- Cambodia A-Z
- Getting There
- Electricity in Cambodia
- Festivals and Celebration Days
- Photography in Cambodia
- Health and Vaccinations
- What to Wear
- Climate of Cambodia
- Cultural Etiquette
- Communication (Telephone, Internet and Post)
- Travel Literature
- Safety and Security
- Cities and Regions At-A-Glance
- Visa Requirements
- Cambodia Time Zone
- Cambodia Customs Regulations
Sua Sdei – in Cambodia
The Former Empire of the Khmer God-Kings, with Spectacular Monuments and the Largest Lake in Southeast Asia
Since the upheaval of the civil war ended, Cambodia has carved out a well-deserved place on the international tourist map. A variety of new hotels, restaurants, flight options, streets and border crossings have significantly improved the accessibility of the country for visitors. Even the number of cultural and historical sights on offer has increased: Historical maps, modern radar technology and the work of international archaeologists mean that new ruins from the former empire of the Khmer god-kings are constantly being discovered. The most recent findings put the size of the empire at an impressive 1,000 square kilometers!
Literally meaning “The Capital” and located in the area of the country now known as Siem Reap, the gigantic Angkor (Khmer) Empire was home to almost one million people during its heyday. Between the ninth and fifteenth centuries, an impressive irrigation system consisting of reservoirs and canals supplied the empire with a constant supply of clean drinking water and multiple harvests per year, safeguarding the power and independence of the advanced ancient civilization. Countless temple ruins testify to its former glory, the most notable of which are the spectacular scenes at Angkor Wat, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. The temple and its towers still occupy a special position as the symbol of Cambodia and the biggest sacred structure in the world. But this roughly circular country, around half the size of Germany, has more to offer than just legendary symbols of times past, some of which are overrun by jungle. With its floating villages, colorful and animated colonies of birds, the Tonle Sap (an amphibious wonderland, backwater of the Mekong and the largest lake in South-East Asia) tempts and entices visitors. Even today, the remote Rattanakiri Province is home to sprawling untouched forests, rare fauna and fabled indigenous minorities, while the south of the country offers a charming 340-kilometer coast with unspoiled beaches and idyllic islands around the port town of Sihanoukville. Travelers should also be sure not to miss a visit to the bustling capital Cambodia, Phnom Penh, where an abundance of colonial charm and a diverse gastronomical scene awaits.
By air: Arriving in Cambodia by air, you’ll fly via Bangkok, Hanoi or Saigon, each of which offers multiple daily connecting flights to the metropolis of Phnom Penh or the provincial capital of Siem Reap (location of the Angkor temple ruins). Alternatively, you can fly via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. Travelers wishing to book all legs of their flight online with instant confirmation can use Thai Airways International (THAI), EVA Air, Singapore Airlines or Vietnam Airlines. It’s generally recommended to book an “open-jaw” ticket arriving at Phnom Penh and leaving from Siem Reap, so that the journey between these two locations can be covered overland or on the water.
Overland or on the water: The most popular overland route to Cambodia starts in Bangkok and passes through the Thai and Cambodian border towns of Aranyaprathet and Poipet before arriving in Siem Reap. Travelers wishing to arrive in Cambodia via the coastal route in the South must come via Thailand’s Hat Lek (Cham Yeam on the Cambodian side), where the recent construction of several bridges has greatly simplified the journey inland. The most important border crossing from Vietnam is at Moc Bai / Bavet. Increasing popularity is also enjoyed by the newly opened crossings at Xaxia (Ha Tien) / Prek Chak or Thin Bien (Chau Doc) / Phnom Den, via which tourists can take the water route into Cambodia from the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. An alternative and particularly scenic option is to enter northern Cambodia overland or by water from Veun Kham in southern Laos, travelers opting for this route will find themselves in the land of the legendary Mekong rapids. Shortly before making their journey, travelers should check current visa requirements to know whether the necessary visa can be purchased at the border crossing or should be obtained in advance.
Most Cambodian and Buddhist festivals and celebrations days are based on the lunar calendar, which means that they fall on different dates from year to year. On these days, most public institutions and banks will be closed. Holidays that fall on a Saturday or Sunday are celebrated on the next working day. There are a number of festivals and celebration days that are only celebrated on a regional level, so the following list should in no way be considered exhaustive.
January 1: New Year
January 7: Commemoration of the Liberation of Cambodia
January/February: First new moon day of the year for Mayahana Buddhists / Chinese New Year. It is celebrated by Chinese and Vietnamese minorities in Cambodia as the “Tet Festival”.
April 13 to 15: The Cambodian New Year festival Choul Chnam is one of the most important dates in the festival calendar, with celebrations lasting for three days. Rituals performed include the pouring of water and powder on friends and family members.
May 1: Labor Day
May 9: Commemoration of the Genocide
May 16: Royal Ploughing Ceremony. A team of oxen are put on display in front of the National Museum in Phnom Penh and are offered plates of food. Based on what the oxen choose to eat, astrologers and Brahmins make predictions about the coming harvest.
Visikha Puja (Buddha’s Birthday): An important religious festival. Celebrations in the temples are lit by candles and torchlight.
September 24: Constitution Day. Celebrates the signing of the Cambodian constitution by King Sihanouk.
September/October: Pchum Ben – A festival celebrating the deceased. Sacrifices of food, flowers and paper money are offered in the temples.
October 23: Paris Peace Agreement Day. Commemorates the Treaty of Paris signed on October 23, 1991.
October/November: Bon Om Tuk, or the “Cambodian Water Festival”. It celebrates the reversal in current of the Tonle sap River and is one of the most important dates in the Cambodian festival calendar. The festival marks the beginning of the dry season and the associated fall in the level of the Tonle sap Lake.
November 9: National holiday to celebrate Cambodia’s independence.
December 10: Human Rights Day
December 31: New Year
The Cambodian currency is called the “Riel” (KHR or CR). However, it is generally only used as a method of payment in local shops, or in situations requiring small change. Larger shops and tourist locations rely primarily on the US dollar, and it’s practical to make sure that you have some smaller denominations with you. The euro is increasingly accepted as a form of currency; the Thai baht is also now accepted in many locations, particularly in the border regions. All international airports are equipped with banks, where currency can be exchanged directly upon arrival. In tourist hotspots, currency exchange services are offered by bureau de changes, souvenir shops and jewelers. The exchange rate in hotels tends to be only slightly more expensive than in other places.
Cash and credit cards: The easiest way to obtain cash is with your “Maestrocard” and PIN number at an ATM belonging to the ANZ Royal Bank or Canadia Bank. This will generally be charged by European banks at a rate of around 4.50 euros per transaction. Credit cards can also be used to withdraw cash at banks and Western Union branches. Aside from this, credit cards can be used mainly in hotels, restaurants and in some shops in major tourist areas (service charges usually do not total than three per cent). The exchanging of travelers checks can be associated with time-consuming complications and is usually not possible outside of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
No specific vaccinations are recommended for travel to Cambodia, but your protection against diptheria, tetanus and polio should be up to date. For all long-distance trips to tropical locations, we also recommend prophylaxis against Hepatitis A/B and Japanese encephalitis. Cases of malaria tend to occur only in areas that are of minimal interest to foreign tourists. Since a malaria prophylaxis does not offer protection against dengue fever and is often associated with significant side effects, we recommend that travelers protect themselves against mosquitoes using clothing, nets, protective lotion and distance. Travelers may also lower their risk of infection by taking a daily Vitamin B1 tablet, since mosquitoes are repelled by the smell it produces in perspiration. Those wishing not to take any chances should bring an appropriate emergency malaria medication with them. Because of the latent danger of avian flu, it is generally recommended that travelers stay away from live birds. Cooked chicken meat, on the other hand, can be enjoyed without concern.
Generally speaking, health risks for tourist areas of Cambodia are low, particularly since most illnesses can be avoided through careful planning and taking the right precautions. There are a number of sophisticated clinics in the tourist centers of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. In general, however, the technical, personal and hygiene aspects of Cambodian medical care are not on a level with those in Europe, which means that travelers may need to think about leaving the country in the case of accidents and more serious illnesses. All regular long-term medications should be brought with you.
Hygiene: It is imperative that travelers avoid drinking tap water, eating ice cream or ordering ice in drinks. Bottled mineral water is available throughout the country and should be enjoyed in preference to tap water, though be sure to check that the seal has not been tampered with. Unwashed and unpeeled fruit and vegetables should be avoided. Travelers should bear in mind that sanitary conditions in street restaurants may not necessarily be up to European standards. In larger hotels and fancier restaurants, however, an international standard of hygiene is generally to be expected.
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What to wear while visiting Cambodia? We recommend light, breathable cotton clothing and sandals – you’ll find these a suitable choice for most areas of the country. Naturally, you should also be sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses and a protective head covering. An umbrella and waterproof poncho are essential if you’re visiting Cambodia during monsoon season.
Excess Baggage: We recommend that travelers pack light, since every kilo of overweight luggage (economy class permits a maximum of 20 kilograms, while business class usually does not allow more than 30) carries a hefty fee. What’s more, the temptation to buy souvenirs is so great that it’s good to allow extra capacity from the outset! You needn’t worry too much about running out of clothes, since laundry can be taken care of quickly, efficiently and cheaply in most hotels.
The tropical climate of Cambodia is dominated by the annual monsoon, which divides the year into two seasons: the rainy season (from May to October) and the dry season (from November to April). The rainy season is not characterised by continuous rain, but by one or more daily showers; however, these showers can be very intense or can last for several hours. Temperatures fluctuate between 30 and 35 degrees the whole year round, but tend to be hottest in March/April.
The best time of year to visit is November to February, and the volume of tourists is noticeably higher during these months. Those who visit during the rainy season will often be able enjoy a cheaper and more authentic experience, particularly in Siem Reap (Angkor). However, due to the floods that sometimes occur, not all overland routes are traversable at this time of year.
The happy well informed tourist, is always aware of cultural etiquette. The Khmers are a tolerant and peace-loving people who are generally cautious about losing face or embarrassing themselves. When communicating with the Khmers, travelers should be aware that raised voices or flare-ups of anger can cause a person to lose the respect of their listeners. Ranting and grumbling can have the opposite effect to that which is intended. When beckoning someone towards you, you should always make sure that the back of your hand is facing upwards.
As far as they can afford to do so, Cambodians make painstaking efforts to dress cleanly and neatly. Dressing properly is especially important when visiting sacred sites or the royal palace in Phnom Penh. Any clothing that emphasizes the female figure is generally considered to be immodest, which means that trousers and skirts should cover the knee. In addition, travelers should be sure not to directly expose the soles of their feet to another person (be careful when stretching out your legs!) or to beckon people in a “European manner”. Although Cambodians are generally happy to be photographed, travelers should ask permission or obtain consent by means of the appropriate hand gestures before snapping a photo. To avoid unpleasant surprises, travelers wishing to ride a cyclo should always negotiate the price of the journey in advance. Naturally, native Cambodians will pay significantly less.
Since the opening up of their country at the beginning of the 1990s, the Cambodians have preferred to focus more on the present-day and future of their country than on its somewhat dismal past. Despite this, in personal conversations, Cambodians will often open up fairly readily about the large numbers of victims claimed from individual families during the almost four-year reign of the dictator Pol Pot
Telephone/Fax: In the three main tourist destinations of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap (Angkor) and Sihanoukville, it is usually very easy to make telephone calls (or send faxes) abroad. This can be done from most hotels (though some may levy high service fees), post offices or individual phone booths (with prepaid cards). Roaming with foreign operators is possible but costly. Travelers wishing to use their cellphones should purchase a local SIM card, which can only be acquired via a native Cambodian, to communicate using calls within the country or abroad. These can be topped up using prepaid cards.
Calls to Cambodian landlines from other countries must be preceded by the country code 00855. This should be followed by the area code (minus the first 0) and then the actual number. The cheapest way to make frequent or longer duration calls to Cambodia is to call a Cambodian cellphone number using a dial around service.
Internet: Internet cafes can be found in great numbers in all larger towns and cities as well as in many smaller ones. Travelers wishing to use their own laptops or notebooks will find WiFi zones in a large number of public spaces and hotel rooms.
Post: Letters and postcards to foreign addresses can be posted from post offices and hotel receptions. Post dispatched to Europe generally takes between six days and three weeks to arrive at its destination. It will usually arrive quickest if posted from one of the major tourist destinations, where the postal service is most reliable. Important/urgent letters and parcels should only be sent using an express service.
This page contains a number of recommendations for good-quality Cambodia travel Literature , guides and special interest publications. Once you’re there, we recommend a visit to one of Cambodia’s well-stocked “Monument Books” bookstores, where you’ll find a fascinating variety of English-speaking literature about your destination.
Guidebooks Coming soon…
Other Books on Cambodia Coming soon…
Security: In light of the absence of widespread terror alerts, Cambodia is now generally considered to be a safe travel destination. Outbreaks of violence against foreign visitors and harassment of single women travelers occurs only rarely. That said, there is a relatively high incidence of petty crime, particularly in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Where possible, it is preferable to keep passports, flight tickets and credit cards locked in the hotel or room safe at all times. Travelers should be aware that the risk of criminal incidents increases after dark and should keep only as much money on their persons as they require for a single day. It may also be worth carrying copies of passports and visas with you. Warning signs are provided to indicate the areas where a danger of landmines is still present. This applies mainly to remote border areas such as Preah Vihear in the north of the country.
Traffic: Travelers will find that the traffic discipline in Cambodia compares unfavorably with that of Europe or the United States and functions according to its own rules. With some exceptions, buses, railways and boats do not meet Western safety standards. Where possible, overland travelers should plan to arrive at their destinations before dark.
Phnom Penh Among the must-see sights of the capital are the remnants of French colonial architecture, the Royal Palace with its Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and the S-21 Prison with the Killing Fields of Choeng Ek. The banks of the Tonle Sap are home to a number of enticingly cozy restaurants. An an alternative to flying between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, tourists can journey overland or take a cruise on the Tonle Sap.
Siem Reap Located on the banks of the Tonle Sap around 315 km north of Phnom Penh, this tranquil provincial capital is an attraction not to be missed. Visitors can choose from all styles of accommodation, a diverse range of restaurants, bustling markets and unforgettable cultural events. Siem Reap is an ideal starting point for expeditions to Angkor, as the temples are located just 5 km away.
Angkor The mighty roots of giant ancient trees seem simultaneously both to claw at the stone remnants of the Khmer Empire and to prevent their collapse. Lying under the cover of jungle near the provincial capital of Siem Reap, a number of the overgrown temple ruins exude just as mysterious an air today as they did upon their rediscovery in 1860. Depending on their level of interest, travelers should allow between two and seven days to discover these ancient sanctuaries.
Kompong Thom Around 30km north-east of the country’s midpoint – or halfway between Phnom Penh and the provincial capital of Siem Reap (Angkor) – lie the seldom-visited temple ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk, whose origins date back to the late 6th century. Kompong Thom is a popular starting point for exploring the famous temple complex of Preah Vihear on the Thai border.
THE NORTH AND EAST
Kompong Cham Visitors to this provincial capital on the Mekong should be sure to take a wander round its bustling central market, and look out for the remnants of French colonial architecture while you’re there! The main temple, Wat Nokor, serves as a base for a monks’ organisation caring for street children and the poor. Tourists can sometimes catch a traditional dance performance here.
Kratie This provincial capital on the Mekong is best known for its seldom-seen Irrawaddy dolphins. At sunset, tourists can enjoy a refreshing sugar cane juice from one of the market stalls on the riverbank. Kratie lies around 70 km north of Kamponh Cham, halfway along the route to Stung Treng, near the Laos border.
Stung Treng The provincial capital of Stung Treng lies around 140 km north-east of Kratie, close to the border with Laos. Thanks to its location, there are unique and interesting fabrics to be found at the regional markets. The city is an ideal base for boat trips to remote villages (on the Sekong River, for example) or a detour to Banlung.
Rattanakiri Located at the north-west tip of the country, Rattanakiri province is one of the country’s most important natural destinations. The capital of Banlung, which is located around 330 km from Phnom Penh, entices visitors with volcanic lakes, adventure trekking, rafting and opportunities to meet the native people. Rattanakiri is nestled close to the Laos and Vietnam borders.
Preah Vihear Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ancient Hindu rock temple is located in the border region between Cambodia and Thailand. The subject of its ownership has long been a source of strife on both sides. On the Thai side, a magnificent flight of steps leads (via multiple terraces) to the heart of the temple, which is located on a steep 500-meter cliff.
Sihanoukville It wasn’t long ago that this coastal destination opened its first top-rated hotel and began attracting more luxury-oriented holidaymakers. Though Sihanoukville doesn’t have characteristically palm-lined landscape of Thailand, its beaches and islands have a charm all of their own.
Koh Rong This idyllic, little-visited island in the Gulf of Thailand charms visitors with fine, white sandy beaches, lush green jungle and unusual rock formations. Located around 25 km from Sihanoukville, there are few destinations more effective at encouraging visitors to forget the stresses and strains of everyday life.
Kampot Moss-covered colonial remains adorn the streets of this provincial capital on the Teuk Chhou River, while the palm-lined promenades add some Mediterranean flair. The comfy wicker chairs of cozy restaurants on the banks of the river are perfect for relaxing after one of the diverse range of day trips the area has to offer.
Kep One of the gems of Cambodia’s early tourism industry, Kep offers a special chance to observe the lives of typical coastal-dwelling Cambodians, including the opportunity to visit a famous crab market. Boat trips can be organised to Koh Tonsey or to one of the other offshore Robinson Crusoe islands. Walking tours through the national park in the inland region are not to be missed.
Koh Kong This remote spot in the south-west tip of the country is sure to occupy a special place in the future of Cambodia’s tourism industry. Jungle rivers and intricate paths await visitors to the Cardamom Mountain Range, some of whose peaks are as high as 1,800 meters. Boat tours guide visitors through mangrove forests or to the country’s largest island, an as-yet-undeveloped natural paradise featuring beautifully secluded sandy beaches.
Battambang This sleepy city – the third-biggest in the country – is increasingly popular with visitors, who enjoy taking in its colonial charm, exploring the sacred sites of the surrounding region or taking a trip on the legendary bamboo train. Cozy, intimate restaurants are perfect for enjoying an evening meal.
Pursat With a number of idyllic temple complexes, this provincial capital sits snugly on the banks of the Stung Pursat River. The river, which flows into the Tonle Sap, was responsible for the formation of the curious ship-shaped island in the middle of the town. The most popular excursion takes visitors to the floating village of Kompong Loung, which is located 34 – 40 km away depending on the time of year.
Pailin Just a single road leads from Battambang to this small town, which is hidden away between rolling hills on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. One of the last bastions of the Khmer Rouge, the town is known primarily for its involvement in the gemstone trade.
Poipet Entering the country via this border town, most holidaymakers travel directly to Siem Reap (Angkor), while for those leaving the country, it’s an important milestone on the overland route to Bangkok or the north-east region of Thailand (Isaan). Glitzy casinos attract large numbers of day trippers from Thailand, where gambling is forbidden.
RIVERS AND LAKES
The Tonle Sap The Tonle Sap is referred to variously as both a river and a lake – and in fact, both descriptions are correct. When the volume of the Mekong River quadruples in the May-October rainy season, the Tonle Sap absorbs the excess water and releases it gradually back into the river once the dry season resumes. The natural reservoir can expand to an area of 10,500 sq km, while the water level can reach up to 12 m. By ensuring fertile fields and plentiful stocks of fish, this unique natural phenomenon transforms the lake into one of Cambodia’s best-stocked pantries. As a home to more than 200 species of fish, 23 species of snake and 13 species of terrapin, it is little wonder that this lake and river system was designated a UNESCO biosphere in 1997. Tourists are most familiar with the Tonle Sap in its capacity as a waterway – many make the journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (Angkor) aboard a speedy ferry or, for those preferring an unhurried pace, aboard a beautiful nostalgia-inducing cruise ship. What’s more, the largest inland body of water in Southeast Asia is popularly used to access attractions such as the floating villages or vibrant bird colonies, both of which make for exciting day trips. During the rainy season, tourists are recommended to take a boat trip to the village of Phnom Krom, while the floating village of Chong Khneas is a ideal destination for the dry season. Both villages offer the chance to observe typical Cambodian homes and Khmer traditions up close.
The Mekong A quarter of the volume of Southeast Asia’s largest river is held in Cambodia. The Land of the Khmer, which accounts for an approximately 450-km stretch of the river’s total length, depends on the river as an agricultural lifeline, a rich source of fish and an important transport route. The region between Kratie and Stung Treng – where the river forms a labyrinth of countless miniature islands and waterways – is where the Irrawaddy dolphins can sometimes be seen at play. The dry season offers the best chance of catching a glimpse of these adorable animals.
An entry visa is required upon arrival and can be obtained easily at the international airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap or at most border crossings for overland routes (note: travellers crossing into Cambodia from Vietnam and Laos should keep themselves up to date with the latest regulations, since the rules are subject to frequent change). The visa is valid for one month. For the “Visa on Arrival”, travellers require a valid passport with at least six months’ validity remaining, the appropriate visa form, a passport photograph and a fee of approximately 30 USD (subject to change). Anyone wishing to stay in Cambodia for more than a month should apply for an “Ordinary Visa” (fee: 25 USD). This can be extended multiple times if so desired.