Things you must know before travelling Cambodia
Books you should read before you go
I truly believe that reading about the country you are about to visit helps you to connect with it on a deeper level, spot things you would otherwise miss and genuinely help you get the most out of travel. Things you must know before visiting Cambodia
First they killed my Father by Loung Ung - One of the best known stories to emerge from the real life horrors of the mass genocide. Survivor and now author Loung Ung takes you through an intense account that is hard to believe doesn’t belong in a fiction section.
A History of Cambodia by David Chandler - It really is what is says on the tin, very informative and well put together. It is very useful for wrapping your mind around what on earth has happened in Cambodia.
The Years Of Zero by Seng Ty - A young boy of 7 years was separated from his family and thrust into an agricultural labour camp, where his family are worked to death and tortured, he was the only one left...
The Playground by Terrence McCoy on Kindle - A concerning look at modern Cambodia and how it is developing, by developing I mean been bought up by the highest bidder. (The Kindle addition is free at the moment!)
Cambodia: Guide to the Temples of Angkor (2017 Travel Guide) on Kindle - A great e-books that helps you get to grip with and exploring Angkor. it should also be a good guide to help you plan which temples to visit.
Focusing on the Temples by Michel Petrotchenko - Gorgeous glossy in depth book on Angkor Wat temples. It is popular for a reason, just check out the reviews on Amazon!
Nyum Bai Cook Book by Green Geko - This delicious and stylish cookbook was written to support the work that Green Geko do with poor children families and in Cambodia.
The Rough Guide to Cambodia - A Rough Guide is ideal for getting to grips with a place, but not over planning it .They tend to have great inspiration, cover all the basics and are also pretty good at picking less touristy places too.
Manners maketh the man or woman
Hello: Chum - reap -suor
Thank you: Orkun (Sounds like a sneeze!)
Bye Bye: Chum - reap - Leah
The Khmer Rouge has left its scars
The communist party of Kamupchea, better known as the Khmer Rouge formed in 1968 and was part of both the fight against Vietnam and a lot of civil war and unrest up until 1975. Led by Pol Pot, they ceased power of the capital Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. They forced around 2,000,000 people out of the cities and into countryside to undertake agricultural work. 1970 to 1980 was a horrific time of bloodshed for Cambodia, experts estimate that around 4,000,000 lives were lost and and taken during this time. Around 2,500,000 were are a result of the Khmer Rouges actions between 1975 and 1979.
A huge aim of the Khmer Rouge was to eradicate all forms of education and have civilians simply farm only rice. As a result, they lost most of their historical writings, cultural heritage, language structure and even farming skills. When you visit Angkor Wat you will learn that many of the statues were also decapitated as they were seen as idols.
The pain and damage runs deep, they are still rebuilding in every way imaginable.
The first truth about Cambodia being cheap
It IS actually cheap! I have heard people visit and say it isn’t, but it is, you just have to barter hard and look a little harder. Many people hear that it’s cheap and then just take the first prices that they are told for everything. I will put together a whole blog on what you should really be paying soon. Just as a quick insight, as of 2017, hostels still start at $3, food at $1, long distance buses start at $8 and tuk tuk rides between $1 and $15.
The second truth about Cambodia being cheap
The truth about Cambodia being cheap is that, IF you REALLY want or need to, you can travel on a super tight budget in Cambodia. BUT when you realise where you can stay for as little as $15 and how well you can eat for $4, it starts to get a bit tempting to enjoy some luxuries!
When it comes to accommodation it is unreal how much style, originality, luxury, hospitality and darn right funkyness you can get for your dollar. I’m putting together a blog especially on best places to stay in Cambodia, WATCH THIS SPACE.
Helping is Tricky
Big hearted travellers will find it a hard places to travel through. To start with there are many beggars; hopefully by now you understand the damage of just giving cash to beggars, especially in tourist spots. Where it gets really tricky in Cambodia is that a lot of NGO’s (Non Government Organisations / Charities) are fake. Many are set up to get you to donate or buy things they will later just sell on. It is hard to know how to help. One of the best things you can give is your time or if you have an existing connection to a cause then hopefully, that is reliable. ConCERT are set up in Siem Reap to help you know how to truly help, they have been there a long time and are well connected and informed. Trailblazer are awesome and can often take short term volunteers.
Always agree on a price first
Don't just go jumping in!
Living in Cambodia I found that Cambodian’s can genuinely be some of the kindest people on this earth. They are caring, kind and generous with the little that they have. However … (you knew there was a but!) many that you will meet in the tourist spots are not these people. If you are doing business with them, whether you are negotiating a tuk tuk or bartering for something, the majority are only honest ONCE you have made the deal. DO NOT just take someones services and then ask them for a price at the end! Always work it out beforehand and know that if they try to change it later, that is an abhorrence in their culture and they know they shouldn’t be doing it.
Trust your gut, if you feel that you are been guilted or tricked into something you weren’t asking for, then be decisive and in most case get the hell away from the situation.
Now this is fun! There is a good chance that when you first receive some change, it will be in two different currencies. Don’t feel bad for taking a moment to check and count it, they know you are new to it. 1 USD is equal to 4000 Reil.
Rise and set with the sun
LIke so many countries in South East Asia, if you want to truly connect with the culture, you need get up early. Much of Asian life kicks off in the morning, farmers heading into the fields, monks collecting, children running to school; it’s just magical. I miss waking as the cock crows and you here the first chink of a pan going on for the days rice. ...oh and the sunrises are just beyond words! Grab and bike or head out for a morning walk, where possible, head to the countryside.
And nap during the day! Yay!
Ok, so not everyone likes to get up before the crack of dawn, but it you do, you can totally justify a heat of the day nap! The locals tend making the most of the cool of the morning, sleep through the heat of the day and then launch into the afternoon, full of energy. If you want to get into the rhythm of Cambodia, do what the locals do! Because this way of breaking up the day is part of their culture, you tend to find that there’s not a lot going on midday anyway, so why sweat yourself tired!?
The price of Angkor Wat has gone up!
With great disappointment to the locals trying to make a living here, as of 1st February 2017 the price of the temples has gone up. The new prices for visiting Angkor Wat are 37 USD for a one day pass!! It will now be 62 USD for a three day pass that you can use over the space of a week and 72 USD for the seven day pass that is valid over one month.
Also note that Cambodia does generally charge for national parks and beautiful nature spots in Cambodia. Although some start at 0.50 cents, some do charge a lot; so just make sure you research it before you go to avoid any nasty shocks.
Cambodia is rather dusty, so make sure you have a thin Buff for cycling and travelling into the villages. If you don’t already have a buff, you should really think about picking one up, I think their essential and often end up travelling with two I love them that much! I’ve put together 16 things for under £20 that every Backpacker should have.
This is not to scare you and please note, you’re not even a little bit likely to across them on the beaten track. BUT if you are really adventurous you just need to know that there are still landmines and you should be careful setting off on independent hikes into the Cambodian wilderness.
ARGH! They have whacked the one month tourist visa up to 30 USD! If you get the e-visa, they charge 7 USD for processing, if get visa on arrival, they often insist on a 2 USD to 7 USD ‘processing fee’ depending on who is working that day and which border you cross. You do have to pay in USD at the border, so make sure you have it ready. As you may imagine having to exchange money near the boarder won’t fair well for you. It is valid for 3 months from the day of issue. You can get your E-Visa on online HERE along with lots more information.
Yeah, it is another one of those countries where they are particular about nothing except how crisp your money is. Don’t accept ripped or really worn out bills, equally, know you probably won’t be able to give them. If you come unstuck, exchange places will sometimes take damaged notes and charge you a small fee, as they too will get charge when they take it to the bank.
The beaches are awesome
AND hardly anyone goes there! You will hit a pretty significant tourism spot in Sihanoukville, but this is just a hub to get you connected to lots of beautiful islands and coastal areas that just have their own vibe and pace. Don’t get me wrong, Sihanoukville can be great for meeting people and finding some fun hangouts, but if you want perfect scarcely touched beaches, all you need to do is hop on a boat or jump in a minibus.
Amok is their national dish
Amok is the national dish and totally worth trying! It is a widely available delicious mild coconut curry. It sometimes comes as a very thick curry or a thinner soup, it can be made with chicken, fish or in some places just vegetables. Don’t miss it!!
You can get into trouble renting motorbikes
The laws are up and down, so it can be really hit and miss to find rental places. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are particularly difficult to rent in and you are likely to get stopped by the police for random bribes. However, once you get to the coast, you should find them more easy to rent. The roads are pretty crazy, so unless you are VERY used to Asian driving, i would suggest sticking with Tuk Tuks where you can.
You can get ‘Templed Out’
The temples of Angkor Wat are truly astounding, but if you try to see too many in a short amount of time, you may just wear yourself out and not enjoy it for what it is. This is very common. Living in Cambodia I must have visited Angkor Wat around 15 to 20 times. I found my favourite trips were the ones where you get up for the sunrise at Angkor Wat, chill as the crowds die down a little, wander around, really taking it in, explore Bayon (with the faces) and visit one that you haven’t heard of. Then REST for lunch, drink plenty! After a restful lunch, visit the lake, then Ta Prohm (Tomb raider temple) possibly one more that you haven’t heard then hike up the hill with a crazy amount of people to watch the sunset. This is more than enough for one day! If you can take a few days, do and start to visit the much less frequented ones, even rent a bike for a day.
OOO and DO NOT LOSE YOUR PASS. You need your pass for every temple you visit!
You shouldn’t rush Cambodia
I remember a girl I met in a hostel referring to someone she had just met who was just in Cambodia for 2 days; basically seeing Angkor Wat, taking a selfie and getting out. She referred to it as ‘abuse of her visa’ and she kind of has a point. Cambodia has so much more to offer. Even if you can only get to a few key destinations with a one month visa, try to spend a little bit longer in them so you can soak up the culture, actually chat to locals and perhaps rent a bike to cycle your way into their pace of life.
Saving face is important
This is probably true of most cultures, but is especially true for Cambodians. Even when you are just bartering, try not to presume the worst and don’t insult what they’re selling. (Even if it is rubbish!) If you don’t like the deal they are driving just be kind with your words and bow out gracefully.
Safer during the day
After 3 years of living in Cambodia, many of which by myself, I do believe Cambodia to be a safe place for travellers.. Almost every bad story that I encountered or heard of involving travellers getting into bother were late at night and almost always involved being drunk. If you make the most of the day time, you are sensible, stick with a friend where you can and minimise walking around later at night, I think and hope you will find Cambodia to be a particularly safe place.
Another way to put it, is don’t be the 19 year old girl who I heard screaming at 1 o’clock in the morning on the back of a speeding motorbike. Myself and a few others jumped out of bed and ran to see if we could do anything. This poor girl, who I know won’t make the same mistake twice, had drank far too much and jumped on the back of a motorbike with a local she had never met to try to get back to her hostel. He was speeding out of the town , but because she screamed and thrashed around he had no choice but to slow down, grab all her valuables and kick her off the bike. As we ran to meet her, understandable she was in a state. We are all so grateful she managed to escape, but as she said herself, it could have all been avoided!
Barter hard then give a back
In the next breath, I hasten to add, the latter point does not mean you have to be a pushover and pay western prices for items with an eastern life expectancy. There are no consumer rights in Cambodia, so you should often be paying between a 10th and 5th of what you would pay in the west. I will write a blog dedicated to what things should cost soon.
So, barter as far down as you can, it is part of the culture and then, make their day by putting an extra dollar or two back on what you give them! This way you learn their bottom prices and still make their day!
Try not to point
It is seen as rude. They tend to have a strange gesture where you flap a flat hand back and fourth to communicate directions and instructions. Don’t worry about this too much, as they know you’re not local, it’s just worth at least trying to avoid pointing and understand why they tend to flap their hands.
When they say Happy, they mean HAPPY
Be warned, they are not joking about the Happy Pizza available all over the main towns. I had heard rumours that they contained weed instead of herbs, but didn't believe it. They are generally very strict on drugs, so I didn't think there would be anything other than oregano on the pizza. I was wrong.
Oh, and they do water the beer down!! It’s pretty awesome that you can get light refreshing beer for 50 cents, but just know it can watered down. If your stomach is pretty Asia-proof, than perhaps give it a go, if you know you left your stomach in the west, then maybe play it safe and go bottled.
Wet Season means WET season
Being from England, I thought I was quite familiar with a bit of rain. When it rains in Cambodia, it pours!! Stay safe, the streets can get pretty flooded and sometimes Cambodia even get monsoons, so try to be close to shelter if you know a storm is brewing. The locals are great at predicting the weather, so if you're not sure, just ask them.
Be respectful at the temples
I know they charge a bomb to visit and many Cambodian’s appear to not care less about the temples being sacred, but some really do. For some Cambodian’s Angkor Wat, along with various other temples are places of prayer and worship. So please do dress modestly. Did you read about the girls who got fined and banned from Cambodia for 4 years for taking nude shots and riding around naked??? Might make you giggle at first, but not such a clever idea when you understand that these temples are still sacred to the locals.
Even if everyone else seems to be shouting, dropping litter and leaving their decency at home, please be the respectful one and be mindful of where you are.
Hands together and bow
They are a deeply reserved and respectful culture on the whole. They often greet and show respect by carefully placing their hands together, so close to their face that their fingertips touch their forehead and bow.
PDA’s (public displays of affection) are a huge no no! Even if you feel you have got to know someone, if you risk pulling them in for a hug, you will noticed they feel a bit awkward. Cambodian’s rarely hug in public and you will almost never see a local man hug a local women in public. … SO get practicing your bow!
Things you must know before visiting Cambodia
Things you must know before visiting Cambodia
Staying Safe: Although politics are often up and down, the country is reasonably stable at present. The UK Government Site updates frequently. Though theft is quite high, violent crime is rare. The best advice is to make the most of the day time, be sensible, stick with a friend where you can and minimise walking around later at night. Knowledge is power, make sure you’ve read our blog on keeping safe on the road. Also, don’t forget to check out The World Health Site for the latest on health information and risks.
Staying Connected: Call, 3G and 4G are all widely available and generally offer good coverage in most of the places you are likely to visit. Cellcard, Metfone, Smart and Beeline are the main providers to look out for. You can buy tourist SIMS as soon as you arrive in airports and in pretty much every corner shop. The SIM itself should only be a couple of dollars and then prepaid credit ranges from 1 USD to 20 USD. Wifi is great in the tourist spot and nonexistent anywhere else.
Staying Charged: 230 vault, 50 Hz type A / C and some hotels have G sockets. Use the dual flat pin plugs and the dual round pin plugs. Power cuts are becoming less frequent in the main towns, but do still happen.
Staying Clean: You do still need to carry toilet paper with you, especially if you go rural. Laundry is a widespread service and generally very cheap at 1 USD per Kg. Even the cheapest most basic accommodation is improving, but they still have a lot of squatty toilets, cold showers and very simple rooms that won’t feel clean to some. You don’t however have to pay a lot to get some great accommodation.
Staying Healthy: Local tap water is not potable, but bottled is widespread and cheap. If your stomach is reasonably Asia proof you can eat pretty much anything, just apply common sense. Food is generally healthy and fruit is widely available. Check out the Fit for Travel Cambodia for more info and disease and vaccinations.
Staying Classy: It is ok to wear shorts and vest tops in the bigger towns, hiking in the countryside and of course the beach areas. They are however a modest culture, so you do need to wear long pants and cover your shoulders in the villages and temples.
Looking For a Place to Stay ?
`There are so many stunning, stylish, luxury hostels, guest houses and hotels in Cambodia AND they're surprisingly cheap! The best deals really are online these days, so it is worth getting them booked asap...
Book your stay in Siem Reap HERE (Explore the Angkor Wat Temples)
Book your stay in Phnom Penh Capital City HERE (See the Royal Palace and Killing Fields)
Book your stay in Battambang HERE (French colonial town. Ride the bamboo train!)
Book your stay in Sihanoukville HERE (Great hub for beaches and Islands)
Book your stay in Kampot HERE (Sleepy riverside town close to the caves)
Book your stay in Kep HERE (Sweet little beach town away from the crowds)
Book your stay in Kratie HERE (Peaceful town close to the Irrawaddy dolphins)
Book your stay near Preah Vihear HERE (Cliff edge temple close to a wildlife sanctuary)
First Time in Cambodia ??
Up-to-date blogs (like this one, ahem!) will be a great source of info for exploring Cambodia. But If it's you're first time visiting, you will probably want to grab a travel guide too. I always think you don't need more than a 'Rough Guide' as it is about making it your own adventure! They have a pretty cheap kindle copy as well as the actual book.
Things you must know before visiting Cambodia