English is spoken in major tourist areas.
Riel (KHR) / US Dollars (USD)
The official currency is Cambodian Riel but you’ll pay for most things in US dollars. Sometimes you’ll pay with US dollars and be given your change in Cambodian Riel.
Like most of Southeast Asia, cash is king. You’ll always need to carry cash to shop in local markets. ATMs are easy to find in the cities and some other tourist areas.
PASSPORTS & VISAS
• Validity of at least six months after your arrival back in the UK
• Tourist Visa required and you can get this on arrival.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Peak season: late December – mid January
Coolest weather: November – February
Hottest weather: March & April
Rainy season: May – October
What to Wear
Dressing modestly is strictly observed in temples (including those in Angkor) and you will not be allowed to enter if you’re showing too much skin. Read more here Buddhist Temple Etiquette. It is recommended that you dress modestly all the time, not just for visiting temples to respect local customs. Keeping covered will protect you from sunburn in the day and insect bites at night.
Head & Feet
The head is considered the most sacred part of the body in Buddhism and the feet the most impure. It’s therefore considered to be extremely improper to touch someones head. Likewise, pointing at things with your feet, putting your feet on furniture or pointing towards people with feet are rude gestures. You shouldn’t be surprised or offended if shop owners ask you to remove your shoes before entering and this is required when visiting a temple.
As with many Southeast Asian nations, if there isn’t a marked price it’s appropriate to barter. At first you might feel uncomfortable but soon you’ll enjoy it. You should always look to pay in the local currency and have a maximum price you’re willing to pay in mind – it can be very easy to get carried away! You’re more likely to get a good price if you’re friendly and keep smiling. Rudeness and aggression are not good tactics for negotiation and are generally seen as embarrassing.
FOOD & DRINK
Cambodian cuisine might appear similar to Thai and Vietnamese. The far south of Vietnam now known as the Mekong Delta was once part of the Khmer empire and like Vietnam, Cambodia was once a French colony which left its mark on the food.
A creamy fish curry made with coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce, palm sugar and Kroeung, a curry paste, which gives the dish its distinct flavor. Amok is traditionally steamed to cook and is served with rice.
Khmer Red Curry
Coconut milk base with herbs and spices but without the heat of a Thai Red Curry.
Sugar Palm Wine
LANDMINES & Unexploded Ordinance (UXOS)
Cambodia has endured a lot of conflict and the effects are still felt today. Landmines and UXOs litter the country so it’s important to stay on marked paths in rural areas.
In the early 1960s the war in Vietnam intensified. Laos and Cambodia became strategically important to the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong, who build roads through the two countries along the spine of Vietnam allowing them to transport supplies to the south. To disrupt the flow of goods, South Vietnam supported by US airpower ran 580,000 bombing missions, dropping two million tons of ordnance between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30% of all bombs failed to detonate meaning nearly 45 years later, millions of unexploded bombs. Killing tens of thousands of people and causing life altering injuries.
Two weeks before the fall of Saigon, which marked the end of the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Phen. They launched a campaign to turn back the clock to Year Zero, forcing everyone into work camps. Millions died of starvation, disease or were murdered in prisons, killing fields and caves. Towards the end of the regime in 1979 and in the two decades that followed, mines were laid across the country. Today, many mines have been cleared but millions still remain with most in the rural north-west of the country, especially along the Thai border. The most effected are those working on the land in rural communities.
Charities are working to clear the land and educate communities about the risk UXOs, often poorly equipped and funded. It’s important that if you want to contribute to the efforts to only give money to a listed charity.