Cambodia is nestled between Thailand to the west, Laos to the north, Vietnam to the east and the Gulf of Thailand in the south. (See Map of Cambodia)
Cambodia is just over half the size of Vietnam with a total land mass of 181,000 sq km. The mighty Mekhong River runs from Stung Treng province in the north, through 5 or 6 provinces south passing into southern Vietnam (This part of Vietnam formerly belonged to Cambodia and is known by Khmer as Kampuchea Krom)
The largest freshwater lake in South East Asia is found in Cambodia – ‘Boeng Tonle Sap’ (Tonle Sap Lake) which is in the northwest of Cambodia and not far south of Angkor Wat. This lake is unique as it is filled each year by the Mekhong river after the onset of the monsoon rains. The Mekhong (which lies to the east of the lake) meets the Sap River in Phnom Penh. With the monsoon rains, heavy flows down the Mekhong lead to reversal of the flow in the Sap River. Hence the lake fills via the Sap River, swelling to more than 5 times the dry season levels. In October or November, once the Mekhong levels start to recede, the lake starts to drain reversing the flow in the Sap River and once again, water meets the Mekhong in Phnom Penh. The area where the rivers converge can be seen from the river front in Phnom Penh. The Sap River then becomes the Bassac River and the Mekhong continues through southern Cambodia to Vietnam
The Tonle Sap Lake has hundreds of fish species (said to be around 600) which is the major protein source for most Khmer
Cambodia has three mountain ranges –the Cardamons in the southwest (in the provinces of Battambang, Pursat and Koh Kong), the Elephant mountains which lie southwest of Phnom Penh (in Kampot and Kompong Spue provinces) and Dangrek mountain range which lies to the north and forms the border with Thailand. Sadly, deforestation is occurring at a rapid rate and some of these mountain areas are now devoid of many trees or wildlife
Rolling hills are found in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri and there are small ‘phnoms’ (hills) dotted throughout Cambodia where one will often find Buddhist temples perched on top. These outcrops are often limestone which house numerous caves. The remainder of the country is relatively flat but particularly in the wet season, it is quite beautiful with emerald green rice paddies, coconut and sugar palms scattered throughout and many beautiful lily ponds which show the exquisite beauty of various types of lilies found in Cambodia
Rice grows in most areas but is particulary bountiful in Battambang and Pursat provinces. It is common to see farmers transplanting rice during June – August and then harvesting in December-January (except in some provinces where flooding leads to later crops e.g. close to the Vietnamese border in Takeo)
Cambodia has a beautiful coastline running from Koh Kong province in the west to the Municipality of Kep in the east. The waters are clear and calm during the dry season and swimming is terrific. During the wet season it becomes more turbid and a little rougher however it is still a pleasant place to visit throughout the entire year
Phnom Penh is the largest city (>1.5 million) followed by Battambang, Siem Reap and Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) back to top
Cambodia's last census was carried out in 2008. This showed 13.7 million inhabitants of which half are under 20 years of age. Officially, about 95% of the population are ethnic Khmer with the remainder being Vietnamese, Cham, Chinese and various ethnic groups. Unofficially, it is likely that there may be as many as 1 million Vietnamese however for various reasons (including the mistrust and dislike between Khmer and Vietnamese) the true figure is unknown
In the north east of Cambodia (Rattanakiri, Mondulkiri, Stung Treng and Kraties) there are various ethnic minorities who practice shifting cultivation and have their own spoken languages. These groups include the Dompuon, Pnong, Kreung and Jarai back to top
The majority of Khmer are Buddhist. Buddhism, however is only starting to make a resurgence after the majority of monks were killed and many temples (more than 3000) were destroyed during the Pol Pot Regine. There are also Muslim (Chams), Christians and animists (ethnic groups)
Cambodia is a very modest society with men and women covering up (from neck to knee or toe) most of the time. Both males and females traditionally wear sarongs (kromars) around their waist and often a long sleeved shirt. This is not only to show modesty but also to keep their skin from becoming ‘black’ which, like in other parts of Asia is a sign of poverty. However, the younger generation in the city is rapidly being influenced by other cultures and it is now more common to see young women in shorts and strappy tops. Their parents are often disapproving however the trend is spreading rapidly!
The Khmer greet each other with the ‘sompiah’ which involves placing the hands together in a prayer like manner with tips of fingers reaching the nose (or higher if you meet someone of higher ‘rank’ e.g. the king, a politician, a teacher etc). A short bow of the head is made with the gesture and the greeting ‘Choom Riep Sua”. This is only performed when you meet someone for the first time or after seeing them again after a long time i.e. it is not a daily event if you meet them daily. Once is enough until you meet them again in 6 or 12 months time!
Appropriate clothing should be worn by guests particularly during temple visits. This includes tops with at least short sleeves, skirts, trousers or dresses i.e. no shorts or sleeveless tops should be worn. Throughout Cambodia most Khmer are well covered therefore they are often shocked by seeing ‘so much skin’ when a foreigner walks about with arms showing, midriff bare and lots of leg. Despite the often very hot weather, not covering up is considered rude and therefore visitors should make attempts to cover up and respect the local customs despite the heat and humidity. The Khmer (if having access to water) will often bathe two or three times per day which is a good idea when one has been out and about getting hot and sweaty as a tourist! You’ll be revived and feel much better if you do!
The Khmer don’t wear shoes inside their homes, temples and some guesthouses or restaurants. Therefore it is easier for the visitor if they wear slip on shoes otherwise they will forever find themselves undoing or doing up their shoes. Thongs/flip flops are not considered to be appropriate footwear anywhere except within a hotel room! (There are many slip on shoes available for sale at cheap prices in Cambodia so for those who don’t have slip ons, perhaps it should be your first shopping stop in Cambodia) back to top
The climate in Cambodia is similar to its neighbours with two main seasons – the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’. There is plenty of dust in the dry and in the wet, the dust turns to mud!
The dry season officially begins in November concluding with the onset of the monsoons in May, however it is not until June that the real rain starts to fall
November to April is almost always dry with December and January being the coolest and most pleasant months to visit (the locals are usually wrapped up in jackets and sleep under blankets during this time but most visitors will find it ‘about right’ at night. April is frightfully hot, not only tourists but also locals persistently complain about the heat
In May the rains start but it is not until June or July that the real rains start to fall and therefore, May and June can still be quite hot. By July everyone is relieved and the colour comes back into Cambodia with emerald green shoots popping up in the dusty soil
The best time to travel is probably November to February however the wet season months of August to October are also quite lovely with beautiful emerald green rice fields in most parts of the country. This is when the Cambodian countryside really comes alive with flowing creeks and rivers, dams refill and the Khmer fish in earnest. One must remember however to expect that afternoon rains are often the norm so your days should start early in case the afternoon is cut short at 4 or 5 pm. Often the showers are short despite the incredible deluge so you can often resume your activities if you have been lucky enough to find a dry hiding place! For those who are unfamiliar with tropical storms, the lightning, thunder and ensuing rains are a treat to watch providing you have a safe place from where to observe!
If you are very unlucky you might arrive during a depression where the rain may continue for a few days but this won’t last more than a couple of days before the sun shines again
Our tip - unless you really like the heat, avoid March, April and May!
As Cambodia is in the northern hemisphere, the longest day falls in June. Sunrise typically occurs at about 0530 and sunset around 1830 (hence daylight from about 0500 to 1900 hours). In the dry season, sunrise is around 0600 and sunset around 1730 so the daylight hours are from about 0530 to 1800 each day back to top
Cambodia, like its eastern and northern neighbour have had a tumultuous recent past however Cambodia’s internal strife continued for many more years than either Vietnam of Laos
For most outsiders, Cambodia’s recent war history amounts to the Khmer Rouge regime however this part in time is but one chapter in a 30+ year period of internal fighting and instability within the country
There are many books giving a detailed account of traumatic events. However visitors need to grasp some of the recent history to understand modern Cambodia
The French arrived in Cambodia in 1863 and despite the Khmer royalty officially having power, the French controlled the day to day administration of the country until 1954. King Sihanouk had been the king in these latter years and it was under his rule that Cambodia gained independence. In 1955 he abdicated in favour of his father and then stood for parliament. His party won every seat and he controlled the country as Prime Minister for the next 15 years. For various reasons (one of which was related to the communist movement gaining momentum in neighbouring Vietnam), a rebellion broke out in rural Cambodia. Sihanouk responded with heavy and harsh behaviour towards any political dissent
Concurrently, the war between the north Vietnamese communists and the southern Vietnamese/USA had a profound impact on Cambodia (and Laos) as well as Vietnam. By the mid 60s, Sihanouk allowed communist Vietnamese to use Cambodian territory in their fight against South Vietnam/USA as he considered the Thais and Americans more of a threat than communism. A successful coup d’etat mounted by General Lon Nol and backed by USA in 1970 led to the overthrow of Sihanouk who subsequently established a government in exile in Beijing. From here he was nominally in control of a Cambodian revolutionary movement which had begun some years before under his rule! This group, the Khmer Rouge went on to exploit Sihanouk’s association as new royalist recruits were enticed into fighting for their king (having no idea that this group was in fact communist in ideology)
Due to the northern Vietnamese troops’ presence, the USA secretly carpet bombed suspected camps in Eastern Cambodia from 1969 to 1973 which only facilitated the recruitment drive and widened the grasp for power by the Khmer Rouge. Estimated deaths from this bombing campaign is 250,000 deaths with many thousands more deaths occurring throughout the country due to fighting between US backed Cambodian forces and the Khmer Rouge/Vietnamese resistance fighters. Lon Nol’s government lost control of much of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge, supported by the Vietnamese finally overthrew the US backed Lon Nol government in April 1975
The Pol Pot Regime was brutal with the aim of the regime, forming a peasant-dominated agrarian society. The Year Zero was proclaimed, foreigners were forced to leave the country or be killed, currency was abolished and communication with the outside world ceased
Phnom Penh residents were ordered out of the city under the pretence that it was to be bombed by the US. Other large cities were emptied and city dwellers were forced to walk days to various parts of the countryside and work on various projects including large scale dams and rice production. Children were often separated from their parents and were forced, like adults to work long hours without complaint, minimal food and no access to health or education. Temples were destroyed, schools were closed down. Everyone had to work for ‘Angkar’. Anyone daring to revolt or disobey was tortured and killed along with those who had been educated or those who had royal, government or military connections. Purges continued throughout the regime. The population was forced to endure famine, untreated diseases, ongoing misery and suffering. It is unknown how many people died during this time but it is estimated to be between 1 and 2 million
Three long years and eight months later, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia (December 1978) and took over Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge fled taking civilians with them but managing to control large areas of Cambodia. For those able to escape, many Cambodians fled to Thailand where large refugee camps became somewhat the norm for many years. Despite the dreaded and brutal Khmer Rouge regime, the Vietnamese invasion was not popular amongst the world super powers. The threat of communism spreading throughout Asia rang alarm bells for the west; the Chinese, having backed the Khmer Rouge and having fallen out with Vietnam, were not keen on the Vietnamese invasion either
A resistance coalition brought together the Khmer Rouge (the largest of the three groups), the royalist party (Funcinpec) and a non communist group, lead by Son Sann which was financially supported by numerous countries. In addition, Thailand insisted that if food aid was to pass through Thailand, Khmer Rouge forces were also to be supplied. China continued to provide military aid to the Khmer Rouge allowing them to continue as a major force for the next 20 years
During these years, there was ongoing fighting between the coalition and Vietnamese troops which profoundly impacted on civilians who had already had such a miserable few years under the Khmer Rouge. In addition, the coalition members often battled amongst themselves therefore civilians were often displaced as fighting erupted. Despite the tough years of the Khmer Rouge, these were also very tough times with ongoing famine, land mines becoming an ever increasing threat, and ongoing skirmishes which civilians were often caught up in. Many Khmer will lament about the Pol Pot Regime and the Vietnamese regime as being equally difficult however literature rarely cites the Vietnamese invasion as being a particularly torrid time for the Khmer
In 1989 Vietnam declared they would withdraw from Cambodia paving the way for supposed ‘peace’ and Cambodia’s first democratic elections. The Khmer Rouge however continued their warfare and launched a series of offensives which lead to ongoing displacement of thousands of people within the country and ongoing movements across the border to Thailand
In 1993, under the supervision of the UN, elections were held in Cambodia (being boycotted by the Khmer Rouge). Despite the royalist party (Funcinpec) gaining the majority of seats, the Vietnamese backed Cambodian People’s Party failed to accept the result leading to the stunning result of two Prime Ministers – Prince Ranarhiddh and Hun Sen. In 1997, a coup d’etat by Hun Sen lead to more fighting, numerous high ranking Funcinpec officials being murdered and the reestablishment of more refugee camps on the Thai border. All this time, the Khmer Rouge continued to mount offensives and areas of Cambodia remained under their control. However as purges continued within the regime, one by one, various Khmer Rouge leaders seceded taking their loyal followers with them. In 1998 an all out offensive by the CPP began in the last remaining strong hold of Anlong Veng in the northern part of Cambodia (not long after Pol Pot’s death). The last remaining leaders escaped to the forests but the group was divided. Some joined the government, others fled to Thailand where a further two refugee camps were established. After 14 years of refugee camps, Thailand was not interested in having the camps open for long so political pressure continued to resolve domestic issues
Later that year, in December 1998, Khieu Sampan and Nuon Chea, former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge defected to the government. The infamous Ta Mok, also knows as ‘the Butcher’ was captured and imprisoned. Whilst awaiting trial, he died in prison (2006)
All refugee camps are now closed in Thailand and the Khmer Rouge theoretically no longer exists. Many ex Khmer Rouge leaders and soldiers defected to the government. The UN backed Khmer Rouge trial began in 2006 and continues to this day however not without major problems. 'Comrade Duch,' former director of S21 (now Tuol Sleng museum) was convicted in 2010 and given a sentence of 35 years. On appeal, he was given a life sentence. Two of the 4 leaders are still on trial with the other 2 having had major health problems leading to death (Ieng Sary 2013) and Ieng Thirith, having her case dissolved due to dementia. Many Khmer are not in favour of the tribunal and consider it a waste of resources - resources that many consider could be better spent on developing their country. Some Khmer are also worried that it will destabilise the country once more. Despite the peace, after many years of war, the Khmer have trouble to believe that it is a long lasting peace
Despite the government becoming more stable in recent years, the political situation in Cambodia remains fragile.
Remnants of the war can be seen in many villages. Craters from bombs are common east of Phnom Penh and in the provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng and Kompong Cham. Until a couple of years ago, war tanks were often seen deserted in the north of Cambodia – the last place of fighting however efforts are now being made to remove them and take them out of public view. Many demining operations are going on particularly in the north west of the country although there are teams scattered Cambodia and visitors going off the beaten track may see them as they go down country roads. Old shells, grenades, land mines can sometimes be seen in villages often lying about with noone taking notice unless there is someone who sees the potential for making money out of scrap metal
A war museum as well as a land mine museum exist in Siem Reap so for those interested in seeing some of the war history, this is a possibility. In Phnom Penh Tuol Sleng Museum – also known as S21 prison is a grim reminder of the torture that befell those unlucky enough to be sent there. The Killing Fields – Choung Ek some 30-45 minutes from Phnom Penh is one of many mass graves that shows the visitor how gruesome the Khmer Regime was. The civil strife of Cambodia’s recent past has shaped the modern Cambodia – and it still does. The Khmer, exhausted by the fighting long for ever lasting peace – hopefully they will be rewarded with it back to top
In the last few years the roads in Cambodia have improved immensely. Only six or seven years ago, the road between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh could take up to 12 hours to drive. Now it takes 6 to 7 hours to complete the journey (depending on traffic). Many roads leading from Phnom Penh have improved dramatically (see below for more details)
If you only visit Phnom Penh and Siem Reap you will think that Cambodia has many motorbikes and cars. Cars are a relatively new phenomenon and with improved roads and a more favourable economy, there are more cars being imported and purchased daily. Motorbikes are used by many families to transport the entire family – the record number we have seen on one motorbike is 7 – one adult and 6 children! They are often used to carry goods including pigs, baskets of vegetables, fuel – in fact for anything! The father of the family will often work as a ‘motodop’ – a motocycle taxi if the family is lucky enough to own a motorcycle. That means when he is not using it to transport goods or his family he is sitting on a corner waiting for someone to use him as transport. In the villages, those with a motorbike can always supplement their meagre income by providing rides on their motorbike. Owning a motorbike is certainly a sign of wealth
Also, now in many cities you will find tuk tuks – motorcycles carrying a carriage on the back. These have really increased in the past few years and are a good way for tourists travelling together to negotiate their way around town. If you take motorbikes it is likely you will get separated as few motodops speak English. Despite this they will nod like they are aware of where you are going and yet have no idea!
Cyclos – bicycle with a carriage for carrying persons and goods are also common in the cities. These are often ridden by older men who use the cyclo as their sleeping place when waiting for a customer!
Buses between major towns have increased in number due to improved road conditions. There are buses now running between Phnom Penh and the majority of provincial towns (Kompong Som, Battambang, Siem Reap, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Cham, Stung Treng, Svay Rieng, Kep and Kampot). ‘Taxis’ are the main mode of public transport for persons travelling long distances particularly if no buses are available. These are sedan or pick up cars which cram as many people as possible into the car before taking off. The drivers are always in a hurry to reach their destination so these rides are certainly exciting if not dangerous. For locals travelling shorter distances, there are ‘remorques’ which consist of a motorbike with a long carriage behind which can accommodate up to 30 persons. These function much like a local bus system with set itineraries and people pay for the distance they travel
Beyond the main cities the mainstay of transport is often the ox cart or bullock cart (and that may mean only a few kilometres away from the city). In some provinces there are also horse carts however these are usually used for commercial purposes rather than home use like ox/bullock carts. The ox or bullocks are used by the farmers to plough the fields and when the family is required to make a long trip e.g. to the hospital, they will pile into the ox or bullock cart
Some families may own a bicycle which is often used by all members of the families. As with motos, it is not unusual to see families using them to ferry pigs to market, transport goods for sale (by travelling salesmen), children going to school or a parent transporting their home made wares or home grown vegetables to a market to sell
Boats are used as the only form of transport in some parts of Cambodia particularly during the wet season when many roads may be under water for months at a time. There are many types of boats – dug out canoes, long tail boats, those specific to different groups such as Cham and Vietnamese, speed boats, slow cargo boats and the larger, less frequent passenger boats which ferry people between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (groups only). Due to improved road conditions, there are no longer boat services between Stung Treng/Kraties and Kampong Cham nor Koh Kong and Sihanoukville. The boat between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is only available for large group bookings (individuals can also book for these trips) or private tours on large boats
In the north east of the country, elephants are used by the ethnic groups to work the forests (and in some villages, take tourists on walks through the hills)
Most roads leaving Phnom Penh are now in reasonable shape and travel to most provinces is possible and becoming more comfortable as time passes
Visas are required to enter Cambodia and can be obtained prior to entry (at Cambodian Embassies or via the newly introduced e-visa) or on arrival (at most international checkpoints)
There are two international airports – Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and 17 international border crossings (with more bilateral checkpoints becoming international crossings frequently)
Between Thailand and Cambodia there are currently six international checkpoints (Poipet (Banteay Meanchey), Osmach and Chorm (Oddar Meanchey), Koh Kong (Cham Yeam), Prum (Pailin) and Dong (Battambang). Preah Vihear will open in the future
There is 'one' crossing between Laos and Cambodia (Dong Kralor – with both land and river stations that are 12 km apart)
There are 8 crossings between Vietnam and Cambodia - Bavet in Svay Rieng Province, K’aam Samnor in Kandal (land and river), Phnom Den in Takeo, Prek Chak (Kampot), Banteay Chakrey (Prey Veng), Trapaing Plong (Kampong Cham), Trapaing Sre (Kraties) and Oyadav (Ratanakiri). There are as yet no checkpoints in Modulkiri or Preah Vihear
Click here for a map of the most common border crossings
Two types of visas can be issued – Tourist ($30USD) or Business ($35USD) visas both of which last for one month. For those applying on arrival, bring one passport photo otherwise you’ll have to pay extra
If you are planning to stay longer than one month, an initial Business visa is recommended as it can be extended with ease (one or three month extensions with single entry only or six or twelve month extensions with multiple entries). Tourist visas can only be extended once for one month therefore if you plan to stay longer than two months, you must enter on a business visa (or leave the country to obtain another visa)
Visa extensions can only be obtained from the Department of Foreigners in Phnom Penh (opposite international airport) or through various agents who will charge more for the assistance
Crossing into Thailand to renew a visa is also possible however, one will need a valid visa for Vietnam before being allowed to enter Vietnam
E visas have recently been introduced but cannot be used to enter Cambodia at all checkpoints. For more information on all visas including pre purchase of e visas click here back to top
The Khmer currency is Riel however US dollars are generally used for larger transactions In provinces bordering Thailand, Thai baht is also used and province bordering Vietnam, Vietnamese Dong is also used. It is possible in these parts that one will receive USD, Baht/Dong and Riel in the return change!
In major cities, USD and Riel are used interchangeably
Visitors don’t have to change any money into Riel prior to entering Cambodia as all transactions taking place once having landed at the airport (taxi or tuk tuk) is in USD. As Riel is always part of the return change in all transactions, it is only necessary to change $10 to 20 USD at any one time to aviod carrying large numbers of notes around
The average exchange rate is approximately (Sep 2015):
For the most up to date exchange rates check coinmill
Until August 2005 there were no ATM machines in Cambodia however ANZRoyal has now opened numerous branches in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kompong Cham and Kompong Som allowing greater flexibility for visitors. It is likely that additional ANZ ATMs will also become available in other towns over time. The maximum amount able to be withdrawn per day ranges between $500 and $2000 USD depending on the type of card one has. Other banks (international and Khmer) are now also allowing withdrawals via ATMs. Please note we have had guests with ‘Debit cards’ who have not been able to withdraw any money from any bank or ATM despite their bank telling them they will have no problem.
Travellers cheques are not routinely used however they can be changed in the major centres (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap)
We recommend you bring USD (various denominations including a handful of $1USD). It is preferable to change money at the market (better rate than banks). If you don’t want to change $100USD you can change some into Riel and get the remainder in dollars
Euro, British Pounds, Australian dollars and other currencies are more difficult to change therefore we recommend you bring USD
Credit cards are used in large hotels, expensive restaurants and some supermarkets therefore don’t expect to use them much! Cash is definitely preferred
Cash advances are possible with Mastercard and Visa in the major centres only (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kompong Som)
Banks are usually only found in the major centres however it is possible that they won’t be able to provide cash advances. It is preferable to carry cash and then change it as needed at the market back to top
Generally the cost of most goods is higher than the surrounding countries. This is due to lack of industry in Cambodia and most commodities are imported from either Thailand or Vietnam e.g. food, electronics, spare parts etc
However, costs are still much lower than western countries and it is easy to live well for little money
Transport costs are relatively high due to the cost of fuel (> $1.35USD/litre of diesel and $1.50/litre for petrol for the past year and continuing to increase); hotels range from $5 per night (very basic) to a ridiculous $2000USD per night. Generally a very basic, clean double room with hot water will cost at least $30-40 USD and often much more. One has to pay for service here. Many provincial cities are yet to have good quality accommodation with most having only cold water (often pumped directly from the local river) and frequent black outs (particularly during the hot dry season months of March-May). In Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kep and Kompong Som, there are clean and well cared for hotels and guest houses which are safe and comfortable. For those going to other places, be prepared for a considerable step down and a night or two of ‘roughing it’ compared with the more up market places
There are many restaurants to choose from in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap with many different styles, cuisines and tastes. Other than Khmer food, one can easily find Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, French. In the provincial cities Khmer food is the norm with few cities offering western or other Asian cuisines (Siem Reap is an exception where food options are similar to Phnom Penh). More and more western take away/fast food outlets are available throughout Cambodia but mostly in larger cities to date
Due to the French influence, baguettes (bread rolls) are commonly found throughout Cambodia – even in the tiniest towns so for the bread lovers, you won’t be disappointed
Finding familiar spreads won’t be easy however so for those who like their peanut butter or jam, you might have to forego it unless you stay in a hotel that provides it! back to top
Khmer is the commonly spoken language however with many different ethnic groups you are likely to come across Vietnamese, Chinese and other tribal languages
Due to the French influence, many older educated Khmer (over 60) still speak some French however English is the preferred language to learn for the younger generation. Most hotels and restaurants catering for visitors will have English speaking staff however staff are often not fluent but understandable if you listen carefully. Please speak slowly and clearly in order to be understood
Few villagers speak English or French therefore you will need a translator or use sign language if you venture of the beaten track! back to top
Electricity in Cambodia is 220 volts therefore adapters are required if using electronic equipment from USA or Canada. Bring the adapter as it is likely you won't find it easily in Cambodia. The plugs are 2 pronged (flat or round) and then a 3 pronged plug is also used in some places. It is easy to pick up a plug adaptor at the local market if needed – just take your plug and find the ‘electrical’ section which every market has back to top
The postal service in Cambodia is not particularly reliable. It is also quite expensive. If you want to send postcards it is recommended to send them from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap only (or when you leave Cambodia)!
Internet shops and places with wi-fi have simply exploded in Cambodia in the past few years. Even in relatively small provincial towns it is possible to find internet and wi-fi facilities although they are often very slow and may not be particularly reliable. In Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kompong Som and Battambang, broadband is available and very cheap – often 50c per hour. More and more coffee shops, guest houses and restaurants have free wi fi.
Telephone landlines are uncommon and expensive in Cambodia therefore mobile phones are to be seen everywhere. As with many countries, being seen with a mobile is very important therefore you will see people (mostly young) using phones regularly (smartphones are all the rage now!) despite them being expensive. There are phone ‘booths’ seen less and less on the roadsides in towns where one can use the phone to make a phone call. Rates are reasonable (less than 10c per minute for calls within Cambodia). It is possible to buy sim cards but you need to show your passport to buy one. They are cheap and calls within Cambodia are inexpensive. Overseas calls are also cheap if you use VOIP - ask your provider for the code to put in front of the country code and phone number otherwise you will be charged normal (high) rates. If you have a bad line, hang up and try again – you’ll be surprised that it might be perfect the next time!! back to top
Photo shops are commonly found in most towns and the cost of developing is cheap. For those who have digital cameras you are probably unlikely to have downloading facilities except in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Kompong Som so make sure you have a large memory card. When you have access to a shop that can download your photos, take it otherwise you might end up deleting some that you really would like to keep Be mindful however that there is often no anti virus on public computers so be careful! Memory cards are relatively inexpensive back to top
The weather in Cambodia is typical of tropical areas therefore it is important that you bring light clothes and appropriate footwear
Despite the heat, shorts are only acceptable if they are at least to the knee however as few Khmer wear shorts, you will not be considered well dressed if you wear them (particularly to 'nicer' restaurants and tourist places)
Dresses, skirts or cotton pants/pedal pushers are recommended for women with tops that are short sleeved or no sleeved (except when going into a temple where sleeves are more respectful)
The younger generation is now 'more westernised' and it is not uncommon to see some younger women in larger cities wearing shorts and strappy tops. They are however frowned upon by older Khmer and those outside of cities. To avoid being stared at (particularly whilst wearing revealing tops), and to be culturally sensitive, it is just better to cover up and be modest
Slip-on shoes are the easiest to use as one needs to take off shoes when inside houses, temples and some restaurants. If you don’t have a pair of slip on shoes, they are very cheap and easily purchased on arrival in Cambodia. They will be a worthwhile investment – saving your back from endless undoing and redoing up of shoes!
The evenings in December and January can be quite cool so a light jumper may be required. At other times of the year it can be quite cool in Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri as it is elevated. For those staying on top of Bokor, be sure to take warm clothes. Being more than 1000m high, the nights get quite cold on the mountain back to top
Sunglasses are a good idea as it is often glary and dusty wherever you are in Cambodia.
For those travelling in the wet season it is a good idea to carry a small throw away rain poncho. They are easily purchased in Cambodia, weigh very little and are a good back up when you are out touring
A hat and sunburn cream is necessary for most – hats (caps) are easily purchased but sunburn cream is a luxury item that 99% of Khmer could never afford so bring it with you
Mosquito repellent is a necessity – one with DEET (diethyl toluamide) is required to ensure mosquitoes die if they try to bite a victim. Citronella oil may deter mosquitoes but it won’t kill them. When there are malaria mosquitoes around it is better to kill them not only deter them
Sturdy shoes are required for walking however Khmer always remove shoes when entering buildings therefore it is suggested to also have a pair of slip on shoes which can be removed with ease. back to top
Cambodia is in the same time zone as Thailand, Vietnam, Laos i.e. GMT + 7 hours
There is no daylight saving with nightfall at about 6 in December and 7 pm in mid June back to top
Cambodia’s health system is poor therefore ensure you have your health (including teeth) checked prior to departure. For those on regular medications, bring enough with you to last your trip. Despite pharmacies being seen everywhere throughout the country and prescriptions are not enforced, there are many fake drugs sold in Cambodia therefore it is wise to bring your own medications
Travel insurance is essential including one that provides evacuation if required. The facilities for serious illnesses are extremely limited and only available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (not international standard) therefore ensure you have adequate travel insurance
As with other developing countries, infectious diseases are very common in Cambodia including food and water borne diseases such as typhoid, hepatitis A, parasites and other bacteria and viruses. Malaria is only found in areas that are forested therefore for those travelling to Phnom Penh only, prophylaxis is not required (unless recommended by your doctor). If one is in Angkor Wat after dark it is possible to get malaria therefore take your mosquito repellent with you and apply it prior to sundown (even if you are taking prophylaxis). (Malaria mosquitoes only bite from sundown to sun up therefore day time biting mosquitoes will not transmit malaria)
Dengue fever is becoming increasingly more common and is an urban disease. It is seasonal and more common with the onset of the wet season although dry season dengue does occur but is not common
TB is endemic throughout Cambodia however it is very unlikely that any visitor would contract TB unless they are immunocompromised (HIV positive, on medications that suppress the immune system)
The HIV prevalence rate currently stands at 0.5% of adults with some high risk groups (sex workers) having up to 20% prevalence in some areas. Therefore safe sex (using a condom) is highly recommended if one engages in this activity
With the improved roads and improving economy, more cars, trucks and busses are on the road with more and more accidents occurring than previously. Generally traffic in the towns is fairly slow – about 30-40 kms per hour however on the open roads, one can only describe some drivers as totally reckless back to top
All visitors to Cambodia should be up to date with diphtheria, polio and tetanus prior to their arrival. In addition, the following are recommended:
Symptoms of malaria include high fever, chills, headache and body aches. It resembles a bad case of the flu so if you experience these symptoms, ensure you visit a doctor immediately. Don’t wait until the next day – you might be very sick by then or worse, dead (it is not uncommon for westerners to die from malaria simply by failing to seek medical treatment on their return)
Malaria prophylaxis is recommended in malaria areas. It is wise that visitors discuss this with their doctor prior to departure back to top
Few trucks exist in Cambodia so motorcycles are used to transport goods and people with often very large loads
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Fall in love with the dancing apsaras seen everywhere throughout Angkor Wat and other temples
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