Cambodia Country Guide

The Kingdom of Cambodia can finally welcome visitors with open arms! After about 25 years behind closed doors, Cambodia is now a safe, stable country at peace and as such is an excellent destination for tourists. Kampuchea, as it is known by local Khmers, is a country in transition.

Though we see an increasing number of visitors every year, Cambodia is still unspoiled by most tourism standards!

Our Cambodia country guide below provides you with information on the climate, geography, peoples, culture, customs, money, etc. to help with travel in Cambodia. See more local information in our Cambodia destination guide. We also have some great Cambodia tours to help you get the most out of your Cambodian holiday.

We recommend you read about travel in Cambodia on GoNOMAD.

Check out the latest Australian Travel features on YouTube.

Cambodia Country Guide

Useful information on this page includes:

Communication Top

The country code to dial into Cambodia from overseas is 855, followed by the area code (Phnom Penh is 023 & Siem Reap is 063) and then the phone number. To code to dial overseas from Cambodia is 00, and then the country, area & phone numbers.

Emergency Numbers are as follows in Cambodia: Police (117), Fire (118), & Ambulance (119).

International mail services to North America, Europe & Australasian destinations take approximately 5-10 days to arrive. Parcels can only be posted in Phnom Penh and is quite expensive.

Phone calls can be made at post offices or telecom offices in most towns. Phone cards are needed and range from $2-$50 to purchase. Mobile phones can be rented in the arrivals hall at Pochentong International Airport. Usage is by pre-paid phone card, available in values from $5 to $100.

Internet cafes are readily available in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap and at quite reasonable rates, with international calling facilities. However in provincial areas, they may be limited or not available at all and substantially more expensive.

Cambodia Travel Do's & Don'ts  Top

Behaviour and Customs

During your Cambodia travel you needn't be too worried about offending locals since you will probably not be held to the strictest standards. However, a general awareness of acceptable behaviour is all part of being a responsible traveller.

Most Cambodians are Khmer and most Khmer people are Theravada Buddhists, which means there are certain standards of behaviour, dress and taboos dictated by their religious beliefs and customs.

In general, it is advisable to behave politely and with restraint and to dress modestly. You should greet someone who is greeting you with either a handshake or the traditional greeting, which is similar to that used in Laos and Thailand - place the palms of the hands together in front of you and make a slight bow. Below is a list of do's and don'ts for your Cambodia travel.

Do:
- use the right hand to accept things or shake hands.
- remove shoes before entering private homes and many wats (temples)
- dress modestly when visiting temples - a shirt and long pants when possible
- bargain cheerfully when shopping at the markets to get a good price
- lay your chopsticks flat across the bowl when not using them
- buy certified replicas of archeological artifacts only. Replicas are well made and you can get documention proving they are replicas and not genuine artifacts
- try to learn some Khmer - Hi, Please, Thank you, Where is, How much, numbers 1-10, and peoples names are a great start in any language.

Don't
- drink water or ice from taps orunknown sources, especially in the provinces. Bottled water is safe and available everywhere. Ice in cities usually comes from purified water
- travel roads alone at night, particularly in remote areas, if you can avoid it as hold-ups and motorcycle theft still occur and there are guns in Cambodia
- stray off well-marked paths, particularly in the countryside, as Cambodia still has many undetonated bombs, mines and other explosives
- buy archaeological artefacts - real or not. This encourages looting of national treasures from temples and ruins. Items will be confiscated at customs anyway.
- get frustrated or angry when bargaining- it should be kept friendly
- dont be surprised if people push right in front of you - there is no tradition of queuing in Cambodia.
- point your foot at a person or object.
- get carried away with public displays of affection
- lose your temper and shout. Being persistently polite works better.
- climb on Buddhas or photograph them without permission as they are all considered sacred
- touch another person's head - even as a friendly gesture. The head is sacred.

Climate/Weather Top

For information regarding the best time to visit Cambodia, the climate in Cambodia and current weather conditions in Phnom Penh, following the link to our Cambodia weather guide.

Currency/Money Top

The official currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR). It can be further split into 100 sen. The Cambodian riel is useful for purchasing local products and paying for transportation in the country, however the US dollar is widely used and is considered the unofficial currency of Cambodia. It is often preferred over the riel. It is easy to exchange even small denominations of the US dollar at hotels, restaurants and shops, but do make sure that the notes are clean and free of any damage or else they are regarded as worthless.

The Cambodian riel can be exchanged at an approximate rate of 4,000 riels per US dollar but check today's Cambodian riel Exchange Rates from OANDA.com. However, in remote provinces, the riel is the preferred currency. Other currencies are not favoured, but in some places the Thai baht is also accepted. 

Credit cards are accepted only in select places such as upmarket hotels and restaurants and at airports. ATMs are present in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Battambang and dispense US dollars. Credit cards such as Visa Card, MasterCard and JCB are accepted at a charge of 2–4 percent.

Electricity Top

Cambodian electricity runs off a 230 volt/ 50 hertz system.

Cambodian Embassy Information Top

For the list & locations of Cambodian embassies around the world, including foreign embassies in Cambodia, go to http://www.embassy-worldwide.com/ 

General Information Top

Population: just under 14 million people
Total Area: 181,000 square kilometres
Time Zone: GMT +7 hours time zone
Capital City: Phnom Penh (900,000 people)

To view the current time in Phnom Penh, click on this link to TimeAndDate.com.

Language Top

The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, which is spoken by approximately 95% of the population. French used to be the second language of choice, but the English language skills are improving at a fast pace. Some handy Khmer phrases for traveller to know include:

Some useful words and phrases:

Hello (colloquial) - Sues'day
Hello (formal) - Chum reap sour 
Good byeLea hay
Sorry -  Somtos
Thank you -  Orkun
How much -  T'lai punman
Yes (male) - Baht
Yes (female) - Jah 
No - Teh
I don't understand - Knyom at yol teh
Where's the toilet? - Bontub tek nov ti na?

Numbers
One -  mooy
Two - bpee
Three - bay
Four - boo-uhn
Five - bpram
Six - bpram-moi
Seven - bpram-pii
Eight - bpram-bay
Nine - bpram-boun
Ten - dohp

Most people working in the Cambodian tourism sector speak fairly good English, but Cambodian people appreciate when they meet visitors who make a little effort and try to learn a few Khmer words and phrases. So for an enrichened experience you might want to check out some Cambodian Language Courses and Dictionaries.

Public Holidays Top

Cambodian Public Holidays include:

1 January:
International New Year's Day
7 January: Victory Day over the Genocide Regime.
13 February: Meaka Bochea Day
8 March: International Women's Day.
14-16 April: Cambodian New Year
1 May: International Labour Day
12 May: Visaka Bochea Day
13-15 May: Birthday of His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni
16 May: Royal Ploughing Ceremony
18 June: Birthday of Her Majesty Queen-Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk of Cambodia
21-23 October: Pchum Ben Day
24 September: Constitution's Day
29 October: Coronation's Day of H.M. Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, the King of Cambodia
31 October: Birthday of His Majesty King-Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia.
9 November: Independence Day.
4-5-6 November: Water Festival
10 December: International Human Rights Day.

Note
: When a public holiday falls on Saturday and/or Sunday, then the Monday following the holiday is substituted.

Follow the link to view a list of public holiday in Cambodia during 2010.

Religion Top

The predominant religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhist, accounting for 95% of the population. Other religions make up the other 5%.

Cambodian Visa Information Top

Philippine and Malaysian citizens can travel to Cambodia for 21 and 30 days respectively without a visa, but all other nationalities are required to have a visa upon entering Cambodia. Visas are available on arrival at both international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and at some land crossings but not all. It is US$20 for a 1 month tourist visa and US$25 for a business visa which is good for 3 months and can be extended multiple times. You will need a passport that is valid for at least the next 6 months and 1 passport photo.

For overland entries, visas are available upon arrival at the Vietnamese (Bavet and Kaam Samnor) and Thai border crossings (Poipet and Krong Koh Kong) but not the Lao crossings (Koh Chheuteal Thom or Dom Kralor). Note that at the Thai crossings at Poipet and Krong Koh Kong, it is 1,000 baht for a tourist visa and 1,500 baht for a business visa, which is higher than the standard rate elsewhere, and border officials may refuse US dollars.

Beware of entry scams:
do not be scammed by drivers or others who insist you need their help to get a visa, guards claiming there is a fee for a SARS form or immigration police overcharging for the visas. Particularly for the latter two, it is probably more effective to refuse politely, pretend to not understand or ask for a receipt (which they wouldn't be able to produce for false fees) rather than losing your temper or shouting.

Renew your visa through a Cambodia travel agent or the Department of Immigration on Airport Road (Confederation de Russie) opposite.

We suggest you check this information with your relevant government consulate for the most current information regarding Cambodian Visas and Passport requirements for entry.

US citizens who do not wish to go through the trouble of dealing with the red tape themselves can count on the professional services of Travel Visa Pro to speed things up: Apply for Cambodia Visa Online (service starts from $39). If you need to renew, add pages, change name, or just get a new US passport, you can Apply for a New US Passport here.

Location Top

Cambodia lies in South-East Asia and shares borders with Vietnam, Laos, Thailand & the Gulf of Thailand. To view maps of Cambodia, check this link for WorldAtlas.com

Where to travel in Cambodia Top

Phnom Penh

As the Cambodian capital, commercial and political centre, Phnom Penh offers the most dramatic display of changes with its boom in restaurants, shops, pubs and nightlife spots as well as hotels and guesthouses to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and expatriates.

Located at the confluence of three waterways, the Tonle Sap, Tonle Bassac and mighty Mekong River, Phnom Penh offers visitors a glimpse of a country seized by dramatic changes. You can see the beauty of Khmer culture and tradition through the National Museum, the Silver Pagoda and its many wats (temples) as well as be reminded of its grim, not so distant past through the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and nearby killing fields of Choeung Ek.

As the "Kingdom of Cambodia", it is fitting that the Royal Palace here is once again occupied by the royal family. In addition to the tourist sites, the city has some of the best shopping and eating establishments available in the country including some run by aid organizations to fund humanitarian projects.

Phnom Penh is a great place to take in at leisure so soak in the atmosphere: take a boat tour on the river or stroll along the lovely riverbanks, sample the local cuisine at sidewalk restaurants, bargain for handicrafts at the open markets and observe and appreciate how the local Khmers go about their everyday lives. See our Phnom Penh City Guide for more details.

Siem Reap - Angkor Wat

Whereas Phnom Penh is the country's commercial and political centre, Siem Reap is the Khmer cultural and spiritual heartland - perhaps because the Angkor-era temples are such an important reminder to the Khmers of their once glorious history. The Angkor archaeological park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, naturally, the major attraction in Siem Reap.

Cambodia travel tours, transportation and multilingual guides are all available to meet the demands of temple-trekking tourists in their travel to Cambodia. Everything from 5-star Cambodia hotels to budget guesthouses have popped up all over Siem Reap to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. Restaurants, internet cafe photo shops, pubs and discos have followed suit. It is second only to Phnom Penh for shopping and dining.

As the centre of Cambodia's cultural revival, Siem Reap is also perhaps the best place to see a traditional Khmer apsara dance, performed at several hotels and restaurants throughout the town.

Likewise, when you travel to Cambodia you can visit a silkworm farm where traditional Khmer textiles are produced and observe the making of shadow puppets, and traditional wood and stone carvings. Visitors can also take boat tours on the Tonle Sap Lake or go outside of Siem Reap a bit to visit traditional floating fishing villages and a bird sanctuary. See our Siem Reap City Guide for more details.

Battambang

Take a scenic river trip from Siem Reap and travel to Cambodia's second largest city and "rice bowl", Battambang - an elegant, provincial, riverside town with French colonial and traditional Cambodian architecture. Not far outside of town are old pagodas, Angkor-era ruins, caves, waterfalls, and unspoiled, picturesque countryside.


Sihanoukville

Cut out of the jungle to be a port city in the 1950's, Sihanoukville (previously called Kompong Som) today is the country's most popular beach getaway and fairly modern compared to most Cambodian towns.

Locals and foreigners come from Phnom Penh, particularly on the weekends, to the town's four white sandy beaches, virtually untouched offshore islands, 24-hour casinos, budding nightlife and ample selection of restaurants serving a range of international fare as well as fresh seafood. To accommodate the influx, the town offers a lot of cheap and mid-range hotels and guesthouses as well as a new resort complex.

When to travel to Cambodia Top

In terms of festivals and holidays to take into account when deciding when is best to travel to Cambodia, here are two to consider.

Chaul Chnam
is the three day celebration of the Khmer New Year which usually occurs in mid-April. The country is lively during this time and passers-by are often doused with water and talcum powder, not entirely unpleasant given the seasonal heat. Angkor Wat becomes extremely crowded at this time with many locals coming to pay a visit.

Bon Om Tuk
is the Water Festival that usually occurs in November and turns Phnom Penh especially, but also Siem Reap, into large, festive, carnival venues. There are colourful and exciting boat races held in the waterways, concerts, fireworks, rides, food vendors and people everywhere. It is an exciting time but avoid it if you are looking for a laid back atmosphere.

Also note that during the lunar new year, somewhere between late January and mid-February, many Chinese and Vietnamese shops and businesses may close to observe their own culture's new year.

Cambodian Food and Drink Top

Khmer food is said to be similar to Thai and Lao food especially in its abundant use of coriander, mint leaves and lemon grass, but less spicy overall compared to Thai food.

Cambodia books and recommended reading Top

Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong

While this website aims to give you much useful information about Cambodia, long bus rides and lazy days at the beaches are excellent opportunities to sit back and read a book. The following is a carefully selected list of some of our favourite books covering different aspects of Cambodia and are all highly recommended reading before, during and after your trip;

Cambodia and South-east Asia travel guides:

Lonely Planet Cambodia  by Nick Ray (Lonely Planet Publications; 5th edition, August, 2005)

Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & the Greater Mekong  by Nick Ray, Tim Bewer, Andrew Burke, Thomas Huhti and Siradeth Seng (Lonely Planet Publications; 1st edition, September 2007) - New release

Southeast Asia on a Shoestring by China Williams, George Dunford et.al. (Lonely Planet Publications; 13th edition, March 2006)

The Rough Guide to Cambodia by Beverley Palmer, Steven Martin. (Rough Guides; 2nd edition, September 2005)

Guidebooks to the Angkor temples:

Angkor: Cambodia's Wondrous Khmer Temples  by Dawn F. Rooney, Peter Danford (Odyssey; 5th edition, July 2005) - Highly recommended

Ancient Angkor by Claude Jacques (River Books Press Dist A/C; December 2006)

Angkor: Celestial Temples of the Khmer by  Jon Ortner et. al. (Abbeville Press; 1st ed edition, December 2002)

Angkor by George Coedes (Oxford University Press; May 1986)

Angkor - Heart of an Asian Empire by Bruno Dagens (Harry N. Abrams, Inc; February 1995)

Khmer - The Lost Empire of Cambodia by Thierry Zephir (Harry N. Abrams, Inc; 1998)

History of Cambodia:

A History of Cambodia by David Chandler (Westview Press; 4th edition August, 2007) - New edition

When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker (PublicAffairs; 1st PublicAffairs ed edition, October 1998)

Cambodia: Year Zero by Francois Ponchaud (Henry Holt & Co; August 1978)

Autobiographies and personal accounts:

Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay (Cornell University Press; New Ed edition, December 2000)

First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung (Harper Perennial; April 2006)

When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him (W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition, April 2001)

The Gate by Francois Bizot (Vintage; New Ed edition, February 2004)

Cambodian (Khmer) language courses and dictionaries:

Colloquial Cambodian by David Smyth (Routledge; 1st edition March 1995)

Cambodian for Beginners by Richard Gilbert, Sovandy Hang (Paiboon Publishing; June 2004)

Tuttle Practical Cambodian Dictionary by David Smyth, Tran Kien (Charles E. Tuttle Co.; March 2005)

The Oxford Picture Dictionary  by Norma Shapiro, et. al. (Oxford University Press; 3rd edition, May1999)

Geography Top

Cambodia is spread over an area of 181,035 sq km and constitutes 21 provinces. It is surrounded by Thailand and Laos in the north, Vietnam in the east and south and by the Gulf of Thailand to the south and southwest. The vast tracts of the Cambodian plains are used for production of rice. Part of the country is also mountainous, with the main mountain ranges being Elephant, Dangrek and Cardomen.

The Tonle Sap or Great Lake is one of the largest in Southeast Asia. This lake is connected to the Mekong River by the Tonle Sap River. The lake which is 2,590 sq km in the dry season expands to a mammoth 24,605 sq km during the monsoons. The inundations of the lake form a lacustrine plain, in the centre of the country, where wet rice cultivation is practised.

Health/Safety Top

For those visiting Cambodia, it is important to heed your doctor’s advice regarding all the vaccines that you have to take. Malaria and dengue fever, both mosquito borne, is particularly worth noting if you're going to the countryside. After dark, wear long sleeves and try to select trousers of light colours. It is also advisable to use insect repellents. You can also take pills from your doctor or pharmacist for prevention of malaria.

Do not expect any form of international standards in medical care, whether it is in the cities or the rural areas. So we strongly recommend to take out a health insurance or a medical evacuation cover before travelling.

Use bottled water, which is readily available, for drinking. Water for making ice and brushing teeth should be boiled. Try to use powdered or tinned milk, to avoid having to boil milk, which is unpasteurised. Make sure all the meat or fish dishes you order are well done and not rare or medium. Fruits should be peeled before they are eaten.

Travelling in Cambodia is generally safe other than for the occasional pickpockets or stray incidents that can happen anywhere in the world. Do not draw attention to cash or jewellery and keep an eye on your luggage. Going out at night is usually pretty safe, but one can take further precautions by hiring a known taxi service.

As always, it is important to make sure you have a proper travel insurance.

We recommend travel insurance from World Nomads.

At World Nomads you get more than just travel insurance. With free SMS travel safety alerts, iPod language guides, your own online travel journal and destination guides, World Nomads keeps you travelling safely.

Click here to view their prices and benefits and what they cover.

People Top

The Cambodian population is the most homogenous one in Southeast Asia, with a massive 90 to 95 percent of ethnic Cambodians, five percent Vietnamese – the largest minority – and one percent Chinese. The 1998 census shows that the population of Cambodia is over 11 million, with the country having one of the highest population growth rates (2.5% per year) in Asia.

The Khmer Rouge rule forced a large percentage of the population to move to the rural areas. The urban areas still has only a tenth of the total population.