Details of Life on the Road: Street eats, cheap sleeps, budget travel experiences

How Much It Costs: A Day In Phnom Penh, Cambodia

P1030799Photo: Family of 5 on a motor bike in Phnom Penh.

Every new day spent traveling doesn’t have to be filled with sight seeing, and it shouldn’t. If you attempt to spend every waking minute on-the-go you’ll soon wear yourself down. Every once and a while you need a break from the museums, from the greetings and the goodbyes, from the bus journeys, from the constant haggling, and from everything else in between. Once in a while you need to turn your long-term travels into a “holiday”, something which they’re not, in my opinion the former is not the latter. Keep in touch for a post on the difference between a holiday/vacation and long-term traveling.

Anyway, what I’m getting at, as you’ll soon see, is that I didn’t do much on this day in Phnom Penh. You need to find your own happy medium between going and doing, and taking it easy and relaxing. At the time of writing this post I was in Otres Beach, Cambodia – There’s not a lot to do here. I’m spending my time reading, walking around, eating, drinking coconut water and coconut shanks, laying on the beach and working on my tan, and doing travel-related research (something which can actually wear you out).

When I first encountered a slower paced destination, being Don Det, I found it difficult to cope. I wasn’t used to sitting down in the hammock and reading, I wasn’t used to doing nothing and I found it uncomfortable and off-putting. I wanted to play frisbee, or go for a bike ride, or go adventuring, while most others around me just kicked back. I was still in the “go” mode; still used to cramming in what activities could be crammed, catching buses, and going, rushing, going. Now I, once again, understand the importance of taking it easy. It’s okay to spend some days doing nothing, especially if you’re traveling for 200, 400, 600 days. You’re not wasting time, you’re recuperating, regaining sanity.

Well, enough of trying to condone my lazy habits! Here is a detailed analysis of how much money I spent during an average day in Phnom Penh, and this post will be truthful to exactly how I spent my time and money. When I look back, there was nothing really ‘lazy’ about this day anyway, it was just slower paced. I still saw new places, ate new foods, met new people, and got some exercise – things that matter.

P1030756 Photo: Someone getting a trim on the street in Phnom Penh.

Breakfast: $2.95USD/3,900 Cambodian Riel

How does every good day start? Breakfast. Noodle soup just doesn’t cut it everyday. Not because it’s not delicious, but because I have an almost insatiable appetite. Half of the time when I order a local dish for breakfast I shortly thereafter just end up going and buying a snack, or some fruit, and/or a fruit shake. So, on this day I tracked down a buffet. I actually try to not eat at buffets – I always over eat, and usually end up paying a little bit more money. And, my stomach has been getting rounder, and rounder, and so I try not to eat at buffets. But, sometimes I fail. This buffet was pretty simple and included a few different forms of eggs, toast, fried tomatoes, vegetable rice, croissants, coffee, and juice.

Snack: $0.25/1,000

I stayed in the central area of north Phnom Penh. To my direct west was the night market (only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays), to my east was the daily food market and also food stall street by night, and to my north was the central market. I was surrounded by food. Since I knew that I would be exercising later that day, I bought a fried banana snack to try and suppress my hunger, even though I knew I would soon be eating lunch.

P1030769Photo: Some produce in the morning market on Street 13 in Phnom Penh.

Water: $0.50/2,000

Must keep hydrated! By the looks of things I only purchased one water that day. I always have water from the night before so that I don’t have to go buy some first thing in the morning, and so that I have some to drink during the night and in the morning, and so that I have some to brush my teeth with, too. I was also able to fill up my water a few times for free at the Northbridge International School Cambodia.

Lunch: $1.25/5000

I’m not one for playing sports on an empty stomach. I knew just what to do: fill up on a Chinese tofu noodle soup. This place was on the “Happy Cow” app but I actually found out about it though a girl at my hostel who pointed me toward a street dotted with vegetarian eats. I ate here a few times.

P1030823Photo: Delicious noodle soup in Phnom Penh.

Moto-taxi: $3.00/12,000

After lunch I had some time to kill so I wandered around the area of my hostel and did some non-window food shopping. “just looking, just looking”. I then hoped on the back of a motobike taxi and went to the Northbridge International School Cambodia. This particular driver was one of the craziest I’ve driven with. I arrived in one piece, barely. Ultimate (frisbee) needs a mention here. I went to this school in order to “pick up” in an ultimate frisbee game. It was, without a doubt, the hottest, sweatiest game of ultimate I’ve ever played. I near collapsed a few times – running hard in an ultimate game really takes its toll after not playing much in the last couple of months. The Phnom Penh crew were a great mix of expats and locals, and let me tell you, these Cambodians know how to play some good, face paced ultimate. It was a great experience, I felt very welcomed, and it was nice to get some intense exercise. Participating is free for the first time but you must pay a small fee if you would like to continue playing. Thanks for having me, Phnom Penh Ultimate Association! And, thanks for the drive home!

P1030831Photo: Phnom Penh Ultimate Association and myself.

Beer: $1.00/4,000

How else to celebrate after losing a couple pounds? Put them right back on. Not the cheapest beer in Cambodia, but this one dollar was well spent. $0.50 at happy hour is much better, however, I was late.

Coconut Shake: $0.75/3,000

Delicious. Absolutely delicious. Where was this shake in Thailand and elsewhere (I was probably just too addicted to pineapple shakes)? It doesn’t matter. It’s everywhere now. Oh coconut shake please get in my stomach. Okay, so you get it: I like coconut shakes. They’re best when made with coconut water, rather than just the coconut flesh, milk, and ice. I bought this one from one of the many food stalls around the corner from my hostel on Street 13. I bought it from here because I was heading to the night market where the shakes were twice as much. Shop smartly.

Coconut-y Rice Snack: $0.13/500

What ever this thing was, it was good. It was pretty much sticky rice with coconut milk, formed into the shape of a small spring roll and grilled. Easy to eat a few of these bad boys, and for $0.13…

Dinner: $1.50/6,000

The night market in North Central Phnom Penh is on Friday’s, Saturday’s, and Sunday’s. I went every night, of course. The food wasn’t actually the greatest. Every vendor, as is common, sold the exact same thing and the food was a bit pricier than non-market eateries. However, the food was still tasty. I had a basic fried noodle and vegetable dish, with a small, chopped up piece of Khmer tofu. Despite the food not being the greatest, the market is lively place, the middle being used for eating on mats on the ground, and there’s also live music each night in the handicrafts section of the night market.

P1030790Photo: Night market in North Phnom Penh.

Hostel: $5.00/20,000

At the end of the day, I need a pillow to rest my head on (if I’m lucky). I stayed at 11 Happy Guesthouse. It was a huge hostel. 4 floors, more than 60 dorm beds, and a nice, large rooftop bar and restaurant. Don’t expect to get much sleep if you’re staying on one of the upper floors. I recently read a list by professional traveler blogger, Matt Kepnes (Nomadic Matt), and 11 Happy was listed as one of the best party hostels in the world. The party wasn’t too crazy when I was there, but I still had a good time.



$16.38 USD/66,682 CAMBODIAN RIEL

And there you have it. A pretty basic day of traveling, but nonetheless a day spent traveling, and a common day at that. This day covers most of the basics while in any city: food, accommodation, and transportation. Seeing as this daily budget is from a Phnom Penh, a large city, it could easily be much higher – due to cities mostly being more expensive than rural areas. But, it could also be less: I could have found a cheaper hostel, I could have sipped the snacks and shakes, and I could have shared a ride to ultimate frisbee or found a ride for free. $5.00 could have easily been ticked off. That being said, it’s often not a lot of fun living on the bare minimum. However, there’s lots of free things to do in cities, and if you’re anything like me, you’re content just walking around, seeing new faces and places, and getting your bearings. Although I’m Canadian, this costs in this post are calculated in USD because USD are accepted everywhere in Cambodia, and are basically the most popular form of currency.

More budget breakdowns to come.

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