10 Cambodia travel tips you need to know before you go

10 Cambodia tips you need to know before you go

Are you considering a trip to the captivating country of Cambodia? Look no further! Cambodia boasts a rich history, stunning landscapes, warm-hearted locals, and a delectable cuisine. It’s a destination brimming with opportunities for discovery and memorable experiences. To ensure you maximize your journey, I’ve compiled 10 essential Cambodia tips to assist you in planning an extraordinary vacation.

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About Cambodia…

Cambodia is situated in the heart of Southeast Asia. This diverse country captivates with its ancient history and breathtaking natural beauty, making it an irresistible destination for anyone seeking a unique travel experience.

Internationally renowned, Cambodia is famous for iconic landmarks such as the majestic temples of Angkor Wat, which bear witness to a rich and intriguing history.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

But Cambodia has more to offer than just historical treasures and impressive temple complexes. The country invites you to experience its deep-rooted culture, ranging from warm local hospitality to delightful Khmer cuisine and traditional music.

While Cambodia is often considered a favorite destination for backpackers and a frequently visited stop during a Southeast Asia trip, this destination has its own allure. With the growth of tourism and the development of luxury facilities, boutique hotels, and trendy hotspots, Cambodia is emerging as a versatile country appealing to every type of traveler.

Cambodia’s unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and authentic experiences make it a must-visit holiday destination. Whether you’re seeking culture, nature, adventure, or a mix of all three, Cambodia is undoubtedly the place to be.

Given that Cambodia has so much to offer, my key tip is to prepare for your trip well. That doesn’t mean planning every detail, but focusing on the essentials. Here are 10 helpful Cambodia tips for a successful vacation.

10 Cambodia tips you need to know before you go

1. How to travel to Cambodia

A commonly used way to travel from Belgium to Cambodia is by plane. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights available from Brussels to Cambodia, so you will always have multiple layovers, depending on the airline. The final layover is typically in Bangkok. Be prepared for a long travel time and factor this in when planning your Cambodia itinerary.

We chose to book flights from Brussels to Bangkok separately from our flight to Cambodia, as it proved to be more cost-effective. This way, we could make our layover in Bangkok as short or as long as we wanted, allowing us an extra day to explore the most iconic sights in Bangkok.

In Cambodia, there are two international airports, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Since we arranged our flights from Bangkok ourselves, we chose to fly to Siem Reap on the outbound journey and to Phnom Penh on the return journey. This significantly reduced travel time overland during our Cambodia trip.

An alternative option is to fly to Bangkok and then take a bus to Cambodia (Phnom Penh or Siem Reap). While bus tickets are considerably cheaper than plane tickets, keep in mind that the bus travel time is approximately 12 hours.

2. Passport, visa, and vaccinations

In addition to an airline ticket, several travel documents are, of course, required to travel from Belgium to Cambodia.

  • Make sure you have a valid international passport with a validity period of at least six months beyond your intended departure date.
  • For a visit to Cambodia, a visa is required, which you can online apply for in advance.
  • Regarding health precautions, it is highly recommended to keep basic vaccinations such as DTP and hepatitis A and B up to date. Depending on the regions you plan to visit, malaria prevention may also be necessary. Consult your general practitioner or a specialized travel clinic for advice on suitable medications and vaccinations.

3. How to get around in Cambodia?

My favorite way to travel is by car, but I do not recommend renting a car in Cambodia. The traffic is chaotic, and the roads are not consistently well-maintained.

But no worries, the bus transportation in Cambodia is well-organized. Various bus companies provide transportation at regular times. Personally, I used 12togo to search and book transport. The website provides an overview of all possible ways to travel from one destination to another. This way we could always book our trip, choose our seats, and pay online a few days in advance. This process was always smooth and saved us a lot of time since we didn’t have to figure this information out on-site.

12togo doesn’t just offer bus options; you can also book ferry tickets to islands, for example. In short, you’ll find all possible ways to travel to different places.

For short journeys within a city, we relied on Grab, the Asian counterpart of Uber. The Grab app is easy to install on your smartphone and link to your credit card. With this app we could indicate our pick-up and drop-off locations, choose the type of transportation, and see the price immediately. Best of all, this way we never had to negotiate about the price with taxi or tuk-tuk drivers.

Tuk tuk in Phnom Penh
Traffic in Phnom Penh

4. The best time to travel to Cambodia

The best time to travel to Cambodia largely depends on the specific experience you are seeking, as the country experiences different climatic seasons throughout the year.

Generally, the period from November to February is considered the most favorable time to visit Cambodia. During these months, the weather is relatively cool and pleasant, with temperatures ranging between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. This is the dry season, making attractions easily accessible and reducing the likelihood of rain.

Monkeys outside Bayon Temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Spring, from March to May, is characterized by rising temperatures, with peaks reaching around 35 degrees Celsius. This is the hot season, and it can feel quite humid. However, during this period, many of the beautiful flowers in Angkor Wat bloom, creating a colorful and photogenic landscape.

The rainy season in Cambodia runs from June to October, with peak rains between July and September. While the rain showers can be intense at times, the rainy season also brings a lush green landscape and is ideal for nature enthusiasts. However, be aware that some roads may be challenging to navigate, and access to some remote attractions may be limited.

In short, the best time to travel depends on your personal preferences and what you want to experience. If you want to see the highlights and enjoy pleasant weather, the months from November to February are ideal, while the rainy season offers unique natural landscapes for adventurous travelers.

5. Book an accommodation in Cambodia

Whether you enjoy luxury resorts, prefer an intimate boutique hotel, or lean towards the cozy atmosphere of a guesthouse, in Cambodia you’ll discover a diverse range of accommodations that will certainly meet your needs.

In vibrant cities like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, you’ll find a varied selection of accommodations spanning different price ranges.

Pehn House Hotel Phnom Penh
Pehn House Hotel Phnom Penh
Kampot Riverfront boutique hotel
Kampot Riverfront boutique hotel

For a relaxed atmosphere, there are unique resorts in areas such as Koh Rong known for its beautiful beaches, and Kampot surrounded by the lush Cambodian countryside.

Additionally, throughout the country, you’ll find authentic guesthouses and homestays with friendly local hosts immersing you in Cambodian culture.

Are you planning to embark on a round trip across Cambodia and stay in various locations? Then, I have a tip. When searching for accommodations during a round trip, I typically use Booking.com, which offers several advantages. On the one hand, the website provides a convenient map widget allowing you to view all accommodations and their locations, enabling you to search more specifically for a stay in the right place. On the other hand, you can also set the ‘free cancellation’ filter to display all accommodations where you can cancel free of charge up to a certain period before your stay. Usually, I opt for accommodations that allow me to cancel the reservation until the day before arrival, providing the flexibility to make adjustments to my itinerary if needed.

Below, you can take a look at the various accommodations in your dream locations in Cambodia.

6. Paying and tipping in Cambodia

Paying in Cambodia generally goes smoothly, but it’s useful to be aware of some local practices. The Cambodian Riel (KHR) is the official currency, but US dollars are also widely accepted.

In larger cities and tourist locations, credit card payments are becoming more common, but it’s advisable to have cash on hand for places that only accept cash or for tipping. It’s recommended to carry both dollars and Riel.

ATMs are widespread in cities, providing a convenient way to withdraw local currency. Keep in mind that there are associated fees when exchanging money or withdrawing cash.

Here is one exception to the rule: on Koh Rong Samloem Island, there are no ATMs, so it’s best to bring sufficient cash as many places do not accept cards there.

Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia

Regarding tipping, it is not always customary to leave a tip in restaurants, but it is highly appreciated. Around 5-10% of the bill is a common guideline.

For service providers such as guides, drivers, and hotel staff, tipping is also appreciated. It’s always good to have small change on hand for situations where tipping is appropriate. The key is to be respectful and tip according to your personal satisfaction with the received service.

7. WiFi or 4G in Cambodia

In Cambodia it’s generally easy gaining access to Wi-Fi and 4G networks, especially in urban areas and popular tourist destinations. Hotels, restaurants, cafes, and shopping malls often provide free Wi-Fi, allowing you to stay connected to the internet.

Of course, it’s convenient to have constant internet access for using navigation systems or useful apps like GRAB. Fortunately, local SIM cards are readily available. Various telecommunication providers offer 4G services, providing fast and reliable mobile internet.

However, it is advisable to check the validity of the data plan and network coverage, especially if you plan to visit remote areas. For example, there is limited 4G coverage on Koh Rong Samloem Island. If you only plan on only traveling there, purchasing a SIM card may be unnecessary.

Koh Rong Samloem

But overall, Cambodia provides good opportunities for travelers to stay connected and easily access Wi-Fi and 4G networks.

Also, please note that in Cambodia, type A, C, and G sockets and plugs are used. Therefore, if you are bringing chargers and electrical devices, it’s advisable to also pack one or more universal travel adapters.

8. Dealing with local culture

To successfully navigate the local culture in Cambodia, it’s important to understand some basic customs and practices. Cambodians are generally very friendly and polite, and demonstrating respect is highly appreciated.

Artisans d'Angkor Siem Reap, Cambodia
Artisans d'Angkor Siem Reap, Cambodia

Greetings or expressions of gratitude are often accompanied by a clasped hand position, known as “sampeah,” along with a slight bow, signifying respect.

Public displays of affection are not considered appropriate, so it is essential to keep it down when showing affection in public.

The head is regarded as the most spiritual part of the body, while the feet are considered the lowest. It is respectful never to point your feet towards people or religious images.

Wat Bo, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Wat Bo, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Wat Bo, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Wat Bo, Siem Reap, Cambodia

When entering a temple, it’s customary to remove your shoes and cover your shoulders and knees. Visitors are also expected to adopt a calm and respectful posture.

The exchange of gifts is considered a friendly gesture, and opening the gift is usually not done immediately to show modesty. It is always polite to give or receive gifts with both hands.

By observing these simple cultural aspects, you can gain a deeper appreciation for Cambodia’s rich and hospitable culture. Respect, kindness, and modesty play a crucial role in interacting with the local population.

9. Food you need to try in Cambodia

A journey to Cambodia not only provides a rich cultural experience but also a flavorful exploration of unique culinary specialties.

What truly stood out to me about Cambodian cuisine is that it is much less spicy than that of neighboring countries. While they do use spices, it seems like they take it a bit easier on the spicy ones, making the food super accessible to everyone.

A must-try dish is Amok, a delightful stew of fish, meat, or vegetables, prepared with coconut milk and an aromatic blend of spices.

Amok, traditional dish Cambodia

Local favorites like Lok Lak, marinated and fried meat served with a dipping sauce, and Nom Banh Chok, rice noodles with a spicy fish sauce and fresh vegetables, are also a must-try.

beef lok lok, Amok, traditional dish Cambodia

For adventurous food enthusiasts, Cambodia offers Fried Tarantulas, a local delicacy often served as a street snack. Tasting the sweet and savory “Kampot Pepper Crab” in the Kampot region is also a culinary experience not to be missed.

Kampot pepper crab

As a refreshing beverage, Sugar Cane Juice is popular, while tasting local ice wine provides insight into traditional Cambodian drink culture. Also, a refreshing Angkor beer can be a delight after a long day of exploration.

Local markets, street stalls, and authentic restaurants are ideal places to discover these delights and treat your taste buds to the diverse and unique flavors of Cambodian cuisine.

Food market Cambodia

10. Discover traces of the past of Cambodia

Cambodia has a rich and intricate history that dates back to the Khmer Empire, reaching its zenith between the 9th and 15th centuries. With Angkor as its center, this empire was renowned for its impressive architecture, including the iconic temple complex Angkor Wat. The Khmer civilization also contributed to art, literature, and advanced irrigation systems.

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Nokor Thum, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Nokor Thum, Siem Reap, Cambodia

However, in the 20th century, Cambodia experienced tumultuous events. The country underwent significant changes during the French colonial period and was later heavily influenced by the Vietnam War and the rise of the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot in 1975. The Khmer Rouge regime led to one of the most tragic periods in Cambodia’s history, during which millions of people were oppressed, tortured, and killed.

Today, you can still experience Cambodia’s history by visiting historical sites such as the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. These places provide insight into the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime and commemorate the victims. Angkor Wat and other temples of the ancient Khmer Empire, on the other hand, bear witness to the glory of the past.

Choeung Ek, Killing Field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Choeung Ek, Killing Field, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tuol Sleng-museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Tuol Sleng-museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In addition to historical sites, travelers can experience Cambodian history in the local culture, art, and cuisine. It’s fascinating to witness how the country has recovered and developed, with the past playing a significant role in shaping Cambodia’s contemporary identity. By exploring this history, you can gain a deeper understanding of the resilience and perseverance of the Cambodian people.

Undoubtedly, the resounding answer to the question of whether a journey to Cambodia is worthwhile is a heartfelt “yes.” This captivating destination offers something for every traveler, but meticulous preparation is crucial. I trust that my Cambodia tips will serve as a valuable guide, enabling you to make the most of your unforgettable vacation in Cambodia.

Is a vacation in Cambodia on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. 

Yours truly,  

Sarah 

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10 useful tips for Cambodia
10 useful tips for Cambodia

Travel tips and essentials

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