Since its dark past Cambodia’s tourism industry has been on the rapid rise, with a steady stream of tourists visiting the country every year. In 2018, 160 thousand British citizens alone visited the Kingdom, helping make up an overall number of 5.2 million visitors!
Early in 2020 I was lucky to pay a visit to this stunning country and see for myself the history and experience the Khmer culture, seeing has happened in the far and not so far past.
Although there is an established tourism industry in Cambodia and foreigners are accepted and welcomed, I personally feel like some areas of it are still developing within the country, but overtime I can see Cambodia being on par with some of its SE Asian neighbours!
In this post I will go into some of the practical details that you may find yourself needing to know if you plan on visiting Cambodia and also some things you should know whilst you are in the Kingdom!
- The official name of the country is the ‘Kingdom of Cambodia’ however it is also known as ‘Kampuchea’
- It is in the GMT+7 time zone. Cambodia does not observe any change to daylight savings time so it stays in that time zone all year-round
- The countries dialling code is +855
- Theravada buddhism is the primary religion of the Kingdom
Getting to the Kingdom
Conveniently located in the middle of the South Eastern Asian region, Cambodia is a very easy country to get to, with a few different options available to get there…
Above: Regardless of how you get into the country, you will be expected to fill one of these out when you arrive, be sure to keep it with your passport throughout your stay in the country or expect to pay a fine when you leave! – © Lewis Pickthall 2020
The capital Phnom Penh is connected to the rest of the world by long haul carriers, such as: Qatar Airways, Emirates and Asiana Airlines. Some flights may make stops prior to landing in Cambodia, for example; the Doha to Ho Chi Minh City flight I took when I visited Vietnam in 2018 actually stopped in Phnom Penh first, on the return to Doha!
Regionally you can fly into the capital from neighbouring countries with the Cambodian national carrier Cambodia Angkor Air, as well as AirAsia and ThaiAirways to name a couple.
Bordering Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, there are multiple overland borders with Cambodia to chose from.
Although there are trains from neighbouring countries that can take you to some of the borders, none of them actually cross in or out of the Cambodia so you will need to make the physical moving across the border by car or on foot.
It is important to know however that some of the borders you will not be able to obtain a visa on arrival if that is your intention and would require a visa in advance!
Although I didn’t have any experience of either, I know that you can also arrive into the country by entering through Sihanouk International Seaport and Phnom Penh International Port.
Whats the visa situation?
Unless you come from a handful of SE Asian nations such as Thailand, Vietnam or the Philippines, you will be required to obtain a visa either online using the Cambodian eVisa site, or on arrival at one of the various points of entry into the country.
If you go through the ‘visa on arrival’ method, then at the border you will need to fill out a form that will be given to you, pay a fee (as a British national it is $30, which needs to be paid strictly in US Dollars) and provide a passport sized photograph. Also remember to keep at least 2 passport pages free, they tend to put the visa on a full page and then entry and exit stamp on a separate page!
Be aware that you cannot obtain a visa on arrival at every border crossing and some you may either not be allowed to cross unless you are a local, or you will be required to either have a physical visa in advance or an eVisa.
Above: This is what $30 (for British nationals!), a passport photo and about 20 minutes of waiting at the consulate gets you! Its nothing high tech, just a sticker that is stuck into your passport that they write and stamp your details onto that! – © Lewis Pickthall 2020
If are planning on crossing at the more popular Thailand/Cambodia Poi Pet crossing, which is the crossing point I took when I visited, then you can save a little bit of time at the hectic border itself and get the visa at the Cambodia Consulate-General which is very close to the crossing point.
Above: this is a map of the Cambodian Consulate-Generals office at the Thai-Cambodian border, where you can obtain a Cambodia visa – © Google Maps 2020
You can find out the address of the Consulate-General as well as its opening times if you click here
For more information on visa fees for your nationality and whether you can get a visa on arrival at your planned crossing or if you need a visa in advance click here
Getting around Cambodia
Above: a map of Cambodia with all the places that I visited in the country, my journey took me from the Thai/Cambodian border in the left of the country, via Siem Reap to the capital Phnom Penh, then to the Laos/Cambodia via Kratie/Kracheh – © Google Maps 2020
One thing that you need to understand if you visit Cambodia is that for a fairly small country, travelling overland takes a long time to get pretty much anywhere!. Although public and private transport is available in the masses, apart from the main highways many of the roads are in poor state and when travelling, it largely involves dodging pot holes and obstacles in the roads!
The Japanese government has donated a fairly large sum of money to the country to assist with the improvement of much of the countries road infrastructure, including the construction of major bridges and relaying of tarmac on the roads. So if you travel now you can expect to see a fair amount of work going on!
Although I didn’t do so in Cambodia, I know it is even possible to fly domestically within the Kingdom! No internal flight will be time consuming however, with Siem Reap to Phnom Penh taking around 30 minutes of flying time according to Angkor Airs own service time!
From my personal experience of overland travel in Cambodia I can tell you that can expect journey times of the following.
- Thai border (Poipet) to Siem Reap: 3 hours
- Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 8 hours with a 30 minute rest stop
- Phnom Penh to Kratie/Kracheh: 5 hours
- Kratie/Kracheh to Laos road border: 4 hours
Its worth mentioning that these drive times were all with early departures but on a slow bus. As with all overland travel in South East Asia, its better to plan in more time to your itinerary than less!
Cambodians speak Khmer (pronounced ‘Keh-mear’) and the Khmer script is used as the main writing system in the country. As someone not local to the region, there is a very strong possibility that you will not understand the Khmer script one bit, only comparing it to ‘squiggles’ on a page!
Above: This is a what the Khmer alphabet actually looks like, as you can see it doesn’t really make much sense to a non-local! – © Seth Halligan/Pinterest 2020
Some simple words that you may need to learn in Khmer to get around and if you were to need any help ..
- Hello – Suostei (pronounced ‘so-snai’)
- Thank you – Saum Arkoun (pronounced ‘sam-ar-koom’
- Yes – Baat (pronounced ‘bat’ if you are male)
- Yes – Chaas (pronounced ‘chah’ if you are female)
- No – Te (pronounced ‘tay’)
- Restroom – Bantob samreak (pronounced Ban-tob-sim-reah’)
- Doctor – Vechchobandet (pronounced vee-cheb-ban-det’)
Luckily in all touristy areas and touristic points of interest you will see most things wrote in English anyway, but it certainly doesn’t do any harm to learn a little bit!
To learn a bit more about the Khmer alphabet from Omniglot, click here
What currency do I need?
Cambodia’s currency situation is somewhat of a unique one when compared to most other countries. Put simply Cambodia has 2 currencies: the adopted and primarily used United States Dollar (USD) as well as the Cambodian Riel.
Although the rate does ‘wobble’ very slightly from time to time, the known and accepted rate between the 2 currencies is fixed at $1=4000Riels nationally.
Above: most people know what the US Dollar looks like, but how many people have seen the Cambodian Riel? What I have left from my trip is 3100Riels or roughly just under a dollar! – © Lewis Pickthall 2020
Typically what happens is cash transactions over $1 are paid with using US Dollars and where the change is under $1, it is given back in Cambodian Riels.
For example; a meal in a restaurant cost me $4, I pay with a $5 bill and the server gives me my change in 4 1000riel notes, just think of each of these 1000Riel notes as a quarter dollar coin.
When in the country you can use a mix of the 2 currencies everywhere you go, however remember when you leave to spend or exchange the Cambodia Riels as they are not worth anything outside of the country and no exchange place will take them!
Another thing to know is that, although it is wise to arrive into the country with US dollars on you (and you also need to have some for your visa fee anyway!) all ATM’s in the country are able to dispense US Dollars and Riels! You should check that any US dollars that you have are fairly new bills and are not damaged or defaced in anyway, otherwise they can and will be refused!
You can also use a card as well as a means of payment in some places and I did in some places in Phnom Penh with ease.
How much do things cost?
As with the majority of the South Eastern Asian region, you will find that a western budget will go a long way and this is the same within Cambodia
Although I travelled through the country on an organised tour and all my transport and accommodation was taking care of, day to day spends I still had to take care of myself.
Overall I noticed that prices for food and drink like the rest of the region is really cheap, even in the capital! To put the prices of things into perspective, in Phnom Penh I was able to get a meal and a beer in an average restaurant for $5 total!
If you are interested to see what the prices are for other things in the capital, click here
Its always worth remembering that in a country, the capital is usually the most expensive for everything and places outside of the capital are usually much cheaper!
How can I stay in touch?
Provided you have unlocked your phone beforehand, you can very easily buy a sim card once you are in the country, they even sell them at the border crossings – but I would recommend just waiting until you reach your first destination!
I tried 2 sim cards when I was in the country; the first one was with ‘Smart’ which I got quite a poor service from (hence why I had to try a second provider!) and only really got up to 3G speeds when I was in the middle of Siem Reap, so don’t bother with this provider!
Above: The logo you should be looking to avoid when you go for your local sim card, although it was known to be OK in the main cities, it was completely useless outside of them! – © Smart Cambodia 2020
The second was CellCard which was absolutely superb! Apart from in a few places in the countryside where the signal expectedly dipped, I had full 4G/LTE signal! At points it was even better than the service I would get in the UK!
I paid $5 for the sim card and data package total, this was $2 for the physical sim card and then $3 to top the card up in the shop I got it from. I got my second sim card around 3 days into my 7 day stay in Cambodia, this $3 of credit lasted throughout the rest of my trip before I crossed the border into Loas, so didn’t need to top it up again!
Above: This is the logo you should be looking for if you go for a local Cambodian sim card, it was the best all rounder for me and very rarely dipped in service – © Cellcard 2020
My advice would be, when you arrive at your first place of stay in the country, just ask your host or hotel reception where you can buy a sim card and insist on a CellCard sim card! They will probably help you set it up if you ask nicely too!
A few other tiny details from my experience…
Corruption: Be aware that there is a significant, very noticeable amount of corruption within the country. During our trip we even experienced this corruption first hand when trying to cross a gated bridge with our vehicle, the official stood at the gate demanded a cash payment to raise the bridge, also known as ‘coffee’. We refused and walked across the bridge instead!
Its important to help stamp out the corruption in this part of the world and if you are prompted by an official to pay a fine (regardless of what they name it!), always demand a receipt, that way it cannot be pocketed by the official!
Rubbish/Trash: One thing that I couldn’t help but notice in Cambodia, that I didn’t really notice as badly in neighbouring SE Asian countries was the amount of rubbish or trash just dumped at the side of roads and in piles in cities. Although quiet shocking to see and the western world may not find an excuse for it, it is important to remember that Cambodia is not a rich country and dealing with keeping their environment clean is most likely at the very bottom of their agenda of things to do!
I hope this post has been of some use to anyone who is planning on visiting this very interesting and beautiful country in the future.
The Kingdom and its people have been through some fairly recent rough times and its great to see the country has found its feet again and is allowing its doors to be open for people to come and learn about what it has been through and what it also has to offer.
Have you been to Cambodia in the past? If so let me know in the comments what your experience of the country was, good or bad!