Language: The official language is Khmer.
Currency: Cambodian Riel
Time Zone: Cambodia Time = GMT+7
Tipping: Tipping is up to the individual.
Cambodia - an introduction
With its well-tended rice fields and colonial architecture (the country was a French colony until 1953), Cambodia's exterior certainly looks the part. But beneath its well-manicured appearance and magnificent Angkor temple legacy lies a country that is still picking up the final pieces from its rule under the horrific Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia escorted tours will weave on and off the beaten track picking out key sights and hidden gems and incorporating travel by a range of methods to allow a real feel for the country. The elegant, riverside town of Battambang - home to Cambodia's best preserved French colonial buildings - is on most itineraries, as is bustling capital Phnom Penh. The city was known pre 1970 as the 'Paris of the East' and is situated on the River Mekong with its magnificent Royal Palace, waterfront and tardis of a Russian Market. Its busy streets are awash with food stalls featuring all kinds of bizarre fare – on a stroll by the river, keep your eyes peeled for stalls selling fried ants, cockroaches and tarantula.
As the gateway to the mighty Angkor complex it goes without saying that Siem Reap is a guaranteed inclusion on any touring holiday to Cambodia. The town itself has a wonderful charm about it with its Psar Chaa (Old Market), corner cafes and aptly named Pub Street brimming with bars, and is an ideal place to sample Khmer cuisine, enjoy a display of traditional Khmer dancing or unwind after a day at the temples.
More than 1000 temples make up the Angkor complex, but the real cherry on the Khmer Empire's cake is Angkor Wat, the logistically mind-boggling Eighth Wonder of the World. The temple is part of an entire temple complex stretching over 1000km2 built from the 9th to the 15th century by the Khmer Kings. For that reason it will take a good couple of days to see the main temples here properly (you could easily spend a day at Angkor Wat alone), and each one has its own character. Angkor Thom with its instantly recognisable Bayon faces, Preah Khan and Ta Phrom entangled with riotous tree roots are all temples that stand out, but there are hundreds more, all as thought-provoking as before.
In addition to the Angkor temples, excursions to key Cambodian sights are included both on and off the beaten track. Floating villages and hilltop temples also feature as excursions away from the main sights. Tours will also include a tour guide and local guides, return flights from the UK as well as internal transport, hotel accommodation, porterage and some meals to allow visitors to sample some local cuisine. Most escorted tours to Cambodia will also encompass neighbouring countries like Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
Things to do
Cambodia, famous for its floating villages and markets, is a fascinating country to visit. Don't miss the following places:
The Angkor Complex is a fascinating area which hosts the wonderful Angkor Wat, along with lots of other temples and monuments, and the charming town of Siem Reap is its gateway. Visit the temples, sail along the nearby Sangker River and into the Tonle Sap Lake, where you will be surrounded by riverside wildlife and crop fields, visit the floating village of Chonf Kneas and enjoy some Khmer classical dance displays.
The capital of Cambodia is a delightful, chaotic French-built city. Located on the River Mekong, explore the marvellous Royal Palace and the History Museum. Absorb the culture in this glorious city by visiting the waterfront, the Russian Market, the Wat Phnom and the poignant Toul Sleng Museum detailing the horrific events of the Khmer Rouge rule.
Battambang is lively riverside area where you can take a look at the traditional goods on offer at the market. You can also admire the French colonial buildings and astonishing temples.
Tips & Advice
The beauty of travelling in an escorted tour is that you'll be in the safest hands when it comes to holidaying in foreign lands. However, to help you have an enjoyable holiday in Cambodia, take a look at these useful tips and advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
Health and Travel Insurance
Before travelling to Cambodia it is advisable to check with your GP to see if you need any additional vaccines or preventive medical treatment whilst abroad. The health facilities in Cambodia are poor; private hospitals are often better equipped but are not always of a consistent standard and are often also very expensive.
It may be necessary for you to be evacuated to another country for anything but minor medical emergencies. Ensure you have travel insurance which will cover this, in addition to medical costs and possible repatriation in extreme cases. Most tours offer the chance to purchase one-trip travel insurance at the time of booking.
Should you require the emergency services during your visit you should dial 119 to call for an ambulance.
Cambodia is a poor country so criminals tend to target foreigners. Some criminals may carry weapons, although violent crime is uncommon. The riverfront and BKK areas of Phnom Penh and the beaches and tourist areas of Sihanoukville have more petty crime.
Hand-made material bags make popular buys at the local markets, but if you're going to use them during your holiday try to avoid carrying valuables in them; their fabric means that they are fairly flimsy, making them an ideal snatch target for thieves on motorbikes - especially in Phnom Penh where this can be more common.
Be aware of pickpockets and bag snatchers, in particular on public transport. Straps on bags have been cut from people on moving tuk-tuks. Hotel safes should be utilised for valuables. At night and in isolated areas, you should be more vigilant.
Cambodians are generally welcoming, however if a Cambodian or other foreigner invites you to their home or hotel to meet their family be very cautious. British nationals have been conned into being part of a poker scam and then threatened with a knife to take out money at an ATM.
Go to the tourist police on Street 158, near Wat Koh to report crimes.
Local Laws and Customs
There is a campaign to eliminate travelling sex offenders. Long sentences in Cambodian prisons are expected if convicted, and those people can expect to serve the full amount of time in prison, have their visas cancelled and be deported after release.
Possession, distribution or manufacture of drugs lead to severe penalties, including long prison sentences in poor conditions. A number of deaths in Cambodia have been caused by drugs, alleged to be because of the high purity or adulteration by unknown substances.
Photographs are prohibited from being taken in/near airports or military bases. Before taking photographs of people, in particular monks and other religious figures, always ask permission.
It is polite to wear correct clothing when visiting religious and cultural sites. Remove shoes when going into temples and private accommodation.
At most channels of entry you can obtain a visa, which requires 2 passport photos and payment in only $US. Business visas are US $25 for 1 month and can continuously be renewed. Tourist visas are US $20 for 1 month and can only be renewed for 1 additional month. E-Visas are US $20 and can only be used at main entry points. Go to the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website for more information. Some tour operators offer a visa service but may charge an administration fee. If unsure, check at the time of booking.
Tourist visas supplied by a Royal Cambodian Embassy abroad may look as though you can stay for longer than 1 month, however this refers to the time you have to enter Cambodia. There are 30 days of validity from entry. On arrival, ensure your passport is stamped. You may be fined, detained and reported is you overstay your visa.
Contact The Royal Cambodian Embassy for any enquiries relating to visas or entry requirements.
From entering Cambodia, you passport should have at least 6 months validity. If your passport is damaged or pages are missing you are likely to be refused entry.
For those arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever, a yellow fever vaccination is required.
UK ETDs are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Cambodia. You must get an exit visas if leaving the country with an ETD.
Any other nationality looking to visit Cambodia must contact the local embassy to check visa requirements.
To find out more about visiting Cambodia, check out their official tourism website at tourismcambodia.org
You'll need to cover up when visiting the Temple complexes out of courtesy and respect. The Psar Chaa (Old Market) is full to the brim of what we’ve coined 'temple trousers', a variety of very loose fitting, cool trousers that are perfect for a hot day at the temples. You can usually haggle for a pair which shouldn't set you back any more than $5 USD and they make a great souvenir for when you get home. Shoulders should also be covered to allow access into certain parts of Angkor Wat.
On the temple circuits and in general around Siem Reap, expect to get hassled constantly by children wanting you to buy cold water/pineapples/books/magnets. Stay patient and polite in your refusals, and although it is hard, remember that you can't help everyone.
If you are making your way to Angkor Wat for sunrise, put plenty of insect repellent on. Most people don't realise that the temple is surrounded by a moat, which is buzzing with mosquitoes before light.