WHY TRAVELLING TO CAMBODIA
It is a five-star rate due to Angkor Wat and all the other temple complex around the country. The Khmer empire was tremendously developed around the XI and XII centuries, when they had their golden age. However, the genocide that the Khmer Rouge performed in the 1970s can be consider the dark age and thinking it was not long ago makes you shiver when sightseeing the killing fields.
Wildlife from Ratanakiri, Dangkrek mountains and the beaches in the South of the country and the islands combine to complete three of the most beloved natural landscapes. If you have time to reach to every isolated spot, then Cambodia can offer plenty of idyllic scenes.
It is up to you staying in the touristy places or discovering hiden gems as Battambang, Sambor Prei Kuk or Ratanakiri. But a unique experience can be encountered easily when you get off the track. It is not recommendable to explore the jungle though, since some mines from the Vietnam war are thought to be still active in certain untouched areas.
It is broadly consider a safe country (it ranks #58 out of 160 according to SafeAround), except for certain scams that you may only find if you do not know them. No violence at all was found during my trip there, just a few pickpockets as in most cities and some scams that typically occur in South East Asia. Among the most common scams in Cambodia you may be tricked by someone who approaches lonely tourist in a friendly way saying to bring them to a dark spot and take their wallets. Hence, be aware not to be stolen and do not trust everyone.
The cost of living in Cambodia is higher than expected due to the use of US Dollars (it ranks #67 out of 117 according to Numbeo in 2018), the price of the items is rounded to units in dollars, especially in touristy areas. Therefore, I suggest using the local currency to decrease the rounded prices and to have the possibility to bargain. Local food should not require more than 3 USD per meal.
Food in Cambodia is not as delicious and famous as in its neigbour countries, but you can still find some typical dishes as Amok, which is baked fish with chilli, lemongrass and coconut. Besides, locals offer plenty of seafood and fish to taste all around the country.
What to visit in Cambodia
Hereafter, I sort the spots to visit in Cambodia by its attractiveness and uniqueness:
1. Angkor Wat
Finalist candidate to be one of the new 7 wonders, to me there is no doubt it should have been chosen. It is a complex of hundreds of temples in an enormous area where you can get lost. Abandoned by the Khmer in order to run away from the Ayutthaya empire and lost during centuries, a French explorer found it in the XIX century. Angkor Wat is the main temple of the complex, but some other temples such as Bayon (the temple of 216 stone-carved faces), Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom or Preah Khan are also worth a walk around. Sunrise will be enjoyed the most near a small lagoon where you leave Angor Wat temple between the lagoon and the East. You can get around by bike if you are a sporty person, by scooter or rent a tuk-tuk for the whole day (should be less than 30 USD). You can purchase a one-day, three-day or seven-day ticket and I suggest buying your ticket the previous day after 6pm (you can visit it for the rest of the day and the following one).
2. Phnom Penh
The capital of the country offers the Royal Palace and the National Museum as the main attractions in the city. Khmer architecture and many pieces of Khmer sculpture are respectively found in those two spots. Moreover, the Choeung Ek killing fields shows how cruel the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia (an excursion from Phnom Penh will take you there).
This province located in the East of the country contains the Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, where gibbons, elephants, tigers and sun bears dwell. Moreover, the waterfalls of Chaa Ong and Ka Tieng are awesome spots for swimmers as well as the Yeak Lom Crater Lake next to Ban Lung.
Find a cluster of temples beyond the town, I suggest hiking to reach Phnom Sampeu to enjoy its beautiful views, Phnom Banan and Wat Ek Phom. Visit the Killing Caves where the Khmer Rouge tossed thousands of people. Do not miss the bat caves at dusk to observe how thousands of bats cover the sky while getting off the cave.
5. Prasat Preah Vihear
Shiva, the destroyer, is one of the three main Hinduist gods and this temple complex honors him. It stands atop the Dangkrek Mountains and near the border with Thailand, which has caused dispute between both countries. The access to Prasat Preah Vihear is from Siem Reap or Sra Em.
6. Sambor Prei Kuk
This is a hinduist temple site from the 7th century that has been abandoned for a long time. The most remarkable buildings in the area are Prasat Tao, Prasat Sambor and Prasat Yeay Peau. In order to reach this site you should depart from Kompong Thom.
7. Sihaunokville Beaches
This town stands at the South of the country and it is the gateway to reach all the islands nearby. Beaches such as Serendipity and Ochheuteal ones are a great party area. Nevertheless, Otres beach is more quiet and, hence, recommended for day time.
If you want to spot the endemic Irrawaddy dolphins, you must go to Kampi, which is located a bit to the North of Kratie. Boat tours depart from Kratie whenever you want to take them. This is the best experience in the Khmer Mekong.
This region is one of the most untouched in the country and still offers nature and old colonial architecture. For example, you can reach Kep and Bokor national parks from this city to spend some adventurous time.
10. Tonlé Sap
Tonlé Sap is the biggest lake in the country and it contains plenty of floating villages. Transportation from Siem Reap will take you to the lake where you can hire a boat and sightsee how fishermen work to feed their families.
At this province, you will find the adventure you might be looking for. As well known as the wild East, the Elephant Valley Project takes you to encounter these charming pachyderms. In addition, some primates, sugar palms, rice fields and waterfalls can be found in this region.
12. Koh Rong Saloem
You can find this island at the South of the country and will be able to reach it by boat from Sihanoukville. Walk the peaceful sands of Saracen Bay and stay at any of its resorts. Take a rest while you listen to the sound of the waves striking the shore.
RECOMMENDED ROUTES IN CAMBODIA
Down below, I sketch some possible routes depending on the time you are planning to spend in the Khmer country.
7 DAYS IN CAMBODIA
If there is only one week to spend in Cambodia I would say you should not miss the main spots and chose the following path: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) – Battambang or a Tonlé Sap floating village – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields)
15 DAYS IN CAMBODIA
Half a month would be perfect to be able to explore some adventurous spots and the following route would be within schedule: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)- Battambang – a Tonlé Sap floating village – Kratie – Ratanakiri – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields) – Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh
1 MONTH IN CAMBODIA
In case having plenty of time to discover all of it, a month can be filled with many activities following the next tour: Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)- Battambang – a Tonlé Sap floating village – Prasat Preah Vihear – Sambor Prei Kuk – Kratie – Ratanakiri – Mondulkiri – Phnom Penh (and the killing fields) – Sihanoukville – Koh Rong Samloem (or other islands) – Kampot – Phnom Penh
GET YOUR BACKPACK READY FOR CAMBODIA
Visa for Cambodia
Passports holders from Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore Thailand and Vietnam can visit without a visa.
You may obtain your visa upon arrival at the two airports in Cambodia: Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, along with most border crossings. You will need US$30 cash for a tourist visa and US$35 for business. You will also need one passport size photo and your passport must be valid for six month from the date of entry. Try and have the exact amount or you may be given a very bad exchange rate by the border official. You will need a passport photo or you may have to pay US$2 extra.
A visa can be issued upon arrival at the border checkpoints into Cambodia.
Thailand: Cham Yeam (Koh Kong), Chorm (Oddar Meanchey), Daung (Kamrieng Battambang), Poi Pet (Banteay Meanchey), Prom (Pailin), O Smach (Oddar Meanchey).
Vietnam: Bavet (Svay Rieng), Kaoam Samnor (Kandal Mekong), Phnom Den (Takeo), Trapaing Sre (Kratie).
Laos: Dong Kralo (Stung Treng).
There is also an entry at Sihanoukville if you arrive by sea.
Passport holders from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan need a visa at an embassy prior to arriving.
Cambodia has recently started an e-visa service which allows you to pay online using a credit card instead of handling cash at the airport.
The e-visa is only for entry at Phnom Penh International airport, Siem Reap International airport, Bavet/Svay Rieng, Cham Yeam/Koh Kong and Poipet. It costs US$7 dollars more than paying cash.
Credits to Projectvisa.
Vaccinations for Cambodia
- Recommended vaccines for Cambodia: Malaria, Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Diphtheria and Tetanus.
- Rarely necessary vaccines for Cambodia: Rabies.
- Not necessary vaccines for Cambodia: Yellow fever (a certificate may be required if you come from any area with transmission risk).
Plug in Cambodia
Most electrical sockets in Cambodia are compatible with type A (two flat vertical pins), type C (two round pins) and type G (three rectangular pins). Voltage in Cambodia electricity supply is 230V. Frequency in Cambodia electricity supply is 50Hz.
Currency in Cambodia
The local currency used in Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR). However, US Dollars (USD) are widely accepted if they are not old bills. Paying with Cambodian Riel will save you money and prevent you from headache.
Please, use the currency converter on the sidebar if you want to check the latest exchange rates.
Weather in Cambodia
Since it is a tropical country, there are two main seasons along the year. Dry season runs from October to March and it is the most recommended one to travel to Cambodia. Wet season covers from April to September and rains may be too annoying to discover temples or enjoy the coast views.
Average temperatures range from 21 to 35ºC along the year. We recommend to avoid April and May (average 35ºC) to visit this country since the heat will not allow you to be pleased by its wonders.
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Recommendations for Cambodia
In order to save money and not to get lost, you must install on your smartphone the free app Maps.me and download the maps of the Cambodian regions that you plan to visit using wifi before you go. Afterwards, you will be able to use your GPS signal for free over the previously downloaded maps.