Cambodia lies in the heart of South-East Asia bordering Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north and Thailand in the west. Despite being much smaller than its neighbors Cambodia’s unique Indian-influenced Khmer culture has remained very much intact. The once mighty Khmer Empire flourished during the Angkorian period between the 9th and 14th centuries when it was the cultural centre of the region and exerted its influence over Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. For many of today’s travellers the incredible architectural legacy left from this period of history, the temples of Angkor are without doubt the main reason for visiting Cambodia. The base for exploring the temples of Angkor is the provincial capital, Siem Reap.
The modern day capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh, once considered one of the most beautiful cities of the Orient; it still retains much of its original charm with the exotic roof lines of Khmer temples contrasting with some classic European architecture from the French colonial years. Sihanoukville, also known as Kompong Som, is a beach resort on the Gulf of Thailand that is now beginning to attract visitors in increasing numbers.
Population: 14.7 million
Capital City: Phnom Penh (Pop: 2 million)
People: Khmers (90%)
Currency: Riel and US dollars
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International Dialing Code: +855
HistoryPeople have been living within the area covered by the present-day country of Cambodia at least since the 5th millennium BC. The ancient Kingdom of Funan occupied a wider area, and it was during that period that the culture became heavily influenced by Hinduism. The state of Chenla then arose. The Khmer Empire had its golden age in the 9th to the 13th centuries, when huge temple complexes were built, most notably Angkor
Spanish and Portuguese missionaries visited from the 16th century, and Cambodia became a protectorate of France in the 19th century, being ruled as part of French Indochina. Cambodia became an independent kingdom in 1953 under Norodom Sihanouk. The Vietnam War extended into Cambodia, giving rise to the Khmer Rouge, which took Phnom Penh in 1975 and carried out a campaign of mass killing. With the help of Vietnamese army, the Khmer Rouge was deposed and the People’s Republic of Cambodia was established. After years of isolation, the war-ravaged nation was reunited under the monarchy in 1993 and has seen rapid economic progress while rebuilding from decades of civil war.
WeatherCambodia has two distinct seasons -- the wet and the dry. Cambodia's wet season comes courtesy of the southwest monsoon, which blows from May to October, bringing with it some three-quarters of Cambodia's annual rainfall. Not surprisingly, wet season is characterized by rain, and during the peak of wet season from July to September it can rain every day. Rainy days however tend to have a few hours of heavy rain rather than being all-day downpours, though the latter do sometimes occur -- you will get wet travelling in a Cambodian wet season.
Aside from getting drenched, the main disadvantage of travelling in wet season in Cambodia relates to flooding and degraded road conditions. The bulk of roads in Cambodia are dirt and in wet season they turn to heavily rutted and pot-holed mud pits. Travelling in rural areas, particularly the north and northeast of the country, can be slowed considerably. You will still be able to go just about anywhere, it will just take longer.
Passport & VisaEach passenger must be in possession of a valid passport which must be valid for more than 6 months after the return date of travel. Passport number, date and place of issue, and birth date is now required by airlines and trains, and may be required to confirm services. Names on your airline tickets must match the first and last name listed on your passport.
A visa is required for most nationalities and is available upon arrival at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports, and at the border crossing from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh. A tourist visa costs US$20 and is valid for 30 days. One passport-sized photograph is also required.
CurrencyThe official currency is Riel. However, US dollars are also widely accepted and sometimes preferred.
Riel notes(there are no riel coins, nor is US coinage used in Cambodia) are available in denominations of 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000. New notes were introduced in 2002, and now circulate alongside older notes and can be used interchangeably; you may also be passed an old 200 riel note, which is valid although no new notes of this denomination are being issued. The exchange rate is stable at around 4000 riel to the dollar; the best rates can be had in Phnom Penh, usually around Psar Thmei.
You can pay for most things solely in dollars, or solely in riel, or with a mixture of the two currencies; the larger the amount the more likely it is that the price will be quoted in dollars – note that the exchange rate when paying for dollar services in riel is inferior to the rate at the money changer by a few percent.
Phones & Internet ServiceTelephone: Prepaid telephone cards are available in post offices, hotels and shops for public phones around Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Mobile Telephone: Roaming agreements exist with many international mobile phone companies. Coverage is good in major towns and cities and patchy elsewhere.
Internet: Available in some areas. Internet cafes are available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and other major towns.
TransportationLocal buses and minibuses
In recent years, as Cambodia's road network has improved, so has the bus system. There are now a number of private bus companies running out of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap serving destinations across the country. The hubs are Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
The main operators are Capitol Tours, GST Express, Mailinh, Mekong Express and Phnom Penh Sorya.
Key domestic routes include: Phnom Penh - Siem Reap - Phnom Penh Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Phnom Penh Siem Reap - Battambang - Siem Reap Sihanoukville - Kampot - Sihanoukville Phnom Penh - Ho Chi Minh City - Phnom Penh Phnom Penh - Bangkok - Phnom Penh
Share taxis for long distance travel are a very popular way to get around and, if you've got a small group of three or four, this is a very cost-effective and fast way to move. Generally a taxi charter is priced at six passengers, so you have to pay six passengers' worth to get the car for yourself. Hiring a car without a driver is far less common.
Cambodia is awash in motodops -- guys with a motorcycle and a baseball cap -- who'll take you anywhere on their bike for a few dollars. This is a great way to do half-day tours, such as exploring Battambang, but longer distance riding, such as Phnom P -- for example exploring Battambang, but longer distance riding, such as Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, isn't the norm. Larger enduro-style dirt bikes can be hired long term from a number of dirt bike hire shops in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Prices are reasonable, but be sure to carefully check the bike, and whatever you do, do not use the chain and padlock provided by the shop to lock up the bike at night -- use your own.
Only two regular ferry runs still operate in Cambodia -- Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and Siem Reap to Battambang. Boats no longer run north up the Mekong to Kompong Cham and we've heard the Ko Kong to Sihanoukville boat now only goes as far as Ko Sdech, making it close to useless for travellers (other than those heading to Ko Sdech).
The Phnom Penh to Siem Reap boat is worth doing once and once only. It is expensive (when compared to the bus), the middle of the trip is boring (you're in the middle of a lake with no scenery) and, if you sit on the roof, chances are you'll get sunburnt. Do it once then catch the bus back.
Art and Culture from Cambodia
Several generations share the same roof, the same rice and the same religion as life in Cambodia is mainly centered on family, food and faith. Belonging to a family is more than we know in the western world; everyone from 3rd cousins to obscure aunts, as long as there is a bloodline there is a bond.
In Cambodia the people are very friendly and welcoming. Religion is another very important column in the life of the Cambodians. Almost every house would have its own little shrine and everyone is very spiritual and praying not only at the shrines but also the temples and pagodas. Therefore, the monks collecting donations in the street from the people – bowing in order to show their respect to the monks – is a very common picture all over the country.
Religion and Beliefs
To understand Cambodia one has to understand its religion. Ninety five percent of the very religious and traditional population belongs to the Buddhism, affecting everyday life. Buddhist monks belong to the landscape in the big cities like Phnom Penh as much as they do to the countryside where they often fulfill the extra duty of being teacher and doctor besides being the spiritual guide.
In the mornings it is a common procedure that the monks will go from house to house to collect offers for the temples in order for the population to find spiritual healing. The two main religious streams of Buddhism (Theravada & Mahayana) are both established in Cambodia where as the more popular Theravada-Buddhism is mainly spread among the Khmer. Former practiced forms like natural religions and Brahmanism are still an important element of today’s beliefs of the Khmer. Deeply rooted ancestor worship and the belief in spirits are relics from the turn of the millennium more than a thousand years ago. Also the Devaraya cult, belief in the god king, gives the king of Cambodia even today especially spiritual power and status.
Food and DrinkKhmer cuisine is very similar to Thai, but with fewer spices involved and a preponderance for coconut milk. Food stalls are also common in all towns and cities, and are a great place to sample Cambodian food.
- Prahok (fermented fish paste) is used to flavor most dishes.
- Succulent fruits include banana, coconut, the durian fruit (known for its distinctive odour), jackfruit, longan fruit, lychee, pineapple and rambutan fruit (which has translucent white flesh).
- Crispy fried spiders are a snack for the adventurous in Northern Cambodia.
- Amok trey (fish in a thick coconut curry sauce, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed).
- Rice noodles proliferate and can be bought covered in curry sauce from street vendors.
Public HolidayThe Kingdom of Cambodia has a great wealth of traditional and cultural festivals dated according to the Cambodian lunar calendar. All of these festivals are influenced by the concepts of Buddhism, Hinduism, and royal cultures. Most of these are great rejoicings of the urban and rural populace, held annually as follows. The most important holiday is Cambodia New Year 14th-16th Apr. The Khmer New Year Festival or Chaul Chnam Thmei (Midmonth): The New Year's Festival spans three days following the end of the harvest season.
Pre-departure check list
- Itinerary & tickets
- Copy of your passport
- 2 methods of accessing your money, ie, ATM & credit card
- Bank account details & phone number
- Insurance company number
- Light clothing (summer months and the South )
- Warm clothing (Mountainous regions and the North in winter)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Sunglasses, swimmers, sunscreen
- Insect repellent
- Personal Medical Kit
- Adaptor – 220V, 50Hz; 2 pin plugs
- Camera with charger/battery
- Camera memory card
- Small daypack