Writer and avid traveller Pidor Ham looks at some of the best ways to enrich a short getaway in Cambodia, even when cash is tight.
Hunt for a homestay
A weekend away is a great way to unwind, and there are plenty of options to help cut down on accommodation costs. Homestays have been cropping up across Cambodia, with locals throwing open their homes to travellers wanting an authentic experience away from the hotels and guesthouses that dot the country. For example, a network of homestays can be found throughout Banteay Srei, near Siem Reap, where rooms range from basic through to luxury. However, don’t get the wrong idea. Gatecrashing someone’s house and directly asking for a space to end the day is not what this is about. Get online and do some research first. Or sign up to Couchsurfing and see if there are any like-minded locals who are happy to open their homes up for free.
Hitch for a lift
Ridesharing is another way to save cash. While the traditional method of hitchhiking – standing at the edge of a road and sticking out a thumb or hand at passing traffic – and climbing into a car with a stranger must come coupled with caution, there are other ways to hitch a cheap ride. Taxi sharing is common, and many travel agents offer the service, or check out the dedicated Facebook group, Taxi Share Cambodia. Local minibuses packed full of passengers, motorbikes and anything else that will fit inside, can also be hailed down from the side of Cambodia’s network of rural roads, with a minimal fee paid to the driver. A few tips for anyone wanting to hitch a free ride fast without waiting at the side of the road: smile, be friendly and, if you’re foreign, put your Khmer skills to the test.
Cambodia’s cities and urban centres are full of restaurants and eateries, serving up sumptuous food from across the globe. However, this often comes with a price tag, thanks to ingredients having to be sourced from abroad, so foreigners should cap their cravings for home comforts and tuck into the thousands of local dishes, from noodles and rice, to fried meat, insects and vegetables. that can be found on almost every street corner and fill up for a couple of bucks. For those worried about delicate stomachs, a top tip is to look out for street food sellers that are swarming with customers as this is usually a good indication of the quality of the food being sold and served.
The cost of getting around destinations can quickly stack up, with foreigners charged top prices for tuk tuks and motos and Phnom Penh’s mounting congestion leaving those on the road stuck in one spot for seemingly hours. One way to beat being trapped in traffic while saving some dollars and engaging in light exercise is to walk or cycle. It may well sound exhausting but treat it as a tour and take in the surrounding sights at a casual pace. And remember the environmental benefits, with walking and cycling leaving zero carbon footprints. Bicycles are readily available at guesthouses, travel agents and other stores across Cambodia for as little as $2 a day.
Speak the language
Undeniably, the best way for foreigners to get bang for their bucks is to learn the language – or at least enough to get by. Being able to speak Khmer, even at a basic level, not only opens up a whole new world, it often comes coupled with lower prices. Try negotiating the cost of a tuk tuk ride or the price of a bag of bananas at the market in Cambodian and watch the price drop. It also enriches experiences by helping forge connections quicker, adding something to a trip that money can’t buy – priceless memories. There are plenty of private tutors and group classes that teach the language for varying fees. Or save money by finding a Khmer friend looking to brush up on their English skills and exchange languages, or head to Khmer Study Group’s free Sunday sessions at Eleven One Kitchen, Street 334, Phnom Penh. Follow the group on Facebook for details.