Phnom Penh to Bangkok in under $50

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On this trip, it’s been important for us to find the most cost-conscious ways of getting from point A to point B. In South East Asia,  it’s pretty easy to cut costs if you’re willing to put in the work. From walking from travel agent to travel agent, to researching extensively online and knowing every way possible, to taking the less direct route, you can always make your budget work.

Flights in South East Asia are usually cheap, but sometimes when booking last minute the prices will suddenly be unaffordable. We missed our chance to get a plane ticket from Phnom Penh to Bangkok as planned and we weren’t about to opt for the extremely badly reviewed bus company offering $30 overnight “VIP” buses. There were far too many stories of drivers falling asleep and landing their buses in a ditch.

We’ve thoroughly enjoyed using one website called The Man In Seat 61 for cross-checking all of our transportation options before we make a final decision. The site is basically a hub for anything you need to know about train and bus travel in most countries. So, we decided to take a route we found on his site but added a few of our own preferences.

IMG_5069Here’s our step by step guide for how we got from Phnom Penh to Bankok for less than $50:

Step 1: We jumped on a 10:30 PM night bus with Giant Ibis (great bus company that you can book online, choose your seat seats, and it has wifi!) from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap for $15. It was a 6.5 hour overnight drive on a”hotel bus” where you get a full lie down bed, as opposed to traditional sleepers with recliners. The one half of the bus was double beds, so my boyfriend and I got to sleep side by side with plenty of room.

Step 2: After arriving safely in Siem Reap at 6AM, we hailed a $2 tuk tuk to take us to the bus station for a $9 bus (as suggested by Seat61). Our driver told us the buses get really full (who knows if this is the truth) and suggested a private taxi instead. We asked how much, and he said $30 to get us to Poipet where we would cross the boarder. So at $15 each, we were totally cool with that. He drove us to some guys he knew and they tried to get us for $35. A little haggling and the threat of walking away, and they caved for $30. It took two hours to get to the border in a nice car.

Step 3: At 8:30 AM we walked across the boarder into Thailand! No lines, just some quick passport stamping and then we walked into Aranyaprathet. Note that the visa rules have changed and you can now get a free 30 day visa when you arrive by land, instead of just two weeks as it was previously.

Step 4: We got food and hung out in a cafe before taking a $3 tuk tuk ride to the train station to grab the 1:55 PM train to Bangkok. We waited at the train station and bought our $1.50 train tickets from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok (6 hours). The only option is a 3rd class seat, which is bench seating. The 3rd class soft seats filled up quickly, so we were stuck with the leftover hard seats in 4th class. The windows come right down so the ride is really breezy and nice. The only issue we had was with the food, as we couldn’t tell what it was they were selling. My advice would be to take the time and get some snacks for the trip, or be ready to try some unusual Thai food.

And with that, we arrived safely in Bangkok. A little bit hungry but no worse for the wear. All in all, our trip cost us (per person):
$15 bus from Pnom Penh to Siem Reap
$2 Tuk tuk in Siem Reap to car
$30 Car from Siem Reap to Poipet
$1.55 Train from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok
Total cost: $48.55 (USD)

It’s a bit of a journey but if you’re mentally prepared for it, it’s really easy and not too bad since it’s all broken up into steps. All in all, it was really cool to figure it out for ourselves and we’d recommend the trip for the adventurous souls.

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So right on Koh Rong

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Koh Rong is a tiny gem of an island just off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We were looking forward to getting away from the chaotic partying of the mainland, so we took a $5, two hour ferry ride to Koh Rong.

IMG_4922We didn’t book anywhere to stay in advance and finding a quality, affordable place to stay proved to be quite a challenge. Most places to stay were above bars and had an open concept roof as well as thin bamboo walls. Not only could you hear music until 2AM, you could also hear your neighbours’ conversations. It wasn’t in our budget to do $40+/night bungalows, so we walked further down the coast. We eventually found a really cute guesthouse up on a hill that had an amazing view of the entire island. Probably due to the distance from the main drag, it was only $12/night.

If you’re hoping to visit Koh Rong, it’s important to note that it is a tad bit more “rustic” than you might imagine. The mosquitos are fierce, the wifi is crap everywhere (oh well, turn off your phone!), and power cuts out routinely throughout the day. Finding hot showers anywhere on the island is unlikely — saving water and electricity is a huge priority to the island, as it’s still pretty underdeveloped.

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Luke checking out the plankton at night.

Embracing the authentic island vibe, Koh Rong is a great place to just sit back and relax. You can explore the various beaches, go kayaking, enjoy a seafood BBQ at night, or go snorkelling in the day. We spent most of our time in our hammock on the beach, enjoying $1 smoothies and $1 chicken fried rice. We also took part in many of the BBQs offered at night and had a really tasty grilled barracuda dinner ($5).

One night, we did a $5 boat ride to go snorkelling with the bioluminescent plankton. They were so cool to see! You could see faint blips of light, light fireflies, all around you. Stirring up the water made them glow brightly. It was definitely worth the money to get out there and experience it!

Luke was excited to get up close and personal with one of the island’s water buffalos. The local kids are also super cute to watch and stray puppies and kittens are always happy to cuddle. We spent about 3 days on the island relaxing, suntanning, and enjoying really cheap food before taking the $5 ferry back to Sihanoukville.

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See-ya later, Sihanoukville

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Sihanoukville is the backpacker’s beach of Cambodia. While some love it and other’s hate it, we truly enjoyed ourselves. We had heard that Sihanoukville was a bit of a pit, but we kept an open mind and enjoyed our first taste of ocean air.

Serendipity Beach is absolutely overloaded with backpackers, bars, and locals trying to sell everything under the sun. During the day, you can score a spot on a chair to tan, get a $2 pedicure, a $1 bag of mixed fresh fruit, a grilled squid on a stick, or just people watch. At night, the beach turns into a party haven for every kind of traveler.

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All of this for $1. How can you resist?

It’s important to note that Sihanoukville has hands down earned it’s reputation as somewhat grimy. Everything is so incredibly cheap, so backpackers who are low on funds flock here to party. Hostels and restaurants often trade work for room, board and booze, so it makes for an interesting staff. When we walked down the main strip at night, we were hounded by Aussie guys with dreadlocks and girls with cut up neon t-shirts handing out promo flyers. In the morning as we ate our breakfast, it wasn’t uncommon to see at least one drunk person being carried home by their friends (yes, even at 7-8 AM…)

That being said, it really depended on the area you’re in. We rented a bike, and after getting pulled over by a cop for having our headlight on (and having to bribe him $10 to let us go), we headed over to the more secluded Otres Beach. It’s a bit of a drive away from the main drag of Serendipity, but it was well worth the trek. The beach was almost empty, it was notably cleaner, and there were fewer locals peddling their wares. The distance from town gave us a little bit of tranquility.

The one thing we loved about Sihanoukville the most was how cheap everything was. We fell in love with an Italian place that offered a three course meal for $5.50 a person, and it was by far the best food we’ve had on our trip. It was fun to go from restaurant to restaurant trying such good food for so cheap. I still crave the delicious pasta, pizza, and meat trays from this place…

Luke celebrated his birthday in Sihanoukville and I surprised him with a snorkelling trip off of Koh Rong Samleum. It was $25 each for the full day (including breakfast and lunch) and about a 3 hour boat ride to the spot. He loved it and I got to snorkel for the first time in my life. The reefs were pretty but the water was a bit cloudy; overall I’d recommend  waiting until you get to Thailand if you want to splurge on a scuba dive trip. We ended his birthday off with a massage at Relax Massage (the best of our trip) and roman candle fireworks we bought for $1 to set off on the beach.

All in all, Sihanoukville is a classless place, but if you’re looking to relax on the beach, enjoy cheap food and lodging, or getting away to the nearby islands — have fun and keep an open mind.

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Unwinding in the sleepy town of Kampot

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Before we had finished the paperwork required to check in to Ganesha Riverside Eco Resort, our host Billy suggested we take a moment to go see the sunset. We walked past huts on bamboo stilts and stood at the edge of a rice field just in time to see a deep orange sun set over the Elephant Mountains. It felt like the perfect response to bustling, chaotic and unsafe Phnom Penh experience.

The town of Kampot is a quaint fishing village with a French colonial twist. The surrounding farms grow world famous Kampot pepper and there are large salt farms lining the ocean coast. Ganesha is hidden twenty minutes away, off a couple of dirt side roads. It really doesn’t get any more idyllic. We didn’t get up to too much in Kampot, as it’s more of a place to sit back and relax with nature. We spent time in our hammock and played cards in the evening to deep house music — our favourite way to kill time.

The one thing we enjoyed most about Kampot was how seriously everyone took the sunset. Every evening, right at 5 p.m, locals lined the riverside to watch the sun set over the mountains. Watching (and joining) everyone as they stopped to take in the natural beauty of the landscape before dinner was our favourite part of the evenings. Little things like that are uncommon in the western world.

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Our view driving through Kep.

We decided to take one day to see all there was to see in Kampot and its sister town, Kep. We rented a $5/day motorbike and drove out to get our very own Kampot pepper, straight from the organic farm. They sold three varieties of pepper: white, red, and black. Each has a distinct flavour – white was for fish, red for poultry and beef, and black was used on everything.

After the short tour, we headed through Kep to dip our toes into the ocean and experience the oceanside crab market. The crab market in Kep was bustling with locals selling any kind of seafood you could imagine. Every restaurant sold crab, making it hard to choose one spot. Eventually we settled on a place called Holy Crab, encouraged by some online reviews.  The view was amazing and the crab dishes were even better. We chose a crab salad with two crabs ($6) and a green Kampot pepper baked crab ($8). They were hands down some of the best dishes we’ve had during our travels!

A nice break from the bustling cities of Cambodia, Kampot was delightfully understated and hopefully it stays that way to preserve the beauty and simplicity of it. A city untouched by tourists, the food and people made it one of our favourite destinations in Cambodia.

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A riverside hut at Ganesha