A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO SOUTHERN CAMBODIA
In our guide to Southern Cambodia we will be covering a lot of information, so make sure you have your pen handy if you are researching your travels.
Why Visit and What To Do
Cambodia shares borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. It attracts millions of backpackers from across the world every year. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and it is the home of 1,5 million people. Cambodia is said to still have between 4 and 6 million unexploded landmines in the countryside, although many have been found and destroyed.
PHNOM PENH – Why Visit and What To Do
The city of Phnom Penh was once known as “Krong Chaktomuk”, which means ‘City of Four Faces’ and the Cambodian official language is known as Khmer. Phnom Aural at 1771 meters is the highest mountain in Cambodia. Boeng Kak, which was previously known as the backpacker area of Phnom Penh has been turned into a new development project. The lake has been filled, all inhabitants driven away and the intention is to build a business center with hotels, hospitals, commercial centers, and schools.
Most tourists who travel to Cambodia have come to visit the Angkor Temples that are located outside the tourist attraction of Siem Reap. To view the beauty of these ancient ruins, you need to travel to Cambodia, to the area where “Tomb Raider,” the movie was filmed. There are many other reasons for visiting Cambodia. Backpacking in Cambodia on a budget, can cost you as little as $2 for a room in Phnom Penh. Eating like a king will is also affordable.
Phnom Penh is known as one of Asia’s hidden gems. The downtown area has spectacular french-style architecture buildings and the riverside is the most beautiful part of this city. The many restaurants that dot the surrounding area, serve great Cambodian food. Art is another draw card for this area. Artist and art-lovers appreciate being here because of all the art galleries and shops that show off contemporary and traditional art. The city of Phnom Penh has a reputation of being “dangerous” which is completely undeserved.
The city streets are heavy with traffic and quite chaotic because of the many bikes and occasional elephant taking a stroll. The Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum are usually the two main attractions to this city for Backpackers. Sisoqath Quay is situated close to the river, restaurants, shops and bars. However, The Mad Monkey Hostel Phnom Penh is the most popular place for backpackers traveling from across the world.
You can travel to Phnom Penh by air with international flights landing at the Phnom Penh international airport. The airport departure tax is $25 per person. This tax is paid at the small counter to the right after you have checked in your baggage. Make sure you have the dollars on you.
If you are coming across from Siem Reap you can take the boat which travels daily leaving at 07h00 and arrives in Phnom Penh at 13h30. Make sure you pack refreshments! There are also buses running to Phnom Penh from most of the major cities. Sorya Transport seems to be one of the most well known, although some hostels provide transport. There are also minivans that run from Siem Riep and they charge about $10 per person. These are booked through local travel agents known as Neal Pronghorn Travel & Tours. These depart at 07h30 am, 08h00 am, 13h30 pm and 14h00 pm. You can also travel from Bangkok by train and bus, by taking the 05h30 am train that runs from Bangkok (Hualamphong station) to Aranyaprathet. It takes about 6 hours. You then take a Tuk-Tuk or a bus to Poipet and cross the border. You can then take the bus from Poipet all the way to the capital, passing by Battambang or Siem Reap.
Check with your guesthouse or travel agent if they provide a visa service for visa extensions. You will find Banks and ATMs scattered all around the city. Most banks cash traveler checks. Internet access is provided all over the town at about $1 per hour. You can rent bikes from about $2-4 and some places will ask for your passport. There are lots of great resources available to you on our Phnom Penh Backpackers guide –
Phnom Penh Backpackers Guide
The Best Hostels in Phnom Penh
The Best Bars in Phnom Penh
What To Do in Phnom Penh
The small town of Kampot is the gateway to Bokor National Park. Most visiting tourists spend their time on the riverside, where most businesses are located. The town has a large boulevard that leads to a French built market. Buses depart Phnom Penh-Kampot at 07h00 and 12h00 near the Olympic Market.
A normal bus trip is about 5 hrs and it travels via Kep. There are several bus services such as Capitol Tour buses, Sorya, Paramount and Giant Ibis. Several guesthouses also offer direct transport which can be expensive. Mini buses and private taxis are also options. Transport services are also offered from Sihanoukville to Kampot. Getting around on foot or bicycle are the most popular for this terrain. Visit Bokor Mountain which is 1-2 hrs out of Kampot. Tours that include lunch are still run up and down this mountain. You can also visit the Kampot Mangroves and the Pepper Farms. Kampot has several other landmarks to see.
These include Cham Fishing Village, Salt Fields, Funky Statues, The Big Durian, The Vietnam Friendship Monument, The 2000 Roundabout, The Salt Workers Monument, among others. The Kampot Market is large and rambling. It is very well stocked with everything that any average Khmer family may need. You can also take a boat trip up the river. Kampot offers Kayak and Boat Trips. The Mad Monkey Kampot is the place to stay if you are backpacking through Southeast Asia.
The accommodations are more than affordable, clean and spacious. If you are someone who wants to have a fun time while in Cambodia, Mad Monkey Hostel is the place to stay in Phnom Penh and Kampot. If you want peace and quiet, this is not the place for you. The rooftop bar is an excellent place to hangout and meet other travelers from all over the world. They have guides who take you pub crawling and arrangements with several bars and tuk tuks.
Rooms are nicely decorated and each person is provided with a locker and a company strongbox can hold all your travel documents and passport. The laundry service is truly excellent. Staff are most helpful and always smiling. The food is something to write home about. You have a choice between dorm rooms or private rooms with huge double beds and the best sunsets ever. Fully air conditioned with toilets and showers.
Mad Monkey is a socially responsible enterprise, generating funds back into community projects. The location is a very quiet, safe area, and popular among expats. Guests often want to extend their stay, but this is almost always impossible because of the high demand for accommodations. Be sure to book all the days you want to stay before arrival. Mad Monkey is the place where you will feel at home when you are far from home.
KEP – Why visit and what to do in Kep
Kep is the original seaside resort of Cambodia. This small town is located near the beach on a group of hills. You can see the Vietnamese and Cambodian islands that are situated just offshore. This is about a half hours drive from Kampot, Vietnam and the Cambodian border. It will take you about 2 hours from Phnom Penh or SihanoukVille.
Kep is not the most active place, although its beach is superb, but it offers villas, guesthouses, hotels and bungalows close to the beach and on the hillsides. You can also rent a bungalow at Rabbit Island. Kep is the ultimate destination for a relaxing peaceful vacation. If it is great seafood, long walks, boating, mountain biking, lying on the beach you are looking for, Kep should be your choice. This is also a stopover point from Vietnam.
Rabbit Island is also known as Koh Tonsay. It is located southwest, about 4.5 km of Kep. Many tourists are drawn here to the white sandy beaches. Koh Tonsay is an excellent place for swimming. This area has a variety of sea animals, corals and plants which attract ecologists and researchers all year round.
This island was previously used to rehabilitate criminals. The island is currently inhabited by seven families who grow coconut trees and earn a living through fishing.
SIHANOUKVILLE – Why visit and what to do and see
Sihanoukville is one place you’re going to either love or hate. Serendipity Beach is located here and there is trash everywhere. There are other beaches to visit that may be a whole lot cleaner. This is where you will notice the poverty in Cambodia. The beggars can be depressing. You can get to Sihanoukville by air from either Phnom Penh or Siem Reapp.
The Airport bus will get you downtown cheaply. You could travel from Bangkok by bus from Ekamai bus terminal. There is also a bus from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville that leaves at 08.00 am. Buses from all other main towns are frequent. KOH RONG ISLAND The second largest Cambodian island is Koh Rong or Monkey Island.
It is located in Koh Kong Province about 25 kilometers off the coast of Sihanoukville, in the Gulf of Thailand. The island holds four small villages and a host of over a dozen guesthouses and bungalows. Mostly foreign-owned. A boat trip from Sihanoukville takes 2 hours. This island does not have electricity, but runs on generators for several hours each day.
This is a place for those who want total seclusion. If you are able to leave the internet, your blackberry and home comforts, Koh Rong is the place for you. There are no roads and getting around is done by boat or foot. If you are not happy to go to sleep to the sound of frogs and share your space with geckos, this is not the place for you. You will not find ATM’s or internet cafes here. However, there is a shop, laundry and several places to eat.
The island offers water sports including swimming at night in a plankton lit sea. Insect repellent is a must for the sand flies. Rumor has it that this island will soon be turned into a modern day resort with airport, hotels and casinos.
Take a look at our Backpackers guide to Sihanoukville for more in depth information, including good recommendations of places to stay.
KOH RONG SAMLOEM AND OTHER CAMBODIAN ISLANDS
The closest port to this island is Sihanoukville, off the coast of Cambodia and can be reach by a forty five minute boat trip. Most tour operators offer daily trips or multiple fast ferry options. Overnight trips are also offered by EcoSea Dive. The island offers a visit to an old lighthouse, waterfalls and mangroves. There are some pretty good dive sites located around this island.
This is a midway point to Condor Reef. There is a small fishing village on the island which has three small shops. Divers always pay less at the island resorts of which there are two.
This is also the location of The Mad Monkey backpackers resort, check the video to find out more. If you are young, free and single and want a hedonistic throw back on a paradise beach island to tell your grandchildren about then you will certainly will want to ensure that The Mad Monkey Koh Rong Samloem is on your hit list.
There is also a complete breakdown of Islands of cambodia available that provides more in depth information.
KOH KONG – Why visit, what to see and do
Koh Kong is located in the Cambodian Cardamom Mountains and it is the capital of Koh Kong Province. Cham Yeam is about 8km away and connected to the southernmost Thai border crossing that leads to the Thai town of Hat Lek. This area is a beautiful green landscape. Koh Kong has an airport that is not operational.
Although some travel agents still sell tickets, there is no longer a boat from Koh Kong to Sihanoukville. Hwy 48, which branches off Hwy 4 at Sre Ambel links Koh Kong to Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. This road is in good condition and it provides a scenic drive through some of Cambodia’s unspoiled and undeveloped region. Tourist air-con buses and mini-buses to and from Koh Kong depart mainly in the mornings. There are only afternoon departures if they are in demand. A ticket to Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville will cost about 25,000 riel or $6.25. Travel agencies in Sihanoukville often ask for $8–10. A bus from Kep via Kampot charging $16 leaves for Koh Kong daily at 07h30. The Cham Yeam border faces the Thai town of Hat Lek. Don’t allow taxi drivers to ask you for more than $9-10 for this trip. Negotiate in dollars only. You will have to pay 1,400 riel toll for the bridge. You can pay in any currency. Politely refuse to change your currency.
The US dollar is accepted. To travel into Cambodia do not. pay more than $6-12 for a bus ticket to Phnom Penh. Get your passport stamped with the Thai exit stamp you should walk down the road to the arrivals office on the left side of the street.
There is a fake quarantine station that you should ignore. You do not need to go there and neither do you need the form that the touts give you. A tourist visa is about $20, but you may be asked to pay $30, which will get you your visa quickly. You may be made to wait if you insist on paying $20.
Always be polite and try to go early in the morning. You are permitted one stay of 30 days with a tourist visa. Regardless of what others say, the paperwork is simple. Forms are available at visa windows, ignore the tout if he gives you one, but take the form. You are required to have a passport photo and will have to pay a 100 baht fee if you do not have one.
An e-Visa for $25, which is the equivalent to the one for $20 can be obtained in advance, on-line. The e-Visa will save you a page in your passport and time at the border. The $20 tourist visas (T-class) can only be extended for one month. A business visa (E-Class) for $25 will allow a 30 day stay and can be extended only once in Cambodia. T
These are not related to the online visas in any way. They require no extra documents or fees and you should make sure the officials know that you are aware of this. Go straight to the arrival window once you have your visa and get your entry stamp into Cambodia.
Make your way down the road to the river, ignoring the motorcycle drivers. Walk for about 250m to the main group of taxis who will charge you a standard fee of 50 baht for a ten minute trip into the center of town. You can get around Koh Kong by motorbike taxi and view the islands, mountains, jungles, rivers, waterfalls, a zoo, casino, and a lot more. The island has no accommodations as it is illegal to spend the night because it is a military installation.
Day tours and overnight adventure trips have been set up. Overnight camping is a recent development and a bungalow resort will soon be operational. Fat Sam of Fat Sam’s Bar is very helpful and has great knowledge of the place. There are several places to eat and sunset cruises. You can get a bus to Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville at the bus station in the center of town for $6.50 and it departs at 07h00. You can also take the 13:00 bus to Phnom Penh.
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