The magnificent Angkor Wat temple complex never disappoints. The enduring beauty of the ancient architecture, the remarkable statues and startling depictions on temple friezes of life as it was lived during the Khmer Empire, which flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries, are truly one of the highlights of any trip to Indochina.
However as Cambodia emerges from the tragedy of its recent history, there’s more to experience in this once little visited country outside the undeniable charms of Siem Reap.
The largest lake in all South East Asia – Ton Le Sap – is home to picturesque villages on stilts and beautiful mangrove forests.
At Kratie on the banks of the Mekong River, with a bit of luck, you can spot the rare Mekong River Dolphins.
As well as being home to many harrowing museums and centres testifying to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh is also rapidly transforming into a fashionable modern metropolis. Restaurants, hotels, bars and boutiques are springing up across the city show casing a dynamic, modern Khmer urban culture.
Not far away along the south coast the quiet beach towns of Kep and Kampot contrast with the larger city-by-the-beach buzz of Sihanoukville.
Near the unspoiled Cardamom Mountains to the West lies Koh Kong boasting luxurious, floating eco resorts, small, uninhabited islands and some of the best beaches in the region.
After decades of turmoil Cambodia is finally coming into its own and there’s never been a better time to make a trip to Cambodia.
The Capital City of the Kingdom of Cambodia is Phnom Penh.
Inland area: 181,035 Km2
Length: 450 Km
Width: 580 km at the widest point.
Located on the South Eastern peninsula of what was known as Indochina, Cambodia shares its borders with Thailand to the West, Thailand and Laos to the North and Vietnam to the East. The Gulf of Thailand lies to the Southwest. The country has a coastline of 435 km and the two dominant topographies varying from coastal plains to mountain ranges
Cambodia has 16.59 million (2021) inhabitants with an average density of 80 inhabitants/km2. The most populated province and also the largest is Khompong Cham, where 14.1% of Cambodians live.
90% of the population is ethnic Khmer (Cambodian). The rest of the population is made up of Chinese, Vietnamese, Muslim Chams and hill tribe minorities in the Eastern part of the country.
The dominant religion is Theravada Buddhism.
Khmer is the official language and English is generally spoken and understood everywhere.
A guide is, however duly recommended as language can be a problem outside the main cities for people who have no knowledge of the Khmer language.
Though Riel (KHr) is the official currency, the US dollar is the common currency in Cambodia. Many businesses, especially hotels, airlines, restaurants, souvenirs shops, set their prices in USD and all expenses can be paid in USD even minor ones. In the West of the country, use of Thai Baht is also commonplace.
At the time of writing exchange rate is US$ 1 = 4053 Riel, and 1 Euro = 4441 Riel (2022). You can change Euros into USD, though the exchange rate is not always very competitive. There is no need to change your USD into local currency. Small bank notes of 10 or 20 US dollars are enough. Against payment in USD, the change will be given back to you in local currency as there is no USD cents in Cambodia.
Traveller’s cheques can be cashed only at major banks and usually incur a 2 to 5% transaction fee.
Visa, Master cards, JCB, CCB and American Express are accepted in top-end hotels, restaurants and shops in the main cities of Cambodia, such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, but can also be subject to 2 to 3% transaction fees.
ATMs (cash dispensers) are now available everywhere in the main towns (Visa, Mastercard). You can withdraw cash in USD only – transaction fees may apply. ATMs from ANZ bank are often available in souvenir shops and in most of the Caltex service stations.
Banks are usually open from 08h00 to 15h30 from Monday to Friday. Only a few banks are open half day on Saturday.
The best advice is to bring US Dollars in cash. Note that exchange rates for small and big notes vary, however we would recommend you to bring some small notes to settle initial expenses and then carry small riel for minor expenses. 500 and 1000 riel are the most useful denominations.
Be careful, banks and foreign exchange offices do not usually take old, scribbled or even stained bank notes.
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate with two seasons: dry from October to May and rainy from June to October. During the rainy season it usually rains only in the evening or very early in the morning. Temperatures are warm all year long.
Cambodia is 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
In Cambodia electric current is mostly 220V. Sockets are generally of Sockets are both round and flat types. Three-pin plug adaptors can usually be found at local markets.
Due to its limited power supply, power cuts are frequent, but most hotels and restaurants in the main cities have their own generators.
It is advisable not to drink water from the tap unless it is boiled properly.
The telecommunication network includes satellite, landline, mobile, Internet cafes, radio systems and GSM (check with your home provider if roaming is permitted). Otherwise you can buy a telephone card via the local telephone provider M-Phone; approximately 15 USD for around 25 minutes of call to a foreign country.
International phone calls can be made from the main post offices, private business centres and hotels. Public phone booths can also be found in the main post offices, hotels and restaurants.
HEALTH & MEDICAL FACILITIES
Inoculation for yellow fever is a legal requirement for entry into Cambodia by people coming from an infected area. There is otherwise no vaccination required, but visitors are advised to receive inoculations against hepatitis A and B, typhoid and tetanus and to make sure whether anti malaria treatment is necessary depending on the region they travel to. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have good hospitals staffed with foreign medical personnel, however for life threatening injuries it is advisable to be evacuated to Bangkok or Singapore and we strongly recommend that you arrange medical travel insurance.
There are two international airports in Cambodia: Phnom Penh International Airport located 20 minutes from the town centre and Siem Reap airport, 7 km from the heart of the town.
Road networks have improved but still need to be upgraded in some areas. It is reasonable to count an average speed of 50 km / hour.
By speedboat, it takes 6 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. This journey is not recommended for elderly people and groups.
Helicopter sightseeing in Angkor has become available using safe helicopters flown by qualified pilots.
In Cambodia, vehicles drive on the right side of the road.
A Cambodian driving licence is required to drive in Cambodia, including motorcycles. Holders of International Driving Permits can apply for one at a cost of US $25. Some local travel agencies can arrange a licence for an additional administrative fee. Driving without a licence may invalidate your travel insurance in the event of an accident. Check with the rental company what insurance is included in the hire. Drivers not in possession of a valid Cambodian driving licence have had motorcycles impounded with the police imposing a hefty charge for release.
Renting a motorbike is possible in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville but not in Siem Reap. For security reasons, we do not recommend it in Phnom Penh to inexperienced drivers.
Cambodian food is closely related to the cuisines of neighbouring Thailand and Laos and, to a lesser extent, Vietnam and there are some distinct local dishes. Curries, stir fried vegetables, rice, noodles and soups are staples of the Khmer diet. Sea food and fish are both abundant and delicious. Cambodia is well known in the region for its Prahok, a strong, fermented fish paste used in a variety of traditional dishes.
In Cambodia all sorts of goods and manufactured products can be found. From antiques, silver items, jewelry and gems to silk, Cambodia offers a wide range of beautiful handicraft products. You can also take the opportunity to purchase an ounce of the famous Kampot pepper.
Prices displayed are usually fixed, but in other cases, bargaining is recommended.
Tipping is not mandatory although it is appreciated. Note that prices in hotels and restaurants usually include 10% for VAT and 5% for service charges.
Please find below a list of carriers offering services into Cambodia:
- Air Asia
- Asiana Airlines
- Bangkok Airways
- Cambodia Angkor Air
- China Airlines
- China Southern Airlines
- China Eastern Airlines
- Dragon Air
- Eastern Airlines MU
- Eva Air
- JetStar Asia
- Korean Air
- Lao Aviation
- Malaysia Airlines
- Shanghai Airlines
- Siem Reap Airways International
- Silk Air
- Thai Airways
- Vietnam Airlines
Cambodia can also be reached by water and the two international gateways are Sihanouk International Seaport and Phnom Penh International port. However visa upon arrival are only available at Phnom Penh International port.
VISA AND PASSPORT
A visa is compulsory to enter Cambodia except for citizens of the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand. To obtain a visa, you must first ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your return date.
There are 3 options at the moment to obtain a visa for Cambodia:
– You can obtain your visa on arrival at the international airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Visas upon arrival are also available for people arriving overland from Thailand at Koh Kong, Poi Pet, O’Smach and Pailin checkpoints and from Vietnam at Chau Doc and Bavet-Moc Bai checkpoints.
– For people arriving from Laos at Veungkham semi-official border crossing, both Lao and Cambodian visas must be arranged prior to arrival. Identity pictures are required.
Visas can be acquired directly at Cambodian Embassies and Consulates abroad.
You can apply via the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia (http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh/) to obtain an electronic visa.
If you are travelling to Cambodia, light clothing is appropriate all year round though a jacket or a sweater may be useful in the evenings in December and January.
Although you can find all these products in Cambodia, we also recommend you take a mosquito repellent, a high factor sun block, a cap or a hat, sunglasses, a raincoat and a small bag to carry a few things in case you have to leave your big suitcases at the hotel for a few days.
SIEM REAP (ANGKOR)
Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia, a gateway to Angkor Wat and the millenium-old temple ruins of the Khmer Empire. The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia. Set along the Siem Reap River, this small provincial capital boasts hundreds of sightseeing opportunities such as well-preserved colonial buildings, museums, traditional markets, and cultural performances.
Named ‘The Pearl Of Asia’, there was a time not so long ago when Phnom Penh was considered one of the finest cities in the region. Located at the junction of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh has been Cambodia’s capital for most of the last six centuries. Having recovered from the dark legacy of the Pol Pot era in the 1970’s, Phnom Penh today is a vibrant economic center with a population of two million inhabitants. Cafes, restaurants and hotels line the riverfront while boutique shops and art galleries are springing up along the smaller side streets. Despite its recent urban development Phnom Penh has nonetheless retained its old world charm with much French colonial architecture still standing, as well as numerous, beautiful temples and pagodas.
Banlung City is the provincial capital of Ratanakiri Province in the mountainous northeastern corner. It is one of the poorest regions in the country with a sparse population of 150,000. Ratanakiri is known for its lush forests and rich biodiversity, though recent development is threatening the province’s ecological health. Some of the most biologically diverse lowland tropical rainforest and mountain forest ecosystems of mainland Southeast Asia are located in Ratanakiri. Activities include excursions/treks to remote Khmer Loeu villages and jungle areas, waterfalls, gem mines, and Ratanakiri’s famous Yeak Laom volcanic lake.
Sitting on the Sangker River just south west of the Tonle Sap Lake, Battambang town is at the heart of Cambodia’s ‘rice bowl’. Although being the country’s second biggest town, Battambang still has a very local provincial atmosphere. Much of the architecture is traditional Cambodian and French colonial, evident in the town’s many French-style villas and storefronts. The nearby countryside also harbors old pagodas, Angkorian-era ruins, caves, waterfalls, and Khmer Rouge period killing fields.
Kampong Thom is the capital city of Kampong Thom Province, Cambodia lying on the bank of the Stung Sen River. It is served by the national highway, going from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Prasat Phum Prasat and Sambor Prei Kuk are popular attraction highlight when visiting this city.
Mondulkiri is the largest province of Cambodia but is sparsely populated with about 40,000 people. Located on the eastern highlands, Mondulkiri has scenery and a climate quite unlike anywhere else in the country. There are rolling grassy hills, serene rivers, powerful waterfalls, and forested mountains. At an average elevation of 800m, it can get quite chilly at night. Mondulkiri has numerous tourist attractions such as waterfalls, indigenous hilltribe culture, national parks and elephant trekking. Sen Monorom, the provincial capital, is a quiet town with a frontier feel, although it has potential to develop into an eco-tourism center.
The temple complex of Banteay Prey Nokor is especially known by the temple of Wat Nokor located in Khum of Kompong Siem, at a distance of 1200 meters from the town of Kompong Cham. The monument was built out of sandstone and laterite, and dates from the last years of the reign of Jayavarman VII. It is composed of a central tower surrounded by four laterite wall-enclosures. The central tower of the temple of Vat Nokor is decorated with motifs characteristic of Bayon with Buddhist scenes on the pediments.
Modern day Vietnam is a feast for the senses and the sights, tastes, smells and sounds you will experience during a visit to Vietnam will bring you a profound feeling of peace, optimism and exuberance. It’s amazing to think that back in 1969 Danang airport was the busiest ‘single runway’ airport in the world. This extraordinary fact highlights the awful scale of one of the 20th century’s most notorious wars. However, today the country’s 3,444 kilometre coastline boasts some of the world’s most luxurious resorts. Danang, along with a handful of other locations, has a gleaming new airport. It enables visitors to discover a dynamic land rich in culture with some of the freshest and tastiest food anywhere in the world. From the latticed mountains in the North, the dramatic rivers and caves in the Centre and the pristine beaches and tropical islands in the South, Vietnam’s natural landscape has something for anyone wanting to find a revitalizing escape. In the ancient streets of Hanoi and the jostling alleyways of Ho Chi Minh City – or Saigon as it used to be called – restaurants, art galleries, museums and elegant boutiques sit alongside stylish street side cafés and contemporary bars. Vietnam’s heritage and vibrant culture are finding new life as the country once again enjoys peace and an emerging prosperity. That is why now more than ever before its exceptionally friendly and youthful people are keen to welcome visitors and tourists alike and share with them the best that this proud nation has to offer.Read more
Landlocked and to some extent ‘culture-locked’, Laos possesses both Southeast Asia’s most pristine environment and possibly its most culturally intact heritage. More than any other destination a visit to Laos provides the visitor with a sense of going back to a more relaxed time where the urgency of modern life is wonderfully absent. Even in the capital Vientiane, life ambles along only a little faster than the languid Mekong river flows by the city’s charming riverfront. In the historic royal city of Luang Prabang – a Unesco World Heritage site – hundreds of monks in saffron robes glide between centuries old temples unperturbed by the growing number of visitors gazing on in silence at a scene they thought only existed in films. Luxurious boutique hotels in Luang Prabang serve exquisite food in historically preserved settings, drawing on French and local culinary traditions. Beyond the cities visitors can discover the haunting Plain of Jars and the majestic Four Thousand Islands (Si Phan Don) where the Mekong river expands and its waters gather pace.Read more