Many travelers in Southeast Asia still limit their visit of Cambodia to a short trip to the magnificent Temples of Angkor. While Cambodia is justly famous for its unique historical heritage, the Kingdom has much more to offer than just Angkor Wat, and visitors are welcomed with open arms to discover its treasures, many of which are still largely untouched by tourism.
There is a wealth of travel experiences, ranging from trekking adventures in the pristine wilderness of one of the numerous national parks to exciting overland journeys to hill tribe areas which are rarely visited by tourists, to relaxing breaks on one of the beautiful beaches, to in-depth explorations of the splendor of the Khmer civilization of which Angkor Wat is no doubt the most spectacular testament and which should of course not be missed by any first-time visitor.
But Cambodia also offers a wealth of less obvious attractions, for example the many small but fascinating discoveries visitors make, be it on a tuktuk ride through the bustling capital of Phnom Penh or when observing the goings-on in a fishing village during a homestay with a Khmer family.
Among the most captivating experiences on a journey through Cambodia are the many encounters with its warm-hearted people – no doubt Cambodia’s greatest treasure. Despite their unspeakable suffering in the past they have not lost their charming smiles. With their hospitality and optimism, they make Cambodia a truly rewarding travel destination.
Welcome to the Kingdom of Cambodia!
Cambodia is situated on the Indochina Peninsula and occupies an area of approx. 181,000 sq km. Cambodia shares borders with Laos, Vietnam and Thailand and has a coastline of approx. 400 km. There are also numerous small islands which belong to Cambodia.
The Kingdom mainly consists of the so-called Cambodian Basin, which is only a few meters above sea level and which is bordered by mountain ranges in the North, East and West. Cambodia’s highest mountain is Phnom Aural (1,813 m).
The Mekong and the Tonle Sap lake and river, which joins the Mekong in Phnom Penh, form the life veins of the country. During the rainy season the water level of the Mekong rises to such an extent that large areas of the countryside are flooded and the Tonle Sap river changes its direction of flow, feeding the Tonle Sap Lake with enormous quantities of water. This results in an expansion of the lake to several times its area during the dry season.
Cambodia’s climate is tropical with three distinct seasons. The rainy season lasts from June to October. It is followed by a cool dry season from November to January and a hot dry season from February to April.
The rainy season is characterized by short, heavy rainfalls that rarely last for more than an hour. Continuous rain as known in Europe is very rare. Average temperatures range from 28C to 32C degrees.
Population and Mentality
Approximately 90 percent of Cambodians are ethnic Khmer. Minorities include Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham and Khmer Loeu, the indigenous people populating the Northeast. Only about 20 percent of Cambodians live in cities.
With a population growth of approx. 2 per cent per annum Cambodia is among the world’s fastest-growing nations. More than 40 per cent of Cambodians are younger than 15 years, whereas only three per cent are older than 65 years. Average life expectancy is 58 years. At 30 per cent the illiteracy rate continues to be very high.
Cambodians are generally considered tolerant, hospitable and helpful. After the unspeakable suffering of the past they long for peace and harmony. Conflicts and problems are thus often met with a smile and solved by compromising.
220V, 50 Hz. Note that particularly in remote areas power cuts are not uncommon. Most European plugs fit into the Cambodian sockets.
The Riel is Cambodia’s official currency (USD 1 = 4,000 riel). US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country.
When using US dollars in change, inspect the bills carefully. Marred riel is acceptable tender, but the tiniest tear in a large US note, especially a $20, $50 or $100 note, renders it all but useless in Cambodia. Moneychangers and other businesses will not accept it. Banks do accept those notes.
There are banks in all provincial capitals in the country, including Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Battambang. Banks offer the usual banking services – cash advances on credits cards (most accept Visa and Master Card) international currency exchange. Almost all ATMs offer international access. Most banks are open from 8:00 to 15:00 or 16:00PM, Monday through Friday. Some are open Saturday mornings until 11:30. ATMs are available 24 hours.
Credit Cards are accepted at most upscale hotels, shops and restaurants. Credit cards are general not accepted at any businesses outside of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville. Visa, MasterCard (MC) and JCB cards are the most widely accepted credit cards in Cambodia. Most businesses charge a 2%-4% fee to accept credit cards.
Although medical care is improving fast in Cambodia, it is still rudimentary in remote areas. Phnom Penh and Siem reap have hospitals that meet Western standards. It is recommended that all travelers consult their doctor or travel center prior to leaving for Cambodia. Health insurance is a must and should include evacuation coverage in case of a serious emergency.
What to pack
As temperatures in Cambodia are tropical throughout the year, only light clothing is needed. The sun is very intense, so bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. During the rainy season a light raincoat will be useful. When travelling in the countryside mosquito repellent is a must. Good shoes are needed for hiking or exploring the temples. During the cooler months a sweater or jacket may be useful when travelling to the mountainous provinces of Mondulkiri and Ratanakiri.
Visas are obtainable upon arrival at all International Airports and most land crossing from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Tourists can also apply for an E-Visa online before travelling through this website: https://www.evisa.gov.kh/. Be aware that e-visas are not accepted at all land borders. See website for more information.
A tourist visa is valid for 30 days and costs US$30 at airports and US$35 at land crossings.
Rice and fish are the staple diet for Cambodians. Specialties include fairly mild curries, sour soups and meat dishes such as Loc Lac (Cambodian stir fried beef). Cambodia’s national dish is Amok, which is fish steamed with coconut and lemongrass in a banana leaf. Chinese and Vietnamese and dishes are also common. Western food is readily available in all bigger towns and cities.
Cambodia has become a safe country in which to travel, and violent crimes against travelers are rare. Most hotels offer safety boxes for storing valuables and money. In some very remote areas, it is imperative to stick to marked paths because of the danger of unexploded landmines. Always travel with a knowledgeable guide when visiting remote places.
Useful contacts and emergency numbers can be found here.
It is important to respect local dress standards, especially when visiting religious sites. Covering the upper arms and legs is appropriate. Always remove your shoes before entering a religious building or someone’s home. When seated make sure that the soles of your feet do not point towards other people and never point with your feet to any religious object. Do not touch the head of other people, as this is considered rude. Be diplomatic when discussing political issues.
Public taxis are virtually non-existent in Cambodia. Mainly tuktuk’s are used here. Especially at night it’s recommended to use a tuktuk for transportation. Streetlights are not always working or present and pedestrians are not very well taken into account in traffic as we are used to. From your hotel to the city center, up to 3 USD for a tuktuk ride with 2 people is a good price. Agree on a price in advance and only pay afterwards. Negotiation the price is common practice.
The official national language of Cambodia is Khmer, also referred to as Cambodian. French is spoken by some of the older generation, while English is the first foreign language among the younger generations. Even though Khmer grammar is relatively simple, the pronunciation and script, especially for Westerners learners, can be challenging.
Tips are not traditionally expected but highly appreciated in a country as poor as Cambodia. Even small tips can make a real difference to the recipient’s income. It is appropriate to make a small donation at the end of a visit to a pagoda or other religious site.
Guidelines for tipping are:
- Bellboys and cleaners in hotels: 2000 riel ($ 0.50). Or you can choose to donate in the tip box most hotels have at the reception area.
- Restaurants: ca. $ 2 total based on 2 people
- Guides and taxi drivers: $ 5 to $ 10 per day.
When giving a tuktuk or car driver who accompanies a guide a tip, always make sure that this is less al than the guide. There is pretty strict hierarchy.
The time difference between Cambodia and Europe is 6 hours (CET +6). During the European daylight-saving time this is reduced to 5 hours.
Traveling in Cambodia after Covid19
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused major disruption to the Cambodian economy, in particular the hospitality industry. Many hotels and businesses closed. Some activities will take time to resume. Your itinerary is written in good faith based on our knowledge of the situation. However, depending on travel date some changes may need to be made in order to follow the itinerary. Please also keep in mind that many hotels have been closed for over 2 years and started up again with minimal cash flow. You might therefore experience some small maintenance issues sometimes.
Finally, we would like to inform you that Cambodia cannot be compared to a Western country. Please note that Cambodia is still a third world country. Power cuts, reduced water pressure, bad roads, etc. are things that still occur regularly. Local drivers or guides can sometimes be a bit late. If nobody shows up within 10 minutes, please contact Collin (see number above).
An adjustment or even cancellation of an excursion because of unforeseen circumstances can happen. Especially the weather can be of influence in the jungle and forested areas.
Please be aware that local guides outside the city’s do not always speak clear English because of lack of education and an Asian accent. Please be patient with them as they try their best to make themselves understandable. Most welcome your corrections as they are eager to learn to speak better English.