Things to Know Before Visiting Cambodia
Cambodia is a beautiful country where millions of tourists go every year. The iconic Angkor Wat and the beauty of Siem Reap are what draws people in, and we are pretty sure that is why you go there as well.
However, before you go, it is recommended that you do some research on Cambodian habits and important things to know which will make travelling here easier and help you to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
If you’re planning a holiday to this wonderful place, here are some useful tips to make your trip to Cambodia as stress free as possible below.
1. Cambodia is Ridiculously Young
Unlike in much of the western world where we have an increasingly ageing population, in Cambodia you will surprised at just how many young people there are. In fact, more than 50 per cent of the country’s population is aged under 25, and around under 10 per cent of the population is over the age of 55. This is partly due to the genocide by the Khmer Rouge government from 1975 to 1979, and partly due to the huge baby boom after the regime was removed. To learn more about the history of the country be sure to visit the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh.
2. Get Your Visa in Advance
Cambodia requires a visa to enter, except for a few visa-exempt nationalities. You can get an electronic visa if you are eligible. Many travelers do that to save time and money. All you need is a passport and a digital photo. Just apply online and you can have your visa in as little as 24 hours.
3. There are Two Currencies
Making purchases in Cambodia might sound a little complicated, as two currencies are readily accepted – the Khmer riel and the US dollar. It’s generally accepted that riel is used for smaller purchase, while US dollars are used for larger amounts. It’s best to get a mixture of both – you will inevitably end up with some of each currency anyway.
4. Hit the ATM Before You Go
ATMs are not on every street corner like in other worldwide destinations and sometimes using ATM's in Cambodia can lead you to want to pull out your hair because every time you make a withdrawal the fees are pretty high. For example, recently an Australian tourist took out $200, from an ATM only to find out that he paid an $80 fee for the exchange.
That is too much, even for foreign banks, which is why we advise you to take out cash before you go. Of course, that raises other issues, like keeping your money safe, but you can control it better than ATM commissions. You should also take with you US dollars which are widely accepted throughout the country.
5. Getting Around
If group tours of Cambodia don't appeal to you travelling through Cambodia on public/private transport can be fairly easy. In most places you visit you will find car rides are more expensive than a tuk-tuk, and tuk-tuks are also quick and pretty safe. Your hotel may be sending one when you arrive, and most tourists use them to get around. It is a great solution.
However, more than two people with their luggage require two such vehicles. At the same time, a fare is usually around $2, $3 if you go longer distances, so if the driver bargains and wants more, just say that you will get another tuk-tuk. The price will come down on the spot.
6. It is Safer Than You Think
Cambodia is generally very safe for tourists, and local people with usually greet you with smilar rather than any malice. Whether you plan to travel independently, or take a gap year in Cambodia, you are unlikely to encounter any issues although we do recommend buying travel insurance in-advance.
7. Don’t Fall for Scams
Cambodia may be a fascinating country, but there is a lot of poverty. Many tourists fall for beggars, and that is not a good thing. Thinking that you are doing a good deed is not helping anyone. Some beggars will throw the Baby milk scam at you instead of asking for money, they will hold up a baby bottle and ask for milk.
Many tourists fall for that and go with them at a grocery shop. The beggars will buy the most expensive formula, and they will bully you into buying multiple boxes. After you leave, they return the milk for cash. Just avoid beggars and never give them anything. It doesn’t do anyone any good.
8. Healthcare is Not Cambodia’s Strong Point
Unfortunately Cambodia’s standard of healthcare is low, with poor medical facilities and undertrained doctors. That means that you need to take all the necessary precautions before you arrive to ensure that you are at as little risk as possible. Firstly, talk to your doctor about vaccinations for Cambodia – officially there are no health certificates that are required to enter the country, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t protect yourself.
The biggest risk tends to come from mosquitos, which carry dengue fever and, in some parts of the country, malaria. The only real defence is to avoid being bitten, so bring along repellent with DEET and wear long sleeved shirts and trousers whenever possible. Be sure to purchase travel insurance before departing.
9. Your Feet are Rude
In Cambodia it is considered to be very rude to point your feet at someone or show the soles of your feet. Follow what the local people do and tuck your feet in when you sit. At the other end of your body, the head is considered to be extremely important and you should never touch someone else’s head without their permission – even very gently or in a friendly manner.
10. Lots of Places to Go
Cambodia is one of the Southeast Asian destinations that have yet to find themselves crammed with tourists, okay, well outside of Siem Riep. This stunning country – home to a sprawling beautiful countryside, myriad cultural treasures and islands – won’t stay a secret forever. There are so many incredible destinations in Cambodia you need to add to your itinerary and the Angkor Temples are probably the best.
11. Visit The Angkor Temples in the Morning
Waking up early in the morning is not everyone’s favorite, but if you want to avoid the tourist crowds and possible heat stroke, you kind of have to. The temples are made of rock, and when they lay under the sun for a few hours, they become almost unbearable. That, together with the sun, will make you uncomfortable, which is why the best time to visit the temples is in the morning.
Most people do that, and so should you. Not to mention that the sun coming up over an ancient temple makes for magnificent scenery. You might want to check out our top advice for visiting Angkor Wat - one of the most famous and incredible temples in the world.
12. The Beaches are Beautiful
When many people picture Cambodia they first think of the infamous Killing Fields or perhaps the cultural icon of Angkor Wat. But you might not realise that destinations like Sihanoukville and Koh Rong have stunning stretches of sand that are as good as almost anywhere in Asia. That means that a holiday in Cambodia can easily feature a week of sightseeing before travelling to the coast for a week of relaxation in the sunshine.
13. You Can Work in Cambodia
Like the idea of being more than just a tourist? Why not stay longer and actually work in Cambodia! A popular option is to teach English in Cambodia, there are lots of vacancies for teachers throughout the country.
14. Be Cautious About Volunteering
Going to volunteer in Cambodia is an increasingly popular activity with international tourists. But you do need to be very careful about which programs and organisations you choose to apply with because there have been lots of instances of unreputable projects being operated to gain money from foreigners. This is especially the case for fake orphanages. If you do want to do something like volunteering, check reviews and feedback from past participants before applying. There are also lots more ethical volunteer opportunities in Asia.
15. Driving Isn't Recommend
This isn’t strictly true, but unless you are a driver who is very familiar with Southeast Asian driving and a good sense of direction in Cambodia, it is a very bad (and dangerous) idea to attempt to drive here. Road rules are virtually no existent, traffic is horrendous and other road users are aggressively and almost suicidal in their efforts to reach a gap. There are many better ways to get around independently including tuk-tuks, taxis and buses, so there really is no need to put yourself in that position. You can also consider Asia group tours where you will be guided to the best locations in the country.
16. It’s Increasingly Popular in Retirement
You might not think of it as a fantastic place to retire, but Cambodia placed 17th on 2017’s Annual Global Retirement Index thanks to its very low cost of living, range of entertainment and amenities, and simplicity of buying property.
So if you’ve ever wanted to retire to somewhere warm with friendly people and amazing local cuisine, Cambodia could be an amazing choice. The advantage of Cambodia’s beaches over those in Thailand are that they haven’t become as commercialised, so you can enjoy a quiet stay in a stunning location.
Cambodia is a beautiful country, but to enjoy the experience, you have some research to do. That way you ensure a lovely experience with no unpleasant surprises along the way.