Ever since we started talking with people about our trip they’ve been asking us if we were going to Angkor. And in the past month, I’ve heard from lots of people about what a dream Angkor is for them and how they wish they could be here with us. (For the record, we wish that too.)
But so many of those comments are quickly followed by statements such as, “But I will never be able to afford it” or “it’s a once in a lifetime thing that I will need to save for years and years to be able to do”. And I’m here today to tell you not to write off your dreams so quickly. Quite often they are much more obtainable than we think. We’ve just never taken the time to really investigate what it would take to make them reality, or we’re unwilling to do the hard work, or make the sacrifices or changes necessary to realize them. Sometimes other dreams take precedence because they seem more easily attainable. Or the squeaky wheel gets the attention and our dreams get put to the side while we’re busy surviving.
I don’t know about you, but at the end of my life I don’t want to be remembered for surviving. I want to be remembered for living. I want to be able to look back at the end of my life and celebrate that about myself, with no regrets or forgotten dreams. But even I have been guilty of writing off dreams.
Kyle and I traveled a good bit before we started this trip, and I’ve always considered myself a fairly savvy budget traveler. I knew that Asia was an affordable area of the world before we got here. But not even I realized quite how affordable it actually is because I never bothered to price a ticket. For years, I just assumed it was too much.
Did you know that you could travel to Cambodia and spend a week exploring Angkor for $3,500 for two people? Because I sure didn’t before we got here. As a follow-up bonus to our Tax Return Series from March, here is a cost breakdown for a weeklong trip for two to Angkor.
This is for a trip in March 2014. This is the tail end of the high season. It’s less busy, but the weather is still good. The high heat and monsoons haven’t started yet, but there will be fewer people than earlier in the season.
Roundtrip Airfare for 2 from LAX to Siem Reap, Cambodia: $1196 per person on Korean Air. Siem Reap is the closest town to Angkor (the park starts just outside town) and is a great base for exploring the area.
Rate for 7 nights at Eight Rooms Guesthouse: A double room at Eight Rooms Guesthouse will run you $22/night. It is in a great location. Just a minutes walk from Pub Street, the Riverwalk, The Old Market, and many Night Markets. Pub Street and the Old Market contain countless options for shopping and dining. Need to go farther afield? Tuk Tuks are always easy to find and you can get most places in town for $2 at the most.
There are loads of other guesthouses in the area in every price range from super cheap to mega luxury. But we loved Eight Rooms. We recommend #5, which is the room we stayed in, but all of the rooms are lovely. Our room was airy, light, spacious, and immaculately clean. Simple but beautiful. The staff here is very friendly and helpful, and not at all pushy. Bonus for many of our friends and readers: they are a gay friendly hotel.
Sips and Bites: Siem Reap is a popular tourist destination, which means you can spend a lot of money on food and drinks or practically no money at all, depending on where you eat. You can get street food for just a dollar or two or move on into small local restaurants where a meal for 2 could run you $6 total, including mains for $2-$4 and beer, soda, or fruit shakes for $1. You could also go for many of the western-oriented restaurants on Pub Street and spend up to $30/meal. Let’s split the difference a bit, but still be generous with a food and drink budget (it’s hot there and you’ll want beer and ice cream) and allow $60/day for food for 2. (Note: We stayed in Siem Reap for three weeks and ate at a local restaurant just about every meal and our daily food budget was less than $20/day for 2. So you can cut the food budget down considerably if you choose to eat more locally.)
What To Do: Play out your Intrepid Treasure Hunter fantasy as you explore the temples and ruins of Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With more than 400 sq miles of ruins, temples, villages, lakes, and mountains to explore, Angkor never stops giving you amazing experiences and scenery. The history and people of this place are special and the things they accomplished here between the 9th & 12th centuries are spectacular.
Hire a Tuk Tuk and Guide and explore some of the temples, traveling at your own pace.
Or head out to Tonle Sap Lake to see the floating forest and meet the people of the floating villages.
Temple’d out? Spend a day exploring the Angkor National Museum and its extensive collection of art and iconography, much of it rescued from the temples here. Or head to one of the many spas in town for a day of pampering.
After a day of exploring, enjoy a nice dinner in town or browse for souvenirs in one of the many night markets (most within walking distance of the hotel suggested above). Take in an Apsara dance performance, which are offered throughout town at many different hotels and restaurants.
If you’re in town on a Saturday, you can even attend a Beatocello performance. Beatocello is a weekly cello performance by Dr. Beat Richner. Every week, he plays a free cello concert of Bach favorites, peppered with discussions of the work his 5 childrens hospitals do throughout Cambodia. Locals consider him a hero for all the medical aid and support he provides to the poorest of Cambodia’s people. And he’s a fantastic cellist.
Angkor Archaeological Park Breakdown: Tickets are required for entrance into the park and they are diligent about checking them, both when you enter and at many of the more important sites. For a 7 day pass (good for 7 days within a 30 day period), the cost is $60/person.
Siem Reap is the closest spot to Angkor. The best way to experience the area is in a tuk tuk. I’ve allotted money in our budget to hire a tuk tuk driver and guide. During the time we were in Siem Reap, to hire a tuk tuk driver & guide for the day would run you about $35-$50 for the day, depending on how well you can negotiate.
We were lucky and found an amazing tuk tuk driver, guide, and photography guide all rolled into one: Kimleng Sang. Kimleng charged us $35/day for the closer circuits and temple areas and $45/day if you would like to include a sunrise or one of the temples further afield. (Of course, his fees are subject to change. We got a good deal because we booked him in advance for several days.) Considering that many of our days with Kimleng were 10 hour+ days, he is well worth the money. His knowledge of the area, its history, the architecture, and the best places to get good photos is unparalleled. Kyle and I are both good photographers, but Kimleng’s knowledge of the area enabled us to get many unique shots we didn’t know about, as well as the iconic dream shots you come here for. His passion for the area, and for the people of Angkor & Cambodia, is inspiring. And he’s a lot of fun to hang out with for the day. Chatting with him as you explore the temples and meet new people makes the day fly by. His approach to the temples involves avoiding the crowds and allows you to fully experience the area in a unique way, as an explorer rather than just a visitor. (Watch for a full-length post about our experience with Kimleng in the next several days, he really is a fantastic guide with an amazing story.)
Total Cost for a Week for 2 in Siem Reap/Angkor, Cambodia
Airfare for 2: $2392
7 nights at Eight Rooms: $154 for a double
Food & Beverages: $420
Airport Transfers: Eight Rooms offer free airport pickup. A tuk tuk back to the airport upon departure will run you $6.
Angkor Park Passes: $120 for two 7-day passes
Tuk Tuk/Guide: $205 (for 5 days, 3 at $45 and 2 at $35)
Visa Fee: $40 for 2 visas. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap airport.
Grand Total for one week for 2 people: $3337 – Upping your budget to $3500 will allow some room for souvenirs, of which there are many to choose from.
So there you have it. Maybe this dream is slightly more in reach than you might have thought. Maybe not. But it is something to think about. If nothing else you have a number to shoot for rather than no number at all.
Even if it takes you years to save up the money, realizing a dream is well worth the wait. We saved for a decade before we could leave on our dream trip…and that ended up being way earlier than our original plan anticipated. But without making a tangible plan and taking steps (& making sacrifices) to follow our dreams, we wouldn’t be where we are today, living our dream. Don’t you think it’s time you took a few baby steps to realize one of yours, whether it is Angkor or something else?
P.S. If you had told me 5 years ago that we could go on this adventure for this amount, we would have gone 5 years ago. But I wrote it off as unattainable in that budget and never bothered to look into it. Don’t make the same sort of mistake.