- EAT! – Fish Amok: This mouth watering, delicious creamy coconut based curry is a must-eat in Cambodia. (Some Khmer food can be far removed from what the Western palate is used to. You’ll find Cambodians eating deep fried spiders, crickets, beetles and other creepy crawlies, pregnant duck eggs, fermented fish paste, barbecued rats, bats and snakes.)
- DRINK! – Sugar Cane Juice: Sweet and refreshing, squeezed right from the sugar cane right there on the street, this drink is the perfect cool-me-down in Cambodia’s sweltering heats.
- WEAR! – Your PJs: All that travelling sure tires you out, so keep your PJs on at all times, just like the savvy women of Cambodia.
- BEWARE! – Monkeys at Angkor Wat: They look so cute… until they’re swinging round your neck trying to swig your can of coke!
Introduction to the Most Friendly Country in Asia...
Gaze in awe at the temples of Angkor Wat, explore the fascinating, dusty streets of the energetic capital, Phnom Penh, then relax on the golden beaches of the South. Cambodia is a rewarding destination for backpackers in it's own right, but what really makes it an enchanting destination to visit are the welcoming, gentle people that live here.
A little history
Anyone who visits this beautiful country should be aware that just thirty years ago, Cambodia suffered a devastating horror in which one third of the population were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Today the country is still very much recovering from this trauma and the attitude of 'live for the moment' is ever present in it's fun-loving population. Poignant reminders of the ordeal can be seen all across the land today and it is important for backpackers to remember what the people of Cambodia endured just a short time ago.
The Capital: Phnom Penh
In Phnom Penh, you can visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum to learn more about the recent history of the country or delve into the ancient past at the National Museum. For today's travellers, the city is a clash between old and new Asia; extremes of rich and poor, modern technology and tradition. As the sea of motorbikes and frantic traffic hurtle through the dusty streets past bustling markets, piles of rubbish on the streets, saffron-robed monks and laughing children on their way to school, Phnom Penh will simultaneously astound and unsettle it's visitors. Many people who travel here choose to volunteer their time to help the poorest of the poor.
Siem Reap and Angkor Wat
Probably the most visited place in Cambodia, Siem Reap, is where people base themselves to visit the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, hailed as one of the most magnificent examples of architecture ever created by man. Built for King Suryavarman II, between 9th and 13th centuries,this awe-inspiring site flourished as the capital of the Khmer Empire from approximately the 9th to the 13th Century. It is believed to have been constructed by an estimated 12,000 workers, and what would fill over 200,000 trucks full of sandstone, Angkor Wat is said to have taken just 35 years to build. One contemporary engineer suggested the same construction would take 300 years to complete today.
Frequently heralded as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the ancient city is a photographer’s paradise, and offers a staggering 400km² of temple ruins and monuments. You'll feel like you are in an Indiana Jones movie as you wander around tumbling temples and crumbling ruins, in places overpowered by the force of nature over the years as the roots of trees grow amidst the stone. Siem Reap itself is a lively, fun place to stay. With a street aptly named 'Pub Street' lined with some great restaurants and buzzing bars.
Near Siem Reap, you'll also find the Tonle Sap Lake, one of the largest in South East Asia. Every year during rainy season, its waters swell over a period of three months, transforming the lake from 160km long to up to 250km.
On the coast, you'll experience a different side of Cambodia and a unique and unspoiled part of South East Asia that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. Visit now before this changes! From Koh Rong, Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep, you can explore quaint fishing villages, gorge on delicious seafood barbecues or just laze on deserted beaches.
Sihanoukville is the main backpacker magnet, where cheap accommodation and a lively party vibe have drawn travellers who end up chilling here longer than they had planned. And just offshore, you can take a boat ride to any one of the pristine tropical islands sprinkled in the surrounding seas, like Bamboo Island, where you'll feel like Robinson Crusoe as you grab yourself a dirt-cheap bamboo hut on stilts and escape society while you still can. Foreign investors are already scrambling for the islands where the potential is massive.
The Wild East
The picturesque, riverside town of Kratie in North Eastern Cambodia is one of the best places in South East Asia to catch a glimpse of the rare freshwater Irrawadddy dolphin. As highly endangered species, environmentalists believe that there are less than a hundred dolphins left in this part of the Mekong.
And, if you're really looking to get off the beaten track, North Eastern Cambodia, notably Ratanakari Province is one of the least visited, yet most beautiful parts of Cambodia. Rolling hills, mountains, volcanic crater lakes and some great opportunities for trekking to local minority villages; it is slowly becoming an intrepid destination for adventure seeking travellers.
- Currency: Cambodian Riel (US Dollars accepted). ATMS will dispense dollars. Local shop owners will gladly accept dollars, but will often give change back in Riel. It is therefore advisable to change dollars to Riel prior to making purchases as designated money changing locations will give you better exchange rates.
- Climate: The hottest month is April with temperatures hitting 40 degrees. The wet season starts in May or June and lasts until October. The downpours are heavy and do not last long. The best season to visit is December to February, when there is little rain, low humidity and cool breeze.
- Main religion: Theravada Buddhism (95%)
- Main Language: Khmer
- Telephone code: +855
- Time: GMT + 7 hours
- In an emergency: Ambulance: 119, Fire: 118, Police: 117
Cambodian Language Essentials
- Hello: Sua s’dei
- Thank-you: Aw kohn
- How are you?: Niak sok sabai te?
- What is your name?: Niak ch’mooah ei?
- See you later: Juab kh'nia
- That's too much: t'lai pek
Cambodia Visa Information
- Visa: Most nationalities can obtain a 1-month tourist Visa upon arrival which costs around $20. At land border crossings, notably the Thailand/Cambodia border, the fee can be more expensive as the cost is paid in baht and is sometimes rounded up considerably. You will need 1 or 2 passport photos to apply, or you will be charged extra (usually only $1-2.) Passports must be valid for up to 6 months before entering.
- E-Visa: You can now apply for E-visa online to avoid extra fees and make your border crossing easier. Pre-order online at the government website and your visa will cost $25 set price. You will need a digital photo of yourself to upload. Processing takes 3 days and you will get the visa straight to your mailbox. See official website for up to date info on which borders support the E-visa as not all of the crossings take it yet.
- Visa extension: Obtained at Phnom Penh immigration office, opposite International Airport. Tourist visas can be extended 1 month. (Around US$35) For longer extensions ask at Immigration Office.
- Penalty for late departure: US$5 / day.
Header Photo by Dylan Goldby.