Cambodia

From the magical temples of its crowning glory, Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, to the tragic Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, Cambodia stirs the emotions of all who visit it.  The hundreds of mighty monuments that remain in the vast Khmer temple complex of Angkor are quite simply astounding and will create everlasting memories in any who visit them.  A trip to the Killing Fields will stir a much sadder set of emotions, but is nevertheless an important insight into the utter atrocities that occurred during the terrifying Pol Pot reign and act of remembrance for those who lost their lives.

Though it is the undisputed temple capital of Asia, there’s much more to Cambodia than its former terrors and temples.  The nation’s busy capital, Phnom Penh, prettily perched alongside the banks of the mighty Mekong river, has an impressive wining and dining scene and packs plenty of cultural attractions; from  the magnificent Royal Palace where the Cambodian King still resides, to  the splendid stupas of the Silver Pagoda,  ancient Khmer artifacts at the  National Museum and harrowing accounts of the horrors of recent past at Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.

Travel to the Cambodian countryside and you’ll be rewarded with vistas of resplendent rice paddies, friendly authentic homestays and a wealth of natural beauty.  Large sections of sweeping coastline and offshore tropical islands remain relatively unspoilt, making the beaches here a quieter alternative to that of neighbouring Thailand’s.  The rugged wilderness around the Cardamom Mountains are great for adventure and ecotourism is gaining popularity here thanks to the range of exotic wildlife. The waterways in Cambodia provide a livelihood for fishing communities who live along the banks of the magnificent Mekong river and in floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake.

A valid passport with at least six months validity is required for entry into Cambodia. All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia,Singapore, Philippines, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam need a visa to enter Cambodia. Prior approval is not required for visas to Cambodia (except for citizens from Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan Sri Lanka, Sudan and Nigeria). Foreign tourists are generally admitted into Cambodia for 30 days with a visa on arrival, without prior authorization, and also for 30 days with a visa issued at a Cambodian embassy. The official cost of the visa is 30 USD and it requires one passport photo to be provided along with a completed application form. Please contact your local Cambodian Embassy for the most accurate information.

The national currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel, it is available in 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000 and 100,000 notes. Since the Riel is linked with the exchange rate of the US Dollar, both currencies are accepted; the riel is most commonly used only for small transactions in place of U.S. coins, which are not accepted anywhere. However in the countryside, prices are more commonly quoted in riel, as there are fewer U.S. dollars around.

Riel are mostly given back as change (1 USD = 4000 Riel), even if you pay in dollars. Please be careful at land borders; scammers often operate there and will tell you that only Riel are accepted for payment (not true), forcing you to change your money (at an unfavorable exchange rate). In addition to paying in US Dollars and Riel, at a lot of places you can pay in Thai Baht as well. Other currencies can be changed in money exchange offices or banks.

Please take note that torn or old currency notes – both dollars and riel – may be difficult to use. Cashiers may point to a small tear in the note and refuse to accept it. Therefore, always check your money carefully; torn notes can be changed in exchange offices against a small surcharge.

For daily expenses it is always important to have small money in your wallet; Tuk Tuk-drivers and smaller shops do not usually have much change.

Banks are open from Monday to Saturday from 08.00am to 04.00pm and ATM’s can be found in the biggest cities; you can withdraw US Dollars or Riel. It’s advisable to get some cash out before a trip into the country or a less touristy area as ATM’S are less common there. Cambodian ATMs are generally compatible with Maestro, Cirrus, Plus, and VISA cards. Visa and JCB are the most widely accepted credit cards. MasterCard and American Express cards are slowly becoming more widely accepted. Note that many places, especially budget restaurants and accommodation, do not accept credit cards.

Cambodian laws do allow foreigners to rent and drive a car themselves. However, due to  bad road conditions and often non-existent road signs, we highly advise against it. Also the traffic conditions may vary dramatically from what you are used to.

Hoi An Express employs some of the best Tour Guides in Cambodia and we specialise in arranging tours with a private driver and tour guide.  If you require private transportation only, without a Tour Guide we can also provide this, however please bear in mind that a Cambodian Driver is only a driver, not a guide, and unlikely to speak much English. Similarly, if you wish to hire one of our Tour Guides, but arrange your own transport, this is possible.

If arranging your own transport, for in-town transportation you have the following options;

Metered taxi: These are cheap but rare in Cambodia; in Phnom Penh you can use Global Meter Taxi or Choice Taxi, but will have to call rather than flag one down from the street.

Remork/Tuk tuk: 3-4 seater remork motos/tuk tuks (motorcycle-pulled carts) are the most common way for tourists to get around.  Be sure to negotiate a price before you set off, the first price given is usually inflated; the going rate shouldn’t be more than $1 a kilometer.

Motos (motorcycle taxis) and Cyclos: also options, but bear in mind that the drivers of these usually speak little or no English and may not understand where you want them to go. It’s best to negotiate a price upfront, drivers tend to overcharge; prices range from 1000r to $2 depending on the town and distance.

Bicycle: Some towns are small enough to be toured by bicycle and most hotels and guesthouses have them for rent at reasonable rates.

Cambodian laws do allow foreigners to rent and drive a car themselves. However, due to  bad road conditions and often non-existent road signs, we highly advise against it. Also the traffic conditions may vary dramatically from what you are used to.

Hoi An Express employs some of the best Tour Guides in Cambodia and we specialise in arranging tours with a private driver and tour guide.  If you require private transportation only, without a Tour Guide we can also provide this, however please bear in mind that a Cambodian Driver is only a driver, not a guide, and unlikely to speak much English. Similarly, if you wish to hire one of our Tour Guides, but arrange your own transport, this is possible.

If arranging your own transport, for in-town transportation you have the following options;

Metered taxi: These are cheap but rare in Cambodia; in Phnom Penh you can use Global Meter Taxi or Choice Taxi, but will have to call rather than flag one down from the street.

Remork/Tuk tuk: 3-4 seater remork motos/tuk tuks (motorcycle-pulled carts) are the most common way for tourists to get around.  Be sure to negotiate a price before you set off, the first price given is usually inflated; the going rate shouldn’t be more than $1 a kilometer.

Motos (motorcycle taxis) and Cyclos: also options, but bear in mind that the drivers of these usually speak little or no English and may not understand where you want them to go. It’s best to negotiate a price upfront, drivers tend to overcharge; prices range from 1000r to $2 depending on the town and distance.

Bicycle: Some towns are small enough to be toured by bicycle and most hotels and guesthouses have them for rent at reasonable rates.

Cambodia has a monsoon climate featuring two main weather seasons; dry from November to late April/May and wet from May to late September. The final months leading up to the rain season (March and April) and the early months of the rain season (May and June) are the hottest and most humid and temperatures can reach 40 degrees celsius.  Generally speaking, the monsoon season produces severe rain that lasts for short periods of time. The coolest months tend to be December and January when the average temperature is 24-26 degrees celsius. Cambodia is sunny year-round and we highly recommend bringing sun protection from your home country.  Wearing sun screen and a hat are the best ways to avoid heatstroke and sunburn.

The dates of the festivals and holidays of Cambodia are subject to change every year based on the lunar calendar. The only exception being the Khmer New Year holiday that is based solely on the Solar Calendar

 

Date

Public Holidays & Special Events
January 1st International New Year´s Day:Thousands of Khmers as well as expats and tourists attend the fireworks at the Phnom Penh riverside to welcome in the new year.
January 7th Victory over Genocide Day: celebrates the Vietnamese invasion which ended the Khmer Rouge regime
February 3rd Meak Bochea: Marks the four auspicious occasions, which happened nine months after the Enlightenment of the Lord Buddha
February 22nd Chinese New Year: This is the New Year of both the Chinese and Vietnamese lunar calendar. Not an official holiday, but widely celebrated in Cambodia. Almost all shops are closed.
March 8th International Women’s Day: Celebrated with marches, gatherings and cultural events
 April 14th -16th Khmer New Year: one of the biggest events of the year; celebrated after the end of the harvest; the turn of the year according to the Buddhist lunar calendar. Every home is decorated, shrines are filled with food and traditional games are played. In the streets and in public places, people pour water on each other. Best place to watch or take part is around Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh.
May 1st Labor Day: Celebrates the international labor movement
May 2nd Visak Bochea (Buddha´s Birthday): a temple festival in celebration of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha
May 6th Royal Ploughing Ceremony: the start of the planting season
May 13-15th King Sihamoni’s birthday: evening fireworks on the river front in Phnom Penh
June 1st International Children’s Day: a celebration of children.
June 18th King’s mother’s Birthday: this national holiday was established to celebrate the birthday of Queen Mother Norodom Monineath on June 18, 1936.
September 24th Constitutional day: this national holiday was established to celebrate the signing of the Cambodian constitution by King Sihanouk.
October 11-13th Pchum Ben Festival: this national holiday was established for buddhist to pay their respects to deceased relatives by cooking meals for monks and making offerings to the “ghost” of deceased relatives. It is also known as “Ancestor’s Day”.
October 15th Mourning day of King father Norodom Sihanouk: a day of remembrance for the late king, His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, Preahmahaviraksat.
October 23rd Paris Peace agreements day: a holiday to commemorate the Treaty of Paris on October 23, 1991.
November 9th Independence day: this national holiday was established to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. Fireworks at night on Phnom Penh river front.
November 24th-26th Water festival:  one of the largest and most popular festivals in Cambodia. Three days of celebrations are celebrated all across Cambodia.  The most popular place to be is Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh where up to four million people will converge to watch the boat races, with the river illuminated by fireworks and numerous brightly-lit boats under the full moon
December 10th International Human Right’s Day: this national holiday was established to commemorate the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption and proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Potential dangers in Cambodia can seem quite daunting, however, few travelers actually experience serious sickness; traveler’s diarrhea is the most common ailment. Fortunately, most minor common illnesses can either be prevented with common-sense behavior or be treated easily with a well-stocked traveler’s medical kit. If you are feeling sick whilst in Cambodia, please let us know and we will do all we can to help get you better.

Cambodia is one of the world’s poorest countries and thus lacks reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals and medication, especially in rural areas. Hospitals in rural areas are pretty basic, if you feel unwell, try to see a doctor rather than visit a hospital. It is very important to have proper travel insurance which covers the cost of a medical evacuation (normally to Bangkok or Singapore).

If you need medication on a regular basis, please bring it from home. Pack medications in original, clearly labeled, containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medication, including generic names, is also recommended. Pharmacies in the larger towns are surprisingly well stocked and you don’t need a prescription to get your hands on a lot of medicines. Prices are cheap, but it’s important to check the expiry date, as some medicine may be out of date.

Emergency Phone Numbers

Police Medical Fire
117 119
199
118

Please find advice below on what to do before and during your trip to Laos to prevent and treat sickness. Please bear in mind that this advice is a general guide only and does not replace the advice of a doctor trained in travel medicine

Vaccinations

The only vaccination required by international health regulations is a yellow fever vaccination for people coming from an area where yellow fever can be found. However, it’s advisable to consult a doctor a few weeks before leaving home for up-to-date advice on inoculations. Vaccinations recommended by The World Health Organization (WHO) for a trip to Cambodia are; Typhus, Cholera, Hepatitis A&B, Tetanus, Rabies and Polio

Personal medical kit

Minor sickness and ailments such as; travellers’ diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sunburn, prickly heat and fungal rashes, are more common than major health problems whilst traveling in Cambodia and can often be self-treated by over-the-counter medicine.  Whilst you can buy over-the-counter medicine here (and we can help you with this), we recommend that you bring a personal medical kit with a few items from home.  Recommended items include;

  • Antibacterial cream
  • Antihistamine for allergies
  • Antiseptic for cuts and scrapes,
  • DEET-based insect repellent
  • Diarrhea ‘stopper’, e.g. loperamide
  • Rehydration solution (for diarrhea)
  • First-aid items, such as scissors, plasters (such as Band-Aids), bandages, gauze, safety pins and tweezers
  • Paracetamol
  • Steroid cream for allergic/itchy rashes, e.g. 1% hydrocortisone
  • Sunscreen

Taking precautions to prevent risk of sickness

Minor sickness and ailments such as; travellers’ diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sunburn, prickly heat and fungal rashes, are the most common health-related problems whilst traveling in Cambodia. Some of the most common travel ailments/sicknesses in Cambodia can be prevented through taking precautions;

Travellers’ diarrhea

Often caused by consuming unclean food and water from local eateries, ways to avoid this include:

  • Only eating freshly-cooked food
  • Only eating peeled fruit and cooked vegetables
  • Avoiding shellfish and buffets
  • Choosing to eat in busy restaurants with a high turnover of customers
  • Drink only bottled water, ice added to drinks in resorts and cities is usually safe, avoid it elsewhere.

Sunburn & Heat Exhaustion/Heatstroke

The sun is strong in Cambodia, sunburn can even happen on a cloudy day, take the following precautions;

  • Always wear at least Factor 30 Sunscreen when you are outside
  • Wear a hat
  • Reapply sunscreen after swimming
  • Avoid being in direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm
  • Avoid strenuous activity outside between 10am and 3pm
  • Keep well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water

Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are a common ailment in Cambodia whilst not usually a serious problem, there is a slight risk of contracting Dengue or Malaria.

Dengue: The fatality rate for Dengue is less than 0.3%, symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes and body ache (joints, muscles, bone).  See a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms. The treatment is to rest and take paracetemol, don’t take aspirin, it increases the risk of hemorrhaging.  There is no vaccine available, the mosquito that carries dengue can bite both day and night; therefore constant insect-protection is important.

Malaria: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and most other major urban areas in Cambodia do not have Malaria; visitors on short trips to the most popular places do not need to take medication. The most serious symptom of malaria is fever, other general symptoms include headache, diarrhea, cough or chills.  Diagnosis is made via a blood sample.  There are various anti-malarial medications; seek the advice of your doctor before you travel about whether you need to take one.

Avoidance of mosquito bites is the best strategy for preventing the risk of contracting Dengue or Malaria.  The following precautions should be made;

  • Choose accommodation with air-conditioning, or fans and mosquito nets/window screens
  • Sleep under a mosquito net
  • Impregnate clothing with permethrin (insect repellent) in high-risk areas
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET on all exposed areas of skin. Citronella can be effective but must be applied more frequently
  • Wear long sleeves and trousers/pants
  • Use mosquito coils
  • Spray your room with insect repellent before going out at night

Treatment of common health problems

Travellers’ diarrhea: The most common problem amongst visitors, this can simply be caused by the change of diet and will settle down after a few days; drink plenty of water, avoid dairy and taking rehydration solutions is recommended. Gut-paralysing drugs such as Lomotil, Imodium or Loperamide are just temporary stoppers and don’t deal with the cause of the problem, but do give some relief for long journeys.  80% of travellers’ diarrhea is a result of bacteria and is best treated by antibiotics which can easily be obtained via a visit to the doctor.

Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include; feeling weak, headache, irritability, nausea, sweaty skin, fast weak pulse.  Rest and cool down in a room with air-conditioning and rehydrate with water and rehydration solution or by adding a teaspoon of salt per liter of water.

Heatstroke: More serious than heat exhaustion, symptoms appear suddenly and include; nausea, weakness, confusion, temperature of over 41degrees and even collapse and loss of consciousness.  Rest in an air-conditioned room and seek medical help.

Cambodia is generally a safe destination, but the usual common sense safety and security precautions apply, particularly in the biggest cities at night (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville), where it’s important to never leave your belongings unattended. In Phnom Penh, bag, phone and wallet-snatching, especially from motorcycles, is becoming more common.  Be discreet with your possessions, especially electronics, and as always, take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. It’s advisable to keep cash and cards in a money belt or concealed close to your body when in public places; pockets and handbags run the risk of being pick-pocketed or snatched. We also recommend that you wear minimal jewelry in the major cities.

To ensure your safety we recommend you use tuk tuks or taxis to get around at night, rather than walking, and with the aid of a hotel address card to show drivers.

During your time in Cambodia, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers. These copies should be kept in a safe place and separate from the originals. You should keep valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible.

The national language of Cambodia is Khmer. English is widespread. Especially in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

Cambodian language basics:

Hello  jumreap sooa

My name is…  k’nyom tch muoh…

What is your name?  lok tch muoh ey?

Yes  baat

No  dteh

Please  sohm mehta

Thank you  orgoon

Excuse me  sohm dtoh

Goodbye  leah suhn heuy

Where is…?  noev eah nah…?

toilet  bawngkohn

hotel  sohnthakia

How much is…?  t’lay pohnmaan…?

expensive  t’lay

drinking water  dteuk soht

Internet access:

The internet coverage in Cambodia is very good. Each hotel has Wi-Fi and most of the time also a business center with computers. Most of the restaurants, bars and cafes offer Wi-Fi free of charge too. Ask the staff for the username and password. Internet cafes can be found in all the biggest cities and are cheap (US$0.50-US$1/hour).

Mobile Phones:

Cambodia uses the GSM mobile system; Mobitel is the largest operator, although competition is stiff. Pre-paid SIM cards are widely available (USD1 and up), but require a passport to buy. Smart offers good coverage and cheap prices, especially for mobile Internet. Tourists can add 3G/4G mobile internet to their SIM for as little as $3/month (0.8GB max, LT3 package).

Tipping for good service is not expected but always appreciated in Cambodia. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles.

Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings between Cambodians are dependent on the relationship/hierarchy/age between the people
  • The traditional greeting is a bow combined with a bringing together of the hands at chest level (similar to bringing hands together for prayer)
  • With foreigners Cambodians have adopted the western practice of shaking hands
  • .The simple rule is to respond with the greeting you are given

Communication:

  • Smiling in Cambodia is situational and can have many meanings; it may mean a person does not understand what has been said, they are nervous or even irritated
  • Showing emotions is considered a negative behavior. Anger, impatience or frustration should be hidden as it would lead to a loss of face
  • It is a good idea not to speak with bravado, which may be interpreted as boasting
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact; in Cambodia culture, indirect eye contact is a form of respect and direct eye contact is usually only made with social equal

Don’ts:

  • A big no-no in Cambodia and in most of Southeast Asia is to touch anyone on top of the head, except maybe for very young children.
  • It is not considered polite to point your feet at anyone and especially not at a Buddha statue or a monk.
  • If entering a temple, ensure that you sit cross-legged to avoid offence.
  • In temples men should wear long pants, so no hairy legs poking out, and women should avoid any clothing that exposes the shoulders.
  • Avoid handing anything to anybody with your left hand.
  • To pass things politely, touch your left hand to your right elbow and pass the object with your right hand.
  • It is polite to remove your shoes before entering someone’s house and obligatory in a temple.
  • Cambodians of different gender do not kiss or hug in public. Public displays of affection are not culturally appropriate in Cambodia and will probably be considered offensive.
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