Cambodia really left a big impression on us and its a country we cannot wait to go back to & explore more of.
Before you go it is wise to do some research on its history as it has a turbulent and bloody past which killed approximately three million people. This history is still raw and it continues to affect their daily lives now. Despite this, the people are some of the nicest and friendliest I have EVER MET! They are generous and funny and genuinely want you to enjoy their country and see the best of it.
Cambodia remains a poor country due to corruption by its elite. The poverty is heartbreaking to see but if you spend locally, you can really help.
Tip often, smile frequently and be respectful.
Top Ten Cities
- Phnom Penh – 1.325,681
- Battambang – 196,000
- Siem Reap – 148,000
- Sihanoukville – 94,500
- Prey Veng – 73,300
- Kampong Chan – 58,900
- Ta Khmau – 48,400
- Pursat – 46,000
- Kampong Speu – 31,700
- Takéo – 28,300
What to Know
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and it’s spoken by 16 million people however there are some regional dialects.
- Visas are required by UK, EU, US, Australian and most other western nationals.
- Visas can be bought at the border points at Poiphet and Bavet for a cost of $30 + $1 for photo.
- Visas can be applied for at the international airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, cost as above.
- Buy an e-visa in advance online for $37. You must give them at least three working days notice.
- Cambodia has a dual currency; US $ and Cambodian Riels. You can withdraw both currencies from ATMs however $1 is still quite a big currency for some street sellers. You won’t always get change if you pay in $ so it’s best to have Riels too.
- Most large or up market restaurants accept payment through bank card although it’s always wise to have smaller bank notes on you. Remember that whilst $100 is not so much to you and I, it is a month’s salary for many in Cambodia.
- When withdrawing money from the ATM’s it’s often better to withdraw an odd amount so it will give you smaller bank notes.
- A bed in a hostel costs around $4 per night whereas private rooms in hostels might cost $5-10 per night. Free WiFi is usually included in hostel stays and some include breakfast.
- Guesthouse rooms usually cost $15-20 and include air-con, TV etc.
- Airbnb (get $25 off your booking) is available in certain locations with prices generally between $10-27 per night.
- Booking.com offers a comprehensive list of all hotels from foreign owned chains down to local hotels. Please support the local hotels as this pays money directly into the local communities. Prices vary from $20-70 per night depending on which type of hotel and how many rooms you have. Most hotels have interconnecting rooms.
- Cambodian food is cheap. Food from local street vendors can cost you as little as $0.25 however a basic restaurant meal will cost between $3-5.
- Western food is considerably more expensive with prices between $5-15 per person.
- Plant based food is relatively easy to find and there’s always something on the menus to eat.
- If you plan on buying and cooking your own food, fresh markets offer the best prices and produce. Fresh produce is incredibly cheap and you can buy a large pomelo for as little as $1.
- Supermarkets can be found in many large towns and cities but the fresh produce tends to be individually wrapped in plastic. Prices are still cheap and you can purchase bags of rice for $1. Expect to pay about $50 for a family weekly shop including bottled water.
- Tuk-tuks can be found EVERYWHERE, although be sure to negotiate a price in advance (usually $1 per km). Renting a tuk-tuk for an entire day will cost approximately $20
- Renting an air-conditioned car and driver for the day will set you back between $20-40 and most hostels/hotels offer their own known drivers.
- Buses are dirt cheap but can take a while to get anywhere. I don’t recommend getting a night bus as they have a terrible reputation for both crashing, theft and violence against women. Prices should start at a couple of $ rising to about $20 if you want to cross the country. Some can be booked online but others you’ll need to walk into the local offices (of which there are plenty).
- Cambodia has one domestic train service with three destinations (and more tracks currently being built). See here for timetables. Current prices between $4-7.
- Outside the major cities, driving in Cambodia is a quiet affair because there are not that many vehicles on the roads. The general condition of the roads is not so good and there are many pot holes.
- Angkor Wat – $37 for a one day ticket, $62 for a three day ticket and $72 for a week’s pass. Ticket must be used consecutively. You must ALWAYS carry your ticket.
- Beng Mealea $5. Phnom Kulen $20, Koh Ker $10
- There are over two thousand temples in Cambodia, far too many to mention. If they are in working order there is generally no entrance fee but do NOT photograph the monks without permission. If the temple is destroyed or in ruins, there will generally be an entrance fee.
Areas of natural beauty
- Tonle Sap – The river that grows! During the rainy season this river swells and triples in size, hiding all the local roads. Local people are forced to drive boats to commute. Many of the local houses sit high up on stilts to protect them and their farm animals take refuge in the lower floors of the houses.
- River villages – There are three floating villages to choose from in the country. I do not recommend that you visit the Chong Khneas market as it is a tourist trap. Instead take a trip to the quiet and unspoilt KomPong Khleang with Triple A Tours. Tours cost between $15-40 per person.
- Sihanoukville – Cambodia’s answer to The Riviera with white sand beaches, deserted islands and great diving. Sadly marred by a heavy nightlife and a ton of tourists tanked up on cheap booze. It’s not a quiet place to stay however it’s good to use as a base to visit the nearby islands which are quiet and serene.
- Battambang – Surrounded by green rice paddies and fruit plantations Battambang’s countryside is a peaceful place to visit.
Places of Interest
- Phnom Penh – Cambodia’s capital is busy, smelly and dirty. There aren’t too many skyscrapers, yet although many are being built, and it’s certainly not as modern as nearby cities like Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. It has a reputation as being a slightly dangerous place which could be linked with cheap, tax free booze. If you’re into football, you can catch the local team Phnom Penh Crown at the Olympic stadium for free most weeks. Theft (bag snatching from guys on motorbikes) is most common on the riverside, streets 51, 63 and Sihanouk Boulevard.
- The Killing Fields & S21 – There are killing fields and caves all across Cambodia! Phnom Penh’s field and old school S21 are particularly gruesome and not for the faint hearted. Entrance is $3. The field in Siem Reap has been turned into a temple, education and art centre and entrance is free.
- Prasat Preah Vihear – Thailand also claims this mountain temple as its own! $5 entrance fee for non-residents.
- Kep – A MUCH quieter and emptier version of Sihanoukville with its beautiful empty beaches.
- Bokor National Park – Bokor houses the ruins of French aristocratic homes. It’s also surrounded by a great rainforest. Admission is $10 per person.
- Battambang – This is Cambodia’s second largest city but it only takes a few minutes to hit the rural and very green countryside. The city is busier than Siem Reap and has a few pieces of colonial architecture left as well as a huge working temple, lots or temple ruins, an enormous statue of Buddha (or two) and of course the bamboo train which is a ton of fun. Battambang has rich fertile land and is surrounded by fruit farms where you can visit and sample the local fruits.
- Kampot – If you like a bit of spice in your life, definitely visit Kampot and visit some of the pepper farms. You might even be able to pick some of your own.
- Koh Kong – Jungle trekking and day trips to the island with white sand beaches feature at Koh Kong.
Protect the vulnerable
- Due to the six million remaining un-exploded landmines, poor nutrition and a lack of access to healthcare, Cambodia has 140,000 blind & visually impaired citizens. One of their few sources of employment is massage centres aimed at tourists. Please be especially vigilant as although there are some legitimate centres, some exploit their blind staff and don’t pay them a living wage. Some centres use copycat names to fool tourists.
- The number of orphanages in Cambodia has grown by 65% since 2005. Please do NOT volunteer at an orphanage or visit one as a tourist site. Some orphanages, parade the children through areas of high tourists and solicit ‘donations’. We need to put the welfare of children first and the damage high levels of adult volunteers does to children’s psychological wellness is immense.
- Try not to give money to kids out of school. They may ask you to buy their postcards, sweets and gum, usually claiming it’s to help pay school fees however by doing this you will continue the long-term cycle of poverty. Begging and working is more lucrative in the short term than attending school but often street children have been coerced, by reward or by punishment, by an adult and often a cartel.
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