Cambodia travel advice
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.
Traveling 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 possibilities for more in-depth trips through this unique country are endless. While facilities outside the main centers 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.
'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 vacation 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.
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 flavorings 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 traveling alone we would recommend that you tip your guide $7 per day. If traveling in a couple you should offer $10 per couple per day. If you are traveling 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 specialized 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 recognized. Credit cards have a very limited use and are not widely accepted.
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 certified country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the State Department website.
When to go to Cambodia
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Cambodia.
21¾ hours (New York to Phnom Penh)