Traveling to Cambodia? Maybe you’re making plans too? To help you get prepared for your upcoming visit, we have a few essential Cambodia travel tips just below. From the best time to visit Cambodia, to what to see and what you should skip, and a helpful etiquette list, after you read our below things to know before traveling to Cambodia, you’ll be more than ready for your amazing Cambodia adventure.
Cambodia Travel Tips
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1. There Are Two Forms of Cambodian Currency
Yup! You read that correctly. Two forms. First up on on our Cambodia travel tips is money. Kinda important right?
While the official currency of Cambodia is the Riel, US dollars (USD) are widely used throughout the country too. While street vendors, shop owners as well as restaurants will have prices shown in the Cambodian Riel, you can pay in US dollars, no problem.
Cambodia Travel Tips: When using U.S. dollars, but sure the bills are not torn in any way. If the bill is damaged (torn or has writing on it), more often than not, Cambodians will refuse to accept bills in damaged form.
Just be prepared that when you pay for something using one currency, you’ll more than likely get a mix of both U.S. dollars and Cambodian Riel in return as your change.
While this can add to the confusion, to avoid any potential scams, just make sure you know the Riel to the USD exchange rate so you can be sure you are getting back the appropriate amount of change back. During our trip, the standard exchange rate across the country was $1 USD to 4,000 Cambodian Riel, which thankfully makes for a pretty easy to use for conversion to do in your head.
Check out our Cambodia Itinerary to allow us to help you plan your visit to Cambodia!
2. Getting Your Cambodia Visa on Arrival Is Easy
No need to apply ahead of time (if you don’t want to), you can get your visa on arrival for Cambodia when you land at either Siem Reap International Airport or Phnom Penh International Airport. Also, visa on arrivals is eligible at select border crossings for those who are traveling overland to and from Cambodia.
Cambodia’s visa on arrival costs $30 USD and is good for 30 days starting on your date of entry into the country. You’ll need:
- $30 USD in cash (not debit cards, checks or credit cards)
- A passport size photo that meets passport photo requirements
- A valid passport that has enough pages for stamps and does not expire within 6 months.
If you are wanting to apply for a visa ahead of time, Cambodia does offer eVisa’s. You can visit Cambodia’s official eVisa site and follow the steps of the application. Just know that an eVisa is not instantaneous and requires several days for processing.
As always, before visiting any country, be sure you check an official government website to understand the country’s specific entry and visa requirements. Things and policies change, so just make sure you come prepared with the proper documentation.
3. Transportation Moves On Cambodian Time
Our advice to you. Be patient. Patience is key when traveling around Cambodia. Sometimes things leave on time, but more times, they don’t. Just know it’s out of your control and you’ll arrive at your next destination when you arrive.
The best way to get around Cambodia is via tuk-tuks and busses. Tuk-tuks are great for getting you around town when things are a little too far to walk to whereas busses are the most popular form and best way to get to your next city or town.
Be sure to book your transportation a few days ahead of time to ensure you get the day and time you want. BookMeBus and 12GoAsia are great sites to check out the latest transportation timetables and prices.
4. Do Not Drink The Tap Water
It should go without saying, but just to cover the basics, DO NOT drink the tap water in Cambodia. Also, be careful when brushing your teeth and showering too. A little accidental drop of water you sallow can lead to big stomach troubles later.
5. Know When It’s The Best Time To Visit Cambodia
Understand that when planning your trip to Cambodia, there are two seasons in Cambodia, wet and dry.
The wet season is caused by the Southwest Monsoon bringing rain to the country from late May to September. The best time to visit Cambodia, in terms of no rain, is from October to early May.
From October to early May, cities like Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Battambang, Sihanoukville, and the islands of Cambodia are rain-free but oh, so hot! Like SOOOOO HOT. Also, these months are considered peak season meaning more people and higher prices.
If you are looking to save a few dollars, look into visiting Cambodia during its rainy season or its shoulder season. Sure, it may be difficult to get around at times, but the scenery will be lush and the tourists will be fewer.
6. Make Sure Not To Skip Cambodia’s Beaches
When most people think of beaches in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Thailand come to mind. However, Cambodia is home to some amazing beaches and islands, two of which are Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem.
To get to the islands of Cambodia, you can catch a ferry from Sihanoukville. From parties and bioluminescent plankton to quiet strolls and amazing stars, spending a few days on a Cambodian island should be a must-do when visiting Cambodia.
7. Do Make Sure To Skip Sihanoukville
The only reason you should go to Sihanoukville is to leave Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is far from pleasant (in our opinion) and should only be visited to catch a ferry to the Cambodian Islands.
Why is Sihanoukville so unpleasant? It’s loud, dirty, full of bad casino’s and offers nothing to see or do of worth. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you are limited or time or even looking to see the best of Cambodia, we advise skipping Sihanoukville at all costs.
8. You’ll Need To Cover Up When Visiting Temples
While popular temples in Cambodia may look like piles of ruins to us, they are important sights for practicing Buddhists.
- For women, their shoulders, chest, and knees must be covered to gain access to temples. Plan to pack a scarf or sarong that you can easily wrap around your waist or drape over your shoulders to cover your “revealing” parts.
- For men, tank tops are not permitted and in some cases, men are also required to cover their knees.
- For all genders, shoes must be removed before stepping foot inside of temples.
9. Yes, Angkor Wat Is Worth It, But Crowded
You have failed big time if you skip Angkor Wat when traveling to Cambodia. A visit to Angkor Wat is worth every penny. You’ll want to a lot at least one day to visit Angkor Wat and its archeological site. Also, seeing the sunrise over Angkor Wat is great, but is beyond crowded with tourists. You’ll be lucky to get a good seat or view to see the sunrise, so even though we enjoyed it, it’s definitely a little chaotic. Just plan ahead and you’ll have no problem.
10. Is Cambodia Cheap?
Yes and no. It depends on the type of traveler you are and what you want to do.
For those looking to keep it cheap, Cambodia definitely has cheap eats (street food) and budget accommodations for you to choose from. While it’s a blast, be prepared to spend some money when partying your way down Pub Street or paying to visit Angkor Wat.
For those not really on any sort of budget and just looking to experience the country, there are amazing restaurants and cocktail lounges, guided tours, and accommodations for you to choose from, especially near Angor Wat, where folks can beat the heat in amazing pools.
Long story short, yes, Cambodia is cheap but also has fine dining and luxurious accommodations as well.
11. Cambodia is Safe, But Scams Still Happen
Be Aware of Your Belongings. Out of all the countries we’ve been to in Southeast Asia, we were never reminded more to “watch out for our belongings” like we were in Cambodia. The people that reminded us the most to watch our belongings were the locals themselves!
We were told handfuls of times to not record videos while we were riding in tuk-tuks as our drivers informed us, “thieves look for opportunities like these to drive by and grab your phone.” We’d be lying if we said this didn’t make us nervous. However, we’re not here to scare you! We are happy to report that we ran into no issues whatsoever!
However, we were smart and listened to the folks who were trying to keep us safe.
Cambodia Travel Tips for Safety:
- Keep your phones out of site when not in use.
- If you are traveling with a bag, make sure the bag goes across your body versus just casually strapped over one shoulder.
- Never put anything in your back pockets (i.e phone, wallet, etc.). Make sure they are zipped away or in your front pockets.
- Only carry what you need on you aka leave the passport locked up in the room with all your extra cash
- When purchasing something, open your wallet discretely. You don’t want to show people how much money you have on you.
Theft does not happen only in Cambodia. Theft can happen anywhere! Duh, right? Just be smart and aware and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Don’t Buy Anything From Children
As much as you want to, don’t. It’s awful and hard with those cute little faces begging you, but please, don’t. We know, we know you think you are doing a good deed, but you’re not. These kids are pulled out of school to come into the city and sell cheap trinkets.
It’s so important not to buy souvenirs from these kids as it devalues education for them. Rather than going to school, families think using their kids to make money is more valuable than them getting an education.
The Food Scam
There you are, walking down the street on the hunt for some tasty Khmer food when all of a sudden, you’re approached by a small, cute hungry child telling you how they don’t want any more, they just want a meal.
Seems 100% legit and something you can do to make the world a better place – feed a hungry child. The child points in the direction of a restaurant. THIS IS WHERE YOU STOP. STOP RIGHT NOW.
The scam begins the moment you agree to this innocent request. The kid is in cahoots with the restaurant. You’ll go to the restaurant and be hit with a MASSIVE bill and be forced to pay it. The restaurant and the kid split the profit when you leave.
The Baby Milk Scam
If you thought being approached by a hungry kid was hard, wait till you are approached by a mom, a toddler, and an infant. Woof, we get sad just thinking about it. Here’s how it goes…
As we said, you’ll get approached by a mother holding a very tiny, not-fussy infant asking you to buy formula for her baby. You may find it odd that a seemingly starving child isn’t making a peep or even moving that much but the humanitarian in you overrides and you agree. She’ll point to a mini-mart where you’ll pay $20 – $30 USD for a can of baby formula.
After you leave, feeling like the good Samaritan of the year, the money you just paid is split between the store owner and the girl. In addition, that non-fussy baby is likely being drugged to keep it calm during the formula negotiations.
You can honestly google both of these scams and read about them as there are so many stories out there. The big thing with both of these scams is to politely decline and keep walking.
The Motobike Theft Scam
One of the best ways to get around Cambodia is by renting a scooter or motorbike because they are so easy to ride and cheap to reserve. However, scams have been popping up over the years regarding motorbike rentals and theft.
Once you rent a motorbike, someone will follow you. Once you leave your bike parked, that someone following you will steal your bike leaving you with your bill to replace it with the rental company. The person who stole your bike is working with the motorbike rental company and both are looking to make a profit off of you.
Always rent from a reputable company or your accommodation to avoid this scam from potentially happening to you.
Cambodia Travel Tips: The scams listed here are not the only ones operating in the country. Keep your belongings close by and be wary and border crossings and always listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel or seem right, it’s probably not. Politely decline any offer and remove yourself from the situation and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you ever give any person or police your passport.
12. Keep To The Main Paths In Rural Areas
Probably one of our most important Cambodia travel tips. Why? Landmines. Due to conflicts of the past, The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates there may be as many as four to six million active landmines in Cambodia.
So when traveling in rural Cambodia, stay on main walking and hiking paths and pay attention to signs. It’s a sad fact, but Cambodia ranks among the highest numbers of amputees caused by unknowingly standing on an active landmine.
13. Avoid Animal Tourism in Cambodia
Let us be VERY clear, under NO circumstances should you ever ride an elephant. Never ever. One of the most popular activities in all of Cambodia is seeing Angkor Wat by the back of an elephant. Please do not partake. An elephant is not meant to be ridden. Physically, they are not made for it. Animals, such as elephants, suffer extraordinary bodily harm for the sake of pleasing tourists. Don’t be that tourist.
If you want to interact with animals when traveling aboard, DUE YOUR RESEARCH and ensure the company is ethically responsible, not only for the animals but uses fair labor practices and employees the services of local people responsibly.
14. You Can Bargain and Haggle
Who doesn’t love a good bargain? While haggling may be frowned upon in your home country, you can haggle away in Cambodia. Places like hotels, malls, and restaurants are of course a no-go for haggling, but when shopping in local markets, go on and get your haggle on.
15. Where To Get Money
When you land at either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports, you can get money out at the ATMs that you’ll find available in the airports themselves. Once in the streets of Cambodia, there are ATMs scattered about larger cities.
If you are planning to visit the islands, be sure to withdrawal money ahead of time as many of the islands do not have ATMs as of yet.
Cambodia Travel Tips: When withdrawing money from ATMs, you’ll pay a foreign transaction and ATM fee. To avoid adding incremental costs, look for debit cards that offer 0 foreign and ATM fees. For use, we used Charles Schwab Debit Card and saved loads in unnecessary transaction fees.
16. Do You Tip In Cambodia?
Cambodia tips for tipping in Cambodia is this, it is tips are not expected but are appreciated. The country of Cambodia is poor and with workers making low wages, a few extra Riel left behind goes a long way for some workers.
For restaurants, spas, and tour guides 10% is a good rule. Of course, if the service is exceptional, feel free to give more! If a hotel employee, tuk-tuk driver, or cab driver goes out of their way in helping you with bags or recommendations for the area, feel free to tip but it is not expected.
17. Learn About The Cambodian Genocide Before Traveling To Cambodia
Before traveling to Cambodia, educate yourself on recent Cambodian history and the country’s dark past. Seriously, do it. During the ’70s the country went through one of the worst genocides in modern history. It is estimated that about 2 million Cambodians were killed during the 4-year reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
If you plan to visit The Killing Fields or S21, we recommend learning more about those events prior to your visit. Be warned, it’s an intense place but something we firmly believe everyone should see and be educated on during their visit to Cambodia.
Cambodia Travel Tips: Before visiting Cambodia, you can actually do your research ahead of time by reading the book First They Killed My Father. It’s a difficult read but provides a first-hand account of what one family endured during Pol Pot’s reign of terror.
18. Learn A Little About Cambodia Etiquette
What’s considered rude or polite in Cambodia may differ widely then what is considered rude or polite in your home country. Cambodia is a Buddhist country that appreciates modest behavior, action, and dress. Along with this, a few other things
- Ease up on the public displays of affection and arguing in public
- Don’t take photos of locals without their permission
- Avoid using your left hand to hand someone something
- Show respect by giving and receiving objects with both of your hands versus just one
- Don’t point, use your open hand to direct
- Remove your shoes when entering homes or temples
- Dress appropriately when visiting temples aka shoulders and knees covered.
- Women, in particular, should not sit too close to Monks or touch them.
19. If You Want To Volunteer In Cambodia, Do Your Research
One of our biggest Cambodia travel tips for you is to research and vet any potential organization you want to volunteer at!
Orphanage tourism boomed in Cambodia after Angelina Jolie and her family adopted their first child from here. Since then, fake orphanages have been popping up all over the country. These “organizations” exploit children all in the hopes of shuffling westerns into their “orphanage.” These orphanages are FAKE but play the part of a real-life orphanage in the hopes of getting donations from tourists.
If you plan on volunteering, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do your research and donate your time and/or money to a legit organization that will help children. We found an amazing organization in Battambang, Cambodia called BOVA.
You can learn more about volunteering, how to donate and the amazing man that runs it here: Volunteering at an Orphanage in Cambodia. If you are unsure about your organization, please vet your volunteering organization and work through an organization like ConCERT, and Environment and Responsible Tourism NGOs.
20. You May Want To Get Vaccinations for Cambodia
While there are no legal requirements to get the below vaccinations for Cambodia, it would be a little silly of you not at least consider them. For example, you can get typhoid through contaminated food and water and if you cut yourself on a rusty patch, the potential ailments brought on by bacteria can be prevented with a tetanus shot.
Really and truly, these are just preventive measures you can control to add a little extra layer of safety for your trip. Peace of mind is never a bad thing.
Check with your country’s CDC to get a list of vaccinations that are deemed as wise to have before visiting foreign countries.
21. What’s the Language Of Cambodia?
The official language of Cambodia is Khmer. However, to our surprise, a lot of people spoke English …. and they spoke it well! To those of you who may be worried about a language barrier, don’t be in Cambodia. Everyone is so kind, helpful and they speak English like it’s their first language.
However, a little Khmer goes a long way with these people. Brush up on hello and thank you and you’re sure to be a hit!
- Hello – Sou sdey (pronounced like sou-saday)
- Thank you– Ah Kun (pronounced like ah-koon)
22. Just Know Cambodia Is Amazing
Last and certainly not least in our Cambodia travel tips is a simple fact that Cambodia itself. It’s amazing. It’s packed with history, home to unbelievably scenic places and within its borders resides some of the kindest people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We have no doubt in our mind that you’ll fall in love with this place, just like we did, and wonder what took you so long to visit the amazing Kingdom of Cambodia.
A great thing to always have with you is travel Insurance. When we spent 3 weeks in Cambodia, we had travel insurance through World Nomads. Covering things like medical bills and theft, having travel insurance has definitely come in handy for us a time or two.
From Phnom Penh to Kampot to Siem Reap and all the other amazing cities, towns and islands there are to experience in Cambodia, check out the latest places and prices below to secure an unforgettable Cambodian accommodation.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)