Ascending to an empire of temples during the Angkorian period and descending into anguish during the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has a history that has revolved through both heaven and hell. We love falling under the enigmatic spell of Cambodia's storied history and meeting the real treasure of the country: the people. Despite having been to hell and back, Cambodians have emerged with an infectious optimism and an indomitable spirit, always with their ubiquitous smiles intact.
The splendid temple ruins of the Angkor Archaeological Park date from the 9th through 13th centuries and include Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm. Lotus-shaped Angkor Wat is Cambodia's most famous, iconic site and the country's pride and joy. The Bayon is another of the Angkor temples, with 216 giant faces carved into the stone facing in all four directions. The characteristic, jungle-strangled temple of Ta Prohm is hidden beneath giant strangler fig trees, and is well known as the temple from the movie Tomb Raider.
Cambodia has three main beach communities to enjoy: Sihanoukville, Kep, and Koh Kong. Explore these spectacular beaches on your Cambodian holiday for a slice of tropical paradise. Stay on the mainland to enjoy the charms of Kep and Koh Kong or head for Sihanoukville. Situated on a small peninsula jutting from the southwest coast of Cambodia into the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand, Sihanoukville is filled with splendid stretches of soft, white sand beaches lapped by shallow blue waters and a shoreline dotted with thatch-roofed seafood shacks.
The Killing Fields in Cambodia are where the Khmer Rouge regime executed over 1.5 million people between 1975 and 1979. The best known monument is located in the village of Choeung Ek. Situated on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, this killing field is marked by a Buddhist stupa with acrylic glass sides filled with over 5,000 human skulls. This pilgrimage site shows, in part, some of Cambodia's gruesome history.
Cambodia's Royal Palace is the crown jewel of Phnom Penh, its iconic spires rising above the skyline in a spectacular sight. The complex of buildings is the royal residence for Cambodia's king. Explore the magnificent treasures of the Royal Palace, including the Buddha statues in the Silver Pagoda houses, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Moonlight Pavilion, and the tropical plants in the palace gardens.
Dry winds turn the air hot and dry in Siem Reap during the dry season. November to February has pleasant, warm temperatures but by March and April the weather is very hot.
The best time to visit Siem Reap is between November and February. During these months the temperatures are pleasant, the humidity lower, and there is less chance of encountering rain.
Siem Reap’s rainy season sees hot, humid temperatures and heavy rainfall. Thunderstorms occur unexpectedly, sending rain falling fast and hard from the sky but clearing the air and making it cooler.
Phnom Penh’s dry season brings dry, dusty winds sweeping across the country. November to February are pleasantly warm but by March or April the temperatures turn very hot.
We recommend visiting Phnom Penh between November and February when temperatures are pleasantly warm but not scorching hot, humidity is low, and there is little to no rainfall.
The southwest monsoon blows about 75 percent of Cambodia’s annual rain into Phnom Penh. July to September are the rainiest months. Rains fall in short bursts rather than day-long downpours, turning the country lush and green.
There are a number of carriers offering flights to Cambodia from the UK.
Direct Carriers: There are no direct flights to Cambodia from the UK.
Indirect Carriers: Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Etihad Airways, Cathay Pacific and Air France offer indirect services to Cambodia.
Departure Taxes: An international departure tax of USD30 must be paid at Cambodian Airports.
British Citizens are required to have a visa to enter Cambodia, which you can apply from the Royal Embassy of Cambodia in London. Alternative electronic visas are available online through the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. Passports must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in Cambodia. Please contact the Royal Embassy of Cambodia for up to date country and visa information on 0208 451 7850.
The official currency is the Riel, but you will probably use US Dollars throughout your holiday in Cambodia. Even the smallest shops quote prices in US Dollars and most cash machines dispense US Dollars.
We recommend you bring US Dollars in cash with you on your holiday in Cambodia. There are no banks at the land border crossings, so you will have to wait until you get to the larger cities like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to change or withdraw cash. If you pay in US Dollars, you will receive change in Cambodian Riel. Credit cards are only accepted at high end businesses or hotels, but you will pay an extra three percent of you bill for the convenience.
KHR - Cambodian Riel
Cambodia is not generally a place where people tip, although obviously tipping goes a long ways. Tipping just one US Dollar could be half a day's wages for some. Some hotels include a 10 percent service charge, but this is typically for the hotel, not the staff. Try to tip five to 10 percent of the bill to local guides and drivers. It is customary to tip a small amount to a wat (temple) at the end of your holiday in Cambodia.
March to October
Hepatitis A, B, Polio, Typhoid and Malaria immunisation are recommended. All travelers should be up to date on routine immunisations. If arriving from an infected country Yellow Fever is recommended. Please contact your GP for further information.
Holidays in Cambodia are either dry (October to late-April) or wet (May to late-September). Humidity increases significantly between March and April so you will want to lightweight clothing. The coolest months are between October and December, when you will need a lightweight jacket.
Trousers for wearing in the evenings
as well as into temples or palaces;
long-sleeved cotton clothing that will keep you cool and protect you from the sun;
Lightweight jacket for the wet season or for air-conditioned places;
Hiking sandals or shoes;
Sunscreen and sunglasses;
Converter and adapter (Cambodia's power supply is 230 volts at 50 hertz);
Umbrella in the rainy season;
Cambodian cuisine emphasises simplicity and freshness balanced with contrasting flavours and textures. Typically a meal includes three or four separate dishes that together create sweet, sour, salty, and bitter flavours. Widespread poverty in the 1970s saw Cambodians eating just about anything—if it moved, they ate it—so there are many interesting dishes like sautéed grasshoppers, deep fried tarantulas, and stuffed frogs for the adventurous-spirited. More palatable, perhaps, are dishes like fried noodles, soups, stir fries, salads, and curries, and of course rice, which is Cambodia's staple food. Dishes are flavoured with turmeric, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and kaffir lime leaves.
Prahok is used in many Cambodian dishes. This fish paste has a pungent flavour that is an acquired taste to the Western palate and adds a salty tang to the dish. The flavour of this paste is what distinguishes Cambodian cuisine from its neighbours. It can be prepared a variety of ways, such as fried or mixed with meat or chilli. It is also eaten as a dip, covered with banana leaves and cooked under a fire, or used in soups or stir-fried dishes.
This popular Cambodian dish is a curried coconut milk dish that is similar to that found in Thailand, but less spicy. The biggest difference between amok in Cambodia and that found in Thailand or Vietnam is its use of the local herb slok ngor, which adds a distinctly bitter taste. Amok is made with chicken, fish, or shrimp and vegetables, and is served with rice. In some upscale restaurants it is steamed in a banana leaf and served as a mousse rather than a curry.
This healthy, sweet and sour soup is more like a curry than a soup. It blends the flavours of fried peanuts, lemongrass, and saffron and is decorated with colourful chilli flakes for a fulfilling, savoury dish.
Pork kebabs, noodles, corn cakes, deep fried spiders, white duck foetus eggs—street food in Cambodia ranges from the mouth watering to the stomach turning to the truly bizarre. Whatever your palate can handle, street food is common throughout the country and is remarkably inexpensive. Make sure to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean and fresh, as well as cooked right in front of you.
Nom Banh Chok
This beloved Cambodian street food is typically eaten for breakfast. It is sold by women carrying baskets of the ingredients hanging from a pole balanced on their shoulders. The noodles are made from pounded rice topped with a fish-based green curry infused with lemongrass, turmeric, and kaffir lime leaves. Then a sprinkling of mint leaves, bean sprouts, cucumbers, green beans, and banana flowers are added for a deliciously fresh crunchiness.
Fried noodles are a cheap and tasty street food available from noodle sellers all over Cambodia. There are numerous options for how to eat your friend noodles: instant noodles from ramen packages, short, thick rice noodles, or soft, yellow egg noodles. The noodles are flash stir-fried with fish sauce, soy sauce, beef, and greens, then an egg is fried with the mixture. Try it with the traditional mild, sweet chilli sauce.
For something a little Western, with a Cambodian twist, try num pang. These baguettes are a lasting impression from the French colonisation of Cambodia and are filled with both Eastern and Western ingredients. Sample the sandwiches with pâté, butter, homemade mayonnaise, a spicy red chilli paste, pork meat, pickled green papaya, and carrot. For a true Cambodian flavour, sprinkle a bit of soy sauce and fish sauce over the entire concoction.
Overall, Cambodia is an extremely affordable country, even compared to neighbouring inexpensive countries like Thailand or Vietnam. However, the cost of a holiday in Cambodia can really be as much or as little as you want it to be, depending on your taste and travel comforts. You can survive on 10 US Dollars a day, or live it up on 25 US Dollars a day. You can pay as little as one to two US Dollars for street food, 10 US Dollars at sit-down restaurants, or up to 50 US Dollars at upscale restaurants. It costs about .50 cents for a kilo of rice, one to two US Dollars for a short ride in motorcycle tuk tuks (a type of taxi), and anywhere from two US Dollars to 100 US Dollars for accommodations.
The national dress of Cambodia is a shirt or blouse and a skirt-like sampot, also known as a sarong. There are numerous types of sampots worn, all according to ethnic group and social class. Khmer (Cambodian) people wear a chequered scarf called a karma which distinguishes them from the Thai, Vietnamese, or Laotians. The scarf is tied around the neck or wrapped like a turban around the head and is used for many things such as protection from the sun, a towel, or even a small child's doll. Many people also wear Western-style clothing, especially in the cities.
Cambodians are predominantly Buddhist, so their values of politeness, obedience, modesty, and respect toward elders and Buddhist monks typically take priority. Part of the culture here is based on rank; Cambodian culture is very hierarchical, so the greater your age, the greater respect you receive. While Cambodian people are generally warm, friendly, and understanding of different cultures, they appreciate any effort you make in understanding theirs.
Some things you should be aware of while on holiday in Cambodia are:
• Cambodians greet with a sampeah, pressing the palms together at chest height and bowing slightly. The higher you hold your hands and the lower the bow, the more respect is conveyed.
• Like many Asian countries, Cambodians believe that the head contains the soul, so it is taboo to touch anyone’s head.
• Pointing your feet at somebody or something is considered disrespectful.
• Public displays of affection are not culturally appropriate in Cambodia.
• Be aware that Cambodians view indirect eye contact as a form of respect. Direct eye contact is usually only made with social equals.
• You should ask permission before taking anyone’s photograph.
• Women should dress very conservatively.
• Try to shut doors quietly or you may be thought to have a bad temper.
• You should sit with your legs straight rather than crossed, as crossed legs may imply you are impolite.
• Avoid handing things over with your left hand; instead, touch your left hand to your right elbow and pass the object with your right hand.
• You should wear long trousers and cover your shoulders in temples.
• Remove your shoes before entering houses or in temples.
The impressive landscapes and unique ecosystems of Cambodia, from sweeping beaches to evergreen forests, are home to a plethora of wildlife. There are 212 mammal species, 563 bird species, and 240 reptile species that live here, including 60 rare or endangered species of wildlife like tigers, Asian elephants, clouded leopards, Asiatic black bears, and Siamese crocodiles.
This wildlife sanctuary is like a cross between a zoo and a safari park, housing animals rescued from traffickers or saved from poacher’s traps. See the large tiger population, the elephants that paint, the sizeable menagerie, and the world’s largest captive collection of pileated gibbons and Malayan sun bears. Once the animals have recovered they are released back into the wild when possible.
The Northern Plains of Cambodia have been described as the Asian equivalent of the African savannas. Among the deciduous forests, grasslands, and wetlands live mammals and birds not found anywhere else in the world. Near the tiny village of Tmatboey are two of the rarest bird species in the world: the giant ibis and the white-shouldered ibis. You will also see greater and lesser adjutant storks, black-necked storks, great spotted eagles, white-rumped falcons, and Manchurian reed warblers.
The Cardamom Mountains
The Cardamom Mountains are covered with dense, virgin rainforests and have never been fully explored or catalogued. The moist climate and undisturbed nature of these isolated mountains has a rich variety of wildlife and are thought to be home to more than 100 mammals, including the largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, Indochinese tigers, clouded leopards, and Malayan sun bears. Adventure companies take you trekking through the numerous hiking trails to see waterfalls, wander the pristine forests, and see the indigenous wildlife.