50 things you need to know before traveling to Cambodia

Traveling to Cambodia is a rollercoaster. This is a country of extremes, where you can find the most amazing things but also be confronted with a few very bad ones. It has a tremendous and horrible history! As a traveler, one faces significant challenges, but it pays off big time.

After being amazed, frustrated, emotional and even resigned with Cambodia, we decided to compile a list of everything you need to know about traveling to Cambodia to help you understand Cambodia better.

Cambodia and the Locals

#1 Cambodia is located on the Indochina peninsula in Southeast Asia. It’s bordered by Thailand in the west, Laos in the north, and Vietnam in the east.

50 things about Cambodia
Traditional fisherman’s village in Koh Rong

#2 Cambodia is a very poor country! Even when compared to its neighbors… It’s arguably the poorest country in the region, even poorer than Laos, Myanmar, and East Timor.

#3 Tourism and tourists are a significant source of income for Cambodians.

#4 Unlike the Lao, Cambodians try their best (and sometimes their worst) to earn money with tourists. They take initiative and try to provide services or sell stuff to the Tourists, although they aren’t too pushy.

50 thing about Combodia
Sihanoukville at night

#5 Like Laos and Vietnam, Cambodia was a French colony. Despite this, we didn’t find anyone speaking French.

#6 However, Cambodians speak much better English than Thais and Laos. Therefore, it was easy to communicate in Cambodia. The official language of Cambodia is Khmer.

What to do in Angkor Wat - Cambodia
One of the many Khmer temples in the Angkor Complex

#7 Cambodia had one of the worst dictatorships ever, the Khmer Rouge. In 4 years (1975-179), the Khmer Rouge killed 2 Million people, 1/4 of the population! This is one of the unfortunate things Cambodia is famous for.

#8 The Khmer Rouge was not only barbaric but also idiotic. They decided to empty the cities, sending everyone to the fields and planting rice. Every single industry was forbidden, and everyone with any kind of higher education was killed…

Must go to Tuol-Sleng Combodia
One of the rooms transformed into torture room

#9 The population is growing very quickly. It grew almost 3 times, from 6.7 M in 1980 to 16 M in 2016. This also makes it a very young population.

#10 Don’t forget that Cambodians are mainly Buddhists! They are usually very patient with tourists, but please respect their culture, religion, and habits.

Cambodia and the Locals
The interior of a small temple in a traditional village

#11 Cambodia is dirty and has a major garbage disposal problem! There’s trash everywhere in Cambodia, it’s something very difficult to overlook! Even after living in Angola, and kind of being used to seeing garbage everywhere, Cambodia impressed us.

things about Vientien Combodia
The trash in Phnom Pehn

#12 This is not only an “organizational thing”, but it’s also a mentality/cultural thing. Cambodians really need to learn to take care of the environment. Tourists won’t return if the attractions are all dirty, but most importantly it’s a matter of public health!

Travel destinations and tourists in Cambodia

#13 Angkor Wat is the main tourist attraction in Cambodia, and deservedly so. It’s one of the 7 new world wonders and truly one of the greatest achievements of the ancient world!

#14 The Angkor complex is formed by dozens of temples and other archaeological sites spread over 400 km2. Don’t visit only Angkor Wat, go to Angkor Thom, Bayon temple, and many others! This should take you at least 2 days of activity, though the best would be spending 3 days in Angkor.

Visit Angkor Wat
The almost mandatory picture – Posing in front of Angkor Wat

#15 Though we loved Angkor, we really disliked Siem Reap. Keep your expectations as low as possible about the town. It’s messy, dirty, overcrowded, and touristy in the worst kind of way. It’s also very, very hot, which makes the whole experience worse.

#16 We didn’t care much about Phnom Penh. It looked very dirty and uninteresting. It was also incredibly hot, which made the experience worse.

#17 The Royal Palace is pleasant but really isn’t worth spending much time on. It isn’t unique or awe-inspiring compared with the ones in Thailand or Laos.

Things about Phnom Penh Combodia
The Royal Palace – One of the things to see in Phnom Penh

#18 The most impressive experience in Phnom Penh was clearly the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It’s a very immersive experience in a reality so cruel that is difficult to understand how it was possible and “allowed”. Like Dachau Memorial, it’s a full cultural and history lesson about human nature. This is a place that we won’t ever forget!

If you want to have a tour, you can go to Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields with Urban Adventure.

Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields Combodia
The exterior of the Genocide Museum

#19 Koh ta Kiev became our personal paradise. With warm, clear water and powdered sand, it’s the place where our minds wander when we are daydreaming. It’s the perfect no-frills place to relax and get away from the world. We were supposed to stay for one day and stayed 3 days…

Click here to see our full experience in Koh ta Kiev!*

*Click at your own risk! We don’t assume any responsibility if you get an uncontrollable urge to sell everything and run away to Koh ta Kiev.

Where to go in Cambodia? Koh ta Kiev
Traveling to Cambodia can be amazing!

#20 Koh Rong is the opposite! It’s Cambodia’s party island, where backpackers and hippies go to a party, drink, and dance. Unfortunately, it’s also filthy and disgusting in the main village

However, you can still find great beaches in Koh Rong, namely long beach, which is easily one of the most stunning beaches we have ever been to!

The astonishing Long Beach in Koh Rong, at sunset
The astonishing Long Beach in Koh Rong, at sunset

#21 Sihanoukville is a coastal town in Cambodia with a very sketchy reputation related to drugs and sex tourism, though we didn’t notice anything different from other tourist destinations in South East Asia. What really impressed us was the looks of the beach in the morning… I wouldn’t get in that water even if I got paid!

Travel destinations and tourists in Cambodia
This is Sihanoukville, and no further comments…

#22 Kampot is also very popular among tourists. It’s a small town with charming french colonial architecture. This a destination for slow travelers, where you can enjoy nature and a few historical buildings.

Kampot is also known for being one of the best places to eat in Cambodia and for the origin of the Kampot Pepper. Have a look at the best things to do in Kampot!

Khmer food and What to eat Cambodia?

#23 Khmer food is similar to Lao and Thai. Probably closer to Lao because it isn’t as spicy as Thai.

Click here to see everything you need to know about Thai cuisine

#24 If you have the opportunity, try Kampot pepper. The production decreased during the wars and afterward, but it’s starting to recover again. It was once very famous in French cuisine and regarded as the best pepper in the world!

Kampot pepper Combodia
A dish using the delicious Kampot pepper

#25 Our favorite Khmer dish is the Amok! It can be chicken, beef, or fish. Either way, it’s great. Amok is a thick soup cooked with fish, meat, vegetables, eggs, and coconut milk. It’s usually eaten with white rice.

Food and eating in Cambodia

#26 Although by international standards, food is extremely cheap, we found it to be slightly more expensive than in Thailand or Malaysia. Maybe on par with Laos.

#27 While in Cambodia, we found these incredibly tasty, crispy, and delicious tarantulas! Well, not really, 🙂 we couldn’t eat them… It’s too freaky for us! But you can try them if you must.

Eating Tarantulas in Cambodia
The tarantulas are those blacky thingies…

#28 Restaurant menus are huge… We are talking about 100+ available dishes huge! In one restaurant, we even found poutine on the menu!

If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, have a look at these great 2-week itineraries to Cambodia.

How much does it cost to travel to Cambodia?

#29 What’s the official currency of  Cambodia? Well, the official currency of Cambodia is the Riel, although, to a tourist, the USD is the de facto currency of Cambodia.

It’s the currency used in most transactions, leaving the Riel to be used as a small change/breaking the USD. Remember that USD coins aren’t used.

#30 The ATMs will dispense USD if you use a foreign card.

Things about Cambodia
Monkies are one of the animals you will see when travelling to Cambodia

#31 While the actual amount depends on the bank, every ATM cash withdrawal fee is about 5 USD. Anyway, try to withdraw money as few times as possible.

#32 Remember that cash is king. Very few stores/restaurants/guesthouses accept your credit card, and those who do will charge you up to 5% to pay directly.

How to go to Koh Ta Kiev - traveling in Cambodia
Cambodia travel

#33 Overall, we spent 977 Euros in Cambodia for 11 days, averaging 33 Euros per person per day. This is way too much when compared with other countries in the region.

#34 However, this includes the visa (30 USD) and the 3-day tickets to Angkor Wat (62 USD). Therefore without these and with a longer stay, it would be much more in line with Laos, yet still considerably more expensive than Malaysia or Thailand.

How to visit Angkor-Wat Cambodia
Tip: Go to Angkor early in the morning before the big tourist groups from organized tours arrive!

#35 Accommodation and food are remarkably inexpensive. Transportation is a bit more expensive, but still cheap compared to western countries.

Traveling in Cambodia

#36 We knew that the SE Asian countries had crazy traffic and were very dangerous, but Cambodians really took it to a whole new level! We will never take another minivan in Cambodia, and so shouldn’t you!

#37 In Cambodia, you won’t be able to escape the Tuk-Tuks. We managed to do it in Thailand and Laos but not in Cambodia. You might as well embrace it and try to enjoy it. Some of them as nice, and some aren’t…

Things to do in Sihanoukville Cambodia
Golden Lions in the center square of Sihanoukville

#38 From Sihanoukville, getting to and from the islands is very easy. There are several boats to the mainland, and you can easily connect the boats to buses and mini-vans. Though, again, we don’t suggest using minivans. They are absolutely crazy drivers.

#39 Apart from a weekend tourist train from Sihanoukville to Phnom Phen, there are no trains in Cambodia…

Transports in Cambodia
SELFIE… because you get bored after the first 4 hours on the bus

#40 Traveling in Cambodia is almost as slow as in Laos. 🙂 The country isn’t very big, but it takes a full day or at least half a day to travel between towns.

#41 Like Thailand and Laos, buses and even mini-vans will drop you off in the weirdest places (usually a few km outside the tourist center). This happens because the bus and van drivers arrange this with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers.

So, be careful because it can be dangerous and/or expensive. Although, to be honest, never really happen anything dangerous to us.

Traveling in Cambodia
Travel to Cambodia

Other useful  travel trips to Cambodia

#42 In Cambodia, the power socket is of type A (primarily used in North America, China, and Japan), C (the euro socket), and G (the British socket). The voltage is 230 V, and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

If you need an adaptor, we suggest you buy this one.

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#43 There is WI-FI everywhere. Almost every coffee shop, restaurant, and guesthouse offer it, however, it’s pretty bad and unreliable.

traveling to Cambodia
Relaxing in Koh ta Kiev – Reasons to travel to Cambodia

#44 Almost every place expects you to take off your shoes when you come, not only the temples but even hostels and sometimes restaurants.

#45 Get used to Asian bathrooms… In Cambodia, it won’t be easy to find a western one! This means that the shower and the toilet are together, so everything gets wet after a bath.

#46 Always bring toilet paper with you, most bathrooms won’t have it, and sometimes even in hostels, you will need your toilet paper…

What to visit Angkor-Wat Cambodia
The famous trees growing inside, outside, and on the walls of the abandoned temples

#47 How’s the climate in Cambodia? Basically, it’s dominated by monsoons with two distinct seasons. The rainy season, which runs from May to October, can see temperatures drop to 22 °C (71.6 °F) and is generally accompanied by high humidity. The dry season lasts from November to April, when temperatures can rise up to 40 °C (104 °F) around April.

#48 Is it safe to travel to Cambodia? Cambodia is a fairly safe country to backpack, as long as you don’t do stupid things. We never had any problems traveling in Cambodia, and we walked around freely and used plenty of public transport.

Traveling in Cambodia
Swing on the beach

#49 Do you need Vaccinations to travel to Cambodia? There are no mandatory vaccines to enter Cambodia (except if you are arriving from countries with a risk of Yellow Fever). On the other hand, it’s highly recommended vaccinations as per the following:

  • All Travellers: Routine Vaccinations / Injections: MMR, DTaP
  • Most Travellers: Typhoid, Hepatitis A
  • Some Travellers: Hepatitis B, Rabies, Cholera, and Japanese Encephalitis

You should also note that there is a High Risk of Malaria across Cambodia, so you should probably take Malaria tablets with you and reduce mosquito bites the best you can.

#50  Lastly and probably one of the most important things: get used to the idea of seeing children asking you for money/trying to sell you something. As difficult as it is, resist the urge to give them money. You are doing more harm than good. Parents and/or organized criminal groups use the children to beg and get their money!

These children are probably the cutest thing you’ll ever see, and that’s why they are used to “working with tourists.” However, to do this, they are not going to school and getting the possibility of having a better future. Giving money or even buying things from the children contributes to this nasty cycle.

useful Cambodia travel information
Child playing on the beach in Koh Rong isn’t as clean as it looks here…

Now we hope that you understand Cambodia better. Moreover, we hope to inspire you to travel to Cambodia. We want you to both enjoy every great thing Cambodia has to offer and deal with the bad and frustrating things that have.

Our Recommended Cambodia Travel Guide Books

The Rough Guide to Cambodia (Rough Guides)

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Further read on Cambodia Travel

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50 things about Cambodia

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