Most visitors to Cambodia initially focus on the famous Angkor temples.
Our knowledge of the area is unparalleled and in a country where any local can be a 'guide', we use a hand-picked group of the best English-speaking guides who are knowledgeable, professional and experienced.
Siem Reap has direct flight connections with many international airports throughout Southeast Asia, so your visit to Angkor can be a brief 'add on' to another country in the region or a more in-depth exploration. We often suggest combining the temples with the capital, Phnom Penh, as in both places you will find, perhaps to your surprise, some of Asia’s finest hotels.
Travelling from one to the other is usually by air, although the road has improved to make this a viable option, perhaps including a stop at the temple of Sambor Prei Kuk. Daily boat services crossing Tonle Sap Lake are rather limited, so unless you have time to take one of the longer cruises this may not be possible for you. Previously inaccessible areas of Cambodia are gradually opening up and the possiblities for more in depth trips through this unique country are endless. While facilities outside the main centres are more basic, a trip through the real Cambodia, away from the tourists, can be incredibly rewarding - but it is certainly not for everyone!
Off the beaten track
If you are feeling intrepid why not consider escaping the crowds on a unique camping expedition through the jungle to temples that time forgot, or perhaps visit the ancient tribes of Ratanakiri or even the cool rolling hills and waterfalls of Mondulkiri. Ramshackle, colonial towns such as Battambang and Kratie offer a comfortable option for breaking the long road journeys and a stop in the latter affords the chance to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins.
Responsible Tourism in Cambodia
As part of our commitment to Responsible Travel we support and promote a number of charitable concerns in Cambodia.
Pour un Sourire d’Enfant
One such project is Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), 'For a Child’s Smile', established by a French run NGO to help disadvantaged children who had previously lived in squalor earning a meagre livelihood collecting waste from municipal dumps. The PSE Centre and school, provides education, but also excellent vocational training from silk weaving to gardening for children and young adults. The project is well worth visiting and the students love to meet people and show you around the school so they can practice their English. Stop for lunch at the school’s excellent training restaurant called Lotus Blanc (there are several other outlets also in Phnom Penh) as all profits are ploughed straight back into the project.
'Stay Another Day'
The 'Stay Another Day' initiative provides a booklet, available in most hotels, of NGOs operating in Cambodia and information about how to ensure your holiday has a positive impact on the communities you are visiting. We also always strive to work with local businesses to promote the growth of locally led tourism projects and hotels. Please contact us for further information if this is an area that interests you as there are several other projects in Cambodia that you may wish to visit while you are in the country, or continue to support once you return home.
Who Will is a charity that cares for orphans and disadvantaged children in Cambodia and its aim is to help the children grow up in a family environment. The idea of building a village for these children as opposed to an orphanage is unique and we believe it is an excellent project. Each house within the children’s village is run by a ‘mum’ who will help raise the children. En route to the village you will first visit a fish farm that the charity also supports, here they are trying to create a sustainable area where local people will be able to come and fish for food.
ELIE (Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment) Project
ELIE, with the support of the Bunong minority villagers, rescues and treats domestic elephants which come from abusive backgrounds and have suffered illness or injury as a consequence. This truly unique experience allows you to learn more about Cambodia's elephants and the efforts to protect them in the area. Emphasis is more about observing the elephants and helping to look after them in their natural environment than actually riding the elephants, but this is a great way to relax, take in the beautiful countryside and learn a little more about the Bunong minority culture. Trained mahouts accompany you and the elephants during gentle walks through the jungle to waterfalls and if you are fortunate you may also spot some of the wildlife in the area such as gibbons and eagles.
Khmer is the national language; however, Chinese and Vietnamese are also spoken. French was widely spoken until the arrival of the Pol Pot regime and is spoken by those of the older generation. English is now a more popular language to learn among the younger generation.
Food and drink
As in most of South East Asia, so in Cambodia too, the staple food is rice. Along with rice, a lot of fish- mainly freshwater- (the water bodies of the country are rich in fish), and salads are popular dishes. Fish, beef, pork and poultry are popular ingredients spiced with a fascinating array of herbs, spices and sauces. Most Cambodian meals consist of a soup, and always include a lot of vegetables. The flavourings used are typically 'Oriental' ones- mint, lemon grass, coriander, coconut and fish sauce. Interestingly enough, Cambodia’s 'French Connection’ has influenced local cuisine to quite an extent, you’ll find distinct French dishes like frog’s legs and French bread in the country too. Some though, have been adapted to suit local palates, making them interesting variations on the original.
Tipping is very much the norm in Cambodia, especially in the service industry and you should be prepared to tip guides, drivers and porters who assist you during your stay.
As a guideline if you are travelling alone we would recommend that you tip your guide $7 per day. If travelling in a couple you should offer $10 per couple per day. If you are travelling in a group of 3-4 then tipping between $15-20 per group per day is about right. For groups larger than four allow an increase roughly equating to 10% more for each additional person in the group. For your driver please tip around half of the total tip given to your guide. If your itinerary is more intensive and incorporates more specialised elements such as trekking then increase these guidelines by 20% or more depending on your satisfaction level. Higher tips are very welcome for exceptional guides.
For porters a tip of $1 per person per bag is appropriate and it is useful to have several dollar bill notes to hand for your convenience, alternatively an equivalent amount in local currency will suffice.
Bargaining is the rule in markets, and when negotiating rates with taxi drivers (always agree a price before your journey begins), but you won't need to be as forceful as you would in Thailand or Vietnam.
Money and expenses
The currency of Cambodia is the Riel.
In both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh there are several ANZ ATMs that distribute US dollars. US Dollars are widely accepted rather than local currency, and other currencies are little recognised. Credit cards have a very limited use and are not widely accepted.
Allow £10 a day for basic day-to-day expenses (drinks, meals, etc). A local beer will normally cost around £1, a two course lunch £4 and a two course dinner £6.
Social conventions and etiquette
Most Cambodians, especially in rural areas, are not used to Westerners and it helps to be aware of some of the more simple Cambodian social conventions, such as respecting privacy and never losing your temper.
Cambodia is a very traditional society that values family structures and the role of religion in regulating life, it is much more traditional than those of Thailand and Vietnam and the conduct of outsiders needs to be adjusted accordingly. If entering a private home, it is common to leave your shoes outside.
The head is considered sacred so it is improper to pat adults or children on the head.
Our country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.
When to go to Cambodia
* This is a rough guide to when to travel in the country as a whole. It may not necessarily apply to a specific itinerary or part of the country.
- The best time to travel
- A good time to travel, some factors to be aware of
- Travel is possible, but this is not the best time of year
- Snow or ski season
- Travel is not recommended