45 travel things to know before you visit Cambodia
Cambodia is a country of extremes, you can find the most amazing things and but also be confronted with a few very bad ones. It has great history and a horrible one! As a traveler one faces big challenges that really pay off a big prize. After being amazed and frustrated with Cambodia we decided to compile this list to help you understand Cambodia better.
Cambodia and the Locals
1. Cambodia is a very poor country!
2. Tourism and the tourists are a major source of income for the Cambodians.
3. Unlike the Lao, Cambodians try their best (and sometimes their worst) to earn money with tourists. They take initiative and try to provide services or sell stuff to the Tourists, although they aren’t too pushy.
4. Like Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia was a french colony. Despite this, we didn’t find anyone speaking French.
5. However, Cambodians speak a much better English than Thais and Laos, therefore it was easy to communicate in Cambodia.
6. Cambodia had one of the worst dictatorship ever, the Khmer Rouge. In 3 three years the Khmer Rouge killed 2M people, one quarter of the population!
7. The Khmer Rouge was not only barbaric but also idiotic. They decided to empty the cities, sending everyone to the fields and planting rice. Every single industry was forbidden and everyone with any kind of higher education killed…
8. Population is growing very quickly. It grew almost 3 times, from 6.7 M in 1980 to 16 M in 2016. This makes it also a very young population.
9. Don’t forget that Cambodians are mainly Buddhists! They are usually very patient with tourists but please respect their culture, religion and habits.
10. Cambodia is dirty and has a major garbage disposal problem! There’s trash everywhere in Cambodia, it’s something very difficult to oversee! Even after living in Angola, and kind of being used to seeing garbage everywhere Cambodia impressed us.
11. But it’s not only an “organizational thing”, it’s a mentality/cultural thing. Cambodians really need to learn to take care of the environment. Tourists won’t return if the attractions are all dirty buy most importantly it’s a matter of public health!
Travel and tourists
12. Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction of Cambodia and deservedly so. It’s one of the 7 new world wonders and truly one of the greatest achievements of the ancient world!
13. Angkor complex is formed by dozens of temples and other archaeological sites spread over 400 km2. Don’t visit only the Angkor Wat, go to Angkor Thom, Bayon temple, and many others! This is a full 2 days activity, at least!
14. Though we loved Angkor, we really disliked Siem Reap. Keep your expectations as low as possible about the town. It’s the messy, dirty, overcrowded and touristy in the worst kind of way. It’s also very very hot, which make the whole experience worse.
15. We didn’t care much about Phnom Penh. It looked very dirty and uninteresting. It was also incredibly hot which made the experience worse.
16. The Royal Palace is pleasant, but really isn’t worth spending much time. It isn’t unique or particularly impressive compared with the ones in Thailand or Laos.
17. The most impressive experience in Phnom Penh was clearly the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It’s a very immersive experience in a reality so cruel that is difficult to understand how it was possible and “allowed”. Alike Dachau Memorial it’s a full cultural and history lesson about human nature.
18. Koh ta Kiev became our personal paradise. With warm, clear water and powder sand it’s the place where our minds wander when we are bored. It’s the perfect no frills place to relax and get away from the world. We were supposed to stay for one day and stayed 3 days…
19. Koh Rong is the opposite! It’s Cambodia’s party island, where the backpackers and hippies go to party, drink and dance. Unfortunately it’s also very dirty and disgusting in the main village. However, you can still find great beaches in Koh Rong, namely long beach, which is easily one of most stunning beaches we have ever been to!
20. Sihanoukville is a coastal town of Cambodia with a very sketchy reputation related to drugs and sex tourism, though we didn’t notice anything different from other tourist destinations of South East Asia. What really impressed us was the looks of the beach in the morning… I wouldn’t get in that water even if got paid!
Food and eating
21. Khmer food is similar to Lao and Thai. Probably closer to Lao because it isn’t as spicy as Thai.
22. If you have the opportunity try Kampot pepper. The production decreased during the wars and afterwards but it’s starting to recover again. It was once very famous in french cuisine and regarded as the best pepper in the world!
23. Our favorite Khmer dish is the Amok! It can be chicken, beef or fish. Either way it’s great. Amok is thick soup cooked with fish, meat, vegetables,eggs and coconut milk. It’s usually eaten with white rice.
24. Although by international standards food is extremely cheap, we found it to be slightly more expensive than in Thailand or Malaysia. Maybe on pair with Laos.
25. While in Cambodia we found these incredible tasty, crispy and delicious tarantulas! Well, not really, 🙂 we couldn’t eat them… It’s too freaky for us! But you can try them, if you must.
26. Restaurant menus are huge… We are talking about 100+ available dishes huge! In one restaurant we even found poutine in the menu!
Money and expenses
27. The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel.
28. Although, to a tourist the USD is the de facto currency of Cambodia. It’s the currency used in most transactions, leaving the Riel to the job of being used as small change/breaking the USD. Remember that USD coins aren’t used.
29. Even the ATMs will dispense USD if you are using a foreign card.
30. While the actual amount depends on the bank, every ATM cash withdrawal have a fee of about 5 USD. Anyway, try to with withdraw money as few times as possible.
31. Remember that cash is king. Very few stores/restaurants/guest houses accept you credit card, and those who do will charge you up to 5% to pay directly.
32. Overall, we spent 977 Euros in Cambodia during 11 days, averaging 44 Euros per person per day. This is way too much when compared with other countries in the region.
33. However this includes, the visa (30 USD), the flight to Malaysia (115 USD) and the 3 day tickets to Angkor Wat (62 USD). Therefore without these and with a longer stay, it would be much more in line of Laos.
34. Accommodation and food are particularly inexpensive. Transportation is a bit more expense but still cheap when compared with western countries.
35. We knew that the SE Asian countries had crazy traffic and were very dangerous, but Cambodian really took it to a hole new level! We will never take another mini van in Cambodia!
36. In Cambodia, you won’t be able to escape the Tuk-Tuks. We managed to do it in Thailand and Laos, but not in Cambodia. You might as well embrace it ant try to enjoy it. Some of them as nice, some aren’t…
37. From Sihanoukville it’s very easy to get to and from the islands. There are several boats to the mainland and you can easily connect the boats to buses and mini-vans.
38. Apart from a weekend, touristic train from Sihanoukville to Phnom Phen, there are no trains in Cambodia…
39. Travelling in Cambodia is almost as slow as in Laos. 🙂 The country isn’t very big but it takes a full day or at least half a day to travel between towns.
40. Like Thailand and Laos, buses and even mini-vans will drop you off in the weirdest places (usually a few km outside tourist center). Be careful, because it can be dangerous and/or expensive.
Other travel stuff and useful information
41. There is WI-FI everywhere. Almost every coffee shop, restaurant and guesthouse offers it, however it’s quite bad and unreliable.
42. Almost every place expects you to take off your shoes when come, not only the temples but even hostels and sometimes restaurants.
43. Get used to Asian bathrooms… In Cambodia it won’t be easy to find a western one! This means that the shower and the toilet are together, so everything gets wet after a bath.
44. Always bring toilet paper with you, most bathrooms won’t have it and sometimes even in hostels you will need your toilet paper…
45. Lastly and probably one of the most important things: get used to the idea of seeing children asking you for money/trying to sell you something. As difficult as it is, resist to the urge of giving them money. You are doing more harm than wrong. Parents and/or organized criminals groups use the children to beg and get your money!
Now we hope that you understand Cambodia better, moreover we hope to inspire you to travel to Cambodia. We want you to both enjoy every great thing Cambodia has to offer and deal with the bad and frustrating things that is has.