Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Not only is Cambodia still one of the poorest countries in Asia, but it is also one of the cheapest. Much of this has to do with the fact that seeing as it has only been 12 years since the country officially ended what was nearly 25 years of a brutally armed struggle against various forces, the infrastructure is still recovering and the economy is rapidly trying to play catch up.

That being said, although the value of most foreign currencies still goes a really long way in Cambodia ($.50 beer, $2 tuk-tuk ride across town, $3 entree, $5 hour-long massage), it doesn’t mean the quality of the goods necessarily suffers. Of all the cities in Cambodia currently set to make major moves in the international tourism market, none is more poised to do so than the northwestern city of Siem Reap, a city better known as the gateway to Angkor Wat.

Proof that Siem Reap is set to (or already is) blowing up? Over 2.5 million tourists visited the city in 2010, which puts the visitor numbers directly on par with the popular island of Maui. So why is Siem Reap featured here if so many people already know about it? Because on Maui a “cheap” room will run you about $100/night; in Siem Reap, it’s $10.

Though the entry fee to the Angkor Wat temple complex is somewhat steep at $20 for a one day pass, you can still get a personal driver to shuttle you around for the entire day for as low as $12. Grab a $3 plate of fish amok and a $.50 Angkor beer back in town on Pub Street, and enjoy the rejuvenated energy of the ancient Angkor Kingdom without making a temple-sized dent in your wallet.

[flickr image via Chi King]

Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Macedonia

Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Macedonia has hidden beneath the radar. While Croatia and Montenegro receive sustained coverage for their coastlines and Slovenia pops up here and there as a budget-friendly alternative to pricey Switzerland, landlocked Macedonia has received short shrift.

The country remains shut out of major Europe-wide organizations over its very name, which the Greek government contests as a stealthy move toward an eventual invasion of the northern Greek region of Macedonia. It’s a ludicrous proposition, and it has kept Macedonia far more isolated than it should be.

Macedonia’s reputation as a tourist destination has slowly grown over the last few years, and with good reason. The country offers amazingly good value for money. Transportation, accommodation, food, and tourist attractions are all inexpensive. The country’s chief draws are Lake Ohrid, which Macedonia shares with Albania, and its scattered monasteries. Lake Ohrid is starkly beautiful, great for swimming and water sports. It’s anchored by the city of Ohrid, itself spilling over with churches, fortresses, and other objects of historical interest.

Monasteries abound in Macedonia. One of these, Treskavec, is located near the town of Prilep in the south. There are marked hiking trails winding up hills to the monastery. At the top, you’ll find accommodation for the cost of a small donation. A simple dinner is even included in the deal.

If Macedonian tourism taps into its treasures the right way, this country should see its current trickle of tourists become a modest stream.

[flickr image via Rilind Hoxha]

Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Tiblisi, Georgia

Why now? Georgia‘s investments in infrastructure and tourism over the last several years mean that the country is raring to go. Tourist facilities have improved and Tbilisi’s domestic travel agencies are well organized.

With a bustling capital city, Tbilisi, mountainous regions like Svaneti and Tusheti, a prime beach resort in Batumi, and the wine region of Kakheti, Georgia boasts a seemingly unending supply of exciting sites and experiences for visitors. And while Georgians may be feeling the pinch of rising prices, most visitors will experience Georgia as a great bargain.

In Tbilisi, dinner feasts at top restaurants can easily be had within the $10-$15 range; filling khachapuri dinners at hole-in-the-wall restaurants cost around $5. Taxis around town set passengers back around $1, once basic bargaining has been mastered. Tbilisi’s only drawback for budget travelers is its hotel cost index, which is geared toward visitors traveling on expense accounts; hostels and apartment rentals pick up the slack.

For anyone itching to get into some gorgeous wilderness, there is Svaneti, a district that has slowly but surely become a backpacker destination; quick flights connect the regional capital of Mestia to Tbilisi. Another mountain region, Tusheti, receives far fewer tourists. Seasonal farmhouse accommodations in Tusheti can be had for $35 a night, including two or even three meals daily.

[flickr image via shioshvili]

Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Bogota, Colombia

Everything about Bogota, Colombia’s capital of culture, cuisine and Cumbia, begs for further exploration. From the rough-around-the-edges street art of colonial-tinged ‘hood Candelaria, to the fabulous golden Pre-Columbian artifacts at the Museo del Oro, to the buzzing coffee bars of Zona G, there’s a little something for every type of traveler in this rapidly rising mecca of South American tourism. Best of all, there’s never been a better (or cheaper) time to investigate this symbol of Colombia’s continued tourist resurgence.

Simply put, Bogota offers one of the continent’s most affordable blends of culture and cost. Thanks to a healthy exchange rate of around 1,900 Colombian pesos to the dollar, Bogota visitors can expect to experience the city’s first-rate amenities at positively rock bottom prices. A taxi ride to most attractions within the city costs less than $10, while a hearty plate of Bandeja Paisa, a gut-bursting sampler of Colombia’s culinary staples, will set you back less than $5. Bogota’s array of budget-friendly guesthouses offer private rooms starting for as little as $15-30/night.

And at just a six hour non-stop flight from New York City and three and a half hours from Miami, Bogota is surprisingly easy to get to. Move over Buenos Aires – Bogota is about to give South American travelers in search of a great value a run for their money.

Budget Vacation Guide 2012: Kiev, Ukraine

This summer, soccer fans from around the world will flock to Ukraine when the country co-hosts UEFA Euro2012 with Poland for the very first time. There’s no better time to visit the capital city of Kiev, which has spent the past few years beefing up its tourist infrastructure and recently unveiled a completely redesigned Olympic Stadium in preparation for the final match of the quadrennial European soccer tournament.

If you’re not a soccer fan, or don’t want to shell out the big bucks to ticket scalpers, Kiev offers plenty of cheap diversions. In the warmer months, the city comes alive with flora and fauna, not to mention a packed agenda of free outdoor activities. Lie on the beaches (yes, beaches) of Hidropark in the Dnieper River, or take a cultural stroll through Andriyivskyy Descent, advertised as the “Montmartre of Kiev”. You can even try scaling the Moskovskyi Bridge (but please don’t).

While Kiev has experienced inflation in recent years, it’s still a bargain compared to other European capitals. To keep things cheap during the games, try a short-term apartment rental instead of a hotel; check Airbnb or 9flats for listings. Food-wise, traditional Ukrainian cafeterias are a cultural experience as well as money-saver. Specialties like potato pancakes, stuffed cabbage, and dumplings will provide more than enough fuel for the games.

[flickr image via Matvey Andreyev]