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Visiting Cambodia | A Brief Guide

So many people want to visit Cambodia and it’s no wonder why! There’s so much to see and experience in this amazing country and the people are incredibly welcoming, too! In fact, there’s no reason not to start planning a trip to Cambodia today.

There are a number of things that travelers to Cambodia should know before they visit. Having this knowledge will help them have the best possible trip and make the most of the time they have in Cambodia.

What to Expect: Entering the Country

All visitors to Cambodia will need to have a tourist visa. This is generally good for 30 days and costs approximately $30 (USD). Travelers can stand in line and receive one of these visas upon arrival in Cambodia, though it may be in their best interests to get their visa online before they arrive. The eVisa is easy to apply for and usually takes no more than 3 days for processing.

It is more difficult to get a visa upon arrival via some entry locations than others. Entering over land (for instance, from Bangkok, Thailand) can be harder than flying in or coming in another way. Travelers planning to enter through these locations should get a visa ahead of time. 

Rules surrounding travel regarding COVID-19 change regularly and that’s true with Cambodia as well as with other countries. Travelers will be responsible for knowing what the rules are that pertain to them and ensuring that they follow them. Otherwise, they may not be allowed to travel to or enter Cambodia.

What to Expect: Travel

A few travelers choose to rent vehicles and drive themselves in Cambodia, but traffic is bad in the cities and very few people follow traffic laws the way that drivers do in the west. For these reasons, most travelers choose to get around the cities by tuk-tuk. These small, three-wheeled vehicles cost just a few dollars for most trips around town. Even trips to sites like Angkor Wat only cost $10-$20. 

If visitors want to travel between cities or outside of cities, there are vast bus networks in Cambodia. Most of the time, travelers don’t even have to book these in advance. They can choose between day buses, from which they can see the countryside, or night buses (some of which come complete with karaoke!). 

There are also flights internal to Cambodia. However, these are usually more expensive than the buses. They also require planning ahead and dealing with airports, security, etc. Most travelers find that it’s not worth the hassle to fly.

There are a few trains and boats in Cambodia. If these suit a traveler’s specific destination or itinerary, they can be acceptable forms of transportation. However, they are not the most commonly used forms of transport nor the most popular.

What to Expect: Lodging

Cambodia offers everything when it comes to lodging. From basic hostel rooms to vacation rentals to luxurious hotels, they offer every option available under the sun. While it’s possible to pay as much as a traveler wants to for luxurious options, it doesn’t cost much to get a quality place to stay in Cambodia. Even $25/night can get travelers rooms with a television, pool access, and air conditioning.

What to Expect: Weather

Cambodia is a tropical country and, as such, can get very warm, especially in the middle of the day. Many travelers prefer to get up early, see some sites, then rest at their lodgings until it cools down in the evening. Visitors should also be prepared with plenty of sunscreen, lots of water, and loose clothing that won’t make them sweat too much.

Cambodia experiences a rainy season from May to October, and the best time to travel is between November and March. This allows for the driest weather and means that temperatures are generally at their lowest, too, though it is by no means cool in Cambodia.

What to Expect: Safety

Take precautions with belongings in Cambodia. While many areas are completely safe, the cities and the borders are known for bag snatchers and pickpockets. Even when riding in a tuk-tuk, make sure bags are secure so no one can grab them from the street as the vehicle passes.

Visitors should talk to their doctors about any vaccines that they should get before they travel to Cambodia. These can protect them from a number of different illnesses and should be received at least 6-8 weeks before the trip takes place. Vaccine recommendations change based on current diseases and conditions, so travelers will need to check and see which ones they need based on their date of travel.

What to Expect: Social

The Cambodian people are among the most friendly and welcoming in southeast Asia. Many travelers report feeling more at home in Cambodia than they do in other countries in the area. Even if the people can’t communicate with a traveler, their smiles will speak a thousand words!

To greet a person in Cambodia, travelers should put their hands together in front of their chest, as if they were praying. Then they can bow slightly forward, especially with the head and neck. This is called the sampeah and honors Cambodian culture.

Monks are highly respected in Cambodia. It’s best for travelers, especially women, to avoid sitting too close to them, speaking to them unless spoken to first, and generally getting in their space. If visitors want a photo of a monk, they should always ask first.

When visiting temples and other cultural sites, visitors need to be prepared with the proper clothing. Shoulders and legs should be completely covered on men and women. Visitors should avoid wearing graphic shirts that could be taken as disrespectful, because they may not be permitted to enter cultural sites wearing these. Additionally, visitors should never point their feet toward a statue or other representation of a Buddha. This is considered disrespectful.

In fact, travelers may want to cover up more in Cambodia than they would at home. Shorts, tank tops, and swim suits are generally saved for the beaches. Most people choose long, linen-type garments that cover legs and arms unless they want to be stared at by the locals.

There are a few social rules that travelers should follow in Cambodia, to honor the culture and not disrespect anyone or anything. These include:

  • Avoid touching other people’s heads and faces.
  • Avoid losing temper or making an emotional display in public.
  • Avoid public displays of affection.
  • Avoid discussing politics or other controversial topics.

Cambodian Cultural Tips

Here are a few more tips that will help travelers have an excellent time in Cambodia. 

  • Eat street food. Some travelers are wary of eating from street vendors, but the truth is that this is some of the best food to try in Cambodia. Don’t eat anything that looks dirty or questionable, but do enjoy food from vendors who have long lines and who seem popular.

  • There are several different languages used in Cambodia. The national language is Khmer and many people speak English. Taking the time to learn a few Khmer phrases can help endear travelers to the people and the culture of Cambodia.

  • Very few things occur “on time” in Cambodia. The pace of life is slower and is oriented toward what people need, rather than toward making things happen at a certain time. Travelers need to be ready to wait, to change their plans, and to be flexible in Cambodia. This can open the door for a number of different adventures.

  • Know the history. From 1975-1979, Cambodia experience a massive genocide. Approximately 20% of the population lost their lives during that time, and this has left its mark on the country. Travelers should not talk about this time with locals unless locals initiate the conversation, but they should be ready to see and understand it and its implications as they travel.

  • The plumbing in Cambodia can leave a lot to be desired. Many toilets have buckets next to them for all paper waste because the system simply cannot handle having anything other than human waste flushed.

  • Don’t give children money or food. While it can be hard to see their cute faces and deny them this, handouts actually encourage families to keep children out of school. Promote education by NOT buying from children on the street and, instead, giving that money to a local school or a known charity organization in the country.

  • No matter how careful travelers are, they may still get sick. Even if they avoid the tap water and only eat in tourist restaurants, visitors may experience intestinal distress in Cambodia. Most of the time, this will pass in a day or two and they’ll be able to get back to their travel schedule.

  • Mosquitoes are serious business. Take heavy-duty bug spray and use it liberally and regularly. Even for travelers who don’t like the way it smells or feels, it’s worth it to avoid getting Dengue fever, which is communicated via bite. Fortunately, malaria is only present in one small part of Cambodia, and it’s a part few tourists see.

  • Some places in Cambodia use US dollars. While Cambodia has its own currency (the riel), many places use dollars, too, or will offer travelers a choice between riel and dollars. It’s a good idea to have some of each kind of money, just in case visitors encounter a vendor who only takes one.

  • Bartering is perfectly acceptable in Cambodia. Unless an item is marked with a price tag, travelers can - and should! - negotiate how much they’ll spend on it. This includes everything from tuk-tuk rides to clothing to souvenirs and even to some food. In fact, if travelers pay the first price they are given, they may pay twice what the item or service is actually worth!

Visit Cambodia Soon!

For travelers who have always wanted to see Cambodia, the time is now! There’s no time like the present to start planning this trip of a lifetime. Taking the above information into account while planning will allow them to make this trip the trip they’ve always dreamed about!

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