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Cambodia Travel Guide – The Kingdom of Wonder

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Last Update: August 2022

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A bustling capital in full development. Home to the world’s largest religious monument. Jungle, lakes, never ending rice fields, tropical white sand beach Islands and an original Asian cuisine.

Cambodia features just about everything that a traveler could wish for. On top of that, Cambodia has the most welcoming and friendly population in the whole of South East Asia.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Wonder!


Angkor Wat - Cambodia travel guide
Behold, the magnificent Angkor Wat




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Cambodia

Apart from the beaten path that leads to Angkor Wat, most of the country’s scenic treasures are still unspoiled. Compared to the number of tourists that neighboring peers Thailand and Vietnam are receiving, Cambodia is still far behind. However, Cambodia is closing the gap fast. Tourism growth projections for the next decade (pre-Covid prognosis) are sky high.

For now, most visitors seem to focus on Angkor Wat/Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and the capital Phnom Penh. Still, the influx will surely have a massive impact on the whole Kingdom in the near future. Never did a call to come and visit before it’s too late hold more truth than right now!



Reasons to visit/avoid Cambodia


7 Reasons to visit Cambodia


Smiling and waving locals - Cambodia travel guide
Smiles all around
  • Nature in Cambodia is extremely diverse with jungle, plains, lakes, rivers, forests, mountains, and many National Parks;

  • Khmer culture and history are rich and certainly worth exploring. Best example being Angkor Wat, but Cambodia has so much more to behold;

  • Transportation within Cambodia is very much available and affordable. Although your journey might take some time, you will always get to where you want;

  • The gorgeous Islands in the South of Cambodia are excellent beach destinations. Be quick to visit, more and more travelers are discovering Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem;



Palm trees on the picture perfect beach of Koh Rong Sanloem - Cambodia travel guide
Koh Rong Sanloem beach
  • Overall, to travel in Cambodia is dirt cheap. There are a few exceptions, such as Sihanoukville, the Islands and guided tours;

  • It’s very easy to get off the beaten path. There are plenty of remote areas that are accessible and easy to reach.


5 Reasons to avoid Cambodia


  • Except for the mountainous areas, the weather in Cambodia is extremely hot all year round. Expect 30 to 36 degrees Celsius (96.8F) and high humidity. If you don’t thrive well in the heat, maybe Cambodia is not for you;

  • Sihanoukville was supposed to become the “Las Vegas” of South East Asia. Huge investments from China brought down the once so scenic beach bars and replaced them with high-rise concrete hotels and casinos. Many of the new buildings are only half finished and abandoned, because of the Covid and Chinese real estate crisis. Critical infrastructure like proper roads and sewage are missing. What’s left of this once so laid-back and idyllic town is a big mess. The only good reason to visit Sihanoukville now is to catch the ferry to get to the Islands;


The beaches of Sihanoukville used to be the playground of backpackers
Once Sihanoukville, but no more
Our Cambodia travel guide does not feature Sihanoukville anymore, since the town was destroyed by developers and greedy government officials
What large parts of Sihanoukville look like now
  • Angkor Wat is unique and a must see. Unfortunately this also means that a whopping 2 million people visit the monument every year. The huge crowds can be a let down and are actually destroying the monument by over-tourism. We visited once and it was truly amazing. We won’t be going for seconds though;

  • Petty theft is a problem in Phnom Penh. Especially pick pocketing and bag snatching are a major nuisance. I am not exaggerating, you really should be on your toes at all times. You’ve been warned;

  • Although less visible, sex tourism is still not under control in Cambodia. From time to time there are police crackdowns, but for the time being, women and children are still being exploited on a large scale.



When to go – Cambodia travel guide


Traveling to Cambodia? Check the up-to-date entry requirements here.


Weather

It is often said that Cambodia has three seasons, hot, very hot and hot as hell. Officially though, Cambodia has only two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. Yes, there is supposed to be a so called “cooler” period in between. Well, you can forget about cooler, because it’s not really.


Desiccated rivers and lakes in dry season - Cambodia travel guide
Dry season in Cambodia often brings desiccated rivers and lakes photocredit @climatechangeincambodia.weebly.com

Rainy season runs from May through November with considerable precipitation that causes floods almost every year. December starts off the dry season until April. January-February is supposed to be the “cooler” period with temperatures dropping to 30 Celsius.

Events

With as many as 28 official public holidays per year, Cambodia ranks nr. 1 in the world. Every election season the sitting government finds a new day to declare public holiday hoping to please the electorate. Funny detail is that after the landslide victory of the 2018 elections, that same government now calls to dismiss several public holidays.

Only a few public holidays will shut down the whole country though. Most public holidays only see government institutions, schools and banks closed. For Cambodian Joe Schmo it’s business as usual and a normal working day.

The most notable public holidays with big festivities and great migrations that paralyze public transport are: Khmer New Year on April 14, 15, 16 and the Water Festival in mid/end November (actual date depends on the moon phase).


Large crowd celebrating Khmer new year - Cambodia travel guide
The crowds are out for Khmer New Year

So, when to go?

Weather wise January and February are the best months for a visit. However, it’s also the peak season and certainly the most expensive period.

November and December are also good to visit. Come November the rainy season ends and precipitation should be somewhat limited. December has nice weather, but hotel rates are on the rise. 

Actually, during rainy season the rain usually comes in late afternoon showers. Just to let you know, I visited Cambodia at any time of year and always had a good time. Don’t let a bit of rain stop you, unless it’s torrential and causing floods. Besides, nature is lush green and the rain will add stunning effects to your Angkor Wat photos.


Details of Angkor Wat in the rain - Cambodia travel guide
Angkor Wat even more stunning in the rain



Typical Costs – Cambodia travel guide


Cambodia is very affordable. Although it is possible to spend on luxury and decadence, the average traveler will find it very easy to get by without having to commit to harsh conditions.

Currency

The official currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel (KHR), but the US dollar is widely used and accepted. In fact it’s the preferred currency in the larger cities. Street rate is 1 dollar = 4,000 riel. No US coins are used so expect to receive your small change in riel with 100 riel notes equaling as little as 2,5 dollar cents.


Car trunk stacked with low value Cambodian currency - Cambodia travel guide
Due to the low value of the Khmer Riel, this is what you’ll be packing for a night on the town photocredit @Poraman

You might want to stack up on smaller US$1 and US$5 bills since they will not always have change for the larger notes. Also, they like their US$ bills crisp and clean. On several occasions we had our larger bills from US$20 and up rejected, because they showed the tiniest wear. Argue all you want, they won’t accept it.

Accommodation Cost

A dorm room may start as low as $3 but around $6 is more the norm. Expect to pay $10-$15 for an air-conditioned room in a guesthouse or small hotel. 3-star hotel rooms start from $20 and up.

Of course you won’t have any trouble to find luxurious hotels and resorts that are priced accordingly. However, price levels are still well below hotels with comparable service standards in Europe or the US.

Note that hotel rates are significantly higher on the Islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem. A bungalow without any real luxury on the beach will set you back at least $30 per night. That is, if you’re lucky enough to find one available. The good news is that there are also places that rent out tents on the beach for $15 per night like Coconutbeach on Koh Rong.



Find your accommodation in Cambodia with Agoda.com

Why Agoda?

  • The best prices, regular discounts, off season and secret deals;

  • Price matching. Agoda will reimburse you the difference between what you pay and a lower price you find;

  • Email notification when your selected accommodation price drops;

  • South East Asia expert;

  • Extensive search filters.





Also, do consider “airbnb”. Especially in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap there’s a huge selection. It’s possible to rent a private apartment for as low as $25 per night.

Food Cost

Food is abundant in Cambodia and often very cheap. It’s perfectly possible to get a full meal for under $2 at the street food stalls. If you limit yourself to local drinks like sugar cane water or iced tea there’s no reason to spend more than a total of $2.50 per meal.

Restaurants offer meals starting at $4 per dish and $1 for a local beer ($0.50 during happy hour!!). This includes Western style dishes with a Cambodian twist. Expect to pay from $6 and up for better quality Western fare in a nicer restaurant. Needless to say that the more touristy or fancier it gets the more expensive it will be.


Cambodian street food being prepared on a grill - Cambodia travel guide
Cambodian street food

If your budget is really, really tight, go for the local markets. $1 will go a long way there if you crave a local Nom Banh Chok or Kuy Taev (Khmer rice noodle broth).

Transportation Cost

There are many transport options and they all come with a different cost. Therefore, one simple way to balance your budget in Cambodia is by smartly managing your transport.

Long distance transport from let’s say Phnom Penh to Siem Reap can be done by plane starting from $35. A minivan will do the same distance for $9 and a coach will set you back between $6-$8. If you plan on traveling to the Islands, don’t forget to budget in the ferry fare, which is $13 one way.

Public bus: $0.40 (single journey within Phnom Penh). Short moto taxi rides are between $0.75-$1.25, while rikshaw and remorque (tuk-tuk) do the same stretch for US$1-$3 all depending on the time of day and your negotiating skills. Metered taxi’s will be slightly higher.


Rikshaw transport is very popular in Cambodia
Rikshaw
Remorque is the old fashioned tuk-tuk Cambodia style
Remorque = Cambodian tuk-tuk

Using a taxi app (also available for rikshaws and remorques) is actually the way to go. Especially in Phnom Penh there is abundant supply and it eliminates the issue of negotiating. Grab and PassApp are the most popular and widespread apps in Cambodia.

Another option is to rent a motorbike. Prices vary between $5 and $10 per day depending on the make quality of the bike.



Where to go – Cambodia travel guide


Cambodia is filled with beautiful sites, some of them still unknown to the greater public. I have compiled a neat selection for you from highlights to some real hidden gems to help you create your ultimate itinerary.


< Click any of the highlighted destinations to find out more >



Things to do – Cambodia travel guide


So much to do, so little time. Yep, life is all about choices. These are some of my favorite activities. Maybe this helps to make up your mind on what to do when in Cambodia. Have fun!

Guided tours: Some independent travelers might be horrified by the idea of booking a tour. I get it, I do, where is the adventure in that? However, if you don’t have a lot of time a tour might actually not be a bad idea. It allows you see multiple highlights in a condensed time frame. Also, for jungle treks and alike, it’s always wise to at least hire an experienced local guide anyway.

Prices for tours differ greatly, depending on the area and the kind of activity. As said before, tours are relatively expensive in Cambodia, but the larger your group, the lower the price per person.


Cambodia travel guide - things to do
You definitely need a guide here – Cardemom Mountains rain forest

Bicycle your way to Silk Island. A great way to escape the heat and dust of Phnom Penh is to bicycle your way to Silk Island. An oasis of rural tranquility just a mere 7km from the city.

Pay your respects at the Choeng Ek killing Fields. Take a moment to remember Cambodia’s darkest hour. I guarantee that you will find a whole new appreciation for the population’s resilience.

Get your crab fresh from the sea. Hand pick your crab out of baskets straight from the sea at the Kep shores. The crab market food stalls prepare them any way you like it, but I strongly recommend to have them with fresh pepper from neighboring Kampot.


Woman bringing in a basket of fresh crab from the sea
Fresh crab straight from the sea in Kep
A young Irrawaddy dolphin playing in the Mekong river
Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong

Dolphin spotting in the Mekong river. This is your chance to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat near Kratie town.

Sustainable meeting with rescued Elephants. The Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom (Mondulkiri) offers real sanctuary to currently 10 elephants. No riding, no bathing, no crowding around animals. 

Visit the world’s largest religious monument. This might very well be the reason you came to Cambodia in the first place. Behold Angkor Wat, the center of the ancient Khmer empire.




How to get there – Cambodia travel guide


Cambodia has three international airports: Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh, of which the latter services most intercontinental flights. I recommend using the Skyscanner website to find the full schedule and prices of all incoming and outgoing flights.

For domestic travel within Cambodia (air, land and water) it’s best to use the transport planning tool below from 12Go.asia to book online. Especially during high season and public holidays it makes sense to book ahead to secure your seat(s). Skip the lines at the bus station!

You can use this transport planner for buses to and from Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City as well. Warning: Do not buy your bus ticket from the shady travel operators on Khaosan road in Bangkok. The same goes for Pam Ngu Lao street in Ho Chi Minh city. Don’t be that guy that got scammed, you don’t want to end up stranded at the border!


12Go.asia

The tool is user friendly. Just fill out your place of departure, your destination and travel date. It will show the complete schedule and ticket price of all related transport.

Make your choice and book instantly.

Powered by 12Go system


Renting a motorbike is a great way to travel and see more of Cambodia. Note that proper document requirements for tourists riding a motorbike are very confusing. Not having the right documents will most likely invalidate all insurance you might have. Check out this link for an explanation on the regulations.


Woman and motorbike - Cambodia travel guide
Freedom of movementphotocredit @km.traasgpu.com



Food – Cambodia travel guide


Some claim that Khmer food is similar to Thai food, but without the heat. Others claim it’s similar to Vietnamese food, but with slightly stronger flavors. Sure, Khmer food is influenced by the cuisine of its neighboring countries and even Europe. Nevertheless, Cambodia does have a truly original cuisine of its own.

Actually, Cambodian cuisine is heavily underrated. If anything, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine are probably more influenced by the Khmer than the other way round. Don’t forget that the ancient Great Khmer empire once controlled large parts of nowadays Thailand and Vietnam.

Read up on Khmer cuisine and feel confident when ordering in a restaurant next time you visit Cambodia.


25 Siem Reap restaurant recommendations
Culinary hidden gems in the backstreets of Phnom Penh
These dishes represent the best that Cambodian cuisine has to offer
Ingredients that make iconic flavors
Dare to go for the real thing
Did your favorite dish make the list?



Health – Cambodia travel guide


Let’s face it, Cambodia’s medical facilities and services are not up to par. To argue that healthcare in Cambodia does not meet international standards is the ultimate understatement.

Cambodia’s public health sector is highly inadequate since government spending remains minimal. Healthcare professionals are lacking due to low remuneration of healthcare workers. Cambodia only has 0.9 hospital beds available per 1000 people.


Kantha Bopha Childrens Hospital in Phnom Penh - Cambodia travel guide
Kantha Bopha childrens hospital in Phnom Penh relies heavily on sponsors and donors

Healthcare spending in the private sector is on the rise. However, the government has yet to make a serious start to regulate the sector. Currently, licensing and enforcement are almost non-existent, which causes obvious negative and unwanted effects.

Pharmacies are abundant throughout the country. In many cases a prescription is not needed. Watch out for Chinese counterfeit drugs though. It’s probably a good idea to buy your drugs from one of the larger pharmacy chains like U-care.

Conclusion: Of course you don’t want to get sick anywhere, ever. But if you do get sick, for heaven’s sake, don’t do it in Cambodia!


No, no, no, don’t you dare to skip this part, even if you think that travel insurance is boring. If you do get sick or involved in an accident, let’s hope you didn’t skimp on travel insurance.

Always make sure that your travel insurance includes medical care abroad, evacuation and repatriation. Any serious ailment or injury will almost certainly involve medical transport to Bangkok or Singapore, payable upfront if you lack proper insurance. Better have that wealthy uncle on speed dial.

Read more about travel insurance here, or get a non-committal instant quote right now!



Safety – Cambodia travel guide


Crime

Except for the traffic Cambodia is a very safe country. That doesn’t mean that crime is non-existent however. The ever so general advice to always “be aware” of your surroundings applies like in any other country. The same goes for not showing off your valuables and don’t wander into dark alleys late at night when you’re alone and drunk.

Next to pick pocketing, bag snatching is the common crime in the major cities. Motorbikes drive up next to you and/or your tuk-tuk. Within a split second they grab your purse, backpack, camera, phone or even your necklace. Always wear your bag across your chest and be aware that someone could snatch your phone while you are completely preoccupied with making that cool Instagram selfie.


Thieving monkeys

The perpetrators are mostly youngsters in need of cash to satisfy their ice or yama addiction (crystal meth) and besides tourists they target locals as well. The latter have zero tolerance for bag snatchers and mob-lynchings of caught thieves are not uncommon.

Violence against tourists and/or expats is not very common, but does exceptionally occur in the form of muggings. Women and intoxicated persons seem to be especially targeted. Small groups of youngsters gang up on you to get what they want. Do not resist when this happens. The robbers are usually amateurs and therefore nervous and unpredictable. There is no telling how their panic will make them react in case you do resist.

Police

Don’t expect any real help from Cambodia’s finest. Police make very little salaries and are more interested in how to make an extra buck for any assistance that they provide. If you need them to provide you with a report for insurance purposes, be ready to pass a small bribe for getting the right documents. The amount will depend on the mood and need of the officer helping you, but anywhere between $5 and $20 should do the trick.


Cambodia's finest - Cambodia travel guide
No help at all




Read: Outrageous scam in Cambodia, you won’t believe it!




Flooding

During the rainy season flooding occurs often. Out in the country it’s fierce enough to be life threatening and every year people die. Make sure you are well informed a few days ahead about the situation in the region that you plan to visit. The weather might look agreeable from where you are, but water could be coming from upstream areas.

In cities like Phnom Penh it’s less of a threat since they have better drainage infrastructure. Still, many streets are often blocked, because of high water. Pumping the water out has become an increasing challenge after some of the city’s major lakes were reclaimed to make way for more development.


Flooded streets in Cambodia
Flooded streets are a part of life in Cambodia – photocredit @nextcity.org

Traffic in Cambodia

Now here’s the real hazard in Cambodia. Traffic is very busy and chaotic especially in the cities, but also in smaller towns. There are of course traffic rules, but none of the locals seem to abide by them.

One major problem is the lack of sidewalks and if there are any they are often completely cluttered. Parked cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, advertising signs, shop products, garbage, potholes, pots and plants are all crowding the limited space meant for pedestrians. As a result you are forced to walk on the street just inches away from motorized traffic that whizzes by. They come from all directions and often at considerable speed.


Busy traffic - Cambodia travel guide
Just another Monday

A driver’s license is not mandatory for motorbikes up to 125cc and boy, it shows. The common driving style for the average motor biker in Cambodia resembles that of a drunken maniac wannabe Formula-1 pilot. Ok, I might be exaggerating, but believe me when I say that to walk the streets of Cambodia is a real challenge.



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