10 Things You Should Know Before Traveling to Cambodia
Despite being one of the world’s poorest countries, Cambodia’s incredible history and natural beauty, ensure that it’s a ‘must-see’ destination for many tourists visiting Southeast Asia. It is also becoming a popular destination for eco-travel with eco-lodges like Cardamom Tented Camp in Botom Sakor National Park attracting a growing number of travelers who want to interact with the wild and do their part to protect nature’s dwindling resources for future generations.
Whether you are coming to see the ancient temples of Angkor, the beautiful isolated island beaches, or venturing deep into the pristine jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, it’s worth being prepared for some of the cultural differences, customs and oddities of Khmer daily life:
- Visa on Arrival
To enter Cambodia you’ll need to get a visa and at a cost of US$30, the Kingdom offers a tourist Visa on Arrival (VOA) at most ports of entry, including Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The process is usually quick – around 10-15 minutes – but in the high season you may end up queuing for longer. Of course, to avoid the crowds there’s the option of getting the visa in your home country, but if you do go for a VOA, make sure you have a spare passport photo for the visa form.
- Choose your currencies
Cambodia’s currency is the Riel; however, you’ll need to take US Dollars with you. For anything that costs more than a $1, you’ll be paying in US Dollars, especially in tourist areas. Usually for small purchases you’ll be given your change in Riel and it’s worth hanging on to this as it can be useful to make up prices, buy snacks or refreshments. At ATMs in Cambodia any withdrawals will be in US Dollars, or in some cases you can choose between US Dollars or Riel. Always go for US Dollars, which are widely accepted and easier to convert. Thai baht can also be used in most tourist destinations.
- A little Khmer goes a long way
Khmer locals always appreciate it when visitors make the effort to learn their language and your efforts will be rewarded with beaming faces and gestures of encouragement. It may even get you a discount!
- Don’t give money or food to children
This may seem like a tough call, but many of the children are sent by their parents or relatives to beg in the tourists areas, rather than go to school. The amount they can make from tourists can be quite substantial in local terms, so it’s often seen as a viable option to getting an education. If you really want to help, donate to a local charity or school.
- Drinking tap water
Whatever you do, don’t drink the tap water in Cambodia, as you could become quite ill. Tap water is not properly filtered and while it’s okay for showering, the potable quality of tap water is way below par – so much so that even locals don’t drink it! Bottled water is cheap and available everywhere, and more and more tour operators and hotels are offering travelers refillable water bottles that can be topped up at special designated potable water stations, thus helping to reduce the country’s huge problem with plastic waste.
In Cambodia, Buddhist monks are a revered and respected part of the religion and must be treated with respect. Before taking photos of monks, it’s important to first ask permission. Women in particular need to be more mindful in the presence of monks and should avoid touching them or sitting next to them – even on public transport.
- Temple attire
When visiting the temples of Angkor, the Grand Palace or other revered places of worship, it’s important to dress conservatively. Shoulders and knees must be covered, so long pants and skirts below the knee should definitely be part of your temple wardrobe. Plunging necklines and midriff tops are definitely out, as are any other garments that show too much skin! To avoid any shortfalls, the best option is to pack a couple of suitable temple outfits in advance.
- Get a local SIM card
When you arrive in Cambodia, it’s worth getting a local SIM card to keep you cheaply connected. You will find vendors selling SIMs outside Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports as well as in other tourist locations. For a mere US$3 you can buy 2GB of data that will last you a week. The local SIM will be particularly useful for looking up information on things like restaurants and museums as well finding your way around with Google Maps.
- Face masks
Cambodia is a wonderful country with some stunningly beautiful destinations and friendly, welcoming people who are genuinely helpful and respectful. Unfortunately though, on some busy highways and in big cities like Phnom Penh there’s a problem with pollution and garbage. While the traffic may not be that heavy a lot of old cars and trucks use diesel. Combined with all the dust this can result in particularly unpleasant fumes, especially if you’re walking or riding in open transport. Garbage is also a problem as collection in many places does not exist. People therefore burn their rubbish, leaving the air full of acrid smoke in some built-up areas. At times like this you’ll really wish you had a face mask!
- Jungle fever
Remember that if you are traveling into the remote wilderness of Cambodia to explore its pristine jungles and ecosystems, your list of travel accessories may be slightly different. At Cardamom Tented Camp, for example, there are certain clothing and footwear requirements, as well as suggestions for useful equipment to take along. Safety is, of course, a primary concern in many eco-camps, but if you’re traveling to remote destinations on your own, always leave details with loved ones about where you are going and when you’re planning to return.