Known as the Khmer Empire for more than 600 years, Cambodia lies in the southern reaches of the Indochina Peninsula. It is fed by the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, along with their many tributaries. The largest lake, also called Tonle Sap, is notable for its annual inundation during which it grows by 8,500 square miles. This rare phenomenon, resulting from the reverse flow of the Mekong River during the heavy rainy season, has earned the lake Biosphere Reserve status with UNESCO and transforms it into a vibrant fishing area each year.
A peaceful country, about 95% of Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism. The massive temple of Angkor Wat helped to spread the religion throughout Southeast Asia. Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. Its capital is Phnom Penh.
Cambodia is a developing country. Infrastructure, including modern roads, is fairly good, but poverty is apparent. The Country Walkers tour has been designed to maximize exposure to the diversity, land, people, and culture of Cambodia, both on foot and during the travel days.
The most important tools that a traveler can bring are a sense of humor, flexibility, and an open mind to cultural differences. While the itinerary in Cambodia has been established with the assistance of local expert guides and operators, each experience is unique and requires patience on the part of the traveler.
Language: The language of Cambodia—Khmer—belongs to the Mon-Khmer family of languages. Visually, the Khmer alphabet is similar to those of Thai and Lao, and many words in these three languages trace their origins to common Pali or Sanskrit roots.
While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges.
Shopping and banking hours: Shops, stores, and open markets are generally open daily between 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday and Saturday morning.
Arts & crafts of Cambodia: Cambodia, like neighboring countries, has a rich tradition of handcrafted articles and is especially known for its fine silks and other textiles, carvings, and silverwork.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served from noon to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Tipping: Cambodia does not have a tradition of tipping, therefore while it is greatly appreciated, it is entirely discretionary. As a guideline, in restaurants, 10 percent of the total is appropriate. For taxi drivers, you can round up the fare. For luggage assistance, a small tip of perhaps one dollar total, at your discretion.
Cambodia public holidays: Cambodian public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Cambodian tourist board’s website Cambodian tourist board’s website for a list of public holidays and festivals.
Dress etiquette and social conduct: It is important to dress modestly in Cambodia. Shorts are generally fine as long as they are not too short. Please note that when visiting temples or pagodas, shorts and tank tops are not acceptable. Your knees and shoulders must be covered. Footwear and socks must be removed in pagodas and also some temples. Shoes are usually removed when entering private homes. Public displays of affection between men and women are considered shocking. On the other hand, it is perfectly normal for a pair of men or women to link arms or hold hands. Upon meeting each other, people may simply nod or shake hands. Using both hands is a warm gesture of respect. When greeting someone, hands are put together in a prayer-like position at the chest and the head is slightly lowered. Avoid putting your feet up and inadvertently pointing them at someone, which can be interpreted as being disrespectful. Likewise, touching someone’s head is also considered improper in Cambodian culture.
Charitable donations to children: We recommend that you do not acquiesce to the temptation of rewarding children who beg for sweets, pencils, or spare change. As difficult as this may be, you can make a more positive impact by giving donations of school supplies or books to your guide, who will ensure that they reach one of the villages visited on the tour, or by making a donation to a nongovernmental organization working in Cambodia.
Khmer cuisine, as it is known in Cambodia, is similar to the food of neighboring countries, but perhaps bears most similarity to Thai cuisine, except that it is much less spicy. In fact, a red curry in Cambodia, although it may look hot, is mild and made with sweet potatoes. The staple of the diet is rice and freshwater fish, and tropical fruits are abundant and usually included at every meal for dessert. A central ingredient in Cambodian cuisine is prahok, a fermented fish paste, used either as a savory dipping sauce in its stronger form, or blended with other herbs and ingredients to add depth and the distinctive Khmer flavor of many dishes. Rice noodle soup or porridge is ubiquitous, as are freshly baked baguettes, the legacy of France’s colonial period.
Food tips: Country Walkers and our guides take great care to select and work with hotel properties and restaurants that meet our rigorous standards in food safety. Outside of these establishments, it is wise to avoid eating foods sold by local street vendors, peeled fruit or unwashed vegetables. We recommend following the simple rule, “If you can’t peel it, don’t eat it.” Avoid fresh salads, with the exception of those served in fine restaurants, and fruit juices unless they are 100 percent juice.
Water: We advise that you drink only bottled water, including for ice cubes in drinks and brushing your teeth. Bottled water is widely available.
Cambodia has a tropical climate with a rainy season from May to October. From November to April, the weather is warm, sunny, and humid, although less humid than during the rainy season. Occasional short rain showers can occur year-round, although typically rain falls at night during the drier winter months. The average temperatures (high/low) in Siem Reap in November are 87/71° F.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are required and a 30-day single-entry tourist visa can either be obtained in advance from the Embassy of Cambodia (embassyofcambodia.org/visa.html) or upon arrival at Siem Reap International Airport.
- If you choose to obtain the visa upon arrival, the cost is $35 (as of November 2016). You must make the payment in cash (USD), and provide two passport-sized photographs.
- If you apply for a visa before you travel, you must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond your return travel date, as the actual visa will be stamped into your passport. To apply for a visa, visit the Embassy of Cambodia website and print out a form: embassyofcambodia.org/visa.html. Complete and send it with the fee, passport photographs, and your passport to the address listed. Alternately, you can apply online by clicking on “E-Visa”.
For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Cambodia uses the Cambodian riel (KHR). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 KHR. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s) and some U.S. dollars to exchange. Always contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when traveling. Note that you will be able to find ATMs in Siem Reap.
No immunizations are required to enter Cambodia. Always consult a travel clinic at a local university, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and/or your personal physician for the most up-to-date recommendations and routine vaccinations. Malaria medication, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are generally recommended for all travelers. For the threat of malaria, you should consult the CDC or your physician for the most current information.
Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (877-394-8747), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Bathroom facilities: While all Country Walkers accommodations have Western-style flush toilets, it is common to find Eastern-style toilets in restaurants and tea houses. These facilities are not much more than a porcelain-lined hole in the ground and one must carry one’s own toilet paper. Please realize that while this type of toilet may seem awkward, it is not unsanitary.
Personal safety: Cambodia requires the common sense and exercise of above-normal precautions for personal safety that apply in many countries and cities worldwide. In addition to being aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables close and hidden while in public (avoid dangling cameras or other “tourist bait”), and avoid walking alone at night. Please follow accommodation and/or tour representative guidelines about securing valuables.
Electricity: Alternating current of 220V and 50Hz is used in Cambodia. The most common plugs are the type with two round pins and two flat blades. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Cambodia’s country code is “+855.” Cell phone coverage throughout Cambodia is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Cambodia is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
International flights arrive at Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, and at the Siem Reap International Airport, which serves visitors to the temples of Angkor. A domestic air network connects the two airports. For both airports, see cambodia-airports.aero.
International Airports in Cambodia
- Phnom Penh Airport
- Siem Reap Airport
Other local transportation
Outside of domestic flights, getting around via ground transportation in Cambodia is improving, although it is still less convenient than flying due to an under-developed road system. Renting a car is not recommended; however, taxis are available at airports and towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can provide assistance); a car and driver can also be reserved for an entire day or part of a day. For more information, see the Cambodian tourist board website at tourismcambodia.org or contact Country Walkers.