Kingdom of Cambodia
Population: 14.7 million
Capital City: Phnom Penh (Pop: 2 million)
People: Khmers (90%)
Currency: Riel and US dollars
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International Dialing Code: +855
Cambodia is a country of incredible history and culture, and is quickly rising a top destination for its beauty, historical monuments and testaments to a torrid history. Home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, Cambodia is also a destination for travellers in search of magnificent remnants of ancient cultures. Between stunning stretches of scenery in Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong Delta among other highlights of Cambodia, this Kingdom is a gem of Southeast Asia.
Cambodia is gaining recognition for its beauty and friendly, welcoming people. However, its tragic history is perhaps its most significant legacy.
From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime, led by the infamous Pol Pot, killed an estimated one and a half million educated Cambodians (about one fifth of the country’s population at the time) in an effort to create an agrarian society. Thousands more were either tortured, killed or fled the country. The Khmer Rouge was finally ousted by the Vietnamese in 1978. In 1979, Cambodia was gripped by civil war, which lasted until the mid 1990s.
Although this tragic story is still immortalised in museums and tourist spots, Cambodia’s most magnificent cultural destination, Angkor Wat, is once again becoming a top destination to explore in the country. This towering ancient complex is the largest religious structure on the globe, is at the heart of Cambodian cultural pride and heritage. Featured on its flag even today, this ancient structure was once the epicentre of the Khmer Empire, which ruled most of the Indochinese peninsula during the 11th through 14th centuries.
Passport and visa
A passport with at least six months validity from the date of entry into Cambodia is required. We recommend you make a photocopy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate, or scan your passport and keep the scan in an accessible email account.
A 30 day visa on arrival is granted for many nationals at Phnom Penh International Airport, Siem Reap International Airport, and International Border Checkpoints. A passport sized photo is required to complete the visa.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has also recently approved e-visas. All you have to do is complete the online application form available at the official website, pay by credit card online, and include uploading a recent passport-size photo in JPEG/ PNG format. This e-visa is a single entry visa valid for 30 months from the date of issue for a 30 day stay.
Please note that visa extensions are available at the Immigration Department in Phnom Penh City for a 3 month stay. The Cambodian government is also set to offer an option for a 3-year tourist visa for certain nationalities in the future.
The official currency is Riel. However, US dollars are also widely accepted and sometimes preferred. Riel is used for items where the price is less than US$1 and can be used in conjunction with USD. ATMs are widely available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang and Sihanoukville; they distribute US dollars. There are not many ATMs outside these areas. It is recommended that you always carry cash in small notes with you. These notes should be clean, and free from rips and tears where possible.
Please note while there are many gem shops in Cambodia, we advise against any purchase as the majority of gems are fake. Our guides are not permitted to take our guests to these shops and any purchase is at your own risk.
Phones and Internet Service
Post in Cambodia is routed by air through Bangkok, making the service much more reliable than in the past.
Telephone connections to the rest of the world are widely available but can be expensive.
Internet access is available in most major tourist places such as hotels and restaurants.
Siem Reap and Phnom Penh
Taxis are generally only used to and from the airport, and are at a set price. Tuk-tuk sare used around town and cost approx$1-3per journey in Siem Reap and around $2 - $3 in Phnom Penh. In both cities, short journeys of less than 1km are about $1 and prices tend to increase at night.
Travel by motorbike in Cambodia is not safe and under no circumstances is this sanctioned or recommended by Buffalo Tours. Please note that travel by motorbike is not usually covered by insurance. Please check the fine print of your travel insurance policy to be sure of your cover.
Cambodia has a tropical climate that is relatively calm and consistent throughout the year. The average temperature is 27 degrees centigrade. There are two seasons, the humid monsoon season which spans from May to October, and the dry season which is from November to April.
Mid-November to February: cool and dry
March to May: hot and dry
June to September: hot and wet
October to early November: cool and wet
Please note: The weather can be unpredictable and it may be a good idea to carry an umbrella or raincoat with you. You can purchase raincoats cheaply from supermarkets and general stores.
Health and Safety
Health and well-being
Please be aware that your health can be at risk in Cambodia due to poor sanitation and lack of proper medical facilities. Rural areas have few, if any, pharmacies and hospitals so make sure you travel with a full supply of any prescribed medicine you take. If you need medical assistance, we recommend Royal Angkor International Hospital in Siem Reap, (t: 063761888) and International SOS Medical & Dental Clinic in Phnom Penh (t: 023216911). Each traveller is responsible for his or her own health. First and foremost, make sure that you have travel insurance for your trip. You should also consult your doctor or local travel clinic for the latest information and advice on travelling to Cambodia before departure.
Please note:If you have a medical condition or allergy which requires particular attention, carry a doctor’s letter with you that describes the nature of the condition and treatment needed. We also recommend you pack a medical kit, including paracetamol and a diarrhoea remedy.
There are many vaccinations needed when travelling to this part of the world. It is important you ensure you have adequate protection against disease. Book an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic, no less than two months before your departure.
Travel insurance (compulsory)
Buffalo Tours does everything possible to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip. However, travel inevitably involves some risk and this should be recognised by holiday-makers. Travel insurance is a cost effective way of protecting yourself and your equipment should any problems occur such as cancelled trips, delays, medical emergencies, baggage loss or damage. It also gives you peace of mind. Please also ensure your travel insurance covers all activities planned on your trip.
Culture & Customs
Etiquette and cultural differences
Experiencing different cultures is one of the joys of travelling and it is important that these differences are respected. Cambodia has cultural norms and taboos which we encourage visitors to understand and abide by.
Try not to get angry. Showing any frustrations or annoyances by shouting or becoming abusive is extremely impolite and it is unlikely to achieve a positive outcome. The Khmer’s don’t like to ‘lose face’.
Refrain from public displays of affection, they are considered offensive. It is extremely rare to see couples holding hands. However, it is quite common for friends of the same sex.
It is polite to remove your shoes before entering a house – look for shoes at the front door as a clue.
Cambodians greet each other with a slight bow and a prayer-like gesture, with the younger or lower-ranked person usually initiating the gesture. For foreigners and business, handshakes are acceptable.
Temple visit etiquette
Foreigners are always welcome in temples. However, it is important that a few simple rules of etiquette are followed:
Dress appropriately and act with the utmost respect when visiting Wats (pagodas) and other religious sites, including the temples of Angkor.
Do not wear shorts or tank tops and make sure your shoulders and knees are covered.
Remove your shoes and hat before going into a vihara (monastery).
If you sit down in front of the dais (the platform on which the Buddha’s are placed), sit with your feet to the side rather than in the lotus position.
Never point your finger or the soles of your feet towards a person or a figure of the Buddha.
A woman may accept something from a monk but should never touch a monk.
Show respectand turn off mobile phones, remove headphones, lower your voice and avoid in appropriate conversation.
Please note: The central tower of Angkor Wat is closed to visitors on Buddhist holidays.
Food and drink
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Cambodia. Bottled water is cheap and widely available.
Khmer cuisine, considered one of the healthiest in the world, has much in common with the food of neighbouring Thailand, although it is generally not as spicy. It is also similar to Vietnamese food, due to its shared colonial French history. The most well-known Cambodian dish is amok. Amok is a coconut based curry traditionally cooked with fish, however it is not uncommon to have it with chicken.
There are many religious public holidays in Cambodia. The main one is the Khmer New Year which takes place from 14 to 16 Aprilevery year. The celebrations usually go on for about a week. The second biggest is Pchum Ben. This national holiday was established for Buddhists to pay their respects to deceased relatives. It is also known as Ancestor's Day, and usually celebrated in September or October.
Donations and gift giving
Cambodia is a very poor country with little in the way of social services and you are likely to see poverty. Please read the following advice about donations and gift giving.
Do not give money to people begging, especially children. This reinforces the belief that begging is an acceptable way to make a living. If children make money from begging, their parents are less likely to send them to school. Children working on the streets are also vulnerable to abuse.
Giving money and goodsto beggars can accentuate an unequal relationship between locals and visitors, with tourists being seen as purely money givers.
Do not give sweets to children in villages that we visit.
Do not feel that you necessarily have to give material things. Sometimes, giving your friendship, time and interest to locals can be the best gift of all.
Tipping is a personal matter and travellers are encouraged to tip any amount they feel is appropriate. For your convenience, we have included a suggested tipping guide below:
Chambermaid: $1 per day
Guides: $5-$10 per day for guides (depending on group size and performance)
Drivers: $2-$5 per day, per person
Restaurants: In smart establishments you may find that the tip is already included in the bill. In local restaurants tips are not expected but you may wish to leave loose change on the table.
Khmer food: from $5
Western food: from $7
SIM card: $3
DVDs: $2.50- $3
Passport with at least six months validity from date of entry
Photocopy of passport
Visa or a passport photo and US$30 for visa on arrival
Foreign currency (US$) and/or ATM card
All relevant tickets
Long-sleeved shirts and trousers (recommended for evenings)
Electrical adaptor: 220V, 50Hz; 2 pin plugs
A small bag/backpack for day and overnight trips
Appropriate shoes for trekking, cycling and walking
Medication/first aid kit
Please note: Domestic airlines impose baggage weight restrictions of around 20kg maximum, so travel lightly where possible.
Our very best wishes for your tour to Cambodia.