scuba certification included lunch daily and one breakfast on our way out to the island (so, 5 meals), which saved us some money.

Total: $207.19
Per day: $23.02
Average prices: $1-2 for a cup of coffee, $2-5 for a dish at a super-budget restaurant (outdoors, plastic seats, local food), $5-10 for a dish at a nicer budget restaurant.

Booze

We barely drank at all in Cambodia, usually because we were totally wiped out, but also because we didn’t realize the island where we did our scuba training would be cash only, and we barely brought enough money for our meals.

Total: $9
Per day: $1
Average prices: $1-2 for a cheap beer, $3-5 for a glass of (not very good) wine

Transportation

Traveling by bus in Cambodia can be a white-knuckle thrill ride as it is, so we opted for the “safest” bus company, which charged pretty premium prices at about $11-$15 per person. We also hired out a tuk tuk to take us around Angkor for the day for $25 (including tip), and paid $10 for a tuk tuk from the airport in Phnom Penh (crazy expensive, but that’s the official flat rate!). By spending a bit more on our hotel in Siem Reap, we got free tuk tuk pick up and drop off, which was totally worth it.

Total: $115
Per day: $12.78

Lodging

Our scuba certification included free dorm lodging on Koh Rong Samleom for 3 nights. It wasn’t particularly luxe (I woke up covered in bug bites daily despite the mosquito nets), but it wasn’t bad for free.

Total: $98.26
Per day: $10.92
Average prices: $8-9 for a super-cheap private room in a guesthouse, $15-20 for a slightly nicer, air-conditioned room.

Attractions & Activities

Obviously this was absurdly high thanks to our scuba certification ($760 for the two of us), but the other activities in Cambodia are also pretty pricey. Single-day entrance to Angkor runs you $20 per person, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum cost $12 for the two of us (with audio guides, which are really necessary).

Total: $830
Per day: $92.22
Without scuba certification, our activity expenses were only $70, or $7.78 per day. That said, if you weren’t doing the scuba certification, I assume you’d fill your days with other paid attractions or spend less time in Cambodia overall.

Misc

Cambodia is the first country we visited that required visas, which cost us $62. (Fun fact, if you don’t have a passport photo, they just charge you an extra $2.) ATM fees here are also absurdly high. We paid $9 just to withdraw the money we needed for scuba certification, and the minimum fee for smaller transactions was $4.

Total: 91.90
Per day: $10.21

Not included

I never count transportation in or out of a country in the daily budget, as that can vary enormously depending on whether you’re coming overland from a nearby country or from across the globe. (And obviously, for our own budgeting purposes, that’d mean we were duplicating the cost of all of our international flights.) Here’s what we spent getting to and from Cambodia — both on the budget carrier, Air Asia:

  • Bangkok to Phnom Penh: $153.15
  • Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City (technically, had to book separate flights for Siem Reap to Kuala Lumpur and KL to HCMC, as Air Asia doesn’t officially offer this connection): $199

Where you can save money in your Cambodia budget

I offer all of these suggestions at your own risk. 🙂

  • Opt for more local/street food: The horror stories scared us off of it, but nicer restaurants in Cambodia are expensive!
  • Take one of the lesser-known bus companies: Do your own research on their safety first, of course, but one of the big reasons we opted for Giant Ibis (other than safety) is that they offer online booking with credit cards. I’m sure there are other reputable options, you’d just have to deal with a local booking agent and most like pay cash, which we didn’t feel like doing.
  • Skip the scuba certification (duh!)

Where you could splurge in your Cambodia budget

We traveled pretty comfortably, but we did make some sacrifices. If money is no object, here’s where I’d spend:

  • Fly instead of taking the bus: We spent an entire day (12 hours) on buses from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. You could fly to make the most of your time.
  • Hire a guide to take you around the temples at Angkor: We’re not huge temple people, so it didn’t seem like the right place to splurge for us, but we heard great things from others.
  • Party! As I say in every one of these budget posts, if you’re a partying backpacker, you’re going to spend a lot more on booze than we did.  

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