10 Things to Know When Visiting Cambodia
By Sydney Tong on September 23, 2016. Read time: 8 min.
It is your first time visiting Cambodia, and you are not exactly sure what to do or what you should expect. You will be happy to know that overall, Cambodia is an inexpensive, laid back country catered towards the adventurous type.
Cambodia is a developing country that has experienced political unrest, while crime against tourists is low it is not uncommon. The food is as if Thailand and Vietnam got together and the outcome was a Cambodian fusion love child with a hint of French prestige. We have been delightfully surprised with Cambodia, and it is a country that we will continue to visit.
Let's talk about getting in the country first. The fee to get in is $30USD and allows you 30 days of travel within the country. There are two different methods to get a visa in Cambodia (three, if you want to do it by mail). You can get it online beforehand, or you can get it at the airport/border upon arrival.
There are third-party websites that offer this service most of them charging $30USD + a processing fee which can be anywhere between $8-$12USD. I am wary of using third party services for several reasons. I do not know if their services are secure which is important when I am offering my passport information, and I dislike dealing with third party services in general.
We recommend getting your visa upon arrival. It is extremely quick and easy we were done in about 10 minutes (we arrived at Phnom Penh airport). Make sure to have your passport (with six months left before expiry), $30USD, and a 2x2 inch sized photo (do not forget). There is an ATM, but I would not suggest relying on it to be working or available. Please do research specific to where you are from so you are firmly prepared upon arrival. Embassy of Cambodia
In Cambodia they use Riel, but the US Dollar is accepted almost anywhere as a valid form of currency. Hotels, restaurants, tuk-tuks, and vendors all take USD, so there isn't need to exchange money beforehand. $1 USD is equal to about 4,000 Riel.
They are very reliant on cash so be sure to bring a lot of smaller bills. It helps if the bills are in good condition, but they are not as picky as Vietnam or Thailand when accepting USD. Very few places take credit cards so keep that in mind when booking accommodations, eating at restaurants and deciding how much cash you should bring.
When receiving money back, you will get the larger bills in USD and the change in Cambodian Riel. They do not have coins and won't accept US coins. For example; you purchase something for $2.50 and give them $5. You will receive $2 and 2,000 Riel back.
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia, but the majority of people can speak enough English to get their point across. The people who work in the tourism industry can speak English more proficiently and will be better able to help you. Tuktuk drivers will be able to speak English well enough to barter a price for you and take you where you need to go. Be prepared for a firm sales tactic as soon as you get off of the bus of out of the airport. They are ready and want your business for the duration of your trip.
In Siem Reap it is not uncommon for tour guides, vendors, and waiters to speak several languages. Some vendors can barter in several languages and can understand enough of each language to make a sale. Tour guides are excellent in their second language, and we have heard them speaking fluent French, Spanish, English, Italian, Japanese, Chinese or Korean while explaining the history of the various temples. It is truly impressive!
4. Useful phrases
While most everyone speaks a little English, it is always good to know some of the local language. It will enrich your experience and help you make connections during your stay. Don't be discouraged when trying to speak Khmer as it can be a difficult language to learn. People will appreciate it when they see you trying to learn their language.
- Hello ជំរាបសួរ (chôm rab suôr)
- How are you អ្នកសុខសប្បាយទេ (ânâk sôkh sâbay té?)
- My name is … ខ្ងុំឈ្មោះ ... (khnyŭm chhmoŭh ...)
- Goodbye លាសិនហើយ (léa sĕn haeuy)
- I don’t understand មិនយល់ទេ (mĭn yôl té)
- Please speak more slowly សូមនិយាយយឺតៗ (som nĭyéay yœt yœt)
- How much is this? នេះថ្លៃប៉ុន្មាន? (néh thley bôméan?)
- Thank you ឣរគុណ (’âu kŭn)
Bargaining for a good deal on tuk-tuk rides, souvenirs, and certain tours is acceptable and expected. Generally speaking, the first price is usually high so feel free to give a counter-offer. You should be able to come up with a price that benefits everyone. It is fun to barter but keep in mind it is their business so be respectful. You should never take the first offer. In fact, be patient, walk down the street and talk to various vendors or drivers before making a decision.
Cambodia is still a developing nation and has undergone political unrest over the years. For the most part, tourists are relatively safe. The most common crimes are thefts by bag snatchers and pick-pocketers, while most of these are non-violent, they have been known to use weapons. I would exercise caution when out and about and be extremely careful when traveling at night. I do not recommend taking any night buses.
As a female, I would feel okay traveling here by myself. However, I would be extremely alert and careful. I would recommend female travelers staying in hostels where they can meet and go out with groups of people. I found an in-depth article from the UK government that does a fantastic job of outlining safety in Cambodia. I recommend everyone read it before he or she go to be aware of what is happening. UK Safety in Cambodia
While drugs and prostitution are common, they are both highly illegal, and punishment can be severe. As a couple traveling together, we did not have any trouble with prostitution. As a single woman, I do not think it would be a problem either. However, I do think single men should be wary of local women coming off as friendly. It might end up costing you some money or a few drinks.
Be prepared to get offered marijuana, meth, or cocaine by the anyone on the street. Apparently, it is easy to get ahold of if you are into that. It is illegal, and if caught you will be prosecuted by their judicial system, so be careful if you do choose to partake.
8. Getting around
Getting around in Cambodia is relatively easy and cheap. While they do not have any public transportation, there are many other methods of transportation so you can find what suits your style.
Getting around within the city
- Bike Rentals- Biking is one of the best ways to see a city. You can rent a bike for $1-$2 a day. Be careful as traffic can be crazy. I had an injury, so we did not ride bikes. It is also sweltering hot so choose a cool day to ride a bike and stay hydrated.
- Scooters- You could find a scooter for around $8/day. Prices vary so feel free to shop around for a place that suits what you need. We have rented scooters in SE Asia in the past, and it was a huge rush of adrenaline. We recommend it for the brave because the traffic is insane and unpredictable. Ask your local shop for any tips they may have for riding in your city. In Siem Reap it is illegal for tourists to drive scooters. They are still available to rent, but the police will confiscate your scooter until you pay a bribe or go to the police station to pick it up. They do not play around.
- Tuk-tuk- This is what we used to get around during our whole stay in Cambodia. There are always a plethora of tuk-tuk drivers when needed making it a very reliable option. It is cheap to bargain a price, and the driver usually knows where you want to go. Make sure you negotiate on a price before you get into the tuk-tuk, so you do not get taken advantage of.
- Car Rentals- These are also available and I am sure can be easily arranged. This may be a better option for the elderly, families, and disabled. Tuk-tuks can usually only fit 2-4 people.
Traveling between cities
Moving from city to city is easy, and there are many different options you can take. You can fly which is convenient but requires planning ahead, or you can take a bus which can be done on the fly but takes quite a bit longer. Both are a fine option depending on how much time you have and what your priorities are.
We opted to take the bus since we wanted to see the country. We booked our trip online through Giant Ibis. It cost $15USD/person one way, and the bus includes wifi, and each row has an electrical outlet. We were able to get a good amount of work done. The bus makes 1-2 bathroom stops and a stop for lunch. They pick you up from your hotel and drop off at certain hotels and hostels. You can book here https://giantibis.com/
Alcohol is easy to find in this country and is super cheap. If you want to party or are a booze aficionado, then Cambodia is a great destination for you. I am so surprised by the selection of beer. There are several breweries in Cambodia, and they have a growing selection of beers. Canned or bottled beer will run about $1.50-$2.50 at restaurants and bars. At convenience stores, $.50 cents or 2000Riel. Look out for "happy hour" specials as draft beer will usually run $0.50 a glass! Please note that most happy hour specials are all day.
Liquor is also readily available. Cocktail prices range from $2-$6. You can also buy buckets or pitchers of cocktails here for pretty cheap. This is great if you want to let loose.
I am so impressed with the selection of wine we found here. There is a wide variety of all sizes of wallets. This is impressive to me as it can be difficult to find good wine in Asia. Way to go Cambodia!
The cuisine here doesn't get as much press as its neighbors, but we find it to be delicious. There are restaurants and food vendors that can accommodate all budgets. We discovered that you can have a filling breakfast for $1.50/person (including coffee, soup, doughnut) or that you can feast on exotic meat for much more! The food was exciting and filling, and we did not get food poisoning the whole trip. Fresh fruit smoothies are $1, local dishes are $2 a plate, while western food will cost you a bit more. We recommend being open-minded and try everything you can.
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