Know Before You Go - Cambodia
Do I need a visa? Is it safe? How do I get around? We cover the essentials so you can travel like a pro, and relax while you do!
PASSPORT & VISA
United States citizens are required to obtain a visa in order to visit Cambodia. Tourist visas are valid for one month from the date of entry, and can be purchased on arrival for $30, or acquired in advance of traveling. Additional requirements for the visa include obtaining two additional passport photographs that meet the requirements of the visa application, as well as a full blank page available in your passport for the visa/stamp. You can apply online through their eVisa program, saving you a trip to an embassy, or use one of numerous services to handle your application for you.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Ensure you are up to date on all vaccinations prior to traveling to Cambodia, and consider purchasing travel insurance in the case of an emergency as medical services and facilities here do not meet international standards. If you do require emergency care, you will likely need to be taken to a hospital outside of the country. Phnom Penh or Siem Reap both have international clinics that are available in case an emergency does arise.
Cambodia, like all heavily touristed areas, is prone to crime, particularly theft. Use common sense while visiting, and don't give further reasons to make yourself a target for theft. Store valuables in a hotel safe, or better yet, simply leave them back home.
Another common question: can I drink the tap water? Generally, assume the answer is no.
METHODS OF PAYMENT
The Cambodian Riel typically trades at about 4,000 Riel to 1 US Dollar, but like most places in Southeast Asia, new, crisp U.S. dollars were the best and often only method of payment. Credit cards are accepted by larger of vendors, those being large hotels or tour operators, and may carry a fee. If you desire, you can change money at a bank, but you many not have the need. Do be aware, however, that you shouldn't expect to receive change returned in US Dollars, nor should you expect a vendor to want to give you change when you've purchased a less expensive item with a large bill.
Haggling is accepted, and anticipated, at all street vendors. In fact if you don't you will grossly overpay for whatever you buy. That said, some modern shops may have fixed prices, but it can still be worthwhile to negotiate in a less dramatic way, such as asking for two items for a discounted price.
Tipping is generally expected and recommended in all of the typical circumstances. A tip of $1-$5 for restaurants, housekeeping, and porters is expected. For drivers, $10 per day is typical, and double that for private tour guides to $20.
Transportation in Cambodia, as with most places in Southeast Asia, gives you a new appreciation for the networks we have at home. Don't expect to get anywhere quickly, as traffic can be chaotic and the road conditions leave much to be desired. Roads are filled with a mix of cars, trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, and tuk-tuks. Traffic accidents are common, so we do not recommend driving yourself. Also, though convenient, be cautious when traveling by tuk-tuk or motorcycle due to concerns for theft.
WHEN TO GO
Weather in Cambodia is typically thought of as two distinct seasons: dry and wet. To give yourself the best odds for clear weather, travel during the dry season between November and March, and be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen. The tourism industry is alive and well in Cambodia, so be sure to book accomodations well in advance.
Within major urban centers or tourist areas, such as Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, dress is casual. Typically, people dress to beat the heat. At places of worship, however, dress conservatively. This means covering your knees and shoulders. Typically, light, loose-fitting clothing is much comfortable to help with the heat and humidity, plus it meets the conservative dress requirements.
OTHER DOS AND DON'TS
Remember that you are visiting a country coming out of decades of oppressive military rule which also considers many things sacred or holy that you may not understand. Be polite and respectful in all situations, and you should be fine. That said, a few tips to recall when you are visiting:
Don't take pictures of military personnel or installations.
Don't initiate discussions of past war and violence, or wear clothing that references it.
Ask people prior to taking their photograph.
Don't touch a monk, even offering to shake hands, unless they initiate it.
When sitting, don't point your feet towards any person or pagoda as it is considered disrespectful. If you aren't sure where to point them, tuck them underneath you.