Discover Cambodia. Together with Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia used to be part of Indochina. Cambodia, with its surface of 180.000 km2, is the smallest of these three countries. It is a beautiful and impressive country because of the numerous rainforests, national parks, beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes and its rich cultural history. The mystic temples of Angkor Wat are considered to be the world’s most extensive religious structure. Choeung Ek, one of the hundreds of killing fields from the Red Khmer era, is another touching remnant of Cambodia’s history. Choeung Ek is the name of the military division of the Communist Party, which ruled the country between 1975 and 1979. Cambodia’s people welcome tourists with open arms, and there is no doubt you will be dazzled by both nature and culture. Cambodians generally speak Khmer, which is similar to Chinese, but these days many people also speak quite a bit of English. Particularly in the capital of Phnom Penh, where you can visit Cambodia’s National Museum, various temples, mosques, markets and other museums. If you need to escape the cities’ hectic daily life, you can travel to one of the stunning beaches in Sihanoukville or Koh Kong. These are the perfect getaways for total relaxation, as they haven’t yet been discovered by mass tourism. Cambodia is a marvelous country, waiting for you to explore!
Background information Cambodia
Cambodians don’t like to argue in public. For this reason, they do everything to avoid arguments. Criticism is considered a personal insult and losing patience, being angry or a public dispute is ‘not done’ in Cambodian culture. Even positive emotions are not often seen; you won’t see men and women being affectionate in public. Provincial Cambodian women wear a sampot; this is a long cotton or silk sarong. On public holidays, women wear a brightly colored version of a sampot. Even men tend to wear a sarong, and most Cambodians wear a hat as a protection against the bright sun. Sometimes a krama, a red or blue and white checked cotton or satin cloth is used as headgear or as a scarf, belt or sling for small children.
For centuries, Cambodia was a Buddhist kingdom, but during the Red Khmer regime all monasteries were destroyed, and most monks were murdered. Pol Pot tried everything to wipe out Buddhism and thought of monks as utterly useless. Buddhist wisdom was dismissed as nonsense as “the only wisdom was the cultivation of rice”, according to the Red Khmer. By the end of the communist era in 1979, Cambodian Buddhism seemed to be wiped out completely. Buddhism was re-certified into a state religion in 1993, but Cambodian people consider Buddhism as a popular belief, where spirits and natural powers play an important role. They worship the spirits of the wind, the water, the earth and fertility and they sacrifice fruit, incense and animals. The cult of the natural spirits is present in all layers of the population and it is the essence of all Cambodian Buddhist anniversaries.
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it is spoken by 90% of its population. Other languages are those spoken by Cambodia’s ethnic minorities, such as Vietnamese and Chinese. People who are working in tourism often speak English.
Most festivals in Cambodia are linked to Buddhism or the seasonal changes. As many of these holidays are also related to the position of the moon, the exact dates vary annually. Shops, banks, government buildings and some restaurants could be closed on holidays. Some festivals are impressive to experience while others are better to avoid as a tourist. Significant public holidays in Cambodia are:
- January 7th: the end of Pol Pot’s reign;
- February: Têt, Vietnamese and Chinese New Year;
- March 8th: International Women’s Day;
- May 13th – 15th: current king Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday;
- June 1st: International Children’s Day;
- June 18th: queen Norodom Monineath’s birthday;
- September 24th: Constitution Day;
- October 29th and 30th: coronation and birthday of King Norodom Sihanouk;
- November 9th: Independence Day
- December 10th: Human Rights Day.
You can also visit www.officeholidays.com for an extensive list of all holidays. During some festivals, life in Cambodia can be very busy and hectic. Khmer New Year or Chaul Chnam Thmey (April) lasts three days and is Cambodia’s most important festival. Shops and banks are closed and water is thrown at passers- by. It is better to avoid Cambodia during those days when you don’t like crowds or water. Cambodians commemorate the dead during Pchum Ben (September). Shops, banks and many restaurants are closed and many people travel to the countryside. The Water Festival or Bon Om Touk (November) marks the end of the rainy season and boat races are being held in Phnom Penh. It is better to avoid Phnom Penh if you are not a big fan of dense crowds.
Food & drinks Cambodia
One of the many perks when traveling through Cambodia, is excellent cheap food.
The Cambodian kitchen is diverse and there are even various great French, Italian, Chinese, Thai and Japanese restaurants in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. You can buy delicious fresh fruit at one of the many markets and baguettes are available for purchase in many parts of Cambodia. Ahmok is considered Cambodia’s national dish and consists of fish marinated in a mixture of coconut milk, lemon grass, red peppers and lime. Another popular fish dish is trei ang, baked fish fillets wrapped in lettuce or spinach. It is not recommended to drink tap water in Cambodia, but bottled mineral water, soft drinks and fresh fruit juice are available in most shops and restaurants. Cambodians even brew their own beer, such as Angkor Beer, Anchor Beer and Cambodia Beer.
Tips & gratuities Cambodia
Tips are common in restaurants, cafes and hotels visited by tourists. Although there is no obligation whatsoever, a 50-cent tip means a lot for a Cambodian person who probably doesn’t earn more than a few dollars a day. If a local guide accompanies you, it is accustomed giving him or her a small tip.
Weather & climate Cambodia
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate and has two seasons. There is a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. The first part of the dry season is quite cool (December and January) and is considered to be the best time to travel to Cambodia. The second half of the dry season (February to April) can be hot with temperatures easily passing 30° Celsius.
About 75% of Cambodia’s 15 million inhabitants live in the fertile area between Tonle Sap in northwest Cambodia and the region south of Phnom Penh. Its population is rather homogeneous with 90% being Khmer. Important ethnic minorities are Chinese, Vietnamese, Cham and different mountain tribes.
Almost two-thirds of Cambodia is fertile lowland, bordered in the north by Himalayan foothills and the Dangrek Mountains, the Moi Hills in the south, the Elephant Mountains in the southwest and the Cardamom Mountains in the west. Cambodia’s highest peak is the 1.813-meter high Phnom Aural. About 5 percent of Cambodia’s surface consists of rivers and lakes, such as the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake.
Practical information Cambodia
The currency in Cambodia is the riel. You can visit www.xe.com/currencyconverter for more information about the current exchange rates. In recent years, Cambodia has become a dollar economy and for tourists amounts are often rounded to whole dollars. You can pay with dollars in cities and at tourist places, but make sure the dollar notes are new and not wrinkled or torn. On the countryside and in local markets, the riel is still the main currency. In cities and tourist places you can withdraw dollars out of an ATM. Sometimes you can also withdraw riel, but as this money is not worth anything anywhere else, this is not recommended. You can pay by credit card in more luxurious hotels and restaurants, and at some travel agencies. Make sure to always have cash with you, as Cambodia’s economy runs primarily on cash. Don’t forget to change your bankcard settings to ‘world’ before leaving your home country.
It is compulsory to have a visa to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia. A standard visa for tourists and business travelers is valid for one month. Most visitors to Cambodia can obtain a visa upon arrival at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap International Airports, or at the over land borders. Although it is useful to arrange a visa in advance, it is not required.
Visa on arrival
You can buy a tourist or business visa upon arrival at the international airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and at the over land borders. You need to have a passport picture, at least one blank page in your passport and your passport should be valid for at least six months.
Visa prior to departure
To arrange a visa prior to your departure to Cambodia, you need to contact the Cambodian embassy in your country of origin or the country where you are staying. Tourists can also obtain a visa through online E-visa (www.evisa.gov.kh). Some nationalities are required to arrange their visa in advance at the embassy of Cambodia in their country: Afghanistan, Algeria, Arab Saudi, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Nigeria. A departure tax is charged for all domestic and international flights.
When visiting Cambodia, it is advised to provide practical clothes that you can wear layer-over-layer. You can also pack walking shoes, a torch, a water bottle, a sewing kit, laundry detergent, a universal electric plug, camera gear, toiletries, a bathing suit and an alarm clock. For easy travel, it is recommended to limit your luggage to 10kg and to pack everything in a large backpack or overnight bag. Most hotels have a laundry service, so your clothes can be regularly washed during your Cambodia trip. Remember to always show respect to the local culture when it comes to clothing. You can only visit Buddhist temples when decently dressed.
Opening hours Cambodia
Most Cambodian shops and markets are open daily from 7 am to 9 pm. Museums have different opening hours: from Wednesday to Sunday from 9 am to noon and from 1 pm to 4 pm. The majority of the Angkor Wat temples are open every day from before sunrise and only close after sunset. The opening hours of Government buildings are from Monday to Saturday from 7.30 am to 11.30 am and from 2 pm to 4 pm. Most post offices are open throughout the week from 8 am to 5 pm.
A mobile network covers most of Cambodia, and the majority of Cambodian people have a mobile phone. You can talk to your provider about the different options for mobile calls. If you have a sim lock-free mobile device and regularly need to make local calls, you can buy a prepaid sim card in one of the many phone shops. There are plenty of internet cafés in the cities and other tourist regions. Take into account that internet connection can be slow and unreliable at times. Most hotels, and even guesthouses and cafes in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, offer wifi. You can find more information on www.wificafespots.com or via the app ‘Free Wifi Finder’.
The voltage in Cambodia is 230 volt and power cut-offs are common outside of the cities. There is not always electricity available on the countryside, or only at certain times of the day. Cambodia has sockets type A, C and G, so a universal travel plug is recommended.
When visiting a tourist area, it is possible that someone offers you drugs. Accepting or buying this might seem harmless, but it is important to know that Cambodia has severe penalties on the use and possession of drugs. If you prefer to stay outside of a Cambodian jail, it is highly recommended to stay clear of Even today, there are many Cambodian victims of unexploded war material, such as grenades and mines. There is no real danger for tourists, as long as you stay on the dedicated paths. Be aware of pickpockets, especially in dense crowds. Make sure to have a list with relevant phone numbers (bank, embassy, insurance…) and some extra passport pictures. In case of theft, ask the local police for an official statement, as you will need this for insurance purposes.
Vaccinations are not compulsory, but highly recommended when visiting Cambodia. The amount and type of vaccinations depend on the type of your trip and the specific regions you are planning to visit. The best option is to talk to your doctor. It might be a good idea to pack a small pharmacy bag with items such as iodine, bandages, disinfectant, and medicines treating fever, constipation, insect bites, sunburn and motion sickness. You can also opt to add a pair of tick pliers, an unbreakable thermometer, oral rehydration salts against dehydration, vitamin tablets and disinfectant wipes and gel. Don’t forget anti-malaria tablets and insect repellent with deet if you are traveling to an area where malaria is common. Take your time adjusting upon arrival in Cambodia. Be careful while sunbathing and don’t forget to put on a hat during excursions on sunny days. Because you can lose a lot of fluids in the dry heat, it is highly recommended to drink a lot of water and to put some extra salt on your food. Hot drinks are better than cold ones as your stomach and bowels are less burdened. Avoid drinking tap water. If necessary, you can purchase medicines in the bigger cities; there are a couple of good pharmacies in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The Tropical & Travellers Medical Clinic in Phnom Penh is run by a British doctor and is recommended if you have any questions related to traveler’s diseases. In case of a serious condition, it is recommended to travel to Thailand, as Thai hospitals are much better equipped.
Although most Cambodian people don’t mind being photographed, it is considered polite to ask for their permission first. You might have to pay an extra fee when you want to take pictures at temples or other historic places. Taking photos of airports, bridges, army barracks, soldiers and police officers is not allowed.
Trips to Discover Cambodia