Cambodia has had a troubled past and it still remains fairly fresh in the memory. The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were an awful regime and many atrocities were committed during their rule. The result was that Cambodia’s entry into the mass tourist market is a fairly recent phenomenon. The warm welcome that the locals provide is clear evidence that they are happy to see you and this Cambodia Travel Guide will provide you with some detailed information of what you can expect within the Country.
Cambodia was colonized by the French and though independent from 1953 it suffered under Pol Pot so that by the time the Regime was over there was virtually no infrastructure in the Country, and that was still the case about 20 years ago. It has taken time to rebuild Cambodia; it is still a poor country but it has many riches; temples, forests and beaches as well as the cuisine which has influences from neighboring countries mixed with local ideas.
When Is the Best Time to Visit?
It is fairly warm in Cambodia for all twelve months a year; it rarely goes below 20C at any time with an average of 27C; effectively tropical.
The difference comes between dry and rainy season. The majority of tourists on a Cambodia holiday come during the dry season between November and March but the positive side of visiting from April onwards is that there are fewer crowds and often that means lower prices. It should be remembered that although it is likely to rain each day that can merely be a brief afternoon shower which will not affect travel plans. Locally it also goes by the name of ‘’green season’’ because the countryside certainly changes after the period of hot dry days. If you want to avoid the rains but worry about the heat it is slightly cooler in the weeks at the end of the rains than later in the period.
There are the usual duty free allowances of alcohol, tobacco and perfume and goods up to a certain value when departing.
Weaponry of any sort is prohibited as is the important of animals without the correct documentation. You can carry prescription drugs and it is often advisable if you need them because you may not find them locally. However any recreational drugs will be definitely frowned upon.
Anyone carrying in excess of US$10,000 on arrival or departure must declare that fact.
Khmer is the local language which has developed from other regional languages like Sangkrit from India and Thai dialects. Some technical language is even developed from French. You can expect some English in tourist hotels and in business situations.
There will often be signs that are also in English and on occasions you will see Chinese as well.
English is now taught in schools while some older Cambodians are likely to have a little French.
The local currency is the Riel and the exchange rate is around 4.000 to the US $. Although if slightly damaged it is still acceptable currency, similarly damaged $ bills may not be accepted. Riel notes range from 50 right up to 100,000 and visitors on Cambodia travel throughout the country are likely to find the 500 note most useful. Incidentally some places will accept US $ or Thai Baht.
Each of the provincial capitals have banks where those on Cambodia tours can exchange money or use their credit and debit cards to make withdrawals. Travelers’ checks can be changed into local currency and small denomination notes and checks are certainly the most useful as you travel around. Several banks have ATMs.
There are money changers who may offer a slightly better rate than those banks and it will be clearly evident when they are around.
Credit cards are widely used in cities with a charge of between 2-4% for their use.
You can try to do a deal for most things from accommodation to restaurants and food stalls within limits. Take care because Cambodians do not like to lose face and they may react very badly if it appears to them that they are doing so. It is therefore important to be considerate and not challenge listed prices, including menus, because they will not be negotiable.
It is likely that those on a Cambodia holiday will find they are charged more than locals for food but it is rare locals and tourists will be eating in the same place.
The temples of Angkor are worth mentioning. Never pay the first price asked for anything; books, paintings and even water and food.
Tuk-tuk drivers are fairly honest if they are local to where you are staying. Agree the price first and you will avoid any problems later.
If you don’t like haggling then after picking an item up, put it back and start to walk away. You’re likely to get a reduction without actually opening your mouth; if you get a lower offer immediately then a second one, that second one is likely to be the final price.
It is worth remembering how little the average Cambodian earns before getting upset by a few dollars.
Banks open at 0800 and close at 1500, some at 1600 but are mostly closed at the weekend; there are exceptions with some Saturday morning trading until 1130.
Post Offices in cities open at 0730 and remain open until 1700, Monday to Friday while they will open until 1100 on Saturdays.
Shops work long hours, especially in cities and tourist areas while there are many night markets.
In Cambodia, a Buddhist country, religion and their royalty are important and that is reflected in the public holidays in the calendar year. There is a long list of national and public holidays in Cambodia though not everyone observes the whole number of them:
• January 1st New Year’s Day
• January 7th is Victory over Genocide Day and marks the day in 1979 when the Khmer Rouge regime fell.
• Meak Bochea Day varies with the lunar calendar but is towards the end of February.
• 8th March International Women’s Day
• 13th – 16th April Cambodian New Year
• 1st May International Labor Day
• 13th – 15th May King’s Birthday and Holiday - Norodom Sihamoni
• 20th May Visak Bochea Day (birth of Buddha)
• 24th May Royal Ploughing Ceremony
• 1st June Children’s Day
• 18th June Queen Mother’s Birthday- Norodom Monineath Sihanouk
• 24th September Constitutional Day which commemorates the signing of the Constitution in 1993.
• 30th September to 2nd October Ancestor’s Day and Holiday remember deceased relatives. This varies with the lunar calendar.
• 15TH October King’s Father’s Day - Norodom Sihanouk who died in 2012.
• 23rd October Paris Peace Agreements Day (1991)
• 29th October King’s Coronation Day
• 9th November Independence Day (1953)
• 13th – 15th November Water Festival Ceremony, a boat racing festival marking the time when the Mekong and Tonie Sap Rivers changes.
• 10th December International Human Rights Day.
Where the holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday it is likely to be observed on the Monday.
The vast majority of nationalities need to buy a visa to gain entry to Cambodia. A tourist visa lasts for 30 days and can be extended just a single time for a maximum of 2 months; an ordinary/business visa offers more flexibility and can be extended to up to a year, even more, and allows for multiple entry and exit. They are available from consulates and at several points of entry on arrival. Those flying into Cambodia will get a form on the plane for completion. Once submitted you wait for your name to be called after which you get your passport back having already paid the appropriate fee.
E visas are now available and although a little more expensive it will save you time on entry which you may appreciate if you have had a long and tiring journey.
You are likely to be fined on departure if you overstay your visa but if you are stopped by authorities elsewhere with a visa that has expired there is a chance that you will be blacklisted for re-entry in the future and the following few hours may actually involve your being locked up.
Dos and Don’ts
Always observe local customs out of respect for the people who happily welcome tourists. There are a few things to remember while traveling round this beautiful country:
• Ask for permission before you photograph people, especially in rural situations.
Be ready with insect repellant to counter mosquitoes. There are no mandatory vaccinations but it is worth those contemplating a Cambodia holiday to consider getting some as well as bringing medication with them because it may not be available everywhere.
• Take your shoes off when entering religious sites, temples and pagodas.
• Bare skin is frowned on in such sites; avoid shorts, cover shoulders and remove hats.
Remove shoes when you go into someone’s home and bring a little gift if you are invited to dine; flowers or fruit are fine.
Give a gift of cash if you attend a Cambodian wedding.
Use both hands to give and receive.
Bow forward slightly with both hands together (as in prayer) if you are introduced to someone. It is fairly formal and not always expected; use your common sense.
• Point with your feet which are regarded as the dirtiest part of the body
• Touch anyone’s head; that is the most important part of the body and highly personal.
• Start eating before your host in any circumstances.
• Touch monks or give them something if you are a woman.
• Be over affectionate in public.
• Drink tap water but certainly consume plenty of bottled water because you will feel thirsty fairly regularly.
Cambodia is a fairly safe country though there are places late at night to avoid, but then that is the case anywhere in the world. There are pickpockets and bag snatching, often from motorcycles so be careful. If you do not need some of your valuables with you then keep them in a safety deposit box. You need to be aware that duplicate keys may exist so you should question reception in your accommodation if you have any doubts. It is worth photocopying everything as well.
There is a level of corruption within the police and often you may need to bribe someone for help. Police do not have any great presence after sundown in tourist areas anyway. If you are sensible you will avoid trouble and therefore have no need of them.
It is all a matter of common sense and reading the Cambodia Travel Guide to learn more about the Country.
There are scams relating to border crossings and the cost of visas that are worth bearing in mind. In all cases people looking forward to a Cambodia holiday needs to keep calm. If you are able to provide US dollars rather than local currency then it is more difficult for scammers to overcharge you. The dollar price will be advertised on signs so you should not be caught out
On good Cambodia tours you are not likely to come across this problem. Nor will you require any assistance from anyone around the border area because you will have a guide accompanying you who will help with all formalities.
Traveling to a country like Cambodia is a unique experience. Indo China is a truly exotic part of the world and it is worth doing plenty of research before you arrive. The Cambodia Travel Guide is an excellent starting point because it will prepare you for the visit and teach you how to behave in many of the situations you may find yourself in.
Cities have some similarities throughout the world and common sense should tell you how to react to things that happen, day and night. It is important to recognize that the average Cambodian lives on an amount of money that is totally unrealistic in developed countries. It can be fun to haggle but at other times it can be interpreted as sheer meanness.