Cambodia is a favourite destination for many travellers, and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Despite the scars left by country’s sad past, the people are incredibly warm and friendly; also, there are some stunning sites, including the archaeological marvels of Angkor, the culinary and cultural highlights are many and varied, and there’s a real sense of vibrancy in the capital Phnom Penh. Before you head off, do a bit of research to make the most of your trip. Start by reading our mini-guide, below!
Population: 16 million
Capital: Phnom Penh
Religion: Theravada Buddhism
Emergency number: 117
- The Cambodian flag is the only flag in the world to feature a building.
- Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world.
- The flow of the Tonlé Sap river changes direction twice a year.
- Tarantula kebabs are a popular delicacy in Cambodia.
- April: Chaul Chnam, the Cambodian New Year celebration, lasts for around three days from mid-April.
- September to October: Pchum Ben or Soul Day. Running for 15 days, this festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead.
- 9 November: Independence Day. A national holiday celebrating Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953.
Hot spots and itineraries
Among the World Heritage Sites are the incredible Angkor temple complex, and the Temple of Preah Vihear.
Some itinerary ideas
- The Big Two: Phnom Penh – Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)
- The South: Phnom Penh – Kep – Kampot – Sihanoukville
Staying safe and healthy
- Malaria is present throughout the country, so see your health practitioner about antimalarial drugs. Also, wear long sleeves and trousers, and plenty of repellent.
- Cambodia is still affected by unmarked landmines. Don’t stray off main routes, including those around temples.
- Always check for the latest COVID-19 updates and restrictions.
While you’re there, please don’t…
Point with your index finger; instead gesture with your right-hand palm up.
Before you go, read …
- A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam by Norman Lewis – the British travel writer’s memoir includes a meeting with the King of Cambodia.
- When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him – a mesmerising account of the Khmer Rouge genocide written by a child survivor of the period.
- The Gate by Francois Bizot – an account of the fall of Phnom Penh and the early days of the Pol Pot era.
Before you go, watch …
- The Killing Fields – depicting the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s regime in the 1970s, which resulted in mass genocide, as seen through a local and US journalist’s eyes.
- Who Am I? – by Pan Phuong Bopha, one of Cambodia’s first working female writer-directors.
- First They Killed My Father – Angeline Jolie-directed movie based on a memoir by Loung Ung and filmed entirely in Cambodia
They said it
“The humble people of Cambodia are the most wonderful in the world. Their misfortune is that they always have terrible leaders who make them suffer.” – Prince Sihanouk
“Don’t take the straight path or the winding path. Take the path your ancestors have taken.” – Khmer proverb
Do I need a visa?
All visitors to Cambodia require a visa except passport holders of Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei and Myanmar. Other passport holders can apply for an e-visa at evisa.gov.kh. You can get also a visa on arrival at most ports of entry at a cost of US$30 (bring two passport photos).
How long will it take me to get there?
It’s two hours to Phnom Penh from Singapore. Cambodia is seven hours ahead of GMT and one hour behind Singapore.
What’s the money situation?
Cambodian currency is the Cambodian riel (KHR). US dollars are widely used in Cambodia, though it’s useful to have some Cambodian currency for small purchases. Small change is also returned in riel. ATM withdrawals using Visa or MasterCard are available in the major cities. Credit cards are accepted in many upmarket hotels, boutiques and restaurants.
When’s the best time to visit?
You can visit Cambodia any time of the year; the average temperature is around 27 to 28 degrees Celsius.
Cambodia has four seasons:
- November to February, cool and dry
- March to May, hot and dry
- June to August, hot and wet
- September to October, cool and wet
What’s the lingo?
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer. English and French are also spoken. Here are some phrases to get you started:
- Hello: Suosdei / Choum reap sor (formal)
- What is your name? Naek chmuah ey?
- My name is __: Knyom chmuah __
- How much? Nih th’lay pohnmaan?
- Thank you: Aw kohn
- Yes: Baht (for males) / Jaah (for females)
- I don’t understand: Khnom men yol teh
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
For a formal greeting, place your hands together close to your chest and face; dip your head at the same time in a slight bow.
What’s a must-try dish?
Fish amok, a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk, and kroeung, a type of Khmer curry paste. Try the fried insects too, if you dare – grasshoppers, bamboo worms and more.
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Khmer silk, woven mats, candles and soaps, rice paper and Mekong quilts.
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