Cambodia is a land of lush beauty, contrast and ancient mystery. Together with Laos, they form the little known region called Indochina. You will find treasures in the great ancient temples still embraced in the jungle clutches, strings of pristine islands, unspoilt beaches with seaside restaurants and beautiful underwater reefs exploding with colourful wildlife ready to explore.
Breathtaking sites to see include the ruins ofAngor Wat, once the greatest city in the world and a definite contender as one of the great Wonders of the World, and the glorious hybrid of ragged Cambodian meets French Colonial architecture of Phnom Penh.
Cambodia is still recovering from its recent period of brutality since the 1970’s war with the USA, but everywhere you go you will find the untainted welcoming of a gentle people ensuring Cambodia remains the ‘Land of Smiles’.
The best time to visit Cambodia is November through January when the weather is not too hot and the cool, dry northeastern winds bring little rain to the country. In February, both the temperature and humidity index start to incline until its peak in April with temperatures reaching over 104F (40C). Trips to Cambodia can still be enjoyed during the wet season, with September and October being the wettest months, since the rains tend to come only sporadically in the afternoon. Year round temperatures never vary much more than 20F so you can expect a comfortable climate even during the wet season.
Dress codes are pretty conservative both in the city as well as the countryside. In order not to offend, both men and women should wear clothing that covers their legs with short sleeves being acceptable on top. Particular attention should be paid when visiting a religious site, such as the various temples (wats), where long sleeves and long trousers or skirts for women should be worn.
Staple foods of Cambodia include rice and fish, which are the basic ingredients for many Khmer dishes. Fish is the main source of protein in the diet but chicken, beef and poultry dishes can be readily found as well. A Cambodian meal almost always includes soup, or samla, which is eaten at the same time as the rest of the meal including curry, rice and noodle dishes. The main seasonings used in Khmer cooking are hot peppers, lemongrass, ginger and mint.
If you are looking for a picnic, abundant fruits and vegetables can be found in the multitude of markets as well as freshly baked, French influenced breads. Cambodians are known for their sweet tooth with spice and fruit flavoured ice cream being the popular treat in the cities or extremely sweet desserts made of fruit and rice.
Khmer is the official language though French is commonly spoken as well, especially by the elderly. English is becoming more and more prevalent, and is the language of choice if you don’t have a Khmer speaking guide.
The local currency is officially the Riel but the US Dollar is accepted everywhere and by everyone. The Thai bat is also accepted in the western parts of the country. Approximate conversions are:
$1 US Dollar = 4,000 Cambodian Riel
£1 British Pound = 6,000 Cambodian Riel
€1 Euro = 3,500 Cambodian Riel
Cambodia makes cheap travelling for the basics such as food and shelter. Lodging can range from just $2-3USD for a basic room and $10USD and up for a more luxurious accommodation with an en-suite bathroom and TV. Meals can range from $2-3USD per meal up to $10USD for a more substantial dinner.
If on a tight budget, you will want to plan ahead for the extra costs such as transportation when hiring a moto or taking a plane and entrance fees. The Angkor Wat fees, for example, will set you back around $20USD per day.
Visitors arriving by air can obtain a 30-day visa on arrival at Pochentong International Airport in Phnom Penh or the airport at Siem Reap. A one month tourist visa costs US$20, three month US$40 and more than three months US$60. iExtensions may be granted by the Immigration Office in Phnom Penh, but generally you will find your visa is non-renewable. Business visas are easier to renew. Make sure you have a valid passport and passport photos on hand to be submitted with your application. Visas are also available at the Thai overland border crossings at Koh Kong and Poipet. Visas are not available at any other overland border crossing from Vietnam or Laos.
There are no specific requirements for immunizations to enter the country unless you have recently been in an area affected with Yellow Fever. However, for safe travel, the World Health Organization recommends the following immunizations: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Diptheria and Tetanus, Hepatitis B & Polio. For those visitors who plan to spend an extended period of time, the following jabs are also suggested: Tuberculosis and Japanese B Enchephalitis
In certain areas, Malaria and Dengue Fever can also be a problem. If you plan on going to remote areas, you may want to speak with your doctor about anti-malaria medication. Malaria is known to be present in the Angkor Wat temple region.
To safeguard against water-born diseases, stick to cool bottled water, fruits that can be peeled and street stall which plenty of locals and travellers are eating at.
The ban has recently been lifted on foreigners travelling by train but the journeys are usually unreliable and long. If you have no set agenda and time on your hands, this cheap form of transport may be the way to go. In light of the tourist abductions over six years ago, it is worth checking with other travellers and with the station employees to ensure your journey will be a safe one.
There are regular buses from Phonm Penh to both Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. The trips will cost you around $2-4USD and $9USD respectively. Most of the way is driven on badly kept dirt roads and over not so sturdy bridges so beware of this before you set out on your journey.
Air travel is the easiest but most expensive way to get around the country. Plane travel is most beneficial if you have the cash and are going to remote places like Mondolkiri since the roads getting there are poor and bandits are rife along these routes. Flights can be booked with local travel agents or through the airlines themselves.
Throughout the city, you can find a few regular metered taxis but much more prevalent are the unmetered kind. Make sure to get your fare quoted upfront if you pick one up off the street or you can have your hotel or travel agent arrange one for you. A car with driver can be hired for around $20-$30 USD per day. The minimum for short trips within the city will be around $2-$3 USD.
Moto (motodups) or motorcycle taxis are the best way to travel around the cities of Cambodia. Get to know your moto driver and use him everyday while you are in town. Moto drivers know the places to go and more importantly the places not to go and it is cheap, safe and reliable. You can expect to pay 10 cents – $1 for a trip in town and $5-$8 USD per day with private driver.
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