Cambodia is in the heart of the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit, which is famous – in part – for being super affordable. There are plenty of websites out there suggesting that a budget of $15-30 a day is sufficient, a siren call to travelers on a budget or looking to stretch their dollars and draw out their nomad lifestyle.
Is that really realistic though? I’m calling BS.
Could you travel in Cambodia for $15-30 a day? Yes. You could also travel to Los Angeles for $10 a day if you sleep on the beach and eat exclusively off the McDonald’s dollar menu, but that wouldn’t represent a very realistic budget for most people.
How Much I Spent
I was in Cambodia for 11 days and spent a total of $519.25 (an average of $47.20/day; $42.20/day if you don’t count the entry costs).
Where Did All That Money Go
Getting In – $55
Don’t forget to factor visa costs into your budget. I spent $35 for a visa plus $20 for a bribe, thanks to a minor passport issue.
How to save on this: Make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport and have your passport-sized photo ready so there’s nothing the border agents can use to get a bribe out of you.
Accommodation – $62
I was in the country for 10 nights but spent one of those on an overnight bus and one camping in the forest, so my hostel and homestays averaged $7.75/night. I did stay in a nicer hostel in Siem Reap (at $10/night), which bumped the average up a bit. After several weeks of backpacking, I was looking for something with a few more amenities and in a certain part of town. Plus they participate in several social enterprises I wanted to support. My other hostels in Cambodia were $4 and $6/night.
How to save on this: You can find hostels that start at $3/night. If you’re on a short trip, or if you’re comfortable with fewer perks, this may be totally fine for you. Take overnight transportation when you can to save both time and paying for a night of accommodation.
Transportation – $115
This includes transportation between cities ($57), tuk-tuk rides within cities ($12), and tour transportation ($46).
My between-cities transportation looked like this: $8 for the bus from Phnom Penh to Kampot, $12 + $10 for the bus and boat from Kampot to Chi Phat, $7 + $5 for the motorbike ride and taxi back to Phnom Penh (I jumped into a private taxi with some guys headed back that way and they kindly offered to pay the vast majority of the cost…if I’d taken the motorbike and bus it would have cost $5 more and I would have spent an extra night at Chi Phat), and $15 for the overnight bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
Tour transportation included $6 in Phnom Penh to see the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum (split from $18 with two other girls staying in my hostel), $15 to visit a pepper plantation in Kampot, $20 for my first day at Angkor Wat, and $5 for my second day (split from $15 with two friends).
How to save on this: Any time you can split transportation costs, you’ll save money. This is one of the drawbacks of traveling alone, as you often end up paying full price for transportation between bus stops and your hostel, as well as tour costs. Sometimes you can find others at your hostel who want to do the same tour as you, but not always. I ended up paying too much for my first day at Angkor Wat. I also didn’t try to find anyone to split the cost with because this was one of the big highlights of my trip and I wanted to be able to go at my own pace. Having a travel partner would have saved a decent amount of money on this front.
Also, my trip to Chi Phat, which is not on the regular backpacker circuit, pushed up the price. For someone who loves nature and responsible ecotourism though, this is absolutely worth it.
Food – $116.25
This averages out to $10.56/day and includes all meals, snacks, and water (which you have to buy, as none of the tap water is safe to drink). Most meals were between $2 and $6, although I did eat at a few nice restaurants that cost between $7.50 and $15 (my most expensive meal was $11.50 plus a nice tip at HAVEN). When I travel, I do like to support any vegetarian and vegan restaurants I can find in the area, which tend to be a bit nicer (and, therefore, pricier) than the average eatery. I also don’t eat much street food (which is super cheap) because, to be honest, the concept grosses me out a little. On the flip side, I rarely drink alcohol when I travel (I didn’t drink at all in Cambodia), which saves a bit of money.
How to save on this: If your food standards are lower than mine, you can get by on street food and local restaurants. Steer clear of the touristy places and limit alcohol intake (but if you do drink, beer is usually dirt cheap and there are some good happy hours out there). I recommend budgeting a little more than you might think you’ll need for this. It might sound good to eat $2 meals, but after a week of that, you might be craving something a bit more. Again, it’s entirely possible to eat off of dollar menus in America every day, but that’s not how most of us actually choose to live.
Tours – $147
This included the Killing Fields ($6), Genocide Museum ($6), Climbodia ($45 + $5 tip), a two day trek in Chi Phat ($45, which included four meals and a night of ‘accommodation’), and Angkor Wat ($40).
How to save on this: You could skip tours, but don’t skip so many that you miss the point of being in Cambodia. The Killing Fields, Genocide Museum, and Angkor Wat are absolute must-sees. Climbodia and Chi Phat were the less common and more expensive options that could be skipped, but for someone like me (who likes adventure tours and nature), these were nice choices. If you head to the beaches instead, you might have lower costs since your days will be spent mainly hanging out (presumably…I didn’t go, so I don’t know for sure…nor do I know how many other costs these alternatives would come with).
Other Expenses – $24
This includes all the random things I spent money on, including an ATM fee ($6), laundry ($3), toothpaste ($0.50), pepper as a souvenir from the plantation ($5.50), donation at a temple ($1), and a massage ($8, including a tip).
How to save on this: Cambodia uses US dollars, so come stocked up to avoid ATM fees (note that they will only accept clean, crisp bills newer than 1985…the slightest tear will render the bills unusable). Or choose a bank that reimburses fees (this is something I definitely need to look into). If you aren’t on a long trip, you can probably avoid buying toiletries or doing laundry. Temple donations are optional, as are souvenirs and massages (although you’ll probably want buy something, so factor in at least a little for this).
I wasn’t throwing money around in Cambodia. I didn’t go out drinking, didn’t spend a ton on discretionary things (souvenirs, massages, or those elephant pants everyone wears around here), and didn’t stay or eat at five-star places. But I also enjoyed my time, did tours that fit my interests, and supported businesses that represent my values. In the end I spent an average of over $40/day, quite a bit more than the $15-30/day guidance that’s out there.
If you’re planning your own trip to Cambodia, be careful about too-good-to-be-true budget recommendations. You don’t want to be stressing about money when you’re traveling, so don’t try to scrape by and end up missing great opportunities or not enjoying yourself fully because you don’t have any money left.
Depending on which cities you plan to visit, which tours you want to do, and how many people you are traveling with, I recommend budgeting $40-50/day. If it turns out you don’t spend that much, great! But it’s better to have more available than you need than to find out the budget-friendliness of a place is a bit overrated once you arrive.