May 26th, 2020
Disclaimer: These are my genuine experiences and I have not been sponsered for links in this post. Prices were correct at the time of travel (summer, 2015) and should be taken as a rough guide only.
Siem Reap, Cambodia is a cheap and lively town, popular among young travellers. It is a perfect stop off point between Vietnam and Thailand.
I spent three weeks here. My stay was divided between a local guesthouse and a trendy backpacker’s hostel. These 21 days and nights taught me invaluable knowledge about two distinct types of accommodation. I travelled with a suitcase and a Bellroy tech pouch - I should have used a backpack!
Whilst these are only my specific experiences, I hope they can shed some light for anyone planning to visit Cambodia.
Life in a Local Guesthouse
I stayed in Garden House Guesthouse. This is a quiet hotel on the outskirts on the city centre. By booking online in advance, the price for an ensuite twin room is approximately £6 ($8) per night or £3 ($4) per person.
Upon arrival, me and my travel buddy were taken to a room with private bathroom (yes, including a bath). Whilst there was no air conditioning, and temperatures outside reaching 40 degrees, two fans went some way to combating the heat.
Unfortunately, power cuts were common, meaning no fans and no Wi-Fi.
My first wander around led me to a small shared balcony. From here, I could get a sense of this area of the town and what facilities were nearby, including a laundromat next door and a small shop across the road which offered a surprisingly tasty burger and fries.
Below me, a monk in orange robes cycled past. I felt like I had truly arrived in South East Asia.
Siem Reap is a party town, with some of the friendliest bars and cheapest booze anywhere in the world. The 20 minute walk to the town centre in sweltering heat was only attempted a few times.
Luckily, waiting for us outside was a tuk tuk driver who referred to himself as Mr Tutuk. He became a good friend to us, offering us lifts to town, to the temples, up mountain roads to waterfalls and finally to the airport when it was time to leave.
Mr Tuktuk even invited us back to his home – a self-built little shack, with outside sleeping space and no toilet – and we sat drinking, talking and taking selfies in the evening sun. That is where we learnt the Khmer word for “cheers” – chôl muŏy!
A tuk tuk to the town centre shouldn’t cost more than £2 ($3) and they’ll drop you off at a bar of your choice.
This 24 hour party schedule meant arriving back at the guesthouse fairly late on the first night and finding the entrance gate locked. We rang the bell. Within 30 seconds a local man arrived with a torch, smiling and welcoming, despite the fact we had clearly woken him up.
It turns out this man spends every night, clutching a torch, asleep on the sofa in the hotel lobby. Considering we were often the only guests in the house, he seemed like a personal buddy to me and my less than sober friend.
Other guests tended to be local families rather than young European backpackers.
Arianwen Morris is a professional travel blogger and founder of beyondblighty.com.
She split her time between a local homestay and a hostel. Regarding the homestay, Arianwen says it “was a very interesting and humbling experience. I ate local food, including snake and shared my bedroom with a lot of critters, but despite the challenges I relished the opportunity to get to know a local family and explore village life.”
After a few days in Garden House, my friend decided to book a hostel called Mad Monkey. This was located five minutes from Pub Street and around the corner from a high quality tattoo parlour.
With no pre-booking required, costs start from £8 ($11) per person per night.
A private swimming pool and rooftop bar left few reasons to leave the hostel.
Fellow travellers were incredibly friendly and formed a family-like bond in no time. Most of the people I shared the ten-bed dorm with were English southerners, although other Europeans, Americans and Australians were not uncommon.
The beds were comfortable, and the air conditioning was a god send. Though lacking in a bath, the combination of hot showers and a swimming pool more than made up for that.
Wi-Fi worked consistently.
Walking to the bars in town was easy and the KFC across the road felt like heaven for a fussy eater like me. However, tuk tuks were still required and drivers waited by the hostel entrance, harassing tourists to buy a ride, which were invariably at much higher costs than Mr Tuktuk would offer.
Due to the noise of newly formed couples, I spent most nights awake until sunrise.
I’ve stayed in many hostels in my life and I have to say Mad Monkey is one of the finest.
Arianwen stayed in the same hostel and says “It was a massive contrast to the homestay, but a lot of fun. I met loads of travellers and we enjoyed having access to a swimming pool and joining in with their bar crawl.”
The staff were friendly and the rooms were spotless. Hostels are a cheap, safe and comfortable way to travel.
It just felt very, well, English. It seemed isolated from real Cambodia, despite being at the centre of a Cambodian city.
The guesthouse, conversely, made interaction with local culture nothing less than effortless.
Arianwen agrees, stating that “it's important to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and see a place from the locals' perspective.”
Depending on your circumstances, a slightly out of town guesthouse with limited Wi-Fi, toilet paper and air conditioning may not sound ideal. But what is lacking in Western comforts, is more than made up for in an abundance of local hospitality.
Furthermore, a private room may turn out to be cheaper than a typical backpacker’s hostel.
Cambodia is so much more than 30p (50c) beers and museums. These touristy attractions are worthwhile. However, the local people, with their vibrant culture and welcoming personalities provide a traveller with what they often seek – new perspectives and understanding.
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