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Cambodia - Travel Guide

Type of Cambodia Holiday

Deciding what to include on a tour of Cambodia depends of course on your interests, time and budget. We can tailor make any itinerary to suit your exact requirements.

Our tailor made Cambodia Tours can include just flights, hotels and transfers without any excursions or your trip can be tailored to include a mix of guided excursions with time to explore independently (which we think is usually the best mix).

Typically many people combine a week long tour of Cambodia with a beach holiday in Thailand or a longer tour of Indochina. A tour of Cambodia can easily be combined with a tour of Vietnam or neighbouring Laos.

Family Holidays to Cambodia

In high season, Angkor can be a very busy place. It makes all the difference in experiencing the temples if the crowds can be avoided if possible.

Early morning and late evening visits are essential and also consider visiting in the low season. In low season the moats around Angkor are full, the temples reflect on the water and most importantly, there are fewer people.

Temples & Heritage

Cambodia has a rich history and culture and the Temples of Angkor are Cambodia's number one attraction, and rightly so. Often saddled with the misnomer of 'Angkor Wat', the numerous temples at Angkor include dozens of spectacular temples, of which Angkor Wat is just one.

In addition to the main sights such as Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the Bayon, a visit to Angkor will be well rewarded with effort to see some of the outlying temples as well.

Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh is not without it's own spectacular sights and those looking for cultural experiences will find a day or two in Phnom Penh very worthwhile.

River Cruises

The Mekong River is one of Asia's iconic waterways and Cambodia offers several options for a Mekong River Cruise.

Cruise from Siem Reap down to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh and then on to Saigon in Vietnam and the Mekong Delta. Cruises are between 3 and 7 days on high standard inernationally owned river cruisers.

Wildlife & Nature

Wildlife Holidays in Cambodia are in their infancy, although a bit of effort will be well rewarded in the form of Gibbon spotting in the remote north east, river dolphin watching or even spending a day at a bear sanctuary.

In the Cardamom Mountains in the West, a stay at Four Rivers Floating Lodge is a great options for those looking to see some of the best of Cambodia's natural environment.

Active Holidays

Cambodia offers plenty of opportunities for a more active style of holiday. The Temples of Angkor will stretch the leg muscles regardless, and cycling or trekking around the temples are both options.

In the West of Cambodia, Four Rivers Floating Lodge offers the chance to kayak amongst mangroves and trek through the jungle. Further afield, combine a tour of Cambodia's main sites with an overnight trek in Cambodia's tribal regions.

Beaches

Cambodia's beaches are undeveloped in comparison to beach resorts in Thailand or Vietnam, but there are still some nice options for a beach holiday in Cambodia. Sihanoukville is something of a backpackers haven but with a couple of decent beach resorts and a superb luxury island resort at Song Saa.

Along the coast in sleepy Kep things are much quieter and great for a boutique beach retreat.

Undiscovered Cambodia

Getting off the beaten track in Cambodia is relatively easy as most areas of Cambodia are little visited.

The day long river journey from Siem Reap to Battambang is a highlight of a tour of Cambodia and the hiiltribe regions in the Northeast will attract those looking for authentic experiences and encounters with local people.

Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital is often overlooked as many visitors head straight to Angkor. Phnom Penh surprises many people with it's lively youthful vibe, trendy boutique hotels, cool dining scene and charming riverside promenade.

Phnom Penh's sights include lively markets, impressive temples and a great little museum which is like a primer for a visit to Angkor.

On a more sobering note, the Killing Fields memorial is a moving testament to more recent events and an important place to visit to really understand modern day Cambodia.

Phnom Penh is essential on any tour of Cambodia - don't miss it.

Siem Reap - Angkor

Siem Reap has grown rapidly in recent years as the gateway to the magnificent Angkor Temples.

Angkor Wat is merely the most famous of the Angkor temples, which are spread out over a wide area and deserve at least two full days for exploration.

There is now a great choice of luxury and boutique hotels in Siem Reap making a longer stay in Siem Reap quite tempting to explore the outlying temples or nearby Tonle Sap Lake.

Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is the premier Cambodian beach resort destination, just 3 hours by car from Phnom Penh.

Sihanoukville (also known as Kampong Som) is now also served by direct flights from Siem Reap, making a combination of Cambodia tour and Cambodia beach holiday a great option.

Sihanoukville offers a less developed (though far from undeveloped) beach holiday option than neighbouring Thailand.

The choice of beach resorts in Sihanoukville is currently quite limited though there are a couple of interesting beach resort and the superb Song Saa Private Island Resort.

Kep

Kep was once the top Cambodian beach resort destination and is now a quiet but developing region of Cambodia close to the Vietnamese border.

Whereas Sihanoukville has long stretches of golden sand, Kep is a little more rugged, with shorter stretches of beach interspersed with mangroves and rocky coastal stretches.

Kep is famous throughout Cambodia for its seafood and the crab market is an ever popular spot - both for tasting the delicious fresh crab and for people watching.

Knai Bang Chatt is a great boutique resort to spend a few days unwinding.

Cardamom Mountains

The Cardamom Mountains cover 20,000 sq. km. of South East Cambodia, including the Koh Kong Conservation corridor.

This is Cambodia’s most scenic and bio-diverse region with large tracts of virgin rainforest and the habitat of several endangered species including Tigers, Malaysian Sun Bears, Clouded Leopards, Asian Elephants and Siamese Crocodiles.

Four Rivers Floating Camp is a great base from which to experience this region. Kayak through mangrove waterways, visit magnificent waterfalls and trek through jungle pathways.

The Cardamoms offers a spectacular destination for eco-tourism, but remains thus far little touched by tourism.

Battambang

The Northwestern Cambodian city of Battambang is a ramshackle town with fading colonial era buildings, hilltop temples and sleepy nearby villages.

Battambang is a growing urban centre but still retains a small town friendliness and appeal.

The main reason to head here is to discover the colonial era ambience and to make the river journey to Siem Reap, one of the most scenic journeys in Cambodia.

A detour to Battambang is an excellent way to link Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for those with a bit more time and to enjoy one of the most scenic journeys in Cambodia.

Getting There

There are no direct flights to Cambodia. Flying time including connection is usually around 15 hours.

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are the two international gateways with connections via all the major Asian cities such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.

There are onward flights to Vietnam and Laos making a tour of Indochina quite straightforward.

Visas

Most visitors to Cambodia require a visa to enter the country and all travelers must have a passport valid for 6 months after their planned exit from Cambodia.

Most nationalities, including UK passport holders can get a visa on arrival at the international airports (Siem Reap and Phnom Penh) without prior registration.

Visa On Arrivals are valid for 30 days, single entry and cost USD 20-25 and require one photo.

Please note that visa information is subject to change at any time, so please check you have the correct documents for travel.

Costs & Money

Costs within Cambodia are very low even by South East Asian standards. It's possible to get by on very little even in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

The Cambodian currency is the Riel. Dollars are also useful in many circumstances, although Riel is used on a day to day basis.

Small denomination US Dollars are useful but torn or damaged (or even old looking) notes won't be accepted. Almost all hotels and most restaurants and shops accept credit cards.

We recommend changing some money on arrival as Riel isn't available prior to arrival.

ATM's are commonplace and most accept overseas bank cards, although your bank may put a hold on card use until they are notified that the transaction is genuine.

Health & Safety

Cambodia is a very safe country for travelling if you follow the usual precautions. To see the latest travel advice we recommend the Foreign Office Travel Advisory website.

Bear in mind that the FCO advice does tend to err on the side of caution, but nevertheless is a good guide to health and safety considerations if taken within context.

Medical facilities are rather limited in Cambodia and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before traveling.

Such an insurance should absolutely cover the cost of an evacuation flight out of Cambodia (most of the time to Bangkok or Singapore) which is sometimes necessary either on a regular flight or on a special flight.

In Siem Reap the Royal Angkor International Hospital (affiliated with the Bangkok Hospital Medical Center) has been fully operational since November 2007.

It is not advisable to drink tap water but bottled mineral water is safe and available everywhere.

All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per person in the room.

Ice cubes in drinks is generally OK in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas.

Some minor stomach problems are always possible when travelling in exotic countries. In general follow the wash it, peel it, cook it or avoid it rule if eating somewhere where hygene might be suspect.

Cambodia of course has a troubled recent history. All tourist areas have been cleared of landmines and UXOs with a comparatively small portion remaining in the more remote areas.

As a global rule, never leave your belongings unattended and always maintain eye contact and a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags.

Vaccinations

We aren't medical experts and prefer to leave medical advice to those more qualified. Some GP's will offer very good advice, but many will not be as up to date on travel health issues.

The main vaccinations for travellers are usually available at GP surgeries.

We find MASTA Travel Clinic extremely good and very thorough and those looking at doing any amount of travelling in South East Asia would do very well to contact the nearest MASTA clinic.

Bear in mind that many vaccinations need to be planned well in advance of travel.

How long to spend in Angkor?

Of course, no visit to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to the Temples of Angkor. Over 100 temples lie within Siem Reap province dating from the 9th-14th century.

Passes are sold for 1 day, 3 days or 1 week and whilst you could spend a lifetime exploring, we recommend at least 2 full days for temple exploration. This will allow you to see all of the main temples, plus a few outlying ruins without racing around.

Getting around Angkor

There are several options for getting around the temples. Car, bus, and van remain the vehicles of choice, but we recommend taking a day to cycle through the temples. Traveling by two wheels, either by regular bike or electric bike, gives you a unique perspective and an eco-friendly way to see the temples.

Elephant Rides are available and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the days of the Angkorian kings as you meander through the woods and temples.

A tethered hot air balloon is available near Angkor Wat, which gives distant, but sweeping views of the temples and their surroundings. But the most exciting experience available is a helicopter flight around the area. Ranging in length from 8 minutes to a half-day excursion, buzzing around the temples in a helicopter is an unparalleled experience.

Which Temples to visit?

Any itinerary should include Angkor Wat, the magnificent legendary temple.

The Bayon is another favorite with its mysterious faces smiling down on visitors, while the jungle covered Ta Phrom is an evocative blend of nature and architecture with the jungle roots reclaiming the moss-covered stones.

Other temples in the vicinity worth seeing are Phnom Bakeng, Pre Rup, Baphoun, and Preah Khan.

If you have more time, trips further afield lead to less crowded temples and spectacular photo opportunities.

Just 12 km from Siem Reap are the Rolous Group of temples, some of the earliest ruins in the region.

The petite Banteay Srey features intricate carvings in pink sandstone and nearby Banteay Kdei is a hidden gem tucked away in the jungle.

Beng Mealea sprawls across one square kilometer and remains covered in trees, roots, and vines. Constructed in a similar style to Angkor Wat yet overrun by nature, Beng Mealea is a truly adventurous place to visit.

Koh Ker, situated to the northeast of Siem Reap, is the remnants of the Khmer capital in the late 9th century and features a circular loop of about a dozen ruins.

What else to see in Siem Reap?

Need a break from temple touring?  Siem Reap has several other activities and opportunities for travelers.  A boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake is very worthwhile. Each year during the rainy season, the lake swells to five times larger and the plethora of fish provide the livelihood for the lake’s residents.

A favourite is the Paneman Boat, a large wooden cruising boat run by an eco-tourism company, which provides an elegant ride along the water. A boat trip departing from Kampong Phluck takes you through the floating villages and ancient mangrove forests of the lake, a great way to see the unique lifestyle of the lake’s residents.

Artisan’s D’Angkor is a unique organization working to preserve traditional Khmer arts and crafts. They have established two centres in Siem Reap.

The location in town features a stone-carving workshop where locals produce magnificent sculptures, while the silk centre is a bit further afield. Here you can see the entire process of silk creation: from the breeding of the silk worms, to the dyeing and weaving of the material.

Siem Reap’s small downtown turns into a hive of activity as the sun begins to set; the small ‘Old Market’ closes down and tourists flood in to town to enjoy cocktails on ‘Pub Street’ and dinner in one of the many restaurants.

Vendors have capitalized on this area’s popularity by establishing a night market at the south end of Pub Street. Cambodian crafts such as artwork, silks, carvings, and t-shirts are for sale in an open-air market off a tranquil side street making it the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.

A traditional Apsara Dance performance is a great evening activity as the elegant dancers, elaborate costumes, and live music create an enchanting atmosphere.

Another treat is a traditional massage at our favorite shop, Bodia SpaHere you will be treated to a relaxing spa or massage treatment, using top quality natural products and traditional techniques.

Khmer Cuisine

Although Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is well known throughout the world, few know about Cambodian Cuisine. It derives its flavour from spices and herbs, which are grown locally and sweet, sour, salty, and bitter are blended seamlessly.

With the abundance of freshwater fish in the country, it comes as no surprise that fish is the most common meat used in Cambodian cooking with a wide array of vegetables accompanying the dishes.

A typical Cambodian meal consists of a light soup, a salad, a fish dish, and of course rice. ‘Must try' dishes include amok, a steamed fish dish accompanied by an array of herbs and spices bringing out the flavour of the fish without masking its taste.

Another must try is samlor korko, a mixed vegetable and fish soup and char kdao, meat stir fried with basil, lemongrass and galangal.

During the hot Cambodian summer there is no more refreshing treat than a fresh fruit shake. Combining local fruits with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, these blended beverages are a traveller's delight!

Another sweet treat is sugar cane juice, which is extracted by mashing the stalks of sugar cane. The resulting juice is then combined with a splash of lime, and is the perfect pick me up on a hot day!

Itinerary Planning

Visiting the Temples of Angkor is one of the best experiences in the whole of Asia and the highlight of a tour of Cambodia.

Planning a trip to the Temples at Angkor needs a bit of thought to take into account the time of day, the weather, the crowds and your particular interests.

Our tours are designed to optimise the experience of seeing the Temples at Angkor, but a few general points are worth bearing in mind.

In high season, Angkor can be a very busy place. It makes all the difference in experiencing the temples if the crowds can be avoided if possible.

Early morning and late evening visits are essential and also consider visiting in the low season.

In low season the moats around Angkor are full, the temples reflect on the water and most importantly, there are fewer people.

What's the food like?

Khmer Cuisine is slowly coming to greater attention in the wider world.

As in many Asian countries, the staple food of the Cambodian diet is rice. This is usually served with dried, salted fish, chicken, beef or pork.

Fish is often fresh from Tonle Sap Lake and is eaten with a spicy peanut sauce called tuk trey. Popular dishes include sam chruk, a roll of sticky rice stuffed with soya bean and chopped pork, and amok, a soup of boneless fish with coconut and spices.

In Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Western food is widely available.

What are the domestic airlines like?

Cambodia Angkor Air is the only airline currently operating domestic flights in Cambodia. This airline uses French-Italian ATR turboprop planes (Avions de Transports Régionaux), a type of plane well suited for the local conditions, airports and distances.

The configuration is 70-seats (ATR 72) in rows of 4 seats with a middle aisle.

Entry-exit is at the back of the plane. Standard one-class configuration.

Cambodia Angkor Air is owned by Vietnam Airlines and Cambodia and also operates some international flights with plans for expansion within the region.

Do I need to tip?

Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where the average annual income is very low compared to Europe.

It is customary to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters also expect to be tipped.

Do not let a guide talk you into tipping more than you plan to. It is totally up to you who you tip, when and how much.

Currency

The Cambodian currency is the Riel. Dollars are also useful in many circumstances, although Riel is used on a day to day basis. Small denomination US Dollars are useful but torn or damaged (or even old looking) notes won't be accepted. Almost all hotels and most restaurants and shops accept credit cards.

We recommend changing some money on arrival as Riel isn't available prior to arrival. ATM's are commonplace and most accept overseas bank cards, although your bank may put a hold on card use until they are notified that the transaction is genuine.

Electricity

Cambodia uses 220V, and a mixture of flat 2-pin, round 2-pin or 3 pin plugs. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor. Power outages happen occasionally but most hotels have their own generator.

Time Zone

GMT + 7 hours

Capital City

Phnom Penh

Population

Cambodia has 15 million people. A very high percentage are under 30. 90% are Khmer, 5% are Vietnamese.

Language

Cambodia's national language is Khmer and unlike the other languages of the region is not a tonal language. The written script originated in southern India.

As in other former French colonies the educated older generation often speaks very good French while the younger generation prefers English.

Outside the major centers of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap most people speak only Khmer but it is no problem to find somebody who is trained in basic English.

Religion

Buddhism is the dominant religion in Cambodia with 90-95% of the population being Buddhist.

Islam is practiced by a small percentage of the population, mainly the Cham people residing near the Vietnam border, and Christianity and Hinduism are the religions of less than 1% of the Cambodian people.