Travel to Cambodia
Cambodia is a kingdom country, located in the southern part of the Indochina peninsula of Southeast Asia. It is bordered by Vietnam, Laos and Thailand to the north and north-east and the Gulf of Thailand dominates its southwestern coastline.
Major geographical features of the country consist of the low-lying plains that contain the capital city of Phnom Penh, the mountains, the Gulf of Thailand coastline and the expansive Mekong Delta.
However, the undeniable jewel in Cambodia’s crown is the magnificent Angkor Archaeological Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An extensive stone built network of temples built during the height of the Khmer Empire and spanning many centuries, is a glory to behold.
Cambodia’s history has suffered many ups and downs. From the dizzy heights of the Khmer Empire spanning the 9th to 15th centuries, to Cambodia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, to the heartbreak of the Cambodian genocide- Cambodia certainly has a lot of open wounds. It is a country fraught with history, suffering, culture and opportunities to learn from the past.
Cambodia is an unmissable stop on a tour of Southeast Asia.
Visa Requirements for Cambodia
All visitors entering Cambodia will need a Cambodian visa and a valid passport.
The citizens of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam are exempt from those visa requirements.
Visas issued are of two types: The Tourist Visa (T) and the Ordinary/Business Visa (E). The cost of issuing these visas are 30 and 35 USD respectively. The tourist visa is valid for a 30 day stay. Visas are available at Cambodian embassies or can be availed upon arrival in Cambodia at international airports and most international border crossings.
To find updated information about current visa requirements, visit the embassy website.
Important Cultural Information
The language spoken in Cambodia is Khmer although public signs and information will often be presented in both Khmer and English. In certain places signs will be in Chinese as well. English is studied in Cambodian schools although for the most part it is advisable to speak slowly, clearly and use simple phrases to not confuse the natives.
Often Cambodians will nod, smile and look away even if they haven’t understood what you have been asking to save embarrassment. It is best to clarify the information given before proceeding.
As regards to clothing, dressing styles are more conservative among both men and women. It is acceptable for women to wear trousers. It is advisable to wear at least knee length shorts and clothing, especially when visiting temples. Cambodians swim in full clothing. Western swimwear outside of the major beach resorts may raise a few eyebrows.
Public displays of affection are not common and kissing in public is taboo.
Shy away from bringing up political issues especially those related to the Khmer Rouge.
Banking & Money
The currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR), although the USD is also an interchangeable currency. The riel is mostly used for small transactions.
The Cambodian Central Bank maintains a conversion rate of approximately 3800-4200 riel to the dollar. Carrying cash is advisable.
Even though ATMs are more widespread attached to Cambodia banks, they might not be found in rural pockets. Maestro, Cirrus, Plus and Visa Cards are all usable at Cambodian ATMs. Most ATMs will charge a withdrawal fee. Visa and JCB are the most widely used credit cards although MasterCard and American Express are gaining wider usage.
Travelers Cheques may be accepted in certain hotels, restaurants and shops.
Medical Emergency Information
If needing emergency medical service when in Cambodia, dial 119 and ask for an ambulance.
Medical care in the public hospitals are not good and it is better to avail the facilities of a reputed private hospital. Better still, seek medical advice in Bangkok, Singapore or Ho Chi Minh City.
Make sure that you are equipped with adequate health insurance coverage before traveling to the country. Be prepared to have ready access to funds when visiting the hospital, as the cost of medical treatment in some hospitals, will be expected to be paid by you upfront.
Local pharmacies have access to limited quantities of medicine. Be aware of counterfeit or expired medicines.
There are no vaccinations required for entry to Cambodia but appropriate prophylaxis for malaria, dengue, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and B is advised.
Drink bottled water at all times.
Wi-Fi and Internet in Cambodia
The three mobile phone companies that avail of the GSM system are Mobitel, Smart and Cellcard. You will need a passport to get a prepaid SIM card but they are relatively easy to acquire.
You will be able to access unlimited data plans for a week, with options to top up or extend the coverage. There are many different Internet cafes around the country- even in smaller towns. Rates for per hour internet usage at cafes is cheap (0.5-1.0 USD per hour) 3G/4G internet is available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. 3G/4G data packages can be added to mobile phone plans for extra money.
Wi-Fi hotspots are increasingly more prevalent around the country, in bars, restaurants and coffee-shops. Make sure to use a VPN when using these Wi-Fi hotspots.
Another option is to travel with a pocket Wi-Fi device.
Arrival in Cambodia
Arrival in to Cambodia can be achieved via the international airports in Cambodia or via the international border crossings by land.
Cambodia has two international airports: Phnom Penh (PNH) and Siem Reap Airport (REP). Phnom Penh International Airport is the largest airport in Cambodia located 10 km away from the capital. Taxis to the city will cost around 12 USD and may take 30 minutes to an hour to reach the city centre.
Siem Reap International Airport is the airport to use if visiting Angkor Wat. Direct flights connect Phnom Penh International Airport with China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos, Qatar and Vietnam. Low-cost carrier Air Asia also plies between Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Phnom Penh and between Bangkok, Phuket, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap.
Search for flights to Cambodia on Expedia.
You can enter Cambodia by road as well, via one of the international border crossings. There are six border crossings from Thailand, which provide Cambodian visas on arrival. The major crossing is the Aranyaprathet/Poipet crossing connecting Bangkok and Siem Reap. The main border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam is the Moc Bai/Bavet crossing between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh. The Nok Kor Ban/Trapoieng Kreal border connects Pakse in Laos with Stung Treng in Cambodia.
It is possible to arrive in Cambodia from Laos and Vietnam by boat. The fastest is a 90 minute speedboat ride from Laos, on the Mekong from north of Stung Treng. Fast boats leave from Vietnam’s Chau Doc and take 5 hours to reach Phnom Penh.
Areas of Cambodia
Here is a list of the areas and places to visit in Cambodia:
Mekong Lowlands and Central Plains
This region forms the central part of Cambodia and contains the capital city of Phnom Penh and the central flatlands.
Cardamom and Elephant Mountains
This is the western part of Cambodia skirting the Gulf of Thailand. It covers the western mountain ranges, gulf coast beaches including Sihanoukville and Bokor National Park to the south.
North-western Cambodia shares borders with Thailand and encompasses Siem Reap, Angkor Archaeological Park, Poipet and Tonle Sap Lake among others. Angkor is a huge pull for tourists due to its ancient temples.
Eastern Cambodia refers to the vast tract of land east of the Mekong River. Relatively isolated and remote, this area is home to national parks.
Transportation in Cambodia
One of the options of getting around Cambodia is availing of domestic flights. Cambodia Angkor Air, Bayon Airlines, Cambodia Airways, JC International Airlines, Lanmei Airlines and Sky Angkor Airlines all operate flights within the country. The airports which are used for this purpose are Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
If visiting Angkor, it is possible to get an aerial view of the temples via helicopter or via balloon ride. Helicopters Cambodia and Helistar are two such options.
Cambodia, in general consists of quite flat terrain, so getting around by bicycle is a viable option. Mountain bikes are required in more hilly terrain. Exercising caution in the cities when navigating by bicycle is highly advised though, due to the occurrence of unpaved roads in some areas and high speed of other vehicular traffic.
Cambodia has 1900 km of navigable waterway, making travel by boat an enticing option. The most widely availed boat services are between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap via the scenic stretch of Tonle Sap Lake. The express service takes about 5 hours. The scenic boat ride between Siem Reap and Battambang is one not to be missed!
It’s possible to get around Cambodia by bus, given the extensive network of roadways. Air-conditioned buses are a popular choice. Most car rental services in Cambodia come with a driver allowing for greater flexibility in visiting out of the way places. Tuk tuks in Cambodia are widely used on the fringes of the city and in rural areas. Other local modes of transport are the remork, cyclo, moto, bus and taxis.
Accommodation in Cambodia
A range of accommodation choices are available to the Cambodian visitor. Expect to pay from around 100 USD and above per night for five-star hotels, 25 USD upward for mid-range hotels, and 5-10 USD for places with basic amenities (no AC and hot water).
The budget accommodations that feature basically guest houses and modest hotels are very good value for money. However, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville have good accommodations across all categories.
Budget rooms and dorms will usually be clean and tidy and have a ceiling fan. Be prepared to bring your own mosquito-net if not provided.
Mid-range hotels feature boutique hotels to business-style hotels, where the rooms are often comfortably and stylishly furnished.
Five-star hotel names in Cambodia that deserve mention are the Sofitel, Hyatt, Raffles and various other resorts and spas.
Food & Dining Guide for Cambodia
Khmer food is based on rice and occasionally noodles used as the staple. Though there are Thai and Vietnamese influences, traditional Cambodian food definitely has a preference for the sour taste.
Kampot pepper and Prahok fish paste are two unique ingredients added to the food here.
Some notable dishes to try out when in Cambodia are amok (coconut milk curry made with chicken, vegetables or fish), k’tieu (noodle soup), lok lak (chopped beef), k’dam (crab cooked in black pepper) and trey ch’ien chou ‘ayme (fish and veg in sweet and sour chili sauce) among others.
Desserts to savour are pong aime (sweetmeats) and tuk-a-loc (iced drink blended with fruits, raw egg and condensed milk).
Read about the drinks in Cambodia that you have to try!
Don’t forget to try the sweet mangoes when they are in season.
Food & Drinks in Cambodia
There are many Cambodia tourist attractions. From shooting an RPG to exploring the historical sights.
Angkor is undeniably the biggest Cambodia tourist spot. Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia (read our Angkor Wat 3 day itinerary to plan your trip). It can be accessed from Siem Reap, which is 20 minutes (6km) by road to the south. The park has an area of 400 square kilometers and contains the remains of several successive capitals of the mighty Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century AD.
In the archaeological park, an Angkor Wat tour and the Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom are the most prominent. The mountain-like pyramidal shaped temples are a sight to behold. It is not surprising that they are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re really adventurous, you could go microlighting over Angkor Wat.
Apart from the capital of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, some of the major Cambodian cities are Battambang, Sihanoukville (perhaps one of the largest beach resorts in Cambodia), Kratie (a relaxed river town) and Kampot (gateway to Bokor National Park).
There are a number of beaches in Cambodia centred around Sihanoukville and Kep. Bokor National Park was a former French hill resort. Tonle Sap Lake is a huge lake with floating villages and an important haven for birding enthusiasts.
The best time to visit Cambodia for your Cambodia holiday is from November to January, spilling in to February.
Things to do & see in Cambodia
Shopping in Cambodia
To procure authentic Cambodian products it is advisable to shop in marketplaces as compared to shopping malls. Choose from statues, carvings, silks, textiles, art and silver jewellery to take home as a Cambodian souvenir.
The Angkor Night Market has wonderful stalls selling artwork and other treasures. The Russian Market in Phnom Penh is a great place to pick up clothing items in Cambodia. The Central Market in Phnom Penh was the mastermind of famous Cambodian architect Van Molyvann. The building that houses the marketplace has an Art Deco design with a golden dome. The Psar Chaa Market in Siem Reap is the perfect place to do some budget shopping and buy silks, silverware and stone carvings.
Nightlife in Cambodia has a vibrant ring to it, although it definitely has a more regional appeal. Western tourists are well catered for at the nightclubs and bars in the larger cities. The Go Go Bars of Vietnam are not present in Cambodia.
The best nightlife is to be had in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Koh Rong and Sihanoukville.
You may have heard of the notorious Pub Street in Siem Reap where the drinks are free flowing, cheap and happy hours are extended. Pub Street stays open till the wee hours but there’s more to Siem Reap’s nightlife than bar hopping. Discover colonial era lounges, trendy cocktail bars, the decadent Elephant Bar at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and much more.
Phnom Penh has a burgeoning nightlife scene. Look out for chilled out lounges, the Eclipse Sky Bar on the 23rd floor of the Phnom Penh Tower, raucous nightclubs, bars with live music and happy hours- the choices abound.
Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main beach resort has a casino culture, which draws many tourists.
Safety Tips for Cambodia
Cambodia is safe for travelers as a rule.
Watch out for bag snatching late at night in Phnom Penh. Siem Reap is not safe in certain areas for single women after 8 pm. Assault and even rape occur- so be aware. Never use unknown tuk tuk drivers.
Nevertheless, violent crime rate is quite low. Most of the crime is petty crime.
The threat of landmines is the legacy of the war years. Be assured that most tourist areas have been thoroughly de-mined. The threat is more immediate to locals in rural areas. Regardless, it is advisable to stick to established roads.
Read our Cambodia travel tips for more ways to make the most out of your trip.
Visiting Cambodia is a unique opportunity to witness how a country, with a rich cultural history and also a bloody one, is attempting to stand up, recover from the ravages of the past and move towards the future.
The biggest draw to Cambodia itself, are the impressive archaeological ruins of the Angkor Archaeological Park. The impressive stone edifices of the temple complex are a reminder of the heights of glory of the Khmer Empire.
In contrast, learning about the country’s recent troubles, trials and atrocities have a sobering effect. Every Cambodian citizen above 40 years of age has survived the appalling Cambodian genocide. The hurt is still fresh, deep and painful and most Cambodians will shy away from talking of it.
Every year, Cambodians celebrate pagodas around the country to commemorate the ‘Festival of the Dead’. For many Cambodians it is a time to remember the people they have lost. If you visit Cambodia, you must be prepared to witness a generation of people who are still recovering.
Cambodia is a unique destination in Southeast Asia. There is much to learn from its chequered past.