After living in Cambodia for almost one and a half year, I’ve gained some useful insights into what the do’s and don’ts are for this gorgeous country. Cambodia is truly a country of extremes. You’ll find the most incredible sights and experiences, but will also be confronted with some less enticing views. The history of Cambodia is rich and filled with horror, but also magic. As a traveller, it is important to keep all these things in mind, and I can tell you. This can be challenging. That’s why these Cambodia Travel Tips are so important!
My time in Cambodia was one of highs and lows, there was frustration, but also wonder and amazement by this country that has had quite a rough few decades. To make sure you don’t run into the same frustrations as me while in Cambodia, I’ve compiled a list of things you need to know before visiting. This will hopefully help you understand Cambodia a little better, and therefore improve your travel experience drastically.
Cambodia Travel Tips
#1 Where it’s at
Cambodia is located in something called the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Cambodia neighbours with Vietnam in the east, Laos in the north and Thailand in the west.
#2 They’re poor
Even when comparing Cambodia with its neighbours, they don’t have a lot of money. Be mentally prepared to see the effects of this while you’re there: from dingy huts that are houses for families of 10 to piles of garbage on the streets.
#3 They speak English
A lot of Cambodians speak English quite well. Again comparing to neighbouring countries, the Cambodians are definitely a step ahead when it comes to the English language.
#4 Khmer Rouge
One of the worst dictatorships in the world ruled in Cambodia in the 70’s. In about 3 years they managed to kill 2 million of its own people, that is 1 quarter of the population.
#5 All about Khmer Rouge
This is not the case, the Cambodian culture isn’t just about the Khmer Rouge. There is music, faith and all different kinds of art that make the Cambodian culture what it is.
#6 Population Boom
Since the 1980s the population has grown by 300%. It went from 6.7 million to about 16.2 in 2018.
#7 Tourism for Cambodia
Tourists and tourism, in general, are of great importance to Cambodians, for many it is their main source of income. This is why they will always be at their best behaviour when it comes to tourists.
Most of the population is Buddhist, make sure to respect their religion.
#9 Trash, trash and more trash
As I mentioned previously. Cambodia has a major problem when it comes to their garbage. They just don’t know how to get rid of it all, which results in it being dropped alongside roads or on empty fields.
Very Important Cambodian Travel Tips
Make sure to read all of these carefully, these are the most important things I found out you need to know while I was living in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Khmer is a word you’ll hear lots in Cambodia. This is because the Cambodian people are called Khmer, and the language is also called Khmer. Really anything that has anything to do with Cambodia is called Khmer!
#11 Tuk Tuks
It’s not the best idea to order a tuk-tuk from your accommodation, it is definitely the easiest option, but you’ll have to pay for the hotel and not the driver. A large part of the money will go to the hotel and not to the tuk-tuk driver. In my opinion, you’ll help a tuk-tuk driver and it’s family more by getting a tuk-tuk off the street.
Also, make sure to agree on a price before you get in a tuk-tuk, it’ll save you a lot of hassle later on.
#12 Drunk drivers
Cambodians are notorious for their family BBQ’s and drinking that comes with it. They’ll often stay available as a tuk-tuk during these evenings and there is a big chance you’ll end up in a tuk-tuk with a drunk driver. If you notice that your driver is acting drunk you can do the following. Ask them to stop, pay them whatever they are owed for the short ride, walk a bit up the road and find a new tuk-tuk driver that preferably isn’t drunk.
#13 Night buses
The cheapest way to get around Cambodia is by bus. Most destinations are about 6 to 10 hours ride away from each other, this means a night bus is your best option when it comes to saving time and money. Please always make sure that you do not travel with the following companies: The Kingdom, Virak Buntham. Most of the other companies are quite safe and not many accidents happen. If you do want to avoid the night buses, it’s also an option to go by plane from most destinations in Cambodia.
#14 It gets hot
Cambodia gets hot, and then I mean really, really hot. You’ll find that the hottest months are during the peak season between from November to March. The smartest thing to do when you’re travelling during that time is to plan all your activities in the early morning and evenings and just lie by the pool during the day!
#15 Two Currencies
As you probably already know, Cambodia uses 2 currencies. They have their own currency with is the Cambodian Riel, and they use US Dollars. Most commonly used is the US Dollar, the Cambodian Riel is mainly given as small change. I wouldn’t recommend getting Riel out of an ATM, just get US Dollars.
#16 Learn the lingo
I don’t mean that you should learn fluent Khmer, as I didn’t even manage to do this in the one and a half year I was there. But using some local phrases will make the Cambodians love you even more, and you’ll be able to get some better deals. Here are some phrases I used lots!
Hello (informal) – Sou sdey
Goodbye – Lee Hai
How are you? – Sok sabay?
Thank you – Orkurn
Sorry – Som toh
Can I have the bill, please? – Sohm ket luy
It is too expensive! – Tlai nah!
#17 Going to the ATM
When getting money out, you’ll always have to pay a fee. The cheapest fee at the time of writing is about $4 and can be found at the ABA Bank, the national bank of Cambodia. Just make sure to always take out larger amounts of dollars at the time, so that you don’t have to pay the fee too often.
#18 Cash is king
Talking about cash. Make sure you have enough on you. They don’t really accept cards anywhere except the more luxurious accommodation and bigger supermarkets.
There is about a 90% chance that you’ll have a situation where a Cambodian will ask you for more money than you are willing to give them. Honestly guys, that one dollar extra isn’t worth the hassle and you’ll make their day. So just stop haggling and give them $3 for that tuk-tuk ride instead of the $2 you thought the ride was worth.
#19 Western Food
I found that Cambodia is home to the best Western food in all of Southeast Asia. They’ve really got a knack when it comes to making pasta, roast dinners and avocado on toast!
#20 You can’t drink the tap water
Have to confess. I did drink the tap water, multiple times. AND! I never got sick. I do confess that it wasn’t very smart as there is a big chance that you will get horrible stomach pains, and as my friends in Cambodia say, will pee from the butt. Big water bottles are available for $0.50 to $1 at almost every street corner, so no need to drink the tap water.
#21 Toilet paper
The most important rule of travelling in Cambodia is to always bring toilet paper. Most of the public toilets don’t have it. And if it isn’t enough that you have to stand over a whole in the ground squatty potty. You’ll then also have nothing to wipe. So don’t be a fool and bring that paper!
#22 Bag snatching
Unfortunately, this is a very real thing in most cities in Cambodia. Please be aware when you are walking in a street with not much traffic. They’ll often approach you from behind on a bycicle or motorbike and will ride of with your bag never to be seen again.
I do have to mention that I have NEVER felt unsafe while living in Siem Reap.
#23 Get a SIM card
It’s super easy to do! It only costs around $5 to get a SIM + 4GB, and only costs around $1 to get more GB. I’ve always been very loyal to SMART in Cambodia, I’ve never had any issues so would always recommend them.