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- Central Khmer
- Tboung Khmum
- Banteay Meanchey
- Kampong Cham
- Kampong Chhnang
- Kampong Speu
- Kampong Thom
- Koh Kong
- Phnom Penh
- Preah Vihear
- Prey Veng
- Siem Reap
- Ŏtâr Méanchey
- Stung Treng
- Svay Rieng
Wiki Voyage Travel Information
Cambodia (កម្ពុជា), sometimes transliterated as Kampuchea to more closely represent the Khmer pronunciation, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia (ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា), is a Southeast Asian nation bordered by Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north, Thailand to the northwest, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.
- Phnom Penh - the capital
- Banlung - far northeastern provincial capital located near some great waterfalls and national parks
- Battambang - the second biggest town in Cambodia
- Kampot - town between the capital and Sihanoukville and gateway to the Bokor National Park
- Koh Kong - small border crossing town near the Thai border
- Kompong Thom - access to less well known (and less crowded) ancient temples and other sites
- Kratie - relaxed river town in the northeast on the Mekong, and an excellent place to get a close look at endangered river dolphins
- Siem Reap - the access point for Angkor Wat
- Sihanoukville - seaside town in the south, also known as Kompong Som
- Angkor Archaeological Park - home of the imposing ruins of ancient Khmer civilization
- Bokor National Park - ghostly former French hill resort
- Kampong Cham - nice countryside village on the Mekong river and good place to meet real Cambodia
- Kep - a seaside area which pre-dates Sihanoukville as the main beach resort in Cambodia; slowly being re-discovered by travellers
- Krek - a small village on the backpacker trail between Kratie and Kampong Cham
- Koh Ker - more ancient ruins, north of Angkor
- Poipet - gritty border town that most overland visitors to Angkor pass through
- Preah Vihear - cliff-top temple pre-dating Angkor
- Tonle Sap Lake - huge lake with floating villages and SE Asia's premier bird sanctuary
Cambodia has had a pretty bad run of luck for the last half-millennium or so. Ever since the fall of Angkor in 1431, the once mighty Khmer Empire has been plundered by all its neighbours. It was colonised by the French in the 19th century, and during the 1970s suffered heavy carpet bombing by the USA. After a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia promptly plunged back into the horrors of civil war in 1970 to suffer the Khmer Rouge's incredibly brutal reign of terror followed by occupation by Vietnamese forces, and only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 did the country begin to struggle back onto its feet.
Much of the population still subsists on less than the equivalent of US$1 a day, the provision of even basic services remains spotty. Political intrigue remains as complex and opaque as ever; but the security situation has improved immeasurably, and increasing numbers of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia's temples and beaches. Siem Reap , the gateway to Angkor, now sports luxury hotels, chic nightspots, ATMs, and an airport fielding flights from all over the region, while Sihanoukville is getting good press as an up-and-coming beach destination. However, travel beyond the most popular tourist destinations is still an adventure.
The elaborate urban culture of Angkor and other sites can attest to the fact that the Khmer Empire was once wealthy and powerful. Its zenith came under Jayavarman VII (1181-c.1218), when the Empire made significant territorial gains. The Angkorian civilization harnessed Cambodia's water for agriculture through elaborate systems of canals and dams. Crops surplus permitted a sophisticated urban civilization, based on Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.
The period following the fall of the Khmer Empire has been described as Cambodia's Dark Ages. Climatic factors precipitated this fall, but eventually the Khmer Empire never recovered from the sacking by its neighbours, based in Ayutthaya (in modern day Thailand). Cambodia spent much of the next four hundred years squeezed and threatened by the rivalries of the expanding Siamese and Vietnamese Empires to the west and east. On the eve of French colonisation it was claimed that Cambodia was likely to cease to exist as an independent kingdom entirely, with the historian John Tully claiming "...there can be little doubt that their [the French] intervention prevented the political disappearance of the kingdom".
The French came to dominate Cambodia as a protectorate from the 1860s, part of a wider ambition to control the area then termed Indochina (modern day Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos). The French were always more concerned with their possessions in Vietnam. Education of Cambodians was neglected for all but the established elite. Paradoxically, it was from this privileged colonial elite that many "Red Khmers" would later emerge. Japan's hold on Southeast Asia during the Second World War undermined French prestige, and following the Allied victory Prince Sihanouk declared independence. This was a relatively peaceful transition.
Prince Sihanouk was noted for making very strange movies which he wrote, starred in, and directed. His rule was characterized at this point by a Buddhist revival and an emphasis on education. He succeeded in helping create an educated elite who became increasingly disenchanted with the lack of available jobs. As the economic situation in Cambodia deteriorated, many young people were attracted to the Indochinese Communist Party, and later the Khmer Rouge.
As the Second Indochina War spread to Cambodia's border (an important part of the "Ho Chi Minh trail"), the USA became increasingly concerned with events in the country. The US Air Force bombed Cambodia from 1964 to 1973, with the period from March 1969 to May 1970 being particularly intense. During this campaign, which was code-named Operation Menu, 540,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped. Estimates of the civilian death toll range from 150,000 to 500,000. In total, from 1964 to 1973 the US dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs on Cambodia, more than the combined amount dropped by all the Allies in all theatres during World War II.
In March 1970, while overseas visiting Moscow and Beijing, Sihanouk was overthrown by Lon Nol and other generals who were looked upon favourably by the United States. Sihanouk then put his support behind the Khmer Rouge. This change influenced many to follow suit. Meanwhile the Khmer Rouge followed the Vietnamese example and began to endear themselves to the rural poor.
Following a five-year struggle, Communist Khmer Rouge forces captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and ordered the evacuation of all cities and towns. Over ome million people (and possibly many more) died from execution or enforced hardships. Those from the cities were known as "new" people and suffered worst at first. The rural peasantry were regarded as "base" people and fared better. However, the Khmer Rouge cruelty was inflicted on both groups. It also depended much upon where one was from. For example, people in the east generally suffered worse. It is debated whether or not the Khmer Rouge began "crimes against humanity" or a protracted "genocide". There are claims there was a disproportionate number of ethnic Chams killed, and the ethnic Vietnamese also suffered persecution. Nonetheless, the Khmer also suffered often indiscriminate mass killings.
A 1978 Vietnamese invasion drove the Khmer Rouge forces into the countryside and ended many years of fighting, although the fighting would continue for some time in border areas. Cold War politics meant that despite the horrendous crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, they were the recognised government long after the liberation of the country by the Vietnamese. Indeed they continued to receive covert support and financing by the USA. Due to the devastating politics of the Khmer Rouge regime, there was virtually no infrastructure left. Institutions of higher education, money, and all forms of industry were destroyed in 1978, so the country had to be built up from scratch.
UN-sponsored elections in 1993 helped restore some semblance of normalcy, as did the rapid diminution of the Khmer Rouge militia in the mid-1990s. A coalition government, formed after national elections in 1998, brought renewed political stability and the surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces.
The two pillars of Cambodia's newly-stable economy are textiles and tourism. The tourism industry has grown rapidly with over 1.7 million visitors arriving in 2006 and 2 million in 2007. The long-term development of the economy after decades of war remains a daunting challenge, as the population lacks education and productive skills, particularly in the poverty-ridden countryside, which suffers from an almost total lack of basic infrastructure. More than 60% of the population still gets by on subsistence farming. The government is addressing these issues with assistance from bilateral and multilateral donors. Construction of new roads, irrigation, and agriculture are underway to rejuvenate rural areas.
Cambodia is tropical and its climate dominated by monsoons, so season are wet or dry, rather than the four seasons of cooler regions of the world. Nov-Mar is relatively windy and cool and is the most popular time to visit. Apr-May is hot and dry, and temperatures may peak at 40 C. Jun-Sep is the wet and green season.
All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia , Malaysia , Singapore , Philippines , Laos , Thailand and Vietnam , need a visa to enter Cambodia. The official price is US$30 for a Tourist Visa and US$35 for an Ordinary Visa and citizens of most countries can get a visa on arrival. Staff may try to charge more at some border crossings (including airports), but hold out for the official price, especially at major crossings.
Visa on Arrival is available at both international airports, all six international border crossings with Thailand, some international border crossings with Vietnam, and at the main border crossing with Laos. Visas can also be obtained at Cambodian embassies and consulates.
- Tourist visas: all are valid for one stay of up to 30 days. Those issued in advance expire 90 days after issue. In Phnom Penh (or elsewhere via agencies), tourist visas can be extended only once, allowing an additional 30 days at a cost of US$30.
- Ordinary visa or Type-E: the best choice for stays over two months and/or multiple entries, as they can be extended indefinitely (approx US$140 per 6 month extension) and have multiple entry status when extended. Most Phnom Penh travel agencies process the extensions. Foreign nationals of some countries (such as India) require prior permission from the Department of Immigration or the Ministry of the Interior to obtain an Ordinary visa. Such visitors can also enter the country on a tourist visa and subsequently apply for said permission at the Department of Immigration near the airport in Phnom Penh , which, if granted, will enable them to leave the country and re-enter on an ordinary visa
To apply for a visa, you will need one or two (depending on where you apply) passport-size (35x45mm) photos, a passport which is valid for at least 6 months and has at least one completely blank visa page remaining, and clean US dollar notes with which to pay the fee (expect to pay a substantially higher price if paying in a local currency). Passport photocopies may also be required when applying at some embassies/consulates, but not if applying on arrival. If you don't have a passport photo upon arrival at Phnom Penh airport (and possibly other entry points), they will scan the one on your passport for an extra US$2.
At Phnom Penh airport head to the Visa on Arrival desk, join the queue to the left, where your application form is reviewed (you should have been given the form on the plane). Then move to the right and wait for your name to be called. You then pay and receive your passport with the visa. Officials have difficulties pronouncing Western names so stay alert and listen out for any of your names in your passport, any of your given names or surname may be called. Once reunited with your passport, join the immigration queue.
In Poipet, several scams abound . A favourite is the Cambodian custom officers ask tourists to pay 1,000 baht (about US$30) for a visa on arrival, instead of US$20. Stand firm but stay friendly and keep smiling, they rarely insist. The penalty for having no photo is usually only US$1-2, but the price is also negotiable.
Citizens of most nations can apply for an e-Visa online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation website, through a service provided by a private Cambodian company (CINet). This is a normal Tourist Visa but costs US$37 instead of the normal US$30. The visa arrives as a PDF file by e-mail within 3 business days. The application requires a digital photograph of yourself (in .jpg format). You can scan your passport photo or have a passport sized photograph taken with a digital camera. There are other websites pretending to make a Cambodian e-visa. At best, these are just on-line travel agencies which will charge you more and get the same visa for you; at worst, you may end up with a fake e-visa.
You need to print two copies (one for entry and one for exit) of the PDF visa, cut out the visa parts and keep them with your passport.
Visas in advance (either on-line or from an embassy/consulate) save time at the border but are more expensive. However, you do get to skip the queues of people applying for the visa's delivery, although sometimes you may simply spend the saved time waiting at the airport luggage belt for your suitcase.
E-Visas are only valid for entry by air or at the three main border crossings: Bavet (on the Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh road); Koh Kong (near Trat in Eastern Thailand ); and Poipet (on the Bangkok - Siem Reap road). You may exit the country with an e-visa via any border crossing , however. Given the general reduction in visa scams at the major land borders, paying the extra US$7 to guarantee the price may (more likely if entering from Thailand) or may not worth it. Getting a tourist visa on arrival for US$30 is more likely than being overcharged. Plus it keeps the option open of the enjoyable Phnom Penh - Chau Doc boat trip (and the use of other minor border crossings)!
Cambodia has international airports at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap .
Direct flights connect Phnom Penh International Airport (previously Pochentong International Airport) with mainland China ( Beijing , Guangzhou ), France ( Paris ), Hong Kong , Laos ( Vientiane ), Malaysia ( Kuala Lumpur ), Singapore , South Korea ( Incheon ), Taiwan ( Taipei ), Thailand ( Bangkok ) and Vietnam ( Ho Chi Minh City ).
Direct flights connect Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport with Laos ( Pakse , Vientiane ), Malaysia ( Kuala Lumpur ), Singapore , South Korea ( Incheon , Busan ), Thailand ( Bangkok ) and Vietnam ( Hanoi , Ho Chi Minh City ).
Travellers going specifically to visit the Angkor temple ruins may prefer to use Siem Reap as it's only a few minutes away from the main sites. For flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap, AirAsia is mostly a lot cheaper than Bangkok Airways. When looking for those flights, make sure to check for Bangkok's second airport Don Mueang ().
Low-cost carrier Air Asia has introduced flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap , while Jetstar Asia has begun flying from Singapore to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh .
Other airlines operating flights to/from Cambodia include Asiana Airlines, Bangkok Airways, China Southern Airlines, Dragonair, Eva Airways, Korean Air, Lao Airlines, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), Shanghai Airlines, Siem Reap Airways (a subsidiary of Bangkok Airways), SilkAir, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International, and Vietnam Airlines.
In the list of borders below, the Cambodian town comes second; eg: Aranyaprathet is the border town in Thailand, while Poipet is in Cambodia.
All six border crossings with Thailand are open 07:00-20:00. Each offers Cambodian visas on arrival. All the crossings are served by paved roads in both countries.
Thai buses run to but not across each of the crossings: even Chong Sa-Ngam, the last to achieve Thai connections has now gained minibuses that bring gamblers to the new casino in Choam .
In Cambodia, four of the six border towns ( Poipet , Koh Kong , Daun Lem and O'Smach ) are directly served by buses. Pailin , Anlong Veng and Samraong (each less than 20 km from a border) are each served by buses; motorbikes and shared taxis connect each of the towns with their respective border crossings.
Cambodia's busiest land crossing is at Aranyaprathet / Poipet on the Bangkok - Siem Reap road in North-western Cambodia . Long the stuff of nightmares, the roads are now paved all the way from Poipet to Siem Reap , Battambang and Phnom Penh .
Coastal Cambodia and the southern part of the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains region is served by the Hat Lek / Koh Kong border. The road goes all the way to Sihanoukville . From Trat in Thailand, there a minibuses to the border. In Cambodia, minibuses or taxis connect the border to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh . The Koh Kong - Sihanoukville boat service no longer runs.
The former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng is close to the Chong Sa-Ngam (in Si Saket Province )/ Choam border. Pol Pot was killed and burned within walking distance of immigration.
Improving roads in Northwestern Cambodia are making Samraong emerge as a transport hub. It is close to the Chong Jom (in Surin Province )/ O'Smach border and well linked with Siem Reap .
Eastern Thailand is connected to Battambang and Siem Reap by the Ban Pakard (in Chanthaburi Province )/ Phra Prom (near Pailin ) crossing, which offers a less stressful and more scenic alternative to the more northly major crossing at Poipet .
The geographically closest crossing to Battambang is that at Ban Leam (in Chanthaburi Province )/Daun Lem. Paramount Angkor run buses to Battambang though as of March 2012 the road on the Cambodian side is not yet fully paved.
Vietnamese visas must be obtained in advance from an embassy or consulate. This is easily arranged in Cambodia. Vietnam visa on arrival is only valid for airport arrivals, not land crossings.
The main crossing is the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing on the Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh road. Buses between the two cities cost US$8-12 and take around 6 hr. Passengers vacate the vehicle at both countries' checkpoints. Only one passport photo is required for a Cambodian visa on arrival. Tours of the Mekong Delta (US$25-35, 2-3 days) can provide a more insightful journey between the two cities.
Through tickets to Siem Reap are also available (US$18), though it is cheaper to by a ticket to Phnom Penh and then arrange onward transport on one of the many connecting buses.
Close to the coast is the Xa Xia/Prek Chak border. Cambodian visas are available on arrival. Buses run between Ha Tien in Vietnam to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
Coastal areas are also served by the Tinh Bien/Phnom Den border near Chau Doc in Vietnam.
The Xa Mat/Trapeang Phlong crossing on the Ho Chi Minh City - Kampong Cham road is not well served by public transport but may be useful for accessing Kampong Cham and Eastern Cambodia .
Banlung in North Eastern Cambodia is served by a crossing at Le Tanh/O Yadaw near Pleiku in Vietnam . Visas are available on arrival, one photo required. Change buses at Le Tanh.
Stung Treng in Cambodia is connected to Pakse and the Four Thousand Islands region of Laos by the Voeung Kam / Dom Kralor border. Onward transportation is not regularly available. Cambodian and Lao visas available, but require a US$1-2 unofficial fee on both sides of the border. Travel agencies on both sides offer border crossing packages.
To/from Laos - There is one border crossing for tourists on the Mekong, a 90 minute speedboat ride north of Stung Treng. The border guards have few opportunities for "alternative" income, and will usually try to make a few extra dollars from scamming tourists.
To/from Thailand - There are no ferry services between Cambodia and Thailand. The Sihanoukville - Koh Kong ferry no longer runs.
To/from Vietnam - It's possible to travel between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh by boat, or by combination of road and boat. Fast boats leave daily from Chau Doc in Vietnam's Mekong Delta and take 5h to reach Phnom Penh. Chau Doc is a four hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. A popular overland route is to make a three day trip, stopping at Can Tho and Chau Doc before taking the boat to Phnom Penh.
Exclusively for yacht cruises - Members of the crew and passengers of cruise boats can obtain a visa upon arrival at the ' Sihanoukville Autonomous Port'. Paperwork arrival in the new marina. You must first report data on the boat, the crew and passport copies to the office of the Marina Oceania Harbour Master. Visa fee is US$25 for 30 days.
The domestic aviation scene in Cambodia has improved. Three airports currently operating scheduled passenger flights: Phnom Penh , Siem Reap , and Sihanoukville .
The main operator is Cambodia Angkor Air, a joint venture between the government and Vietnam Airlines, which flies between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, and airports in China, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 2013, the creation of a second airline, Cambodia Airlines, was announced. Scheduled to begin travel some time in 2013, the airline is a joint venture between Philippines Airlines and local stakeholders. It is not yet flying (Dec 2013).
A charter service, Aero Cambodia, operates from Phnom Penh to Cambodia's other 16 airports using twin engine 10-70 seat aircraft.
Helistar Cambodia, a VIP helicopter charter and scenic flights company, operate to virtually anywhere in Cambodia. Helicopters can be chartered to fly from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for one-way or return journeys. The basic hourly charter rate is US$1,700 per flight hour plus 10% VAT and 10% SPT. They operate modern, air conditioned Eurocopter Ecureuils with seating for up to 6 passengers. They also have licensed foreign pilots. A pick-up and set-down transfer service is also available at both international airports.
The Cambodian government has been frantically upgrading roads throughout the country since about 2008. While great for the country, it does make travel advice quickly obsolete! Finding an unsealed road is actually quite a challenge and most travellers will not have any horror stories of car-swallowing ruts or wet-season quagmires. For the time being, notable unpaved roads that would be of use to travellers are: Battambang - Koh Kong (currently a great dirt bike adventure across the mountains or a long detour by bus via Phnom Penh ), access to the Banteay Chhmar temples (a high-quality unsealed road, as good as a sealed road during the dry season) and the road between Sen Monorom and Banlung (if there's any remote jungle left in Cambodia, it'll be here). The borders, coast and major cities are all well-connected with good roads.
Longer journeys in Cambodia can be taken by bus, pickup truck or shared taxi. In many towns, whichever of these are available will be found at the local market square. Larger towns and cities will have bus stations. Buses may also serve their companies' offices, which may be more convenient than the bus station: this is particularly true in Siem Reap . Mekong Express has the best reputation for comfort and speed and consequently charges a premium. Sorya (formerly Ho Wah Genting) and GST offer a slightly cheaper no-frills service. Capitol runs between its centrally located offices, making for city centre-to-city centre travel. Ramshackled peasant mover Paramount Angkor Transport is great for accessing more remote places but low on comfort and safety.
Avoid VR Express and Phnom Penh Sorya Transport Co. They have a history of threatening customers, manipulating, lying, and being unhelpful and rude. They prioritize cheating passengers of their money.
Indeed bus safety is a big problem in Cambodia. On Hwy 5, between Phnom Penh and Battambang, there are dozens of bus crashes annually, many of them horrendous, with multiple fatalities. There are even bus-on-bus crashes. Drivers are untrained, impatient, and (according to those working in roadside gas stations) sometimes drunk. Most of these accidents go unreported, but frequent travellers on Highway 5 can typically observe half a dozen bus crashes in a month.
Generally bus travel is cheap, with journeys from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or Sihanoukville costing around US$5. Bring along something warm if you don't like freezing air conditioning and earplugs if you don't like Khmer karaoke. There are a few night-time services but most buses leave in the morning and the last ones leave in the afternoon.
Some believe taxis are safer for inter-city travel, but taxis also often go way too fast, and so are involved in numerous fatal accidents. The front seat in a taxi from Phnom Penh to Battambang should cost you about US$25.
In cities, motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous. For quick trips across town, just stand on a corner for a moment and someone will offer you a lift - for a small, usually standard, fee of US$1 or less.
Motorcycle rentals are available in many towns, with the notable exception of Siem Reap. Be careful if driving or riding yourself: driving practices are vastly different from developed countries. Local road rules will also differ from city to city.
Ferries operate seasonally along many of the major rivers. Major routes include Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Siem Reap to Battambang . The Sihanoukville to Koh Kong ferry no longer runs. Boats are slower than road transport, charge higher prices for foreigners, and are sometimes overcrowded and unsafe. Then again, Cambodia's highways are also dangerous, and boats are probably the safer of the two options. The high speed boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap costs US$33 and takes about 6 hours, departing at 07:30, and offers a spectacular view of rural life along the Tonle Sap River.
There are also a few luxury boats operating between Siem Reap , Phnom Penh and Saigon . For something around US$150/day including accommodation, food and excursions, it's a good alternative to regular boat service.
The boat trip between Siem Reap and Battambang takes longer (especially in the dry season), and is less comfortable and more expensive than taking a seat in a share taxi, but is favoured by some travellers for its up-close view of subsistence farming (and hundreds of waving children) along the river. Taking the boat late in the dry season (Apr-May) is not advisable as low water levels mean that you must transfer to smaller vessels in mid-river.
Passenger trains ceased in 2009 as the state of the rail infrastructure was dire. The entire network is undergoing an agonizingly slow restoration and it may be possible to hitch a ride on the daily cargo train that may still run for 111 km between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas (near Kampot ), if you enjoy that kind of thing. The service was reinstated in Oct 2010 but was reported to have possibly stopped when Toll, an Australian company, pulled out of the Cambodian rail venture in Apr 2012. There are plans to link the network with the Thai and Vietnamese railway networks. However, don't hold your breath.
By bamboo train
Despite the lack of normal train services there are bamboo trains or noris running around Battambang, and you can also travel on a bamboo train from the outskirts of Phnom Penh to Battambang on demand. These trains are home made railcars which carry just about anything, pigs, motorcycles, crops, you name it, as long as it fits on the train. They are also great fun to ride on and they are actually reasonably safe, and the drivers are friendly. They cost around US$2 per person for a short journey and around US$6 to hire one with a driver. Ask locally where you can find a norry, or you can find one at Battambang station.
- See also: Khmer phrasebook
Cambodians primarily speak Khmer , which unlike most languages in the region is not tonal, but makes up for it with a large assortment of consonant and vowel clusters. Young Cambodians prefer to learn English as a second language and you will find people who speak anything from basic to fluent English in major towns and cities. In tourist market situations, most Cambodians will know enough English to complete a basic transaction, though many vendors carry calculators into which they punch numbers and show you the screen to indicate the price.
A few educated senior citizens can also speak French , a relic of the colonial period when it was a medium of instruction in schools. Because the Khmer Rouge targeted for extermination anyone capable of speaking a foreign language, actually encountering anyone fluent in French is very rare outside Phnom Penh. German and other European tongues can be found in the tourist centres (but are even rarer than French) and Japanese is also a popular language for tourist industry workers. Nevertheless, if you cannot speak Khmer, English remains by far your best bet.
Chinese dialects, Thai and Vietnamese are spoken in Phnom Penh. Thai is more prevalent in northwestern provinces, whereas Vietnamese dominates southeastern provinces.
Cambodia's main sight is so famous and grand, it's also one of the prime destinations in all of Asia. The magnificent and awe-inspiring temples of the Angkor Archaeological Park draw huge and diverse crowds, who come to admire their enormous symbolism and sheer magnitude. It's a place not to be missed on any trip to the region, worth every bit of the often sweltering heat. Finding a somewhat private spot for sundown over the temples can be a challenge, but the colours are wonderful. Start early to beat the crowds at the mysterious Ta Prohm complex. Made extra famous as a filming location for Tomb Raider, the ruins overgrown by huge jungle trees make for one of the most atmospheric sites at Angkor.
Close to the capital city of Phnom Penh , the Choeung Ek Memorial, better known as the Killing fields - while shocking and sad - leaves a long-lasting impression. Excellent tours are available, providing an insight into the outrageous atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. For further insights, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is the main place to visit.
- Go on a boat party in Phnom Penh
- Go hiking in Bokor National Park
- See endangered river dolphins in Kratie
- Boat through to the floating village and have lunch aboard the floating restaurant near Siem Reap
The Cambodian riel, denoted by the symbol "៛" (ISO code: KHR), and the US dollar (USD) are both official currencies. The riel generally used only for small transactions (i.e. below US$1). US coins are not used. Most ATMs only dispense US dollars, although some are loaded with both currencies.
The Cambodian Central Bank maintains the riel at around 3,800-4,200 riel to the dollar. In day-to-day commerce, 4,000 riel per dollar is ubiquitous. So US$1.50 is one dollar and 2,000 riel, or 6,000 riel. Riel notes go as high as 100,000 riel (US$25) but 10,000 riel (US$2.50) is the highest denomination that is commonly encountered. Riel only have value outside Cambodia as souvenirs. No one will exchange them.
Near the Thai border (for example Battambang , Koh Kong , and Poipet ) Thai baht is commonly accepted but the locals use an unfavourable 40 baht to the dollar as a rule of thumb. Try to change any baht rather than spend them as banks and money changers will give you a much better rate.
Banks sometimes operate as Western Union money transfer agents.
Baht and other major currencies (euros, pounds sterling) an easily be exchanged in any city. Shop around if you are keen on saving money; there is no hard-and-fast rule as to whether banks or money changers will offer the best rates.
Torn or old foreign currency notes may be difficult to exchange, except US$1 bills which change hands often. Cambodian banks will refuse US$2 bills and notes without the security strip. Refusing imperfect notes is normal, traders may try to take advantage of tourists' naïveté and try to get rid of them. Just smile and hand them back.
Cards and ATMs
ATMs are spreading far beyond the main cities. They are generally compatible with Maestro, Cirrus, Plus, and VISA cards. Cash advances on credit cards may also be possible.
VISA and JCB are the most widely accepted credit cards; MasterCard and American Express cards are slowly becoming more widely accepted.
ATMs dispense US dollars in varying denominations from 10-100. If you receive bills in poor condition (especially US$50 or US$100) from an ATM attached directly to a bank try to change them there immediately as they may be difficult to change later.
Cambodian ATMs only accept 4-digit PINs. If your PIN is more than 4 digits, best to take care of that at home before you need cash and find yourself out of luck.
Traveller's cheques, like credit cards, are accepted in major business establishments, such as large hotels, some restaurants, travel agencies and some souvenir shops; American Express (in USD) are the most widely accepted. However, competitive rates are only usually found in banks in Cambodia's larger cities, and guesthouses in heavily visited areas may offer similar services but at horrendous rates. The usual fee for cashing traveller's cheques is 2% with a US$2 minimum.
You can get away with pretty much haggling for anything in Cambodia. Restaurants, outdoor food stalls, even rates for guesthouses. The Khmer are notoriously quiet up to a point of no return. They do not lose face, they lose their temper. However, there are a few guidelines:
- Many products, especially those not aimed at tourists, are fixed price, and while it is possible to get a minor discount if you ask, you cannot get things significantly cheaper than this. Many markets have the prices of goods painted on the walls (in Khmer).
- In Cambodia where dining out isn't really common among local people, restaurants cater almost entirely for foreigners and tend to be a little bit more expensive than neighbouring countries. However in Siem Reap, it is, sometimes if not always, possible to haggle with street food vendors over the portion of a dish, free side dish, and get 20-30% discount.
- The US dollar is widely used in Cambodia but no circulation of coins will end up giving you a lot of Cambodian riels when the price you pay is not an integer. This gives a chance for short-changing, which is particularly popular in several grocery stores in Siem Reap. For example, you give US$1 for buying a bottle of water which is US$0.60, the staff should return the amount of riel equivalent to US$0.40, but they may keep some of them. The money cheated is usually minimal. Just be quick at mental arithmetic.
- Haggle in groups. Having two other friends will make it much easier to convince Cambodians to give a discount: one person can play bad cop, the other good cop.
- Ask to speak with the manager/owner (this applies to guesthouse and restaurants). Usually if you try to haggle at a restaurant or guesthouse the employee will say that the boss needs to be there. If so, then just ask to speak with him or ask the employee to speak with him. You would be surprised at how easy it is to haggle down once you speak to the boss, many times he doesn't even want to be bothered and will give the discount to you.
- Never pay the asking price for anything near the temples of Angkor. This includes books, souvenirs, paintings, water and food. During the off-season, the food stalls near the temples will have a separate menu, ask for it. You can even bargain on top of that too. Note that it's much harder to bargain at the food stalls at Angkor Wat and especially at the breakfast restaurants across the street from Angkor Wat.
- Try not to haggle too harshly with the motobike drivers and tuk-tuks that work near where you stay. Most are honest, but they will look after your safety more if you are seen as a good customer. Some will decide they will get the money from you another way, and could take you to be mugged. Agree upon the fare before your ride or you may get into a very uncomfortable situation.
- If haggling isn't your strong point the easiest way to get a good price at a market is to pick up an item, ask how much it is, look disappointed and start to walk away. The price will usually drop as you walk away with vendors unlikely to go below this second price.
Siem Reap is the easiest place to bargain, Phnom Penh may be a little harder, but still worth trying. Just be polite and persistent.
While not the strongest link in Southeast Asia 's chain of delightful cuisines, Khmer food is tasty and cheap. Rice and occasionally noodles are the staples. Unlike in Thailand or Lao, spicy hot food is not the mainstay; black pepper is preferred over chilli peppers, though chillis are usually served on the side. Thai and Vietnamese influences can be noted in Khmer food, although Cambodians love strong sour tastes in their dishes. Prahok, a local fish paste, is common in Khmer cooking and may not please Western palates. Indian and Chinese restaurants have a healthy representation in Phnom Penh and the larger towns. Western food can be readily found in most restaurants in any of the tourist areas of Cambodia and Cambodia offers some of the best budget western meals in SE Asia. However, while still inexpensive, a western meal will often be double the price of a Khmer meal.
Typical Khmer dishes include:
- Amok - Arguably the most well known Cambodian dish. A coconut milk curried dish less spicy than those found in Thailand. Amok is usually made with chicken, fish, or shrimp, plus some vegetables. It is sometimes served in a hollowed-out coconut with rice on the side. Quite delicious.
- K'tieu (Kuytheav) - A noodle soup generally served for breakfast. Can be made with pork, beef or seafood. Flavourings are added to the customers taste in the form of lime juice, chili powder, sugar and fish sauce.
- Somlah Machou Khmae - A sweet and sour soup made with pineapple, tomatoes and fish.
- Bai Sarch Ch'rouk - Another breakfast staple. Rice (bai) with pork meat (sarch chrouk) often barbequed. Very tasty and served with some pickled vegetables.
- Saik Ch'rouk Cha Kn'yei - Pork fried with ginger. Ginger is commonly used as a vegetable. This tasty dish is available just about everywhere.
- Lok lak - Chopped up beef cooked quickly. Probably a holdover from the days of French colonization. Served with a simple dipping sauce made from lime juice and black pepper, lettuce, onion, and often with chips.
- Mi/Bai Chaa - Fried noodles or rice. Never particularly inspiring, but a good traveller's staple.
- Trey Ch'ien Chou 'Ayme - Trey (fish) fried with a sweet chili sauce and vegetables. Very tasty. Chou 'ayme is the phrase for "sweet and sour".
- K'dam - Crab. Kampot in the south is famous for its crab cooked in locally sourced black pepper. A very tasty meal.
Don't forget Khmer desserts - Pong Aime (sweets). These are available from stalls in most Khmer towns and can be excellent. Choose from a variety of sweetmeats and have them served with ice, condensed milk and sugar water. A must try is the Tuk-a-loc, a blended drink of fruits, raw egg, sweetened condensed milk and ice.
There is also a wide variety of fresh fruit available from markets. The prices vary according to which fruit is in season but mangoes (around Khmer New Year, with up to 9 varieties on sale) and mangosteen (May/June) are both superb.
Other popular Khmer foods which may be less palatable to foreigners include pregnant eggs (duck eggs with the embryo still inside), and almost every variety of creepy or crawly animal (spiders, crickets, water beetles) as well as barbecued rats, frogs, snakes, bats and small birds.
The tap water supply in Phnom Penh has undergone some serious changes at the hands of a "water revolutionary" in the government, Ek Sonn Chan. So, in Phnom Penh you can drink the tap water without problem, although it's highly chlorinated and you may not like the taste. Also, there is some concern about the bottle water vendors. The US Embassy website says that "In 2008, Cambodia's Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy reported that more than 100 bottled water companies in Cambodia were being considered for closure for failing to meet minimum production quality standards. Only 24 of the 130 bottled water companies are compliant with the ministry's Department of Industrial Standards." That page seems to be down on bottled water generally, so take it with a grain of salt.
Outside of Phnom Penh (and perhaps Siem Reap) you should assume that tap water is not potable. Khmer brand water in blue plastic bottles sell for 1,000 riel or less (although prices are often marked up for tourists, to 50 cents or a US dollar).
Iced coffee is ubiquitous in Cambodia. It's made Vietnamese-style, freshly brewed and mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Walk past a local eatery any time of the day and you are bound to see at least a table of locals drinking them. One glass costs 1,500-2,000 riel. Iced tea made with lemon and sugar is also refreshing and ubiquitous.
Fresh coconut can be found everywhere, you could say it is ubiquitous, and is healthy and sanitary if drunk straight from the fruit.
In general, Khmers are not what could be described as casual drinkers: their main objective is to get hammered as quickly as possible. Know your limits if invited to join in!
The two most popular domestic Cambodian beers are Anchor - pronounced "an-CHOR" with a ch sound! - and Angkor, both of which can be found in bottles, cans, and on draft, and generally for no more than US$1 each. New beers include the cheap Klang and Cambodia , while Beerlao and Tiger are popular beers with foreigners. A plethora of other beers include ABC Stout, which is dark and not so bad, in addition to the standard Heineken and Carlsberg. Cheaper beers include Crown and Leo, whilst Kingdom Beer aims for the premium market with a pilsener and a dark lager.
Palm wine and rice wine are available in villages and can be OK at 500-1,000 riel for a 1 L bottle. However, some safety concerns have been raised with regard to sanitation, so the local wines may be best avoided.
For a truly Khmer experience, hunt down a bottle of Golden Muscle Wine. Advertised on tuk-tuks everywhere, this pitch-black concoction made from deer antlers and assorted herbs packs a 35% punch and tastes vile when drunk straight, but can be made reasonably palatable, if not exactly tasty, by the addition of tonic water or cola. At US$2 for a 350 ml flask of the original and US$3 for the "X.O." version, it's the cheapest legitimate tipple around.
Western-style accommodation is available in most major towns the country over; even less-visited places such as Kampong Chhnang have a number of affordable guesthouses or hotels. Basic guesthouses can go as low as US$2/night in the countryside but prices in the cities are usually around the US$5-10. At the budget end, expect to provide your own towels etc. If you want air-con and hot water, the price creeps up to close to US$10-20, and you can easily pay over US$100 for a night in a branded hotel.
Cambodia has fewer opportunities for language and cultural studies for the short-term traveller, though there are many language schools and private teachers advertising for those who are hanging around a bit longer. There are also meditation groups which meet at some of the Buddhist Pagodas in Phnom Penh. There are Khmer cooking classes available in Battambang, Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh and Siam Reap.
One of the most interesting ways to get to know a country, and which has become increasingly popular, is to volunteer.
Finding a paid job teaching English in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is easy for English speakers, even if you have no other qualifications. If you're interested, print out some resumes and start handing them out to various schools.
Many bars and guesthouses in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville advertise the need for Western employees or volunteers and will generally provide free lodging and meals, but low pay, if any.
If considering volunteering at an orphanage, do be aware that many, if not all, are exploitative and poorly run. Very few so called orphans currently in orphanages in Cambodia are actually orphans, i.e. have no living parents. Your money is more likely to go the owner rather than the children. There are few legitimate orphanages in Cambodia. Any accepting visits from unscreened foreigners is often a sign of a substandard orphanage, which does not have the children's best interests at heart. There are several good articles 1 on the Internet that further explain the reality of modern day orphanages.
Cambodia is a safe and friendly country, with the usual exception for large cities late at night, particularly Phnom Penh , and unobserved luggage or wallets. Bag snatching, even from those on bicycles and motorcycles, is a problem in Phnom Penh . Be discreet with your possessions, especially cash and cameras, and as always, take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas.
Crime and corruption
The rule of law in Cambodia is inconsistently applied. Crimes usually require bribes to be investigated, and if perpetrators are wealthy or connected to the government they will often be untouchable by police and courts. You should also be aware that the courts are corrupt, so contracts are hard to enforce without some political leverage. All this being said, the violent crime rate is fairly low, the police are generally friendly and non-threatening, and those with common sense have little to fear.
Cambodia suffers from a legacy of millions of land mines left during the war years. However, to tourists, land mines present a minimal to non-existent threat, as most areas near tourist areas have been thoroughly de-mined. Many tourists mistake electric or sewage warning signs along national highways for land mine signs. HALO Trust, a leading mine removal organization in Cambodia, asserts that you would have to drive through the jungle for at least an hour north of Angkor Wat to come across any mines. The threat is to locals in extremely rural areas who rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.
In remote areas such as Preah Vihear (near the border) and Pailin , a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, exercise caution: ask for local advice and heed warning signs, red paint and red rope, which may indicate mined areas. Do not venture beyond well established roads and paths.
The age of consent in Cambodia is 15. Prostitution is illegal but widespread, although generally not overtly aimed at tourists (there are no go-go bars). Many bars and clubs, however, do have working girls wandering the premises, especially in Phnom Penh. While Asia has seen a 20% drop in new HIV infections since 2001-and Cambodia saw a 50% decline between 2003 and 2011-safe sex remains a must in all cases.
Cambodia has gained some notoriety as a destination for paedophiles, but under Cambodian law the penalty for sex with minors can be up to 30 years in prison, and paedophiles may be prosecuted by their home countries as well.
Drugs, including cannabis, are illegal in Cambodia, and penalties can be very severe. Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are full of Happy Herb pizzerias; the effects of this illegal snack comes on only slowly and you may end up biting off more than you can chew, so if you choose to indulge, exercise caution. Many such restaurants advertising "happy pizza" do not actually serve drug-laced pizza. Heroin is very high grade in SE Asia and foreigners requesting cocaine are sometimes provided with it instead, regularly leading to deaths. Over-the-counter pharmaceuticals said to be similar to heroin are readily and legally available, and have also led to tourist deaths.
Mystery disease. Although this disease, mostly striking children under the age of three, was widely reported in the international press as having been identified as enterovirus 71 in Jul 2012, rumours of deaths continue (Nov 2013). This appears to be a taboo topic in the local press, but expats and locals alike talk about how children continue to die from this mystery respiratory illness, apparently several per week. Expats frequently refuse to eat chicken, even from well-known food chains, citing the conditions of transporting and caging chickens, blaming chicken for the spread of the malady.
Cambodia , one of the world's poorest countries, lacks reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals and medication, especially in rural areas. Any serious problem should be dealt with in Bangkok or Singapore , which boast first rate services (at least to those who can afford them). Repatriation is also more easily arranged from either of those cities. Make sure your insurance covers medical evacuation. The private and pricey Royal Rattanak Hospital in Phnom Penh can be trusted for emergency medical care and can treat most diseases and injuries common to the region. Naga Clinic has branches in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh . It is also clean, safe and useful for minor conditions.
Local hospitals and clinics vary from mediocre to frightening. Expect dirt, poor equipment, expired medicines and placebos of flour and sugar.
In local clinics don't let them put anything in your blood: treat dehydration orally and not with a drip, as there is a risk of septicaemia (i.e. bacterial blood poisoning). The same goes for blood transfusions.
No health certificates or vaccinations are officially required for entry to Cambodia, unless arriving directly from Africa. However, consult a doctor a few weeks before leaving home for up-to-date advice on inoculations. Generally advised are shots against tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B and meningitis, a polio booster and especially gamma globulin shots (against hepatitis A). Consider malaria tablets for trips to Cambodia of less than 30 days, though the most commonly visited places have minimal risk (see below). A mosquito net may also help. Mosquitoes swarm Siem Reap at dusk, imported (i.e., trusted) DEET based insect repellent is available in Cambodia .
The contents of a basic medical kit-such as panadol, antihistamines, antibiotics, kaolin, oral rehydration solution, calamine lotion, bandages and band-aids, scissors and DEET insect repellent-can be acquired in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh . The particularly fastidious should put their kits together in Bangkok or Saigon before coming to Cambodia . There's no need to bother doing this before coming to Asia .
Phnom Penh is malaria-free, and most major tourist attractions (including Siem Reap ) are virtually malaria-free. The biggest disease worry is mosquito-borne dengue fever which, although quite unpleasant, to say the least (it's called "break-bone fever" because of how it feels) generally isn't life-threatening for first-time victims.
The most common ailment for travellers is diarrhoea, which can deteriorate into dysentery, resulting in dehydration. Stay hydrated by drinking 2-3 litres of water per day.
Avoid untreated water, ice made from untreated water and any raw fruit or vegetables that may have been washed in untreated water. Tap water is generally not drinkable, so avoid. The Phnom Penh supply is claimed to be potable but few people trust it. Only the seriously immunocompromised will have problems brushing their teeth with it. Cheap bottled water is available in any town or village. Take water purification tablets or iodine to sterilize water if planning to visit more rural areas. Boiling water will also sterilize it without generating piles of waste plastic bottle waste or tainting the taste. The water in the jugs at cafés or restaurants will have been boiled, as obviously will have been the tea. Expats have no problem drinking from the water supply in Phnom Penh, but not elsewhere.
If you do get severe diarrhoea and become badly dehydrated, take an oral rehydration solution and drink plenty of treated water. However, a lot of blood or mucus in the stool can indicate dysentery, which requires a trip to a doctor for antibiotics.
April is the cruellest month: the weather is hottest (> 35°C) in March and April, use sunscreen and wear a hat to avoid sunstroke.
Prostitutes of both sexes can carry many STDs. The official HIV rate among prostitutes is 34%, compared to a 0.6% rate for the whole population.
Cambodia is a country at a crossroads. While the more heavily touristed places like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are well adjusted to tourist behaviour, people in places such as Stung Treng or Banlung are less so. Always ask permission before you take somebody's picture, as many in the more remote areas do not like to be photographed, and some in the urban areas will ask for payment.
Dress for women is more conservative in Cambodia. While shorts are now acceptable in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, it is more respectful to wear knee length shorts or trousers when outside of these areas. While Cambodian women may prefer to dress conservatively in the daytime, covering much skin to prevent tanning which they find unattractive, at night the dress code is more revealing. Do not mistake such local women in nightclubs for prostitutes; they are out for a night on the town like anyone else.
Groups of young children can be found everywhere in Cambodia and many travellers feel 'pestered' by them to purchase their friendship bracelets and other wares. However, it's often the case that children enjoy the chance to practice their English on you- and by asking them their names and ages a conversation is likely to develop where the 'hard sell' is forgotten. Children and adults alike enjoy looking at photographs of your family and home country.
The Khmer Rouge issue is a very delicate one, and one which Cambodians generally prefer not to talk about. However, if you approach it with politeness, they'll gladly respond. People, in general, hold no qualms when talking about the Vietnamese; in fact, they have been widely perceived as liberators when they intervened in Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the aforementioned brutal regime. The pro-Vietnamese regime gradually rebuilt all the infrastructure that was severely damaged by the Khmer Rouge's policy of de-urbanising the country leading to economic prosperity in the 1980s, with sporadic uprisings.
As in neighbouring Thailand and Laos, Cambodia is predominantly Theravada Buddhist. This means that monks are revered and are expected to take their duties seriously. As in Thailand, monks go around in the morning collecting alms from people. Monks must avoid physical contact with females, so women who wish to offer food to a monk should place it on a piece of cloth in front of him so he can pick it up. Monks are not allowed to accept or touch money, and offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful in the local culture. Should you wish to donate, donate food. As monks are not allowed to eat solid food after noon, they will stop collecting alms before then. "Monks" who hang out at tourist spots and solicit donations from tourists are imposters.
Cambodia uses the GSM mobile system and Mobitel is the largest operator, although competition is stiff. Pre-paid SIM cards are widely available (from US$2). As of Apr 2013, most phone vendors on the street or small private stores will sell pre-paid sims without without the need to show a passport. However major phone stores will require a passport.
Reliable 3G data service is available in most of Cambodia.
Landline numbers in Cambodia are listed as
+855 nk 123-4567 where "855" is the country code for Cambodia, the first digit of the area code, "n", will be a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7; the
second digit of the area code, "k" will be a digit in the range 2-6. (The leading zero seen domestically is stripped off in the international format.) The remaining 6 or 7 digits (conjoined with a
hyphen) are the "local" part of the subscriber's number.
Mobile phone numbers begin with a 1, 8 or 9 which is then followed by seven or eight digits. The full number of a mobile phone must always be dialed, for example
+855 1 1234 5678.
Internet cafes are cheap (US$0.50-1/hour) and common, even small towns will have at least one broadband offering. In Kampot , Kratie and Sihanoukville rates are around US$1/hour. Wi-Fi is increasingly popular, with signals available in some unlikely places, not just in coffee shops, but also fast food restaurants, bars, and even gas stations. Domestic broadband prices range from US$29.95-89.00.
Fast wireless 3G/4G internet (3.5G or 7.2 MBpS 3G/4G modem USB stick, unlocked 3G/4G modem costs US$30) is now available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville/Kampot/Kep with slower Edge coverage in almost all other areas. Tourists can add 3G/4G mobile Internet to their SIM for as little as US$3/month (0.8GB max, LT3 package)(Metfone) or 1c/MB with Qbmore or unlimited data package for US$25/month (Metfone), equipping another 3G router can form a Wi-Fi hotspot to share Internet in your house/neighbourhood.
Written Khmer does not yet have a big presence in the electronic world, as do Thai or Vietnamese. Phones and computers (and hence Cambodian text messages, emails, social network slobbering, and web pages) tend to be in English.
Once a disaster, a trip to the post office in Cambodia no longer means a final good bye to your consignment. Intercontinental postcards should arrive in 2 weeks; within Asia, 1 week. Rates are cheap.
- The beaches and islands of Eastern Thailand , like Ko Chang , Ko Samet and Pattaya , can easily be reached from Cambodia.
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