Let’s Go Exploring! Siem Reap & Sihanoukville: Cheap and Chillaxing

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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After the depressing story from my last travel post, I’ve decided to lighten things up by telling you about our trip to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (or “Snookieville” as the cool kids like to call it).

Before we went to Siem Reap, I knew very little about it, other than my friend urging me to go, saying that Ankor Wat is “the temple to top all temples” and “I will throttle you if you don’t go!”

So of course, out of sheer curiosity and self-preservation, we went. And let me tell you, if I thought Thailand and Vietnam had good value, Cambodia ended up beating the crap out of both of them!

Because it was in Cambodia that we discovered 50 cent beers and free SIM cards!

After we got the SIM cards from a “Smart” booth at the airport, we simply loaded them with just $5 USD and that’s all the data we ended up using the whole month (around 5GB)!

Rogers and Bell can SUCK it! This is why whenever I go back to Canada to visit I can’t believe how much Canadians pay for data compared to the rest of the world. How can those greedy bastards possibly look people in the eye and charge them $60-$100/month when so-called 3rd world countries have reliable fast data for only $5?!

And not only that, I had faster and more reliable data in Cambodia than I did in the ‘burbs in Toronto? What gives?

As it turns out, the cheap data was just the beginning. After landing in the airport, we were whisked off to a beautiful, air-conditioned hotel with pool for only $19.40 CAD/room/night (breakfast included!!!).

The location of the hotel was also great and within walking distance to great restaurants, a laundromat ($2 USD per load!), and lots of street food.

I kind of felt like we went back in time about 30 years when I saw these prices in USD:

After stuffing ourselves, taking a refreshing dip in the pool, we headed out to visit the temples—the piece de resistance of Siem Reap.

Here’s where things get a bit more expensive (but again, only relative to the hotel and food prices). You can pay $40 USD/person for a 3 days pass to the temples or $20 for a 1-day pass. We ended up buying the 1-day pass, and as it turns out, that was more than enough to see the all the main temples.

Before going there, most people (including ourselves) mistakenly thought there is only one massive temple and it’s called “Angkor Wat”. In reality, Ankor Wat is just ONE of the temples. There are over 1000 temples spanning an area of over 400 square kms. Since walking around was out of the question, we thought about renting bikes, but with the humidity and sun beating down at you at all times, I realized it wasn’t the best idea.

So we hired a driver to drive us around in his tuk-tuk. Which ended up costing only $15 USD (for up to 4 people) for the whole day! Make sure you tip generously, as these drivers end up waiting for you all over the place as you traipse around each temple (if you want the name of a trustworthy driver, just e-mail me for his contact info).

As much as I love historical architecture, I have to admit I got a little “templed-out” after visiting our 10th temple. So Instead of boring you, I’ll just highlight the most memorable ones:

Bayon (the temple of the “faces”)

Of all the temples, I was most excited about this one because of its many faces. But as it turns out, other people felt the same way as me and it ended up being one of the most crowded. If you are lucky enough to catch a break and get a picture without the hordes of tourists, it’s actually pretty cool.

 

Ta Prohm (aka “the Tomb Raider” temple)

This temple was made famous by the film “Tomb Raider” because of all the trees that grew into the building over time. The last picture was taken at the exact tree Laura Croft was standing at during her scene in the temple.

Terrace of the Elephants

This was one of my favourite structure simply because of the elephants. Because elephants are the BEST animals.

Angkor Wat

My favourite of all the temples. The best part is when you’re walking down the massive, long, pathway towards the temple. You can picture how the king must felt from the majesty of this grand entrance as he made his way home. “BOW before me, minions! BASK in my glory! BASK I SAY!”

Sadly, being the stupid tourist that I was, I thought bringing a shawl to cover up my hedonistic shoulders was good enough. Nope, in order to climb to the top of the tower inside Angkor Wat, you have to be wearing an actual shirt. Shawls don’t count.

I thought this was a bit bizarre, considering how NOT prude the rest of the temple was:

Notice how “strategic locations” on some of the statues are worn down? Guess that’s why they started putting up “No touching!” signs.

 

Oh well. At least Wanderer got to go. Here’s what he saw from the top:

Despite Siem Reap being fairly touristy, I really enjoyed our time there. Not only was every person so nice it makes you want to cry, Siem Reap is literally one of, if not THE least expensive place we’ve visited in the entire world. “you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here. You get WAY more than you pay for!

Something to watch out for: unlike in North America and Europe, when you use the ATM, you card stays in the machine and only comes out a minute or two after you’re done with your transaction. So it’s very easy to completely forget to take your card. And this is exactly what happened to me.

After a lot of calling around, trying to find English-speaking branch managers, we finally got our card back 4 days later. Luckily we had enough cash and backup credit cards that it wasn’t a problem, but we still had to take some time everyday to call around. This is where the “so kind they make you cry” hospitality of the Khmers comes in. The hotel staff went out of their way to help me.

After Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we headed for Sihanoukville, the sleepy beach town where time slows down to a crawl, just like the drunk expats, who feed daily on 50 cent beers and $2 meals.

One of them, Jorg, a German man in his 60s introduced us to our favourite hangout. A 5-star hotel right by the beach, rooms cost up to $200/night, but all you need to do is buy a drink and they’ll let you use their lounge chairs and fancy-ass pool for free. And because they also had daily 6-7 PM happy hour, we were able to get 2 for 1 beers for $1.35 USD every day. It was magical.

Jorg, also introduced us to a bunch of his friends. A Canadian expat from Edmonton, a Scot and a Brit (with questionable views on how “great” Colonialism is—SHOCKING, I know!).

The Canadian expat, Dave, used to live in Edmonton, Alberta. After he got injured while working on the oil rigs, his company kept pressuring him to go back to work to save money on his disability leave. Problem was, he was having chronic pain, which wasn’t going away anytime soon. He waited until he was just old enough to collect a small pension, and then moved to Cambodia. Now, he’s much happier, his stress levels have gone down and he’s able to live large on a tiny salary that would be considered below poverty back in Canada.

Jerry, the Brit, backpacked from England to Australia back in his twenties, and never looked back. He managed to find a job driving a boat, taking tourists around the Great Barrier Reef. Even though his salary wasn’t the greatest, because he lived on a boat, he was able to save 75% of his salary, travel the world and live an awesome life. My favourite quote from him was “I wanted to make sure no one else was having more fun than me!”

I couldn’t believe that we had somehow found a whole community of misfits, just like us in Cambodia! And when I asked Jerry whether he would consider going back, he pointed to this sign:

“Would you go back to ridiculous prices and bad weather after seeing all this?”

Enough said. And with that segue, here’s how much we spent in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville:

Category Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $19/night Hands down, the best value out of all the places we travelled to. Hotel staff are also the kindest people we've ever encountered. Thanks for helping me get my credit card back guys!
Food: $23/day $19 for eating out, $4 for groceries (mostly booze). My favourite was the 50 cent fruit shakes and the $2 curry shrimp served in a coconut.
Transportation: $9/day This includes the $48 CAD per person flight to Cambodia from Vietnam. Other than that, we only spent $20 (including tip) for the tuk tuk driver to take us around the temples.
Entertainment: $11/day The only cost for entertain was the $20 USD/person/day pass to get inside the temples.
Total: $62 CAD/couple/day ($48 USD/couple/day).

$62 CAD a day. If we lived there the whole year, we’d only spend $22,630! And since our yield is north of 3%, our time in Cambodia actually MADE us money. How awesome is that?

26 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Siem Reap & Sihanoukville: Cheap and Chillaxing”

  1. These posts are amazing! I always look forward to seeing ll the spots you hit up in each location. Is there any chance you could post a list of some of your spots? I would love to be able to search out these amazing watering holes and places to stay that you always seem to find.

      1. Thank you for the link! I’ve already read he entire blog from end to end!

        I was more hoping of a list of names of the resort’s or restaurants themselves listed in a blog post once every so often.

        Cheers!

  2. When I came to the States I was shocked how much I had to pay for cellular and Internet, in Mother Russia I used to pay $6 – 10 for unlimited Data + voice/sms. It’s crazy.

    Now I found a good MVNO and pay $28 for two lines, but it’s still more than I’m willing to pay 😀

    Thanks again for your posts and pictures, they are awesome!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, FR! Yeah, I don’t get why data so expensive in Canada and the States. And even then the States is still WAY cheaper than Canada.

  3. I love all your posts, but especially the recent ones on Cambodia, on so many levels. I was an American military officer stationed in Hawaii in 1993, and part of my responsibilities were to oversee (from afar) the safety of Americans and UN blue helmets during the elections there in Cambodia that year. I learned – from reports, maps, and imagery, the many wonders of Cambodia. Unfortunately, I’ve never set foot in the country. It’s certainly on my bucket list and as I near FIRE/retirement, it certainly becomes possible. Angkor is a legendary relic that I hope survives for many more generations. I am troubled when I read reports that it’s recent popularity has increased the pace of deterioration, but I hope to see it before it gets too inundated with tourists.

    From a financial independence/self-reliance standpoint, the resilience of the Cambodian people should be a example to the rest of us. So many are happy but have suffered such tragedies (as outlined in your last post), and even though they live on very little, they have an inexpensive cost of living, and I think thrive much more than many of us who are in supposed advanced economies and struggling to live as freely and happily as they do on so much less. Westerners are far too hung up on status symbols and keeping up with the Joneses, Canada’s youngest retiree being the exception!

    You have a rich heritage upon which to draw for your writing. Please keep up these posts. They are much appreciated!!!!

    1. The Cambodian people are the most resilient and inspiring people I’ve ever met. Hope you get to visit Cambodia some day, Scott!

  4. Up yours Bell and Rogers!!!!

    Another disgruntled Canadian

    PS: update from a past comment about reaching FIRE in 2020… screw that, we are going for it in Jan 2018!!!! Thought you might enjoy knowing someone else (family of 5 in our case) is taking the plunge sooner rather than later. 🙂

    1. Family of 5! That’s amazing! Congrats on being only half a year away from FIRE. Hopefully we’ll get to meet somewhere in the world !

      Chants: “ONE OF US! ONE OF US!”

  5. Wow, very affordable! With prices like those, I’m surprised you ever left!

    Great post! Although, I must protest the lack of food pictures here! I mean…temples are great and all, but $2 curry shrimp in a coconut needs a picture! 😉

    1. Sadly I must’ve horked down the food before I had a chance to take a picture because I actually can’t find any! Just picture a curry stew with shrimp, green beans, bamboo shoots served in a coconut. Yuummm!

  6. Looks incredible but that heat and humidity is killer!

    Loving the low cost of living though. In Slovenia at the moment and I’m marveling at Aldi grocery store’s “Hofer Telecom” service here. A euro for a SIM chip then 1 month of service for 10 euros for 3000 minutes talk time, 3000 texts, and 20 GB data at 4G LTE speeds. Just incredible since you would pay several multiples of that at home for much worse basic plans, even prepaid plans (of course I pay nothing on Freedompop, but then again that’s me 🙂 ).

    How nice are those $70/month rooms? Is the $100/month the cost with air conditioning? 🙂 Because I might pay $130/month for 2 air conditioners in my room!

    1. Yup, this is why we end up saving money on internet by travelling. Data is SO cheap outside of North America.

      I’m not sure how nice the rooms are and whether they include air con. Even if they don’t I’m pretty sure you can upgrade to one with aircon for a measly $50 or $100 per month. Still quite the steal…

  7. I was in Sihanoukville a few months ago – stopped there on a cruise. Its a shame, but there was trash strewn everywhere, even around the temples. I’m not sure they have trash bags or trash service there.

    1. Yeah, trash can be a problem in some parts of southeast Asia. I saw people throw garbage into the streets in Vietnam, but a truck would come to pick it up every night.

      I don’t remember being too bothered by the trash in Cambodia though. Siem Reap was pretty clean (no trash near the temples), and the beach we were on with the 5-star resort was nice.

  8. Any thoughts on what to do in Canada for cell phones? I am with bell and its $85 a month! Agh!!! Rogers is not cheaper. I read about google phones and plans but not in Canada 😞 A good thought for an article 😉

    1. $85/month? Are you serious?! I use Freedom Mobile when I’m back in Canada and it’s only $40/month for 2GB.

  9. We stayed in Siem Reap for like 5 days or something but got templed-out after 4 days. Still, a bicycle was really good for when staying around a while. I feel like one always gets a better view of the scenery from a bicycle than from an (air-conditioned) car.

    1. That’s why we enjoyed the tuk tuk and decided against hiring a cab. Also helped when it started to rain. I can see why biking would be appealing as well.

  10. And now I am even more excited about going to Cambodia. Hoping to head there in January and definitely adding the beach town to the itinerary. Cheap beers? Count me in!!

  11. We are in Thailand right now (and picked Thailand because of your previous posts on it) and we also visited Cambodia to see Angkor Wat for 2 days. AMAZING! You are right, the prices are so cheap for food and lodging. I also went school shopping for my kids at the markets in Thailand buying $2 knock off shirts that would have cost $20+. WIN! In a few minutes, we’re going to a spa to have bask in 3.5 hours of spa bliss at $66 per person. It would cost 5 times as much in the states. Tomorrow, elephant sanctuary. Next day, white water rafting. Next day cooking class. Next day midget thai fighting where a little person kicks the crap out of tourists (heehee). All at affordable prices. Can’t beat Thailand for the prices and the plethora of activities!

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