Since Cambodia reopened its borders to tourists in the early 1990s, visitors from around the world have flocked to this intriguing Southeast Asian country to experience its fascinating cultural heritage, to engage with the wonderfully welcoming locals, and to marvel at the numerous spectacular natural wonders Cambodia has to offer. Phnom Penh, the nation’s bustling capital, is home to a slew of excellent restaurants, lively outdoor markets and a boisterous nightlife. However, most of Cambodia’s most popular attractions are located beyond the capital. Tourist favourites include: the sleepy French-influenced town of Kampot with its lovely promenade dotted with gorgeous French villas and charming riverside cafes; the breathtaking waterfalls of the lush jungle-clad Cardamon Mountains; and, of course, the awe-inspiring ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat - the world’s largest and arguably most impressive religious structure. Cambodia serves travellers of all sensitivities, whether they're seeking adventurous jungle excursions, exquisite golden-sand beaches, luxury resorts or sumptuous exotic cuisine, Cambodia truly does have it all.
Banking and Currency
Riel (KHR; symbol CR) is the country’s official currency but locals prefer to use dollars. Riel notes are in denominations of CR100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. Dollars notes (not coins) are widely accepted, yet visitors in small villages and shops vendors may not have change for high notes (including $10+). It is advisable to keep hold of small Riel change wherever you can as it is very useful.
The import and export of local currency is prohibited. Foreign currency may be exported up to the limit declared at customs on arrival.
US Dollars are widely exchangeable and can often be used as payment in their own right. Thai Baht can be easily exchanged close to the Thai border, but other currencies are generally only recognised at banks and airports.
Banking hours: Mon-Fri 08h00-15h00. Some banks are open on Saturdays 08h00-11h30.
Credit cards are now more widely accepted in upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants catering to visitors. There are plenty of ATMs in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville that accept international cards including Cirrus, Plus, Maestro, Visa and MasterCard. It is always best to carry cash (US Dollars if necessary) in small denominations.
Traveller's cheques are generally not recommended as they are not widely accepted. Traveller's cheques in US Dollars can be changed at banks and some hotels, but can be difficult to change outside major cities
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Getting around Cambodia is all part of the adventure. Massive improvements to the national highway network in the past few years have made getting around the country much easier than it once was, with many formerly dirt roads now surfaced and new highways built. Even so, getting from A to B remains time-consuming: roads are still narrow and bumpy, while regular wet-season inundations play havoc with transport.
Cambodia Angkor Air is the nearest thing Cambodia currently has to a national airline and operates the country’s only domestic flights, with services between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (around $70 return), from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, and also from Phnom Penh to Hanoi, Saigon and Bangkok. Note that from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap there’s a $6 departure tax for domestic flights.
Buses (laan tom) are the cheapest – and also usually the most convenient and comfortable – way to get around Cambodia, connecting all major cities and towns (although some smaller places aren’t yet on the bus network, and others – Banlung, Sen Monorom and Pailin, for example – have only one or two services a day). Many services start in Phnom Penh, meaning that you’ll most likely have to go through the capital if travelling from one side of the country to the other.
All buses are privately run, operated by a growing number of companies. Phnom Penh Sorya is the biggest; others include Rith Mony, GST, Paramount Angkor and Capitol Tours, while other companies such as Giant Ibis and Mekong Express operate luxury express buses on the most popular routes.
Buses generally arrive and depart from their respective company offices. Unfortunately, this means there are no bus stations or suchlike in which to get centralized information about timetables and fares. Some guesthouses or tour operators can provide this information; otherwise you’ll have to visit all the individual offices. To guarantee a seat, buy your ticket the day before; no standing passengers are allowed, so if all the seats have been sold you’ll have to wait for the next bus with space.
Minibuses, which leave from local transport stops, provide the main alternative to buses, at a similar price. These generally serve the same routes as buses, and also go to smaller destinations not served by bus. They also tend to be slightly faster. On the downside, most usually get absolutely packed and can be horribly uncomfortable, especially for taller travellers (there’s little legroom at the best of times, unlike on the buses, which are relatively luxurious in comparison).
Shared taxis are the third main option when it comes to travelling by road. These are generally slightly more expensive but also somewhat faster than buses and minibuses, although the driving can often be hair-raising, especially if you’re sat in the front. They also serve local destinations off the bus and minibus network. On the downside, like minibuses they get absurdly packed: three people on the front passenger seat is the norm (with the driver sharing his seat as well), and four in the back. You can pay double the standard fare to have the whole front seat to yourself, and you can hire the entire taxi for around five or six times the individual fare. Shared taxis usually leave from the local transport stop. There are no fixed schedules, although most run in the morning, leaving when (very) full.
For years, Cambodia’s appalling roads meant travelling by boat was the principal means of getting between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but these days it’s easier and quicker to travel by road. Even so, boats (seating about thirty people) still run daily between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as Siem Reap and Battambang. The trip to or from Phnom Penh isn’t particularly scenic, as the Tonle Sap lake is so vast it’s more like being at sea. The trip to or from Battambang is more interesting, combining a trip across the Tonle Sap with a journey down the Sangker River. Neither journey is particularly comfortable: space and movement are restricted, and a cushion, plenty of water, food and a hat will make things more bearable. Be aware that in rough weather the Tonle Sap can whip up some fierce waves.
Cambodia’s colonial-era railway network formerly consisted of two lines, one connecting Phnom Penh with Battambang and Poipet, and the other linking the capital with Kampot and Sihanoukville.
It’s virtually impossible to rent a self-drive car in Cambodia, and even if you do, driving yourself entails numerous headaches. Problems include finding appropriate documentation (your driving licence from home may or may not be considered sufficient – some companies will ask for a Cambodian driving licence, for which you’ll need to take a driving test) haphazard driving by other road users; and insufficient insurance – any loss or damage to the vehicle is your responsibility.
Both cycling and renting a motorbike are popular ways to explore Cambodia, though even with the improved road conditions, poor driving by other motorists makes it safer to travel only in daylight hours. Whether you ride a motorbike or bicycle, it’s worth wearing sunglasses, long trousers and a long-sleeved shirt to protect you not only from the sun but also from the grit and gravel thrown up on the dusty roads.
When heading off into the countryside, remember that Cambodia (in spite of clearance programmes) has a huge problem with land mines, and no matter how tempting it may be to go cross-country, stick to well-used tracks and paths.
Tuk-tuks are pricier than motos, tuk-tuks were introduced to Cambodia in 2001, when police in Siem Reap banned foreigners riding three-up on a moto. They have since caught on in a big way and are now found in most provincial towns. Pulled by a motorbike, these covered passenger cabs seat up to four people and, with their drop-down side-curtains, have the advantage of affording some protection against the sun and rain. The motorbikes that pull them, however, are the same ones used as motos, and so are woefully underpowered, which makes for a slow trip, especially if you’ve got three or four people on board – even with just one or two passengers they can struggle to go much faster than your average bicycle.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Boil or sterilise water for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice. Bottled water is widely available. Milk is also unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is an advisable alternative to fresh produce. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled. Hygiene is something travellers should be aware of when travelling to Cambodia. Roadside street food stalls and restaurants are fun to try but may not have the strictest cleanliness habits. Stick to freshly cooked piping hot foods to avoid sickness.
As is the case elsewhere in South East Asia, the quality of the food is a draw in its own right. Khmer cuisine shares much with that of both Thailand and China, although it tends to steer clear of excessive use of spices. Quality restaurants are found in all areas that see mainstream tourism, while cheap but tasty food stalls are ubiquitous around the country. Most meals are rice-based.
Tips are appreciated in hotels and restaurants where no service charge has been added, and by tour guides.
Climate and Weather
Cambodia is blessed with one of Asia's simpler weather systems and despite having two distinct weather seasons you can travel in Cambodia all-year-round. In general, the entire country is subject to the same weather patterns, mainly due to the relatively uniform altitude and latitude throughout Cambodia.
There are two distinct seasons – dry (October to late April) and wet (May to late September). Within each season there are variations in temperature, with the final few dry months leading up to the wet season (March and April) and the early months of the wet season (May and June) usually being the hottest of the year with temperatures in excess of 35°C at times.
Humidity is at its height during March and April whilst the coolest months of the year tend to between October and December, however this is cool for Cambodia but far from chilly (avg temperatures 24°C - 26°C).
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Cambodia is a hot and tropical country, so natural fabrics e.g. linen, cotton and silk will keep you cooler than synthetic fabrics. Lightweight, loose-fitting cotton clothing, long-sleeved pants and long-sleeved shirts will protect against mosquitoes and the sun. Merino wool is a good choice to wear against your skin as it naturally helps to regulate your body temperature. It keeps you warm in the cold, wicks away moisture when it's hot, and doesn't retain odours - even after prolonged wear.
If you plan on hiking, a pair of good lightweight walking boots with ankle support are a must. Good sunglasses are a necessity, as it a sunhat and plenty of sunscreen. Travel light - it is cheap and easy to get your laundry done.
Internet access is available in most areas. Internet cafes are available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and all other major towns.
Electricity and Plug Standards
In Cambodia the standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A / C / G. If you travel to Cambodia with a device that does not accept 230 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter. If your device is compatible for 230 volts, you will only need a plug adapter.