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Recently you may have read my review of traveling with Intrepid Travel in Vietnam. It was a fantastic trip — one of the best group tours I've been on, in fact. I loved Vietnam, our guide, and the people I was traveling with.
That tour, though, was part of a larger two-part tour encompassing both Vietnam and Cambodia and ending in Bangkok, Thailand. Known as “The Best of Vietnam and Cambodia,” the tour was too promising to pass up as I was planning my trip around Southeast Asia. After all, I knew that I would regret not visiting the Angkor temples while I was in the region.
The Cambodia portion of this tour was the “Cambodian Traveller” trip, beginning in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and ending in Bangkok. This trip was different from the Vietnam tour in many ways, which is why I've decided to write about them separately.
I will tell you straight-up that Cambodia was a very difficult place for me to travel. This had little to do with the tour itself (I still had a great tour group) and more with the state of tourism in Cambodia in general. It's easy, I think, to simply fly into Siem Reap, snap that iconic sunrise photo at Angkor Wat, and then get out of Cambodia without really paying attention to what's really going on there.
I give credit to Intrepid for creating a tour that gives tourists a less-sanitized view of Cambodia. It wasn't always a pretty sight to behold, but I think it's important for a company that is all about responsible tourism to show more than just the exterior of a place.
Here’s a look at this tour:
First, check out this video I put together showing some of the trip highlights:
Before you go
Intrepid requires you to have travel insurance for the entirety of your trip. You may be covered under your regular insurance plan, but if you're not, I recommend buying coverage through World Nomads. They offer the most affordable basic travel insurance out there.
When visiting Cambodia, you likely will also need a tourist visa. You can apply for an e-visa before you go, or you can get a visa at any major border. For US citizens, you'll need two passport-sized photos and $30 USD to get your visa at the border.
Where will you go?
Over the 9-day tour, we visited:
- Phnom Penh
- Siem Reap and the Angkor temples
Who will you travel with?
The travelers in my group hailed mostly from Australia, though the U.S., Chile, and Germany were also represented. Ages ranged from early-20s to 50+. This is a pretty typical mix for an Intrepid group, in my experience. And, as always when traveling with Intrepid, our group was small — only 15 people.
Who is the guide?
Our tour leader was a local Cambodian named Youk. While it was good to have a local guide who could speak the local language, half of our group had been ridiculously spoiled by a top-notch tour leader in Vietnam. By comparison, Mr. Youk left a little to be desired. He still got us from Point A to Point B safely and more or less on time (or, as “on time” as one can be with the terrible roads in Cambodia), but he was a newer tour guide, and I think it showed. He knew a lot about Cambodia's history and was happy to chat with us about the current political situation in the country, but he often gave us too much information at once — or just simply kept talking and talking and talking. There were a few instances of language barrier/simply listening issues, too, which led a lot of us to go off on our own whenever we could.
I won't say he was a BAD tour leader, but he definitely frustrated at least a few of us in the group. I also saw him do a few things (that most Cambodians do, mind you) that made me crazy — like leave rubbish in a tuk-tuk. Set a good example for the people in your tour group, dude!
How will you travel?
We traveled mostly by private mini-bus on this trip, which was comfortable and allowed us to all chat and relax on travel days. I will warn you, though, that most of the major roads in Cambodia are NOT well-paved. So be prepared for slow, bumpy rides.
We also traveled via a Mekong Express bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, which was actually quite comfortable. We had air conditioning, a break for lunch, and even got snacks and water upon boarding.
Where will you stay?
This trip is an Intrepid Original style of trip, which means 2/3-star tourist class accommodation. If you are traveling solo, you’ll be sharing a room with at least one other person unless you pay the single supplement fee (which I did for this trip, since it was extremely affordable).
I’m used to traveling this way — usually mid-range hotels that are not disgusting, but also not super fancy. In Cambodia, though, these mid-range hotels aren't quite as nice as they are in, say, Vietnam or Thailand. I didn't encounter any dirty rooms, but I did have a few that were dark and just kind of tired-looking. This is fairly standard in Cambodia, though, from what I've heard from others who have traveled here, too.
What will you eat?
Traveling in Cambodia, you'll of course have plenty of opportunities to try Cambodian food! Like Khmer curries and amoks and plenty of fish and rice dishes.
Our tour guide in Cambodia actually advised us against eating street food in Cambodia since it's not regulated at all, though we did try some snacks out in the countryside. I would advise to just use your judgment on this — some of the street food looked perfectly fine!
When you're on your own for dinner, I highly suggest looking for local restaurants and programs that train disadvantaged youth as cooks and wait staff. Some places I personally visited included Friends in Phnom Penh (included in this tour), Genevieve’s in Siem Reap, and Jaan Bai in Battambang.
What will you do?
Activities that are included in the price of this trip include:
- Entry and guided tours of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh (we had a local guide for these; not our tour leader)
- Boat trip on Tonle Sap Lake
- A 3-day temple pass and guided tours of at least 4 temples at Angkor (with our tour leader)
This trip also included tons of optional activities. Some of these included:
- A cyclo tour of Phnom Penh
- Khmer cooking class in Battambang
- Riding the “bamboo train”
- A tuk-tuk tour of the countryside in Battambang
The optional activities were always just that — optional. They were never forced upon us; simply suggested. However, our group generally signed up for most of the optional things, since they were very affordable in Cambodia and added to the overall experience.
Despite a fairly full schedule, we still found ourselves with a decent amount of free time. Since roughly half the group had been together since Vietnam, many of us were confident enough by this point to do some exploring on our own. We organized a tour of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh for ourselves, went to a acrobatic circus performance in Battambang after hearing about it from a local restaurant owner, and often would make our own dinner plans in smaller groups. I even took an afternoon off from the tour to meet up with some friends in Siem Reap.
Traveling in Cambodia is not like traveling in some other Southeast Asian countries. Hotels tend to be shabbier (and included breakfasts often disgusting), roads are sometimes non-existent, and the corruption that plagues Cambodia sometimes can't be ignored.
But none of this is the fault of the tour or tour company — it's just reality in Cambodia.
Would I recommend it?
Like I said earlier, Cambodia was a tough place for me to travel — but that had nothing to do with the tour. In fact, I would say that this tour helped me understand and see Cambodia much better than I would have had I just been traveling on my own. The included activities — like the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat — were extremely informative, and the optional extras helped us get a feel for the country beyond just the major tourist sites.
And, despite what I wrote about our tour leader earlier, I was REALLY glad to have him with us at border crossings, since I've heard all sorts of stories of Western tourists being forced to pay border bribes by Cambodian officials.
If you are wary of tackling Cambodia on your own but still really want to see the country, then a tour like this one would be a great option for you. In most cases, I was really glad to be with a group of people and a local guide on this trip.
If you want to read more about this tour, here are some posts to check out:
- Being Confronted by Cambodia's Painful Past
- Amanda vs. Food: Spiders in Cambodia
- Temples Galore at Angkor
- Riding the Bamboo Train in Battambang
- Thoughts on Cambodia
Would you want to travel in Cambodia on a group tour like this?
If you're interested in this same trip, check it out here.
*Note: I did receive a complimentary tour of Vietnam and Cambodia from Intrepid Travel. As always, though, opinions are completely my own.